Monday, November 7, 2011

Argonauts, Torchbearer and others in New Brunswick, NJ, 10/7/2011

     Around 7 o'clock, I picked up my friend Tom and we headed out to the show.  His wife seemed a little scared about where we were going in New Brunswick, so we did our best to assuage her fears.  I'd rather not divulge the actual address, needless to say it was at a venue called 'the alamo'.  Maybe the name implies that it's NB punk's last stand against the police's crack down on underground shows?  With that in mind, punk shows in NB these days go by secret word of mouth at a location that is unknown to anyone outside of the punk community.  The flyer for this show actually says to "ask a hot mule" for the location.  Finding the addresses are usually not that hard; any band member will gladly give it to you if you don't have the trappings of a narc.  Famed drummer Dave Witte actually supplied me with the location. 

     After a long walk through the stygian streets of NB, we rolled up on an eerily quiet house.  My friend said, "this is the place?"  I responded with, "we have the right address, but it doesn't look right."  We stopped a guy walking into the backyard and asked if "this was it."  He said "I don't know what you're talking about" and walked on.  Not rebuffed, we ventured forth into the backyard.  We were hit immediately with long, cold stares from a sea of punks and metal-heads pounding beers and puffing cigs.  Dave broke the ice with, "these guys are cool."  We shook hands and things gradually warmed up from there. 

     Shortly after we arrived, the first band was up.  About half the crowd in the backyard made their way down the cellar door to the basement.  The guy checking people in seemed annoyed by my $20 bill (it was 5 bucks to get in).  Maybe it was because I was one of the first to pay and he didn't have a lot of change, but there is an outside chance that larger denominations are not 'punk'.  Needless to say, the basement was cramped, but not packed with people (yet).  There were two clear escape routes so the chance of a 'Great White' was little to none. Dethroned Emperor were up.  These dudes were probably the first two man (guitarist/vocalist and drummer) death-thrash band I've ever seen.  They were energetic and raw, but they definitely had that 'opening band' feel.   My head was nodding along to their catchy riffs and I especially enjoyed the vocalist's roar, but the two man approach to this genre is just not enough.  They would be greatly benefited by the addition of a bassist to fill out the bottom end and maybe some backing vocals.  A second guitarist wouldn't hurt either. 

     At the conclusion of DT's set, we made our way upstairs to the fresh(?) air.  I found myself thirsty and asked Tom if he wanted to head to the liquor store.  He agreed and off we went.  A few lengthy blocks later we came up to a Spanish bodega.  My hopes of finding some quality beer were low, but upon entering I was pleasantly surprised by their selection.  Keeping things fresh and crisp was on my palate so I decided to go with two pints of Paulaner Hefeweizen.  Tom doesn't drink beer and went with the far less 'metal' Mike's hard lemonade.  We barely made it back in time for the next band, Regents.  They were sort of a screamo thing; I dug them.  Supposedly their drummer, who gave a phenomenal and powerful performance, is from a well known older hardcore band, the name of which escapes me.  They did seem a little out of place with the other bands though, given their style.  Tom, who likes keeping things punishing and brutal, said, "you actually liked that shit?"

     After Regent's set, the backyard was super packed with anticipation of the headliner.  Many of the NJ/NYC hardcore/metal community's elite members were in attendance.  In addition to the cast of characters in Argonauts, I noticed Ben Weinman from The Dillinger Escape Plan, Mike Olender from Burnt by the Sun, Doc Coyle from God Forbid, Mike Hill from Tombs/Anodyne, Rich Hall of 1000 Knives Booking and a few of the dudes from Syd Barret/Arson.  Even Adam Doll (ex-The Dillinger Escape Plan)was there, paralyzed from the arm pits down in his wheel chair.  Ben carried him down stairs on his back to watch Argonauts later in the evening.  The presence of so many hardcore luminaries points to the unique nature of this show.  When is the last time Dave Witte played a tiny basement, for instance?  The feverish tension of the evening was ready to boil over but was cooled by the noisy hardcore stylings of New Brunswick's own, Torchbearer.  These guys have come a long way since their promising first seven inch, The Worst is Yet to Come.  I've been following them since seeing the band open the Lifetime/Endeavor benefit for Rich Cunningham at The Court Tavern and the Rorschach reunion show with Black Kites at Asbury Lanes.  Their set tonight was tight, cohesive and focused.  The layering of guitars and controlled feedback put them in a different league than the openers.  Most of the material was from their new album, The Dirty Swagger, which is available as of this post.  I have yet to pick it up (digital only) but I plan to (and you should do the same).

     We chatted with Amit, the vocalist of Torchbearer after their set.  My wheat beers were treating me well too, as you can imagine.  They were a good choice to counteract the musty, Radon filled atmosphere of the basement.  The time has finally come; Argonauts were about to perform.

     The headliners are clearly a NJ metal/hardcore super group: Dimitri Minakakis (ex-The Dillinger Escape Plan) on vocals; Dave Witte (Municipal Waste, ex-Disordance Axis, ex-Burnt by the Sun, countless others) on drums; John Adubato (ex-Burnt by the Sun, ex-Time's Up) on guitar; and Brett Bamberger (East of the Wall, ex-Postman Syndrome) on bass and backing vocals.  With that pedigree, I was beyond excited to see what these guys would create.  No advanced tracks were online to check out and they have no recorded material yet, so no one really knew what they sounded like going in.  Dimitri himself actually said it was their third show.  So did they live up to the hype?  Yes and no.  There were some surprises, but it wasn't what I was hoping for overall.  The basic riff and song structure clearly comes from Witte and Adubato.  Most of the songs sound like recycled or new BbtS material.  That's not a bad thing, as I loved that band, but what about doing something original or different?  During the set, I remember looking at Mike Olender and seeing a 'been there, done that' look on his face, and I can understand why.  As for Dimitri, he just seemed rusty, tired and out of gas.  I really expected more from his performance given his past abilities, but I hate to say the truth that it was lack luster.  There was a brilliant and shinning point to the performance though, and that was Brett.  He is a monstrous and technical bass player and adds a welcomed and fresh presence to the band.  His brutal backing vocals bring depth to the their sound as well.  I'm not saying that Dave and John didn't perform well, it's just that it felt like it was more of the same.  This band has an infinite well of potential from which to draw.  Let's hope in the future they try to expand their horizons and play more often.  As for Dimitri, break out the Under the Running Board 7" and pay attention and practise, because you need to bring that shit back!