I saw Randy, Mark, Boris, and Tim play for the first time over five years ago when they were playing together as part of another band, Killing the Messenger. I had no idea there was a show that night, but I was talking to the guys at the bar. They told me to check them out and promised they’d be good. Of course, all bands say they’re good, but for $5 I figured, whatever, they seem like cool guys.
They weren’t good. They were fucking unbelievable.
That was the first time I ever left a local show with my mind completely blown, my ears bleeding, and chasing the band out the door asking when their next show was. I’ve been following them consistently for the past five years.
Since then, the guys have formed a new band and also play as the touring band for Justina Valentine. They play regular spots at Hell’s Kitchen Lounge in Newark and have risen to the status of local legends around Brick City. However, while Hell’s Kitchen overflows with people when they perform, they don’t always get the same draw away from the Iron Bound. I was talking to Randy Haze before their show Wednesday night at Maxwell’s Tavern and he told me he was worried about not having a big enough draw compared to the other two bands performing. It’s a shame, because this band should be selling out venues like the Pony and Starland.
They take the stage around 9pm to set up their equipment and tune. Nobody pays them much attention until they start to warm up and give the crowd their first taste of what they’re in store for that night. The room of easily over one hundred people, most of whom I assume came to see the headliner, The Marcus King Band (who is also fantastic), immediately gives the band their complete and undivided attention.
The band kicks off their first song, the amplifiers blaring so loudly you can feel it hit you in the face. I have to check to make sure I didn’t lose any teeth. It takes Randy all of fifteen seconds to rip into his first guitar solo. I used to tell people that Randy Haze was the best indie guitarist in New Jersey before I started telling people that he was just the best guitarist in New Jersey before I started telling people that he’s the best guitarist playing right now. I’m not going to compare him to Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Paige. Just take my word for it. He is unbelievably fucking good.
The song hits a break and bassist, Mark Hartmann, grabs the mic.
“Ladies and Gentlemen/ I introduce to you/ A band that will make your liver quiver/ And your kidneys shiver/ THE RANDY HAZE TRIO!”
The solo resumes without missing a beat. The Trio is a largely improvisational, hard rock jam band. They never play two shows the same, which is why, after so long, every show is still as enjoyable as the first. They play so flawlessly tight together, which isn’t so much because they’ve been playing together for so long as it is because of how well they know each other and how close they all are personally. Some bands play together for ten or more years but still don’t have the rapport that Randy, Mark, Boris, and Tim have.
They break into a cover of “Black Magic Woman,” which has become a staple of their live shows. Randy takes the time to introduce the other members of the band, and they each break out a solo. Mark Hartmann is a remarkable bassist with an incredibly diverse skill set, covering anything from hard rock to blues, funk, slap, or double tapping. He doesn’t have the complacent attitude to “just lay down the bass line” on these jams. He syncopates, provides counter melodies, and really elevates the band’s music to that next level. Boris Ivanov plays guitar and the keys, often at the same time. Yes. At the same time. Boris majored in music at both N.Y.U. and New Jersey’s own Montclair State University, and that education is evident seconds into his keyboard solo as he plays with skill and delicacy that you won’t see at any other hard rock show. Last, but not least, “The Brazilian” Timmy is an absolute animal on the drums. He’s flailing around in the back, faster than the speed of light, and with all the shredding going on in front of him, it’s easy to forget sometimes that he’s the one holding the whole thing together. Most drummers can learn the techniques and get the speed, but to be able to mesh with the band, and especially a band of this caliber, requires more intangibles than talent.
Still in the midst of “Black Magic Woman,” Randy brings a special guest trumpeter, James Gibbs III, on stage to join The Trio for the remainder of the set. This is something I’ve never seen them do before, and it really adds a special element to the set. The energy in the room was already high, but Randy Haze finds a way to continually raise the bar every minute he’s on stage.
The final song of the set is “Ain’t Never Gonna Die,” a real bluesy, driving hard rock jam, now also featuring an exceptional trumpeter. Anyone familiar with these local indie rock shows is well aware that to get to perform for a crowd of over a hundred people at a notable venue such as Maxwell’s is a great experience. But when you have that crowd of over a hundred people, most of whom aren’t familiar with the band or the music, some of them a little bit older, some of them a little bit too sober, and your band makes that entire crowd dance – every person bopping their head and moving their feet – that is beyond a special moment, and one few bands will ever live.
Randy Haze seizes this moment, the way only Randy Haze can, by jumping out into the crowd and dancing around right in the middle of the floor while everyone there rushes in to join him. He never stops playing, shredding like hell the entire time.
Eventually, the sound guy has to tell the band it’s time to stop, and despite the protest of all the new fans, that is the end of the set. Had it been up to them, they would’ve played for another hour, probably even more. The Trio probably would have played until the last person in the audience got tired and went home, and even then, they may have kept playing. The Randy Haze Trio doesn’t put on these shows for money, attention, notoriety, or women (ok, maybe women). The Randy Haze Trio does this because they truly love it. They love to play, they love each other, and they love anyone that takes time out of their day to listen.
Adam gave man-birth to N.J. Racket and is as close to an "editor-in-chief" the site has. He's a god awful photographer.