So, the warm summer weather we’ve all been waiting for finally arrived last week, and we were blessed with a few 90 degree days. But, with the good comes the bad, and that can only mean Garden State Parkway summer, rush hour traffic. Sitting in that clusterfuck from Montclair all the way down to Long Branch doesn’t sound like the ideal way to spend a Thursday evening, but when at one end is a show at the Brighton Bar featuring Toy Cars, Rocky and the Chapter, and – are you shitting me? – Hot Rod Circuit, you can bet I’ll be hauling ass at a blazing 7mph for the entire 60 miles. Don’t worry; I made it with plenty of time to spare.
It felt like it had been a long time since I’d last seen Toy Cars perform, even though that isn’t at all true. But for a while last fall, following the release of their EP Sleeping Patterns, it seemed like I was catching them every other week, and for good reason. One of the most genuine and personable bands in the scene, Toy Cars has an unmatched stage presence. Led by frontman Matt DeBenedetti, the band meshes such a positive energy. There’s a special connection made with the audience when the band is so clearly enjoying themselves, each other, and the performance, and drummer Mike Linardi deserves a shout out for being one of the single most hard-rocking and enthusiastic performers. Even in a bar that’s sweltering above 90 degrees, he didn’t give up a damn inch for a second of the set.
Toy Cars features incredibly real and accessible lyrics, which, while often painful and cynical, are delivered with perseverance along with up-beat and driving rhythm that can make verses such as, “But every time I get to leaving/ Don’t you know that there’s a reason I should stay/ So goodbye/ Farewell/ Roll me through the gates of hell,” feel strong and optimistic. DeBenedetti thanked the crowd for coming out and, in the middle of his killer set, said in a very self-deprecating way, “I used to play here a lot when I was a kid, but I guess I’m still a kid, and nobody was here. I got to know the sound guy really well.” Fortunately, that night they had a substantial crowd that was filled with lots of new Toy Cars fans.
Rocky and the Chapter followed with an unholy, ass-kicking set of their own. I feel like it’s worth mentioning, though, as great as these shows usually are, they’re not without consequence. After the last time I saw fellow New Brunswick band, Modern Chemistry, I banged my head so hard for their entire set that for almost two months since I was unable to turn my head to the left (I’m not joking), and after R.a.t.C.’s set at the Brighton Bar, I couldn’t hear anything in my right ear for a solid two days, because I thought standing twenty feet from the monitor was a safe enough distance. Silly me.
Anyway, R.a.t.C. are a true throwback to classic, four-bar, freedom-loving American guitar rock. Back to a time before our current “shitbag president,” as he was aptly referred to during the set. Often, a band with three guitarists can be muddled and heavy handed, but this trio of Rocky Catanese, Joe Lanza, and Chris Grzan are unbelievably precise and blend their individual pieces flawlessly while Matt Balog and Trevor Reddell on bass and drums respectively provide so much depth, really keeping each song progressing forward and creating peaks and valleys throughout.
But really, if any one thing stole the show during R.a.t.C.’s set, it was undoubtedly Rocky’s Gretsch White Falcon hollow-body guitar. God damn, was that thing fucking beautiful, on par with Olivia Wilde and the Grand Canyon. I left the show that night saying to myself, “Shit, I really should’ve asked that guitar for its number,” but deep down I know the Gretsch White Falcon would never go out with me anyway.
Hot Rod Circuit closed out the night in grand fashion, just as you would expect. One of the classics from the early 2000s emo scene, they haven’t lost anything over the past twenty years. It was great to hear how much playing this show meant to Rocky, as he spoke about having covered Hot Rod Circuit live previously. To now share a stage with them was a personal milestone. Coincidentally, Hot Rod Circuit also has some pretty significant personal meaning to N.J. Racket Co-Founder, Stoppay, whose first live show was seeing them play at the Wayne Firehouse with Orange Drop Kid and Atom and His Package. Good on Hot Rod Circuit for still going strong, playing the small shows, and helping to promote the next wave of up and coming bands, and good on the Aftermath Collective for putting such a badass shindig together.
Rocky and the Chapter and Toy Cars are both currently working on new albums, so just sit tight and be patient. N.J. Racket will tell you all about them when they’re ready.
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.