There was a pretty special show hosted at The Edge Mansion in New Brunswick on January 19. I’ve been meaning to write about it for over a week now, but since January 20 I keep feeling overcome by fear, hopelessness, and impending doom, but so is life following the inauguration of the small-handed Tangerine Tyrant. I didn’t intend to ever get political on this site, but it’s been vaguely unavoidable in the past ten or so days. Still, few things can inspire such feelings of freedom and strength as good, honest music. Just like Woody Guthrie taught us, “This Machine Kills Fascists.”
The Edge Mansion has the perfect setup for a basement venue. The main stage area is pretty large and wide open, dimly lit with rows of Christmas lights. There’s the long hallway when you first go down the stairs which gives the artists a great space to set up their merch. You can pack in right up front and dance around face to face with your favorite bands, or hang back if you’re trying to have a more chill night. Sure, occasionally a monitor might cut out during a set, but that’s part of the D.I.Y. charm that you grow to love when you start indulging in this scene.
Ragged Lines, the duo of Carter Henry and Lucas Dalakian, opened the show. This is a relatively new project for these two, but they are veterans of the music scene and this project has definitely hit the ground running. Henry’s acoustic guitar and Dalakian’s electric blend so perfectly to create a single, jointed sound. They pack a strong punch for a duo performance with strong rhythmic guitar riffs that are sure to get you rocking. Ragged Lines currently has only released two songs, but I’m personally very excited to see what these guys produce for their first full length release.
DryJacket was the next band to take the stage, playing their unofficial release show for their new album For Prosterity. This group is incredibly talented. Their music is light and melodic, with short staccato guitar solos by Joe Junod providing sporadically accents while harmonizing vocals with Ian Foley. “Bill Gates’ Ringtone,” my favorite track from the new album, features an upbeat melody to contrast the powerful dueling vocals. The song is a true rocker till the very last cord.
The last time we had written about Modern Chemistry, they were opening for Taking Back Sunday at The Starland Ballroom. It’s a bit surreal to see bands on stages like that and then soon after at a basement show and be able to stand 5 feet from Joe Zorzi as he sings “Never Scared.” In a way, it almost feels like you’re stealing the show, to get to see bands of this caliber (all others included) play in such small, intimate venues for a price of $5. For the life of me, I don’t understand why people pay over $100 to sit in the nosebleeds of Prudential or Izod to see shows that
are a fraction as impassioned as any New Brunswick basement show. And still, for a band that could be argued to be beyond the basement scene, Modern Chemistry brought all the power and energy to The Edge Mansion that they had on the road, which speaks to the true duality of the band’s talent.
Adding to the special occasion, New Jersey got to play host for the night to North Carolina’s Sinai Vessel, who also played a show at The Lakehouse Music Academy in Asbury Park the previous night. The band was on tour up the coast to promote the release of their new album, Brokenlegged. It was truly a gift to see this trio of Caleb Cordes, Daniel Hernandez, and Joshua Herron. The album is packed with songs of sweet aggression that will cause a swell in your throat as you swing your arms and kick your feet around the pit. There’s a ton of heart in each and every song, which Cordes delivers with unquestioned honesty. It’s always great to see touring bands treated well in the New Jersey basement scene, hopefully to spread a good reputation and keep super talented traveling bands coming through town. It’s a way to share culture unlike any other.
The final band to take the stage was Hodera, led by birthday boy Matthew Smith. He probably hates that I just said that too, so, sorry. Still, it was good to see him on “stage” doing what he loves to do. Bassist Alek Mager played the set that night with his right hand in a cast. I don’t play bass so I can’t tell you how difficult that must be, but I imagine it being much more difficult than not playing at all and just sitting this basement show out. There’s a level of passion in each and every one of Hodera’s performances that I find truly inspiring. This group of guys have put it all out on the line each and every time I’ve seen them with such an inhibited, raw honesty. Songs like “The Outside” are remarkably cathartic and filled with a wisdom far beyond the ages of these young guys. “This town, it feels like a coffin/ now that the gas price is droppin/ so I’ve been driving more often/ farther away,” are the kind of lyrics that unite the crowd and, for a moment, makes friends of strangers.
That’s what this whole thing is all about. The feeling of togetherness and belonging, free of any judgements. Opening yourself up honestly, even just silently to yourself. Finding hope and freedom in the abandonment of inhibitions. Stomping your feet on a concrete basement floor in unison with a hundred people made to feel the same way you do through the shared experience of live music, a unique moment that can never be recreated. I sat down tonight and forced myself to write this, telling myself it’d make me feel better and ease some of the anxieties and it has. Even if it’s just for a little while, there’s always another show.
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.