If Timothy Leary taught us one thing, it’s set and setting. Where you get your kicks is infinitely more vital than ‘how.’ I don’t know much about the acid king, but I do know that this thought transcends drugs and 1960s voodoo. Electricity. That’s what we’re searching for. Fashion, genre, dance moves and substances (or lack there of) are only shades. It takes a proper canvas to give them meaning. Seeing the perfect lineup at precisely the right venue can be such a soul-shaking experience. The transcendence of being packed into a sweating, swaying hive of strange odors while getting rained on by strobes and sound… I believe in music. And yes… I still believe in the Garden State. This strange suburban tapestry has never failed to warm my bones.
When I heard that the North Jersey Indie Rock Festival was being held at White Eagle Hall, I immediately thought “oh shit, this could be great.”
Having navigated the maze of Jersey City parking with relative ease, I grab my press pas and push open the venue’s vibrating double doors. White Eagle Hall is gorgeous. Dating back to 1910, this newly restored space is now one of my favorite live music spots in NJ. Blue ceiling lights reveal a mass of head-bobbing shadows on the dance floor and in the balcony above. I am pleased to see that there are more denim jackets than Mac Demarco dad hats. Jersey, baby. As I stand in the press booth taking in my surroundings, my editor buys me a beer. Free press pass and drinks? I’m OK with this. The lineup is good.
Chosen by label sponsors Sniffling Indie Kids and Mint 400, it includes Exmaid, Psychiatric Metaphors, Guilty Giraffe, Professor Caveman, The Royal Arctic Institute, Glenn Morrow’s Cry For Help, The Components, Ultra Major, The Vaughns, Smock, Secretary Legs, Shithead’s Rainbow, LKFFCT, Tony Saxon, Yawn Mower, Glazer, Dentist and Black Wail. The stage is split in 2, allowing on-deck bands to set up in the shadows. The result is a smooth and joyous volley of sound. The sets are tight and time flies. Here are some of my favorite memories:
The Vaughn’s stepped onto the stage, plugged in and calmly served up an impressive smorgasbord of power, songwriting and energy. All swagger, they got things cooking with garage tone, summertime chords and Anna’s sincere and passionate vocals. Bolstered by waves of strong backing vocals, their tunes hit that sweet spot some dare to call ‘anthemic.’ Goosebumps all around.
We were promised Sabbath. Perpetually compared to the beasts from Birmingham, Smock proved to be something more strange. Beginning their set with a tension-building vamp, singer Jesse teased the audience with some devil-may-care plucks of his semi-hollow guitar. When he finally gives the band the nod, they fire off an auditory punch of freaky avante-stoner sludge. 6-string demon Zach rips into his low-strung Les Paul with plenty of calm swagger and might. The bass and drums carry the groove with pummeling intensity. Their set ends when Jesse abandons his guitar, clutches the mic and fills the air with echoing Dionysian wails. He may have broke a string. If he did, I say good riddance. Shit was awesome. Riveting and unpredictable.
Shithead’s Rainbow countered Smock’s set with their own brand of freaky cool. Collectively sharing the microphones, their sincerity is captivating. Each member is a star in their own right. However, it’s in their soaring choruses where this collective transcends the wonderful sum of it’s parts. Boom boom boom, house party groove. These songs make me want to believe in love and magic. Their chipped tooth optimism is infectious. Of all the night’s bands, I believe they were the most soulful.
Plain and simple, Lkffct are probably the greatest band in New Jersey. I gush. Fuck You. With the telepathy of brotherhood, they conjure well-crafted song after well-crafted song. They hit the stage and the good vibes flow. Towering Brian waves at the crowd and extends his bass, daring them to thump out some notes. Relentlessly hammering out the beat, Ryan displays some of the best drummer faces I’ve ever seen. Meanwhile, standing on the front line, Max and Keith are the Yin Yang of golden-voiced Garden State minstrels. The set was electric. Really… make sure you see them.
I could go on and on, but at this point it’s only words. There was some magic roaming free in White Eagle Hall. I didn’t see any bullshit- only smiles, shouts and some awkward suburban dance moves. Yes, New Jersey’s music scene has its stereotypes. But if the North Jersey Indie Music Festival proved one thing, it’s that something new is brewing in the Garden State. It’s a great time to be alive.
Glenn Morrow’s Cry For Help
THE ROYAL ARCTIC INSTITUTE