I don’t know. Maybe every band aspires to, one day, sign a major label deal and get paid millions to sell cars in a Super Bowl commercial. I can’t say for sure that, if the opportunity presented itself, I wouldn’t take the money and run. But last night was an example of the beauty that comes with independence. Relocated from the now-shuttered 285 Kent to Death By Audio, last night’s opener of the annual Don Giovanni Records Showcase was a raucous, rowdy, beer soaked affair that made everyone in attendance feel like close friends of the label.
After an agita-inducing drive up from the Jersey ‘burbs and a frustrating hunt for parking amidst the mountains of snow that lined the streets, Mike and I got to Death By Audio just before openers, The Groucho Marxists, started their set. The New Brunswick punk band kept up a steady banter from the stage with Don Giovanni co-founder Joe Steinhardt and Mikey Erg who both stood front and center. Like each of the bands after them, The Groucho Marxists had an obvious blast during their set, and the growing crowd fed off of their energy.
Next up were Nuclear Santa Claust, featuring DG’s other co-founder Zach Gajewski on bass. At this point, the cans of Miller High Life (full and empty) began sailing overhead toward the band. Gajewski, guitarist Jim Ogrin, and drummer Brenden Beecy, appeared unfazed and delivered a blistering set that saw Shellshag’s John “Shellhead” Driver hurling beer cans and surfing the crowd.
Ohio trio Vacation, one of the first non-Tri State Area signees for the label, were next. The crowd in the relatively small venue had swelled by this point, and songs from the band’s 2013 Don Giovanni release, Candy Waves, – “Pyro Hippies,” “Candy Waves,” “Horny Politicians” — threw the crowd into a frenzy. The band’s live performance is much more incendiary than their recorded material, and the crowd in front of the stage heaved, slammed, and sang along. One of the night’s most memorable moments came when Shellshag hopped onstage to join Vacation in their cover of Shellshag’s “Crashing Rockets.”
New Jersey’s Night Birds followed Vacation with their first performance together in three months. New dad Brian Gorsenger didn’t look like he’d lost any of his usual energy and aggression during the hiatus. By this point, the mosh pit was going full-throttle. Beer and beer cans continued to fly overhead, and Gorsenger had fans screaming the choruses to “Born to Die in Suburbia” and “Maimed for the Masses” into the mic right along with him.
Wisconsin’s Tenement closed out the evening. In contrast to the abbreviated set the band played at Asbury Lanes back in September, last night they pulled out all the stops. The set ranged from classic-rock inflected punk to extended instrumental drones. Guitarist Amos Pitsch brought along a case filled with paraphernalia that included duct tape, a tambourine, and bells. He rolled the tambourine over to a fan in the front row. He duct-taped the strings of his guitar to the fingerboard, jingled bells in both hands, and even played guitar using a full can of beer as a slide. As the band unplugged their instruments at the end of the set, cries went up for one more song; and, after a few moments, the band obliged setting the pit roiling one, final time.
Last night’s music was pretty aggressive, and the mosh pit got kind of hairy at times; but, throughout the evening, I saw only smiles and camaraderie. Don Giovanni founders Joe Steinhardt and Zach Gajewski were up front most of the night, singing and moshing along. Other bands and friends of the label shared a few drinks and chatted throughout the night.
It may be a while before we see a Don Giovanni band in a Super Bowl ad, and I’m not sure if any of them would ever agree to such a thing. Last night, though, showed that wealth and success come in many forms.
Nights 2 & 3 of the Don Giovanni Showcase take place 2/7 and 2/8 at Music Hall of Williamsburg.