It is with reasonable excuse that I have just been now able to formulate to words what I witnessed on February 22 at the Asbury Lanes. After over a week of stuttering mediocre explanations through tongue-tied finger tips, I have finally found the correct way to express what haphazard, energetic eccentricity Reggie and the Full Effect can unleash upon an audience. The crowd’s inevitable state of stupor was a side effect from their madman showcase, comparable to a old school Royal Rumble, as if Bam Bam Bigelow grabbed each and every fan by their lapels and body avalanched them down the lanes like a glazed over bowling ball.
Even though it was freezing outside, I decided to ditch the coat and headed in to be warmly accepted at the entrance riddled with stickers and greasy fingers prints. Greeted with the dim mood lighting and charming sense of dank air notorious for the venue, I knew, without a second thought that tonight was going to call for a bit of Jameson.
Sipping on my concoction of ice cubes and sticky Irish juice, I looked through the ridges in my clear cup at the looming crowd before me. Not only was this a sold out show, I thought, but it is also the last show of a tour, some sort of road kill burping a final shallow breath with twitching limbs as its brain fries on a July freeway. Suffice to say, it was an eclectic group, consisting of couples in their mid-twenties, overweight lonesome heartbreaks of yesteryear grasping a floppy piece of lukewarm pizza, and a single, former punk rock daddy donning a small boy on piggy back.
Everyone’s attention was soon diverted to the stage as Pentimento, a four-piece from Buffalo, NY, took the place of their lazy conversations and drinking habits. Blasting their own brand of loud, tumultuous but catchy pop-punk, complete with a sidekick of a screaming chorus, Pentimento is the specimen floating in a liquid filled beaker for the experiment to explain raw energy. Bassist, Vincent Caito, aggressively moseyed around the splintered stage, playing with an agonizing sensation in songs like “Circles” as Jeramiah Pauly’s raspy vocals played out in “Almost Atlantic” like a sore throat to some bought of childhood tonsillitis. Even though a short set, the dudes in Pentimento displayed how much they are in love with what they do; the symbiosis between their instruments and their fingertips spewing a flood of passion upon an innocent audience.
Somewhere in between the shopping malls and corporate buildings of Piscataway, NJ, a two-piece prodigy was birthed, one baby with a guitar, the other with drum sticks. Dads was next to make footfalls on the stage, bringing with them dissonant vigor, as if Bear vs. Shark was resurrected from the bowels of the shitty NJ city. Comprised of John Bradley, drums and vocals, and Scott Scharinger, guitar and vocals, the duo literally made me spill my precious Jameson with the first slam of Bradley’s kick drum, his fervor causing a wave that bounced between the plastic prison my drink was encased in. Opening with “Groin Twerk”, you can easily hear the first wave emo influences in their cacophony as well as the precision and ear fuck that is Bradley drumming. Never have I observed such a talented drummer sing with such tenacity and keep up with the timing precisely. “Can I Be Yr Deadbeat Boyfriend” and “Bakefast as Piffany’s” continued their set in this fashion as Scharinger played off of Bradley like the glimmering rainbow of light emitted from a stain glass window pane. My mind raced to keep up with the performance, as my thoughts reassembled to the day I found an At the Drive-In t-shirt on a rack at a local Goodwill. I wondered how someone could easily discard a thing they undoubtedly wore with pride in their past and soon realized that Dads is every abandoned band tee. Wearing the badges of their influences, and in their minimalist approach, sounding fuller, the group never traded in for a neck tie, ultimately recreating the music they grew up listening to.
Opening with the honky-tonk, sardonic introduction to last year’s release No Country for Old Musicians, Reggie and the Full Effect began their onslaught. With the screeching of keys from James Dewees, front man and former keyboardist to the Get Up Kids, the band dipped into the the whining and pleading early singles “Girl, Why’d You Run Away” and “From Me 2 U”. Guitarist Cory White rocked the entire set with eyes rolled in the back of his head, the whites in his eyes shifting under the influence of either Dewees playing his unique brand of big top, freaky carnival chords or a strong mix of illegal substances. In between “Congratulation Smack and Katy” and the infectious “Who Needs Another Drank?”, the crowd was enlightened with not only tales of Dewees delivering pizza, comments on the show Duck Dynasty, and requests to buy merch out of his Hyundai Elantra,but were also delightfully blinded by his glistening bloated body, as it jumped from left to right in a thin black tank-top and equally dark cowboy hat. It was a fucking spectacle, the kind reserved for an audience that have never taken themselves seriously and don’t give a shit if you think of them less for doing so.
In the performance’s conclusion, mayhem was unleashed, as the entire touring entourage came out, dressed in chicken masks and nun outfits behind the soundtrack of Reggie and the Full Effect’s alter ego, Finnish death metal band, Common Denominator. Playing the songs, “DMV” and “Dwarf Invasion”, the company began thrashing about on stage, ejecting fake blood on the lucky audience who embraced a front row seat for the duration of the performance. Complete with a seizure-inducing light show and the banging of Dewees keys, the finality of the side-show performance was met with the overwhelming sense that I was witnessing the last show of an exhausting tour. With the convulsion of limbs and spinning of heads, you see the comradery in each musician’s brimming smile, as the expansion of their guts and thinning of their wallets became battle scars.
It’s apparent that bands like Reggie and the Full Effect are not doing it for the money, but to fill the hollow 10 years of vacancy have left on the soundscape of not only music, but their only passion. Regardless of James Dewees meandering conversations that night with the audience concerning how much it truly sucks to be a musician, one can see in his eager eyes the refusal to accept life’s fate of a corporate day job and continue his dreams against all odds. In his brutally honest performance, his aggression rubs off on the fans who still care; a sold out show and a new album funded by Kickstarter testaments to such mutual dedication.
As long as if there is at least a sliver of care in this world, there will always be a country for old musicians.