A Night of Novelty at R- R-
Updated: May 6, 2019
Walking towards the backyard to R- R-, stomach half full with a lousy slice of BBQ chicken pizza that was supposed to be my dinner for the night, I was pleasantly surprised by a group of people who were already hanging out by a grill decked out with a spread of vegetables and vegan patties; the guy cooking was vegetarian. Anticipating a low turn out for the evening, it was a remarkably novel experience stumbling onto a bustling glee-filled party already in action; also, free food is always a plus.
Down in the basement, the mood was set by one of the show runners who’d turned on a saucy red-light bulb over the stage. The first act was Paul: From The Internet, a funk rock duo who’s affinity for slap bass riffs and lackadaisical vocal chops made them one of the best Cake cover bands I’d ever seen in New Brunswick. Jokes aside, the two very much played and behaved like a condensed early 90’s Alt-Rock outfit; Paul’s bass, accented by an assortment of crunchy effects, roared through a Mark Bass amplifier at an unfortunately underwhelming volume. Probably intentional for the sake of shaping the high end of his bumble-bee themed five string, subduing the tonal depth of the instrument’s low end sucked out the potential fun and groove his funky licks could have had on the mellow crowd. The drummer, who occasionally lends his talents to Skylar Pocket, was tight; and the two made humorous foils to one another. In between songs Paul would ad-lib, sputtering ridiculous cartoon noises through his flapping cheeks and going off on run on tangents that were too silly to make any serious note of; the drummer played the kind-hearted straight man, rolling his eyes and making quiet remarks to whatever Paul was raving about. When not bordering complete annoyance, the energy of these bits made the duo passable for a novelty act typical of what you might have found during the infantile vlogger years of Youtube; like a zanier, less crass, Ray William Johnson bit. They closed their set with a high energy tease of a Kendrick Lamar cover, and said their goodbyes.
With Paul clearing out and more people pouring in, the basement grew pact as The Convincing Actor set their stage. A New Brunswick native who, from what I hear, has been breaking their way into the Brooklyn queer-noise scene, is infamous for their eccentric brand of performance art that tackles themes of faith and sexuality in ways which I think most people don’t really understand. In a change of pace from them opening their shows with a foreboding greeting, The Convincing Actor made a PSA of sorts, calling out all the unfavorable personalities who might slide their way into a DIY show; from guys showing up just to hit on girls, trans-phobes, and boring rock bands, The Convincing Actor’s harsh and unexpectedly direct castigation of social degenerates was quiet unusual for their avant-garde style. The direct approach worked though, as their declaration got much of the basement whooping and snapping in solidarity. Sadly, this enthusiasm was not long lived; while the Passable Performer boasts an awe inducing vocal range, usually accented by their knack for flawless modulation and vibrato, their backing tracks are mostly midi based and are lo-fi in a way which may be off putting to those uninterested in more primitive styles of music production. The alienation doesn’t end there. Popular for their elaborate use of props, tonight saw the Lascivious Liar shirtless and sandwiched between two fold-out chairs held together by duct tape. Seeing them restrained like this, standing triumphant while yodeling with the most earnest expression “ I want you to tell me I’m nothing” is one of the most hilarious and uncomfortable things one could witness in a basement; it’s this surreal clash of humor and sincerity that has me hooked on their live shows.
While the climax to their first track received waves of claps from the crowd, their following song wasn’t received with the same vigor. Seasoning their genitals with salt and pepper, followed by them grabbing utensils and pretending to chow down on their pubic region, did little to impress the norm-core audience members; it could be that the impact of their theatrics had worn off, as the applause became shallower, and most of the crowd had stepped out of the basement by the end of their third track. The Deceptive Dramatist concluded their set by curling up in the back of the now spacious basement, serenading themselves to sleep with the enigmatic melodies of their lonely soundtrack.
Spirits sullied and back muddied, The Convincing Actor cleared the stage for Danni May; a Nutley native who practices a more conventional form of theatre-pop. With nothing but a decorated keyboard and face microphone, their casual appearance came across as a bit unnatural for the basement environment. Most outfits in New Brunswick tend to be grounded in some rock format and branch out from there; it’s not often you see coffeehouse cabaret, but hey, that’s what’s so charming about Danni May. Their manner was reminiscent of the peppy but soft-spoken thespian everyone loved to call their friend in high school. In terms of compositional style, they came across as heavily influenced by Broadway theater and the likes of Danny Elfman or Barbara Streisand. If it were the 60’s or earlier, they would definitely be considered a pop vocalist. Pretty and full of spunk, their vocals often projected the energy one would expect of a theater character, with lyrics characterizing an array of emotions in the vein of a sympathetic protagonist who’s down and out, but still hopeful for the future. It was obvious that those in attendance were totally captivated; each song was followed by gushing applause. You’d have to be a cynic to find anything wrong with what was undoubtedly an incredible performance. Well, being a cynic myself, an issue I found with their act was that it was too good for a basement. My expectations of a basement show tend to rest in the comfort of knowing whomever I’m going to see is either musically unconventional or touts some conceptual edge that tries to go against what could be considered the “artistic norm”; actual talent is the last thing I expect from my grimy basement shows. Putting my own pretension aside, Danni May is fantastic and I can’t wait for all my Broadway friends to gush over them in the future.
With the night coming to a close, Joey Walsh’s three-piece pop outfit Wyndup Kid burst onto the stage to play the evening out with a high energy Alt-rock set. Opening with an explosive intro, Joey uncontrollably shuffled around while furiously strumming his beaten acoustic guitar, going cross-eyed each time he got up to the microphone to sing; by God did he do his best to show the crowd how much ecstasy he was in. As grunge-pop as the band was, a style of music I’m not very partial to, the crowd that stayed was happily bopping away to the loud and fast rock jams Wyndup Kid was more than willing to offer. Aside from all the instruments being a bit too blown out for my tastes, their stage presence as a youth fronted rock group was admirable, and I look forward to their upcoming EP and music video.