Punk'n Roll Down the Memory Hole at R-M-
April 27th, 2019 was a Saturday like any other. Corey Booker’s birthday and the anniversary of Mussolini’s arrest, nothing of real note or popular significance is attached to this generic date of the Gregorian calendar. Faded into distant memory, it was by chance when scrolling through my now bottomless feed of memo-notes that I stumbled upon an impromptu write-up of a show from that evening. A line-up composed of bands who seldom play live, I figured it would be neat to salvage what memories remain of that day’s obscure performance.
On any given night, a countless number of shows could be going on throughout the Jersey DIY scene. For a town like New Brunswick, at least three shows are playing out, all in walking distance of each other. Without much to lure me aside from its proximity to my house, I returned to the partitioned music den that is R- M-. The turn out was good; plenty of students and locals were floating through the low-lit basement as more people came over to support the all-rock lineup for the evening. Leaning with my shoulder against the wall, playing off my timid introversion for aloofness, I was frivolously confronted by the bassist of Dada Dolls who, through skittish tease and playful smile, asked I write a better review of the band. Obviously half-joking with her demand, I was flattered at the sincerity she had for my write up of Dada Doll’s Grand Exchange show. Having already covered a gig the night prior, I intended to lay low this evening, but then figured “what the hell” and started writing.
The first act to go up was Latchkey Kids, a group of upstanding New Brunswick dudes who were more than prepared to belt out some radio-friendly tunes. Their lead singer was warming up prior to the show, shuffling around the basement in a pair of swimming trunks greeting people with the line “I’m Bathing in Chunks” (a reference to another New Brunswick band who were playing that night at a different house). The bass and drums released a shock wave of warm low end as their lead brooded over the microphone with a gritty vocal delivery. A subtle waft of sweat and perfume lingered in the air as Latchkey kids played a decent set of indie/alternative tunes to a mostly female crowd. The initial response from the audience was immensely positive; people danced with a fervor fueled by the care-free joy of youth, set to a sentimental pop-dream backdrop. But, this dream came to an end as the set pattered out and energy began to dwindle among attendees. It wasn’t that the band’s playing was mediocre or uninspired, but their set stuck too close to the aimless open power strumming typical of a safe alternative rock outfit. Great for a track or two, the band lacked the variety necessary to hold the now placid crowd's attention; who stood with their head's down, arms dangling, or busy with their phones. I was informed later that this show would most likely be the band’s final performance, as they enter indefinite hiatus. This is a shame, as their music is sincere and as a band are better rehearsed than most accessible college outfits that appear and fade away from the basement scene. Hopefully Latchkey Kids will return; different moniker or otherwise.
The present crowd remained as more people poured in for the fem-punk pressure of Dada Dolls. Only a week or two had passed since I covered their riot grrrl procession of punk and poetry at the Grand Exchange, but tonight they were determined to push their energy further. As usual they started hard with shouted vocals and some standard punk riffs; heartfelt and fuming with fury, the singer lashed and propelled her body around the basement floor like a human mace; it’s a miracle that she doesn’t get whiplash after every show. The air now smelling of cigarettes, an aura of aggression radiated from the band as their lead bared her frustrated, miserable experiences of seeing friends harassed and ignored for being women. She followed her admonishment of selfish men with a sentimental song called “Macy” that was a wonderful blend of somber sound both sweet and melancholic; reflecting on the distress of being alive and young in this “crazy” and sometimes overwhelming world. The set settled into the participatory segment of their performance; calming down the rowdy crowd, getting them to sit on the cool basement floor, the lead delivered a declaration of validation for the sanity behind feeling. With words careless of sense, in favor of raw meaning, she parsed, pried, and presented the musings of her worried soul which consolidated most of the crowd, while some remained invested in their phones. For the following song, their rhythm guitarist mouthed the melody of the lead guitar (their lead guitarist couldn’t make it out to this show) and the effect was very endearing. This was followed by some poetry; a piece about wolves read by their drummer and a poem calling out misconception on bisexuality by a guest reader. The set ended in a restrained mosh, as people were careful of hitting their heads against the low ceiling and exposed frames that lined the basement.
The Down and Outs followed with an eclectic compilation of flawless genre imitation. Starting things off by pumping out some crunchy groove rock riffs, their basis of influence was grounded in a 60’s garage-surf aesthetic. Suddenly, the phaser kicked on and rang out as they played a track guised by a persistent, pounding, New Wave style. This was followed immediately by a psych-funk song. The vocals, delivered by the bassist, left something to be desired as their monotone sing-speak lyrics limped through the PA’s, overwhelmed by their ravenous instruments’ volume. The guitar wheezed through its amplifier with intense high gain and echo, adding to the dark ambience of the post-punk/disco inspired track “Land Lord”. Stylized by heavy distortion and dead note dissonance, the trio closed out their set with a subversive cover of M.I.A’s Paper Planes. A good amount of people stuck through.
The evening’s final performers were Jack and the Me-offs. Dressed like skate-punk caricatures-the bassist stark naked aside from a pare of underwear and the drummer in bicycle gear plastered with stickers- the band was a by the numbers Ramones style punk trio. Opening with a punk-surf rock instrumental romp, the band proceeded to deliver a tight set of old-school styled punk originals. Concise and brash, the band wasted no time in belting out a standard succession of tracks that were easy on the ears and pleasant for closing out the all-rock evening.