April 1, 2015 @ St. Vitus, Brooklyn, NY
April 2, 2015 @ Asbury Lanes, NJ
Change is growth.
As a fan, one of the best experiences is watching a band evolve over time. I was fortunate to catch these three acts in late February in Albany, and then again at the end of the tour in Brooklyn and Asbury Park. It’s been six weeks or so, and in between the beginning and the end there’s been changes, new skills mastered, guitars broken (and lessons learned, hopefully).
St. Vitus is a hell of a venue, a little dive bar in a very industrial section of Brooklyn. Inexplicably, there’s nothing to indicate its location – there’s no signage, just a section of metal wall with two doors, all painted flat black. Inside, it’s dark and dim, with a tiny stage and a bar that serves a selection of food and alcohol.
The acoustics at St. Vitus are decent, and their sound system is excellent, almost a little too powerful for the space, depending on where you were in the audience. It was a great venue in spite of its hole-in-the-wall appearance; the staff was professional and helped put together an amazing show.
Asbury Lanes is almost the complete opposite of St. Vitus. It’s down on the Jersey shore, within walking distance of the boardwalk, a retro-themed bowling alley-art gallery-music venue. The venue is one of the landmarks of the Jersey music scene, and many great bands have played there over the years.
The stage is small and set directly on part of the bowling lanes, with a terrific sound and light system, complete with smoke machine. The acoustics are surprisingly good for the larger space of the bowling alley. It’s a fun venue to catch shows at, and one of my favorites.
When I saw Modern Chemistry in Albany, my overall impression was that they were a young band without a lot of experience, and that they would improve over time. These guys are young, in their early 20s, and this was their first real tour. In Albany, they were technically proficient musicians, and even though their music was a level above your standard rock ‘n’ roll, there was something missing from their performance. Their set didn’t grab you and pull you in.
Six weeks later and the change is very noticeable. They’ve developed confidence and a better understanding of themselves and their audience, and even though I’d seen them before, it was like I was seeing a completely different band. This time around, their music was compelling, capturing the audience’s attention and holding it with a scorching performance both nights.
At Asbury Lanes, Modern Chemistry had the support of friends and family, being local Jersey boys, and it showed in their set, It was clear they were happy to be home, and their music reflected their joy.
After the show at Asbury Lanes, I talked to singer and guitarist Joe Zorzi briefly about the amazing difference between the Albany show and these last two, and he attributed part of that to a lackluster performance on the band’s part at the beginning of the tour. I had to disagree; the band might not have felt it was a good performance, but from the audience’s viewpoint, it wasn’t a bad set. It just didn’t live up to the potential that was clear to see from their musicianship.
Either way, it was a great set of shows at the tour’s end and Modern Chemistry is definitely a band to keep your eye out for.
The first, most obvious change when Derek Zanetti (otherwise known as the Homeless Gospel Choir) took the stage was the “This machine tells the truth” written on his guitar. It was partly rubbed off from his constant playing, but the message was loud and clear. These are protest songs.
(If you are confused, please review the history of protest songs in America – specifically Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.)
Seeing Derek in Albany was my first experience with hearing his music; I hadn’t had the time to check him out before the show, and I was totally blown away by his performance. I didn’t think I could be more moved by Derek’s raw and heartfelt songs. Yet somehow, six weeks later I was even more stunned by the emotional power of his set.
Derek doesn’t use a written set list; he has selection of songs that he plays based on whim, timing, and sometimes, audience requests. He has certain things he wants to say during the show, but how and when he says them varies. He interacts a lot with the audience and all of this combines to make for an extremely dynamic show that is a delight to be a part of.
This isn’t the first time that Derek has been on tour; he’s been involved in various aspects of the music business for a while. In spite of that, there’s a greater sense of confidence and surety in his show that wasn’t present at the beginning of the tour. From the very start, the audience has responded positively to his protest songs, and I think the knowledge of that has allowed Derek to relax into his performance.
In addition to joining frnkiero and the cellabration on stage to sing Jawbreaker’s Boxcar, Derek also helped out with Sunsets Are For Muggings, screaming into the mic briefly as Frank threw himself out into the crowd. It’s also a measure of the how the friendship between the bands has grown over the course of the tour.
The Homeless Gospel Choir has become one of my favorite bands and Derek is one of the most genuine and open people I’ve ever met. He’s very inspiring, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
I was lucky enough to interview Derek before the show at St. Vitus; you can find that interview here.
St. Vitus is one of Frank’s favorite venues; he’s been known to attend shows there. The same is true for Asbury Lanes, so it’s no surprise that both of these shows were absolutely sensational. For the Asbury show, the Cellabration hit the stage wearing identical (and bright) shirts that read “Don’t hassle me, I’m local”. It was clear these Jersey guys were happy to be home. Frank spent a good portion of the show smiling.
I’ve talked before about how much I’ve enjoyed watching this band solidify musically since the release of Stomachaches back in late August. Even over the course of this headlining tour, I’ve seen subtle refinements in their set that show what a talented band the Cellabration is.
Their performance of Guilttripping is a perfect example of this; Frank steps back and lets Evan, Rob and Matt handle the primary vocals for a good portion of the song while he focuses on playing the guitar. There are other songs that have been tinkered with, giving them a distinctive and different sound than what’s on the album, and I’m pleased that the band feels confident enough to let the songs evolve.
The set list has changed over the course of the tour, and over the last few shows fan favorite Stage 4 Fear of Trying had dropped off the set list, leaving Weighted as the closing song. But at the Asbury Lanes show, in spite of having lost the microphone to the audience during Weighted, the Cellabration played Stage 4 as the last song, Frank and the audience singing the words together while the rest of the band left the stage.
I don’t know why it took so long to get back home
All these miles just to get back home
Traveled all these miles just to get back home.
There was no more appropriate closer than that to a great show, and an amazing tour.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to talk with Frank before the show in Albany at the start of the tour; if you haven’t seen the interview, definitely check it out here.