BRICK CITY SOUND RIOT: Three Day DIY Fest
Brings Rock N Roll To Newark
by Jim Testa
Photos by James Damion
The first annual Brick City Sound Riot brought together
about 40 bands and close to 500 fans over three days at
Kilkenny’s Alehouse in Newark, and left behind a lot
of true believers.
First, Brick City showed that a handful of Do-It-Yourself’ers
with ties to the local music scene could indeed program
and pull off an event of this size; while there may have
been a few hiccups and behind the scenes glitches, overall
things ran flawlessly. If anyone seemed unprepared for the
event, it was the so-called professionals who run Kilkenny’s
Alehouse, which kept running out of beer and food. I will
say though that the staff reacted to three days of rock
‘n’ roll mayhem (and a lot of unaccustomed noise)
with resoundingly good spirits. Everyone involved in the
festival was made to feel welcome, from the bands, to the
vendors selling crafts and t-shirts, to the fans. Waitresses
got yelled out for listening to bands and not taking orders.
They even opened the roof so the techie staff could videotape
after-set interviews with many of the performers. Kudos
to Eric Moeller, Jen Schwartz, Will Acevedo, Zac Clark,
and all the other organizers and volunteers who put the
weekend together and kept it humming.
Killing The Messenger
Secondly, Brick City Sound Riot proved beyond any doubt
that no matter how much synth-pop, laptop-core, chill wave,
witchhouse, and whatever other flavor-of-the-week may dominate
the blogosphere, these days, New Jersey still loves its
rock ‘n’ roll. You could count the synthesizers
on one hand this weekend; this event was all about big loud
electric guitars, bass, drums, and vocals. The music came
tinged with folk, blues, and country, infused with metal
and punk, expanded with saxophones and xylophones; but with
only a handful of exceptions, Brick City Sound Riot was
a Rock festival, with a big loud capital R.
Unfortunately I couldn’t attend the opening festivities
on Friday night, which centered around folk and country-based
acts like Darren Deicide, Cicada Radio, The One And Nines,
The Ashes, and Secret County playing in Kilkenny’s
first floor lounge. I was told that not only was the entertainment
excellent all night, but Friday was the biggest draw of
On Saturday and Sunday, the festival expanded to two floors,
with the second floor turning into a combination rock club
and flea market. Vendors sold homemade jewelry, art work,
t-shirts, and other merch while a constant stream of bands
played on the room’s large stage as well as the downstairs
lounge. The venue never seemed crowded but it certainly
felt full most of the time, with Sunday actually outdrawing
Saturday by a bit.
Bands came from different parts of New Jersey and a few
from New York, although the heaviest representation seemed
to hail from the burgeoning Jersey City music scene. The
weekend’s headliners - the iconic, reuniting Rye Coalition
on Saturday and psychedelic garage-rockers Black Hollies
on Sunday - both have long histories in the Jersey City
scene, but it was also heartening to see so many young bands
that have migrated there. Of course, organizer Zac Clark
– photographer, blogger, and local entrepreneur –
books shows at several Jersey City bars, so he’s especially
familiar with the talent there.
Here are just a few of the weekend’s highlights.
I AM THE HEAT - Brooklyn garage-punks who impressed with
taut, wiry songs and excellent musicianship.
WYLDLIFE – Celebrating the release of their new self-titled
disc, Wyldlife’s retro 70’s raunch-rock got
the place jumping, including a well-executed Replacements
NOT BLOOD, PAINT – Far and away the most original
band of the weekend, Not Blood,Paint painted their faces
and played in white body suits while performing experimental
prog-rock inspired by the likes of Zappa and Bowie.
NO PASARAN left the room bloodied and bowed as they always
do with their hypercharged post-hardcore sonic assault,
while THOSE MOCKINGBIRDS lived up to their hype (Tris McCall
in the Star Ledger called them the next likely NJ band to
break out into the mainstream) with a strong set of melodic
folk-rock with an urban twist.
The infamous ‘hard luck four,’ RYE COALITION,
enjoyed a hugely successful reunion last winter and are
the subjects of a new documentary film. They proved why
they are so fondly remembered by those of us who rubbed
elbows and blew out our ears at Uncle Joe’s back in
the day with a powerful career-spanning set of old favorites.
Downstairs on the Hudson West Stage, we were especially
impressed by the country-flavored rock of Jersey City’s
PORCHISTAS, the latest incarnation of the long-lived NJ
indie-pop quartet FAIRMONT, and our first taste of Brooklyn’s
THE PRESS, who played an uptempo set of heartfelt rock ‘n’
roll refreshingly free of the ironic affectation we’ve
come to expect from that boro’s up-and-coming acts.
(Looking at their Myspace page, The Press seem to play more
shows in Jersey City than Brooklyn anyway.)
BLACK WATER and BEN FRANKLIN (who share guitarist Adam Copeland)
both played strong sets of frenetic, spazzy indie-rock.
We hadn’t seen Black Water in a while and they’ve
never sounded better, with Copeland’s ironic, almost
David Byrne-ish vocals dancing playfully over fluid leads
and the charismatic Geri Rivera’s bouncing bass lines.
Ben Franklin shocked and saddened the room by announcing
onstage that this would be their last show. The crowd went
apeshit, dancing and singing along until the set sputtered
to an end. We’ll miss these guys but we’re frontman
Billy Gray will be back with a new project soon.
THE COURTESY TIER on the upstairs stage and CINEMA CINEMA
on the lounge stage both represented the swelling ranks
of duos in indie rock; both come from Brooklyn, and both
feature sonic guitar textures and drums.
BLACKOUT STEREO did a good job of representing Jersey’s
blue-collar rock scene, with a sound that seemed equally
indebted to Springsteen, Social D., and the Replacements.
Also I liked the bass player's look in a wifebeater and
shades; wear your influences proudly!
Jersey City’s WJ & THE SWEET SACRIFICE sounded
a bit like Neil Young & Crazy Horse (which of course
is the biggest compliment ever) with their booming bluesy
garagey rock, while Kearny’s INVISIBLE LINES impressed
with a tight set of their melodic yet energetic indie. Zac
Clark described them as “long-stretch getting it done
80's movie montage driving music” and they remind
me – at least in spirit – of Eighties progenitors
like Eleventh Dream Day or early (not shitty ballady latterday)
Goo Goo Dolls. They played near the end of the weekend and
guitarist Will Acevedo (one of the organizers) must have
been exhausted by that point (I certainly was!), but you’d
never know if from their set. I was a big fan of this band’s
debut CD too, watch for them on the local front.
CRAZY & THE BRAINS turned in what had to be the most
punk rock set of the festival; with their mix of catchy
anti-folk and xylophone, they’ve got a raw but original
sound that’s totally captivating.
MAN LEE was one of three duos playing the fest (along with
Courtesy Tier and Cinema Cinema) and one of the few female-fronted
acts. Looking for more information though, I was surprised
to see that their only online presence is an outdated, barebones
MySpace page. It doesn't even have their names on it. Note
to bands: Nobody's going to care about your music if you
I was a big fan of THE NICO BLUES' debut CD and happily
the band more than lived up to expectations. Bedecked in
gauzy veils ("we don't usually dress like fairies but
tonight is special," one of them quipped), they played
with energy and passion, great vocals, and memorable melodies.
Crazy & The Brains
Elsa & The Awesome Awesomes
Holy City Zoo
Not Blood, Paint
WJ & The Sweet Sacrifice
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