Sunday, September 14, 2014

Night at The Saint

Sunday, September 14, 2014

What makes a trip to The Saint in Asbury Park without the effort is the mix of music. For the most part, I get to hear a number of bands in a variety of styles, each doing a set as if a mini-Woodstock.
I get some of this up north at WFMU’s performance space, and formerly at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. But the Maxwell’s we all knew and loved is gone, and WFMU is an infrequent venue, and so I came south to get some of it. Even then, I thought such a smorgasbord of music was something rare until I discovered The Saint.
Wonder Bar did a great set a couple of weeks ago giving voice of a number of local bands. But for the most part in most bars you get stuck with one band, and if you don’t like it, you’re stuck, or if you leave you’re out the admission price plus the cost of drinks.
The Saint’s routine allows you to wait out one band until the next band comes on, and sometimes, you even surprise yourself by getting to like a band you did not like at first hearing. Most often the better bands come on the later the night gets.
All this was not completely true over this last weekend. The better bands were the middle bands of the four that played.

Amy Malkoff & The Moonshines opened the show at about 8:30 p.m. and it took me a while to get to like the band. At first, I thought Amy’s voice was too shrill, degrading from an otherwise very talented rock band as to make it sound a little like bubblegum music. But then some people said as much about Michael Jackson when he started with the Jackson Five, showing just how much many of us actually know about talent. Maybe it simply took a while for me to get used to the voice before I realized just how remarkable a range Amy had, and still better, she was a solid lead guitarist.
While there are some notable exceptions, rock is a genre dominated by boys and even when there are girls in a mixed band, they tend to get regulated to the unenviable position of band up singers.
So it was refreshing to see a dominant female figure in the otherwise all-band, and the more I listened the more I liked it, especially when she got down and dirty on the guitar and played as hard on it as any boy guitarist could.

St. James and the Apostles that came on an hour later, I loved right from the start. The band was out of Philadelphia, not a place that I would have associated with Southern Rock or religious revival music. But like those amazing Irishmen from that fictional movie band, the Commitments proved, soul is inside of you, not where you come from, and St. James had so much soul I first mistook it for a Christian Rock band when it opened – but not one of those cheesy imitation rock bands so typical of Christian Rock. This band stomped on your head and your balls with both feet and never stopped, even delving into some classic blues. But this was no retro band. They used classic rock, blues and soul as a launching pad the way Janis Joplin did, and threw in guitar work at tough and vicious as Slash from Guns and Roses. And they managed a stunningly full sound with only one guitar, an organ and a madman on the drums. The organ played the bass parts and whole lot more.
Far more complex and arguable the best band of the night, Elephant Stone from Montreal revived psychedelic rock. Not the obtuse psychedelic and Hendrix derivative Robin Trower version, but more based on the foundations laid by The Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Again, my first impressions were wrong. The opening song seemed mushy and the lead singer tepid. But the more I listened, the more the textured sound weaved around me, and I began to hear the various levels and rhythms the band had incorporated into its music. It was overwhelming even in a place like The Saint where hard core rock bands banged out their music for masochistic fans. This band incorporated two, sometimes three guitars, drums, and a keyboard when one player wasn’t playing guitar. But it was when the lead singer sat down to a sitar I became convinced, although here, too, I expected to get a simplistic repeat of George Harrison (and I am a George Harrison fan), and was delighted when I did not. This band rocked, even on a sitar. I nearly fell out of my seat – explaining perhaps why I knocked over my beer and required the deft rescue by the barmaid in cleaning up my mess.

The last act, The Savants, didn’t impress me even though they were from Brooklyn. This might have been because I was tired and arguably a bit drunk. The show had started an hour later than usual, and so I didn’t have time to let them win me over, and was stuck with my first impression that the well-crafted music was brought down by weak singing. The singing and material might have advanced later, but I was already on the road back to Jersey City for a short night of sleep.
This won’t keep me from going back to The Saint, of course, provided it continues to put on shows over the winter. I still haven’t figured out the impact the change of season will have on the music scene in Asbury Park.

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