Sunday, September 7, 2014

Rockin’ The Wonder Bar

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Wonder Bar didn’t have Dos Equis so I had to settle for Corona instead.
Corona like tequila is so foul you can’t drink it without a lemon or lime. Which still makes me wonder why I continue to settle for it when bars don’t carry the beer I want.
The same thing cannot be said about the Wonder Bar itself, even though it was not our regular hang out in Asbury Park.
Located a block off the boardwalk near the northern Pavilion and the space ship like former Howard Johnson’s, The Wonder Bar is on the same street as its much more famous sister, The Stone Pony, and among a handful of iconic rock and roll institutions that make Thunder Road a viable music Mecca.
This brought out a central disagreement about rock clubs in general. The Wonder Bar is a classic rock/dance venue – although for the four hours we were there, we only saw two women dance and only as half a joke. The venue is split between the bar area, dance/dining area with a stage in the corner, and outdoor café area. While dark for the most part, the bar had significant illumination, especially near the stage (which caused the lead singer of Kenya to ask for the lights to be dimmed in order to let him “get sexy.” The bar area had a number of TV screens for sports viewing, and the small kitchen near the front door seemed to be the busiest part of the place with one poor woman preparing classic bar food (mostly for band members waiting their turn to go on stage) and then the vast clean up that seemed to have her scrubbing for the whole last set.
I prefer the much funkier atmosphere of The Saint, partly because it is much more intimate, and by default, already quite “sexy.” But being in the audience in The Saint is like being inside one of sound stacks, you don’t just hear the music, you are consumed by it.
But it wasn’t the sound system that brought us to The Wonder Bar that night, but the bands. The Wonder Bar was hosting a night of truly local bands – the kind of stuff that is pure New Jersey. The Saint sacrifices local flavor for extremely good quality, but sometimes, you miss the intricacies that come from local bands. We got a little of it a few weeks earlier, when two Hoboken bands played The Saint, but The Wonder Bar was giving us a glimpse into what is happening now in Jersey, similar to the role The Stone Pony played prior to Bruce Springsteen being discovered, when the E Street Band and South Side Johnny were only the headliners in a string of bands that including more comic performers like Salty Dog.
This proved to be true last night when Dark City Entertainment presented five local performers, ranging in quality and sophistication – the best of which were Those Mockingbirds and Kenya, although each band brought something special to the stage. A solo acoustic performer with roots in Woody Guthrie and Americana opened the night, filling the space with the mood of old Greenwich Village or of the coffee house era out of which acts like Springsteen’s had risen.
The pre advertising was a little confusing since it indicated that one of the other bands would include Smalltalk. What we got was a three piece called Climbing the Walls, an emerging talent with original material, but a raw edge that gave the room a lot of grit after the somewhat soft introduction West provided. This band provided something of a gateway to Prehistoric Forest – for which there really was no adequate introduction – a four piece with a wild man for a lead singer, and a stage show that could have used a traffic cop to keep performers from falling over each other. The lead singer leaped and fell, sometimes performing on his back on the floor, a well-groomed act of a drunken, out of control performer – which evaporated before and after he took the stage. This was raw and powerful performance, mixed with elements of a three-ring circus. Near the conclusion the drummer was actually standing on his own drums.
Kenya, which came on next, was just as powerful, but was also totally opposite in its need for utter control. Every element of the performance was orchestrated, and resembled very much the range of music Prince once exuded in the early 1980s, even down to the women back up singers. This is not to say Kenya was without grit, but it weaved elements of pop and something else into its hard edged performance, a sexual tease that took you from soft to hard, and back again, but didn’t let up until the band left the stage.
It was hard to imagine anything that could compete with Kenya that night, but in some ways, it was like having listened to South Side Johnny only to have The E-String Band come on next.
Those Mockingbirds were THAT good, and somehow managed to sum up the evening in a way that I did not expect. They were straight up rock and roll, and had as much edge as Prehistoric Forest, but also contained many of the more controlled orchestration that was evident in Kenya. The female keyboard/violinist gave it a unique texture. She and the drummer also provided back up vocals, a kind of surprise since usually, back ups in rock and roll come from the lead guitarist and bass players. But both of those musicians had plenty enough to do, especially the guitarist.
Those Mockingbirds knocked down the walls of this place – groomed but not too groomed, the way The Beatles must have seemed in those early days at The Cavern, something inside waiting to explode, and they managing not just to tease audience by going soft and hard, but to ride it, driving the point home hard, and then backing off, only to do it again and again so by the end of their set, you know something had knocked you down and rolled you over, and you ached for them to do it again – only there was no encore

No comments:

Post a Comment