One of the joys of growing up in New Jersey is its thriving music scene. Although it has seen a dip in open venues (RIP Bloomfield Ave. Café), it is undeniable that the Garden State’s most known spots have an abundance of loyal, lifelong followers. From the Wellmont Theater to the Meatlocker and the Stone Pony, there’s a place for people of all ages, musical tastes and economic standings. However, it seems my current fave is Teaneck’s Mexicali Live, where you can munch on burritos and get buzzed on margaritas while enjoying some of today’s most promising talent.
This past Friday, I decided it was time that I trek the sports and movie-loving boyfriend out to a show that didn’t include friends of ours on the bill. I figured what night would be better than to see Waking Lights, one of the tri-state area’s top up-and-coming bands. I’ve seen the indie/folk five-piece on a number of occasions in the past, and gave the group some coverage in William Paterson University’s Pioneer Times. After I heard their debut LP, The Rabbit Hole, I knew that they were an act to look out for. And as entertainment editor at the time, I strived to find talent in their prime – and in the least likely of places. But I digress – they were playing a show with girl-power trio Banditas and pop/rock troupe I Am Fighting, and I was more than excited to see what the night was going to hold.
Matt and Kyle of Waking Lights. Photo Courtesy: Henry Baum
As waitresses scurried around the room to serve drinks to the thirsty and down-to-party crowd, Hayley Thompson-King, Molly Maltezos, and Alec Tisdale aka Banditas took the stage. With an intriguing fusion of country harmonies and the grimy and chunky instrumentation of garage, the Bostonites stood their ground as concertgoers loudly made their way through the entrance. Thompson-King and Maltese hypnotized listeners with their harmonies as they belted out tracks from their debut opus Get Behind Us. Their cute outfits and petite frames were more than misleading as they belted tracks about shooting their men dead. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!
Next, the great wall of guitars that is I Am Fighting played a set filled with catchy guitar hooks and rhythms that could induce the need to head-bop in even the stiffest of characters. The Kearny, NJ band gave a grand performance in celebration of their new album Mesmerized, which was released today. Each member seemed absolutely enthralled in the performance as the crowd pogoed and sang along to every word through the set’s entirety. Although lead singer Joe Gehrmann admitted that their shows are few and far between, they’re definitely a band to check out live when they make their random stops around Jersey. Alongside Gehrmann is Dominick Gaglio who shredded on lead guitar, Dan Tretola on rhythm guitar, bassist Walter Dicristina, and drummer Joe Hughes.
Waking Lights’ Nicole jamming out. Photo Courtesy: Henry Baum
It was around 10 p.m. and I was still stabbing at my chicken burrito and slurping down my second magarita. As I began to sink my she-claws into my significant other’s half-full beer, it was time for us to experience Waking Lights in a packed house. This time the band was geared up with a smoke machine to give the crowd a performance filled with gritty passion and a distinct camaraderie that is only seen in the most rare of performances. The band, who humbly only go by their first names on their band bio – Matt (vocals), Dana (drums), Tommy (keyboards), Kyle (bass) and Nicole (violin) – played majority of their debut album, including the twangy “Where It All Began,” the sultry, R&B-infused “Never Meant to Hurt You,” and the harmonic indie gems “We All Die Alone” and “Lady in Rincon.” The band also previewed two new songs that will be on a new, currently unnamed, album. Each member of Waking Lights looked as if they were playing and singing with every bit of their strength. No one stole the show. Instead, they were one complete element, fueling each other until the very last note. Check out this great interview with the band and some bits of their set with the Aquarian Weekly’s Brian Schantz for the publication’s Project Greenroom and download The Rabbit Hole on iTunes.