The Flatliners headlined what you would politely call an eclectic bill Thursday night at the Gin Mill & Grille in Northampton. Even after noted local punk act Digger dropped off the show for unspecified reasons, the total number of bands appearing was six, with the five openers representing a diverse range of styles and stage experience. Some were veterans of the area scene; others were imported by the promoter and hoping to impress new ears.
Alula Borealis, an instrumental alt-rock trio from South Jersey, opened the show, unfortunately falling on the sword as the first band on a six-band bill, playing a short (20 minute) set with an early start time. From what I can tell, they started promptly at 6 p.m.; I left Phillipsburg in what should have been enough time to catch their set, but a rainstorm and traffic on 22 meant that I got there as they were thanking the sparse early-bird crowd and walking off stage.
In the interim between bands, I met up with some friends at the bar in the front portion of the Gin Mill. It was an inauspicious place, the kind of bar-restaurant aesthetic I’m familiar with and feel oddly at ease within: a crowded bar in the center of the room, with a handful of tables and booths in one corner. Local happy hour heads and people taking their grandkids out to dinner mingled with punks and weirdos as they trickled in and made their way to the show in the back room.
When I say “back room,” there’s a not-unfair connotation that comes along with it, of some place cramped and seedy that you’ll later recall fondly — as in, “Yeah, I saw Flatliners in this gross little dungeon in nowhere, PA – it was awesome!” or, “I saw Goat Wizard at the Funhouse, there was a guy passed out taking a poop in the bathroom. It was a night I’ll never forget!”
This “back room,” however, was not that at all. The concert venue portion of the Gin Mill & Grille is nice. I probably won’t remember a thing about it in ten years, but for a Thursday night in the Lehigh Valley, it was a nice place to go see a bigger name band like The Flatliners. It reminded me of the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn – except this place was actually bigger, with a better layout, and a way fatter bar setup. They have $2.25 PBR pounders – not bad, except they didn’t advertise it, which implies they didn’t necessarily understand the kind of crowd that comes with a band like The Flatliners.
I posted up at the venue bar alongside another buddy of mine, Estevan, the enigmatic thrash warlord from Snow Lotion, as the second band – a pop-core act called Surrender the Night – got started playing to a still lowly-populated room.
Surrender the Night were technically proficient, but low-energy. I don’t know if that was a deliberate performance choice, or if it was a result of inexperience or nerves. They seemed like a young band, still trying to put the pieces together. At one point in their set, they did a My Chemical Romance cover (“I’m Not Okay”). After that, I was unsure which of their songs were originals and which might have been covers of bands like MCR or The Used.
During their set I also noticed the camo-wearing bouncer standing off to the side, rigidly still, eyes on the crowd at all times. I got the preternatural sense I would notice him again before the night was through.
Third on the bill were Allentown punk band, The American Myth, who played an energetic and solid set starting around 7:10-7:15. Of all of the bands that played, The American Myth were the best fit to play with a band like The Flatliners, with their style feeling much indebted or otherwise remarkably reminiscent of early-2000s era, beginning-of-their-career Flatliners. They brought the energy the previous band lacked, running around the stage, playing their guitars and seemingly having an awesome time. The crowd got into it, and the set climaxed with friends joining them on stage for their closer.
AmRev II tried to carry over the energy from the preceding band. Bassist TJ Albright and drummer Johnny Two-Tone were characteristically enthusiastic, and singer Devon aka Ras D tried his best to get a reaction out of the people watching.
“What do you all usually do on a Thursday night?” he asked the crowd.
“Smoke crack!” yelled one person – possibly more than one. I can’t say for sure – while others chimed in with, “Drink,” and one guy yelled “Stranger Things.”
AmRev’s set was less nostalgic for me than expected. The songs I recognized seemed different some way or another, and I found myself thinking that, while I’m happy those dudes are still doing their thing, I want to see them tackle new material. I want to hear what they have to say about 2016. That’s the AmRev II I’d like to hear right now.
Grass, the penultimate act of the night, went on fifth at the reasonable time of 8:40 p.m. They mostly played songs off their EP, Ripperz. Grass is the kind of band whose set gets tighter and more enthralling every time I see them perform. Lead guitarist Andrew Bloodnick shreds in the vein of the blessed-out bodhisattva-head Hendrix that adorns the front of his t-shirt, and he has a voice for the blues. Bassist Salty Lines wears no shoes (he likes how his pedals react to his bares toes better) and screams when he has to. Drummer A.C. is the punk; the loud-mouth, the loveable firebrand. He keeps time with a smile on his face, running on little sleep and Pabst, in his element and knowing it. Them Grass boys and their sick-riffin’ blues rock should be at the top of your must-see list if you live in the Valley (and if you’re not already drinking buddies with A.C.)
The Flatliners, a notable punk act coming from Toronto, were making a pit-stop in the Valley before going to play the Bouncing Souls’ inaugural Stoked for Summer show in Asbury Park on Friday. Their set was delayed by some technical difficulties, though only slightly, and began around 9:30.
The band seemed unsure of what to expect from Northampton, Pennsylvania. Fortunately, it seemed the crowd won them over fairly quickly. By the time they were on, the decent-sized room was fairly full; there was room by the bar, while the majority of the attendees crowded toward the front to sing along.
And, as is common, there was room to dance in the fashion of a punk show – that is, pushing and shoving, and letting out a kind of communal aggression. At first, the bouncers were kind of freaking out, not trying to have any of it. A friend of mine was pulled from the fledgling pit by the throat. The camouflage bouncer stepped into the pit to try and obfuscate it.
In between songs, somebody – maybe one of the Flatliners, maybe Two-Tone, maybe some anonymous voice from the melee – made a reference to Footloose. Two-Tone incited a chant of “I’m Kevin Bacon!” which caught on with the crowd (though later, Estevan admitted he was chanting “Fuck Kevin Bacon!” because he thought that was what the crowd was chanting, and he was swept up in the populist rage of the moment, or something.)
One of the Flatliners pointed out that at the end of Footloose everybody broke ranks and danced. During the next song, something beautiful in its anti-mimesis happened: the crowd danced wildly around — and in spite of the guards. One woman grabbed the guy in camo and tried to get him dancing. While ultimately unsuccessful, it seemed to help him understand that this was a mostly harmless outlet of energy. He remained in the pit the rest of the night, watching for any particularly agro behavior, but I didn’t see him pull anybody else out. The dancers prevailed.
Prior to Thursday, the last time I saw The Flatliners was about eight years ago in a Polish nightclub in Brooklyn, while they were touring with The Lawrence Arms. They had just released “The Great Awake” which, even all these years later, remains the album of theirs I’m most familiar with. I’ve only intermittently listened to their subsequent records. This was to my detriment, as they played a really fun, energetic set and I found myself wanting to sing along, but only able to in bits and pieces aside from token songs off “Great Awake,” like the album’s first single, “Eulogy”. They played a lot off of “Dead Language,” and a handful off of “Cavalcade.”
Lead singer/guitarist Chris Cresswell said something oddly profound about ideas for Halloween costumes you get in the summer and then forget. They even did an encore, obliging the crowd’s chanting of “Fred’s Got Slacks” by playing the much-loved song off their ska-heavy, long-ago debut LP, “Destroy to Create”. It was rad.
Overall, it was a cool night. I got to see a bunch of people I know, and a notable punk act came through the Valley and rocked a decent crowd. I checked out a new, promising venue, and friends got to play with a band they love.
“It’s not every day you get the opportunity to play with your favorite band”, A.C. said after the show, suddenly unusually humble, “I’ll be forever stoked on sharing the stage with those dudes.”