This week in Makin Waves, there’s a chat with and exclusive video from veteran hard rock band Colossal Street Jam, the online premiere of Spowder’s all-powerful debut LP, Health Palm, reviews of Overmind and Brenyama, a live review of a New Brunswick basement show with Hodera, dollys, Green Knuckle Material, Secret Mountain and Offkey Lifestyle, a video brief of Taylor Tote, and briefs on the “Songs by and about Women” benefit for Planned Parenthood, and New Brunswick Development Corp.’s weekly outdoor gig for Hub City bands.
Rock ‘n’ roll dreams never die. They just grow up, get married, have kids and find a day job.
But for Colossal Street Jam, one of the most popular New Jersey bands of the 1990s, the dream is alive and well and living and playing in Red Bank, as well as Asbury Park.
Together for three years in the wake of a 20th anniversary celebration of their 1993 CD, Colossal Street Jam picked up right where they left off with great show after great show. Their next concert will take place April 28 at House of Independents in Asbury Park, and is titled “A Celebration of Local Guitarists.” The all-star evening will include Prophet/Edgar Cayce guitarist Kenny Dubman; Frankenstein 3000, featuring guitarists Keith Roth (David Johansen, Cheetah Chrome, Sylvain Sylvain) and Pete Marshall (Iggy Pop, Samhain); and Bitter Crush with guitarist Lou Vito, plus several other surprise guests. The celebration is in honor of Colossal Street Jam guitarist Sal Marra’s recent endorsement deal with Oriolo Guitars, as well as the band’s new video for “I Can’t Take It” from their 2016 comeback LP, Living Free.
Like Marra, vocalist Gene Potts and bassist Tony Flora are original CSJ members. In the 21st century incarnation, they are joined by Matt O’Ree/Anthony Krizan keyboardist Eric Safka and drummer Dave Halpern, whose résumé includes Rock and Roll of Famers The Bee Gees and local greats Highway 9 and Love in Reverse. They also will play Harpin’ Help, an annual benefit for Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation and Keyport Ministerium Food Pantry that boasts an all-star lineup of harmonica players, singer-songwriters and bands, including Predator Dub Assassins, Arlan Feiles, Waiting on Mongo, the Nick Clemons Band, Moroccan Sheepherders, Sandy Mack and many more.
The hoppin’ Teak Rooftap in Red Bank will be a regular stop throughout the spring and summer, including April 30 at Flavorfest, a benefit for the Red Bank Education Foundation. The band’s schedule also will bring them June 17 to World Café Live in Wilmington, Del., and July 22 to Whiskey Tango in Philadelphia.
In the following chat, Potts and Marra talk about what it’s been like not only for Colossal Street Jam to have come back, but to thrive.
EXCLUSIVE MEDIA PREMIERE:
Question: What do the new members of Colossal Street Jam bring to the band that wasn’t there before and how has that made an impact?
Answer: Potts: The addition of Dave Halpern on drums and Eric Safka has made us complete. The original version of Colossal had an organ player, so bringing in Eric, who is an amazing player and also a great live performer, was the perfect choice. We were so excited when he was happy to join. Dave joined a year and a half ago and has brought a great feel to the band. He’s a metronome and has amazing song arrangement ideas. He’s the pro’s pro. He’s played with everyone and has a résumé a mile long. Having these two in the band has brought our game to a whole other level as seen in our resurgence of late.
A: Marra: Eric allows for the songs to be more layered. Having another lead instrument in the band leads to the songwriting going in different directions. Dave’s experience in playing with so many different projects and styles has brought more dynamic arrangements to our band’s music. It’s added a new fire to the band.
Q: Why did Colossal Street Jam go away and what made you want to come back?
A: Potts: We had a lot going on with management companies and one label that was coming to our shows, and it just seemed to take forever. As time went on, we just got impatient and started to disagree on the route of the band. The label wanted us to be more like (Jake E. Lee’s) Badlands, and we were more in the Grand Funk Railroad style. So we never really broke up. We just kind of faded away. We all stayed close, just stopped playing, and it just turned into the end.
The 20th anniversary of our 1993 release started reunion talk just for one show, and once we started rehearsing, we felt like it was time to get back out there, write and record music and see how it goes. By the way, you wrote a killer review of that CD. We thank you for that!
A: Marra: I remember that review. It was awesome. Thanks, brother!
Q: What was the moment that made Colossal Street Jam want to get back together? What instance made that click into reality and why?
A: Potts: I think it was the first live show. Three hundred people showed up, and it was exciting to play the old songs live again. Then once we started writing, it solidified the idea of being a working band again.
A: Marra: I completely agree.
Q: How many members of the band are married and/or have children, and how can you balance that now in a way that you couldn’t before?
A: Potts: Three of us are married and … have kids. I have an 11- and 16-year-old and a very understanding wife. The kids are old enough that they have their own things going on, friends and sports. I’m able to balance it all, never miss a game or function, and still leave at night to play. There’ve been some times when we have been out for a few days, and I make sure I have all that covered well in advance. My kids think it’s cool that their dad is on iTunes.
Q: How and why do your wives support the band?
A: Potts: My wife and I love the same type of music. We go to a lot of shows when I’m off, and she comes to as many of our shows as she can. She supports me by giving her honest opinion of what we are doing, and she promotes the band as much as she can. Sal and Tony’s wives are the same way.
Marra: My wife loves the band and all its members. It’s awesome to have a partner who believes in your dreams and lets you run with it.
Q: Does the title of your latest album, Living Free, relate at all to Colossal Street Jam’s comeback?
A: Potts: (The song) “Living Free” started as a song about loving things in your life … It’s the only true “pop” song on the record in my opinion. I think when it came time to name the record, it was the obvious choice, as we as a band were recording and playing without restrictions that we had in the past.
Q: How and why does personal finance and work status play a factor in the freedom to bring Colossal Street Jam back?
A: Potts: Having a full-time career for me and also an acoustic trio has helped me be able to finance my part of the costs for whatever CSJ needs. We all chip in and have careers that allow us to do so. I think if we all didn’t, it would have been a struggle to get our new music out there and who knows, that reunion could have been short-lived, but thankfully, we are on a roll.
Q: Were you surprised that so many of your old fans were ready, willing and able to rock with you?
A: Potts: Our fans have always been loyal, but it was a huge surprise to see them constantly come back show after show. We had a crazy fan base when we started out, and … luckily for us, they are coming back. The fans are growing show by show and more and more as the new songs are getting radio play and spreading thru social media. It’s a huge boost for the morale and keeps us striving to get better and release more music.
A: Marra: I was surprised so many faces came out of the woodwork. We’ve had people come as far as California and Chicago to see the band again.
Q: Why and how are you having more fun than ever?
A: Potts: I’m playing our music with four of my closest friends, and as I said before, the crowds and the response to the music. On top of everything, I book and run the band, so with every show I book and all the social media I get to do for the band, I’m having more fun!
A: Marra: There’s no career goals as it was when we were young. We are making music for us and enjoying it. There’s no battle to become a rock star. It’s all about leaving a legacy for ourselves.
Q: Sal, what does your endorsement by Oriolo Guitars entail?
A: Marra: I get some new guitars and maybe even get to put my ideas into the new models of the guitars. I also get to be in the promo at National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) and other conventions, so my name will get out there and so will the name of the band.
Q: The endorsement already is impacting the band by leading to a celebration that has allowed you to headline House of Independents. How will the endorsement impact the band and you in the future?
Marra: I might get an opportunity to meet and play with some well-known guitar players that are also with Oriolo, which in turn will hopefully lead to more shows and popularity for CSJ.
Q: The first time around, you had a weekly gig at The Stone Pony and upon returning to the scene, you toured with Gov’t Mule, so Colossal Street Jam are not strangers to prestigious gigs. Despite that, and besides the endorsement deal, what makes the HOI show special and why?
A: Potts: The fact that we are headlining this new venue and that Dark City Entertainment and The Saint are joining forces for this one makes it very special. Happy they chose us to come together for the first time. We also have some awesome bands that have joined the show. All have killer players, and each has an amazing guitar player, which runs with the theme of the show. It’s also the debut of Kenny Dubman’s new band supporting his new CD, Reckless Abandon. Kenny is an unbelievable guitar player who is a legend around here being from the bands Prophet and Edgar Cayce.
Q: Who else is playing with you and what is it about them that made you want to invite them?
A: Potts: When we finish our set, we will bring up all the guitar players on the show to join us for a few songs. We will also have Sal’s guitar teacher, Bruce Wacker, joining us, so that will be exciting for him. Alan Manzo from the Moroccan Sheepherders and Laura Catalina Johnson, who sings on the title track “Living Free” and also in the band Strumberry Pie, will also be joining us. I have a few surprises I’m working on too, but it’s too soon to announce.
Q: Right after you play HOI, you are playing Teak Rooftop again for Flavorfest. What is Flavorfest?
A: Potts: Flavorfest is a huge outside concert to benefit the Red Bank Education Foundation. Teak asked us to play in their new upstairs venue as an added performer.
Q: You play on the Teak Rooftop a lot. What makes that a fun time for the band and your fans?
A: Potts: We kicked off their Original Band Wednesdays in April, and it went so well we decided to grab three more dates through the summer. We bill it as “Colossal Street Jam and Friends” and bring up great local musicians in the second set. Last time was packed and it was a lot of fun. Can’t wait to do it again.
Q: More than half your gigs either are in Red Bank or Asbury Park. I’ve seen you referred to as a Red Bank band, an Asbury Park band, and a Monmouth County band? Which base do you prefer and why?
A: Potts: We are basically a Red Bank band. Most of us live here and we rehearse here, but we do play in Asbury quite a bit. I think Red Bank is more well-known for cover bands, where Asbury is more original. So I think the Asbury base is more responsive to what we do. I’d like to think we are a band from New Jersey.
Q: What advice would you give to a peer whose family and work obligations prevent them from playing out and realizing their musical dreams?
A: Potts: Find a way. There’s always a way if it’s part of you, and you love it. Just start somewhere and see how it goes.
Q: After HOI and Flavorfest, what do Colossal Street Jam have going on related to shows, a tour, a new video, special events, recordings or anything else you want to detail?
A: Potts: We have a few summer shows at Teak Rooftop, we also head into Philly, North Jersey and hopefully some of the out-of-state shows we are working on will be confirmed soon. We are working on Florida, California and Austin shows for the fall. Our new video for “I Can’t Take It” off Living Free will be released April 28, and we are working on one for the ballad “Songbird.” We are also writing the next record and hope to have it out by November. We have no plans of slowing down. We want to release a CD a year. That’s the plan.
ONLINE ALBUM PREMIERE:
Spowder: Health Palm (Sniffling Indie Kids)
Spowder is without question one of New Jersey’s best bands. Live, they are tops, especially when front man Declan McCleary bangs the tambourine on his skull. Maybe that’s why his brain is so brilliantly warped. It certainly makes for an exciting show, along with drummer Jenna Fairey’s and bassist Gillian Smith’s thunder ‘n’ lightning rhythms ala Hüsker Dü, and guitarist Jamie Houghton’s sweet tastefulness amidst a barrage of Stooges-like chaos.
With their full-length debut, Health Palm, on the esteemed Sniffling Indie Kids, Spowder do a great job of living up to the live show and demonstrating a studio maturity well beyond their initial EPs. From the opening burst of the namesake “Space Power Over — Watch Destroying Evil Rats” to the closing artistry of the title track, the forceful four-piece take the listener on spowderful journey that will clear the sinuses and do the soul a world of good. I especially love the buzzsaw attack and rapidfire pummel of “Pulp,” the staccato grunge of “The Man with Two Mouths,” the momentous Sabbath-like sludge of “Let’s Skin Ruby,” and the impressive high-pitched vocal and musical restraint of the title track.
The band will celebrate this awesome record, as well as McCleary’s birthday, on April 20 at a New Brunswick basement show. Also performing will be Glazer, Kult of Mary and, from Connecticut, Bilge Rat.
Overmind: Change Today
Asbury Park-based reggae-rockin’ rappers Overmind’s debut EP is an entertaining, enlightening mash of Rage Against the Machine-like political fury and edgy, Bad Brainsesque fun. The more political they get, the better, such as on the rallying of the anti-Trump title track.
The closing intensity of “P8TH” about the increasingly enslaving struggle along the path to the American Dream also is a worthy wake-up call. At only four songs, “Change Today” is one of those local releases that leaves you thirsty for more.
Until Overmind’s next release, there are a couple of great opportunities to see them perform more than four songs live. They have two shows coming up at which they will open for three similar-sounding national acts: The Slackers on April 22 at Crossroads in Garwood, and The Dirty Heads and SOJA on June 17 at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park.
Brenyama: Euphoria Love (Jem Records)
Jem Records’ latest retro nugget is “Euphoria Love” from the Highland Park-based husband-and-wife team of Brenyama, who’ll celebrate the release on April 22 at their hometown haunt, Pino’s, with a free show also featuring Youth Moose, We’re Ghosts Now and Afraid Brigade.
Brenyama offer a mix of the melodic rockabilly of Buddy Holly, ’60s girl-group sounds of The Shirelles, the power-pop of The Kinks and Elvis Costello, the punk of The Ramones, the new wave of The Pretenders and ’Til Tuesday, and the alternative angst of The Pixies and Nirvana. Sounds great, right? And for the most part, it is, especially on vocalist-guitarist Richard Brenner’s deliciously poppy “Things That You Do” and when he teams on lead vocals with his wife and keyboard player, Maki, on “Perfect Kind of Love” and “Waiting for Godzilla.” A nice psychedelic guitar wash from label mate Peter Horvath of The Anderson Council adds to the strength of “Godzilla.”
While Maki’s keyboard playing, especially the endearing Farfisa sounds throughout the record, is exemplary, her inconsistent approach to singing and songwriting on much of “Euphoria Love” makes it an uneven affair. Producer Kurt Reil of labelmates The Grip Weeds should have gone for better takes on “Overflowing Magic,” “Leaving for New York City,” “Dreaming in Blue” and “Somewhere in Time,” as well as the title track on which Richard stumbles. Hokey and maudlin compared to the fun edge of the rest of the record, these tracks either should have been reworked or left off to make for a stellar EP.
Perhaps Euphoria Love translates better live. Brenyama also can be seen May 27 at The Brighton Bar in Long Branch, and June 4 at Championship Bar in Trenton.
Hodera, dollys, Green Knuckle Material, Secret Mountain, and Offkey Lifestyle at A New Brunswick Basement, April 14
I am looking forward to the City of New Brunswick trying to bring “legitimate” all-ages venues to the town that has produced more national acts than Asbury Park and Hoboken combined. Many, such as Bouncing Souls, Lifetime, Deadguy, Thursday, Midtown, The Ergs!, Gaslight Anthem, and Screaming Females, came out of the city’s internationally influential basement scene, long the alternative to a lack of all-ages venues and now, sadly, a lack of ANY consistent rock venues.
On April 14 in a basement space that can’t be named for fear of it being shut down, that history refreshingly was mingled with New Brunswick’s maligned and misunderstood hip-hop scene. Any other city in the country that had so much rock and rap, plus more than 30,000 undergraduates at a flagship state university, would embrace those scenes warmly, such as in Raleigh, N.C., and Boston.
In interviews, both Lifetime and Screaming Females have told me that they don’t think New Brunswick is an artist-friendly town. That’s an absurd thing to say about a city spending nearly a quarter of a billion dollars on a new performing arts center. But from the standpoint of art that appeals to cash-strapped students and starving artists, that observation is spot-on.
If city and Rutgers leaders came to an amazing show like the one performed by Hodera, dollys, Green Knuckle Material, Secret Mountain and Offkey Lifestyle on April 14, they would have found an extremely well-designed and comfortable basement venue that even had a bathroom! More than 100 customers seemed thoroughly satisfied.
Customers! Isn’t that what New Brunswick businesses need? A city that prides itself on utilizing the arts as an economic driver should realize that even the smallest venue with the least affluent consumer base still can contribute to that mission. The New Brunswick basement scene has artistic value and financial viability that warrants bringing it above ground into “legitimate” venues that could remove the threat of liability that understandably has concerned the city and the university for a long time.
Well, the aforementioned show was more of a treat than a worry as it kicked off with the multi-racial, Latin-driven rap ‘n’ rock band Offkey Lifestyle in a set that must have made Curtis Mayfield smile in music heaven. Conga player Evelyn Da Costa’s rhythms are so strong, the band doesn’t bother to use a drum kit to propel its passionate rhymes and eclectic melodies. Co-fronted by rapper-vocalists Skip Thomas and PJ Allen (also a human beat-box), Offkey Lifestyle exudes fun and a love for music. Thomas needs to grow more comfortable on stage while guitarist Ian McDonald and keyboardist Ryan Rejaei solo, but Allen is a charming pro whose skills include impersonating a trombone. The heartbeat and centerpiece of this band is Da Costa, however, whose rock rhythms and Latin flourishes make Offkey Lifestyle a unique treat.
Before this evening, I had seen Secret Mountain twice before, but this was my favorite set so far. Everyone got a kick out of them roasting members’ former bandmate Matt Smith of Hodera with headbands and backlighting. An MC5-like mix of political concern and silly humor with a chunky squawk, Secret Mountain blast through two-minute songs that are absurdly clever and noisily fun. The dichotomies are dynamic.
Show organizers Green Knuckle Material were up next with a much stronger set of material than their mellow, acoustic-oriented debut EP, Back to Your Roots. While the record was a really interesting and unusual offering of acoustic rap, I was glad to see GMK rock out more, scratching a Rage Against the Machine itch at times. As on the record, the highlight was a guest appearance on “Rebels on the Run” by Jenna Rose, an aspiring musical theater talent who is the sister of bassist Dan Ravenda. It’s good to see this band come back from a personnel setback earlier in the year to take the bull by the horns not only with a heartier sound but sound concert booking and promotion.
All I can say about dollys is that they are phenomenal. Once again, they stole the show with their stirring mix of pretty pop and pained punk. Within the course of one song, such as “Doctor” from the debut EP, Oh Please, dollys can go from exquisitely high harmonies to bashing on their instruments to the point of nearly breaking them. Vocalist-drummer Natalie Newbold is without question one of the most exciting performers in music today. The way she can keep time, sing her guts out and lyrically convey strong emotions connected to loss and regret is a whirlwind of talent that needs to be recognized by a larger audience than 100 people crammed into a basement. And the way guitarist Jeff Lane and bassist Erik Kase Romero complement her with tasteful playing, exquisite harmonies and a beautiful friendship is a joy to behold. Based on the three new songs they played, especially the Latin-tinged “On the Mend,” dollys’ next LP, due in August, could be as strong as 2016’s best local release, low year.
Hodera also have a great new batch of songs that they finally will take a break from nonstop touring to record this summer as a follow-up to the acclaimed 2015 LP, United by Birdsongs. The amazing thing is that even though those songs haven’t been released yet, their fans already know all the words. The joy of watching and listening to them sing along with Smith, then mosh about as the band kicked into high gear is why I love to write about the awesomeness of the New Jersey music scene. I was so glad to catch up with Hodera’s exciting mix of folk-oriented stories and loud, aggressive alternative rock. And while everyone enjoyed Secret Mountain’s roast of their friends’ use of foot pedal-controlled backlighting, the effect does intensify Hodera’s stirring songs.
I just wish a fantastic show like this didn’t have to stay hidden in New Brunswick’s underground. I long for the day when I can tell people exactly where to find this type of art and entertainment without the fear of it being shut down by a city that just hasn’t known any better. Not yet anyway.
STREAM TAYLOR TOTE:
Congrats to Taylor Tote for winning the Home Grown Video Award at the Garden State Film Festival earlier this month. The clip for “Fighter,” streamed above, was co-written by childhood cancer survivor, Natalie Grace Gorsegner, and her sister, Hannah Rose. “Fighter” features more than 20 kids who battle cancer every day. Sadly, the video now also serves as a tribute to Mia McCaffrey, one of the stars who passed away on March 17. Viewed more than 100,000 times online, “Fighter” was described a “must download” in former “Good Morning, America” hostess Joan Lunden’s blog. All proceeds from the sale of the single go to funding childhood cancer research through Infinite Infinite Love for Kids Fighting Cancer. Upcoming performances for the Taylor Tote Band include the fourth annual Mya’s Warriors Jam on May 6 at Bar Anticipation in Lake Como. Mya’s Warriors raises funds for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in New York City.
“Songs by and about Women” is a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood that will take place 7 p.m. April 23 at Guitar Bar Jr. in Hoboken with Elana Skye and Boo Reiners hosting Jaime Della Fave, Ereni Sevasti, Alice Kg, Karyn Kuhl, Tracy Stark, Tammy Faye, Dave Calamoneri, Jordan Chassan, Christine Santelli, Danny Shot, Jim Testa, Debby Schwartz, Eliot Katz and more. The suggested donation is $15. Seating is limited, so bring a chair, pillow or mat.
New Brunswick Development Corp. (DEVCO) has a weekly outdoor gig available to Hub City rock bands through October at The Yard, the public square at College Avenue and Hamilton Street. The Lunch Break Music Series kicks off April 21 with Joshua Siegal, who’ll also perform June 16. The series will continue April 28 with Modern Crowds; May 5 and June 2, Anthony Carrera; May 12, Justin Jones; May 19 and June 30, CCF Praise Team; May 26, Adam Shaber; June 9, Pasta Sauce Exchange, and June 23, SUS Bus. For a show after June 30, contact Lynda Wright at Lwright@devco.org.
Well, the Makin Waves 30th Anniversary Concert Series kicks off April 21 at Roxy & Dukes in Dunellen with Lowlight, The Paper Jets, Black Flamingos, Yawn Mower, burlesque dancer Vivi Noir and the aerial act Vertical Fixation. Then continues April 22 as part of the Hub City Music Festival’s effort to raise money for the Elijah’s Promise food justice and empowerment program. This special show at the historic Court Tavern in New Brunswick will be all-ages downstairs where Comb the Desert, Lowlight, Disposable, RocknRoll HiFives and The Turnbucklers will perform, but no alcohol will be served. However, drinks will be flowing upstairs for 21-and-up only, while DJ Melo Drama spins the best of The Melody Bar and more.
The series will continue April 29 at The Saint, Asbury Park; June 1 at Pino’s, Highland Park; June 16 and Oct. 21 back at Roxy & Dukes; July 21 at American Spirits Roadhouse, Asbury (Hunterdon County); Sept. 8 to 10 at an expanded ROCK New Brunswick; Sept. 23 at Ria Mar, South River; Nov. 18 at Union County Performing Arts Center, Rahway, and next spring at The Stone Pony, Asbury Park. Please c’mon out, make some waves with me, watch for additional shows to be announced soon, and enjoy a très cool interview with CoolDad Music here.
Bob Makin is the reporter at mycentraljersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of and still a contributor to The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988.