Could The Early November have happened anywhere other than New Jersey? Maybe a few other places could have sprouted a band like this one, but then again, maybe not. Ace Enders writes with the combination of self-deprecation and total conviction that’s only present in the work of artists operating in the shadows of big cities. Think about where most of the indelible emo-pop of the ’00s came from: Jersey, Long Island, suburban Pennsylvania, the Chicago and Los Angeles suburbs. For Enders, who put his band together in Hammonton, the big city was Philadelphia, which itself suffers from a little-brother complex. One of the first Early November songs to get attention outside a tightly circumscribed scene of similar bands featured Enders howling the phrase “we’re not special,” over and over. He meant it, and he meant the opposite, too, and it was with absolute earnestness that he put that contradiction across. He couldn’t have done it without a band that hit hard, and the rhythm section of Sergio Anello (bass) and Jeff Kummer (drums) gave the songs drive and urgency, and made every chorus feel like life and death, which of course it was.
To review: The Early November cut its first EP in Pompton Plains, and released it in late 2002 through Drive-Thru Records, the California label that helped to turn Jersey pop-punk into a pretty big business. For All of This was the work of guys who didn’t quite know what they were doing yet, but the yearning was present and the aspirations of greatness were apparent. A year, a new guitarist and an acoustic EP later, The Early November were ready to put it together, and they did so with The Room’s Too Cold, a wonderfully restless rock album that first fully showcased Enders’ themes. He was determined to write about money, and family, and responsibility, and inheritance; if his vision was never exactly radical, his music bore a nascent critique of capitalism and hierarchy that dug deeper than any of his hipper, glibber peers were willing to dig. Released in 2006, The Mother, The Mechanic, and the Path was a staggering triple (!) album that contained a score of stylistic experiments and concluded with a lengthy radio play. Unsurprisingly, the band went on hiatus after that, but returned in 2012 with In Currents, a lean, tough distillation of the group’s ideas. The group is working on new songs (Enders is always writing, for this and his other 300 projects), and it’s very likely a few will be played when The Early November opens for the reliably entertaining Motion City Soundtrack at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville on Saturday night.
When people talk about pop-punk, it’s usually bands like The Early November they mean. But as far as I can tell, Ace Enders has never been keen on making compromises to augment the mainstream appeal of his group. Then there are guys like Billy Idol, who plays The Wellmont Theater in Montclair on Thurdsay. He was there at the beginning — the British press knew him as one of the kids who hung around the Sex Pistols before they knew him as the singer of Generation X. And of everybody involved in that scene, there probably wasn’t one of them who did more to popularize the sound, look and attitude of punk culture than Idol did. As a kid growing up in the ’80s, I didn’t have much access to the Pistols or the Ramones. Billy Idol, though, sneered at me on MTV in heavy rotation, and every time he did, I paid attention and took notes. I knew all the words and chords to “White Wedding” before I had any idea what an Anarchy in the U.K. was, and I doubt I was the only one. Idol never denied taking inspiration from ’60s pop, and his best songs — “Dancing With Myself,” “Rebel Yell,” the semi-ballad “Eyes Without a Face” — reveal a punk rocker with no interest whatsoever in the death of his idols.
Right when Billy Idol was shaking hands with the mainstream on behalf of punk rock, Alan Parsons was doing the same for prog. Parsons’ Project made a series of decent-to-fine concept sets in the mid-’70s, but the outfit didn’t get cooking until “Games People Play,” a relatively streamlined number that aimed straight for the FM airwaves. The two albums that followed — Eye in the Sky and Ammonia Avenue — spun off several enduring hit songs and provided the Chicago Bulls with theme music (and painful associations for fans of the Knicks). Of course, real prog-rock fans will always know Parsons best as the man behind the mixing board for The Dark Side of the Moon. The Newton Theatre hosts the Alan Parsons Live Project on Saturday night.