Listening to Marc Ribler’s Red, White & Brit Tribute to The Who at House of Independents in Asbury Park, Jan. 17, I was reminded that The Who’s combustible music was sometimes described as “Maximum R&B.” Later, it occurred to me that Remember Jones, who headlined the show, could be called Maximum Soul, and Williams Honor, who performed before Ribler, could be called Maximum Country. It may be a bit of a stretch, but even Johnny Pisano’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Pizzeria, which opened the show, could be described as Maximum Punk, due the fast, riff-driven, Ramones-inspired back-to-punk-basics sound of many of its songs.
In other words, this was a show with many different styles of music, but a thread ran throughout the night, of outsize emotion, and theatricality, and the acts’ desire to simultaneously embrace the conventions of their chosen genre, and take them to another level. Lots of artistic ambition was crammed onto a single stage, this night.
The show was part of the Light of Day festival and was, in fact, billed as a kickoff show — though the festival actually began Jan. 11, in Montclair. It was the kickoff, however, in the sense that it was the biggest show on the night that started four days (Jan. 17-20) in which Light of Day shows will be taking place all over Asbury Park.
Remember Jones, as usual, appeared with a big band (three horn players, three backing vocalists and two keyboardists, in addition to guitar, bass and drums) and mixed his original songs with covers ranging from Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight” to Ray Charles’ “Sticks & Stones” (using Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” arrangement). He dueted with guest vocalist Reagan Richards of Williams Honor on Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” (see video below) and closed with The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” (again using Cocker’s arrangement), capped with a bit of the “Hair” anthem “Let the Sunshine In.”
Soul music, of course, requires larger-than-life emotion, and he summons that, but he also adds something that few other modern soul singers do: an animated, almost frenzied stage show. His eagerness to reach out and grab the audience both aligns him with classic figures like James Brown and Jackie Wilson and makes him one of the most unique artists the Shore rock scene has ever produced.
With his Red, White & Brit Tribute to The Who, guitarist-vocalist Marc Ribler has given himself quite a challenge, as the classic lineup of The Who (Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and Keith Moon) was full of virtuosos. But the band Ribler has put together — singer Dale Toth, keyboardist-vocalist Andy Burton, bassist Jack Daley and drummer Rich Mercurio, most of whom are, like Ribler, members of Little Steven’s Disciples of Soul — was up to the challenge, evoking the anarchic mayhem and the raw power of the band at its best. The set featured classics such as “Pinball Wizard” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” but there were some slightly lesser-known songs in it, too, including “Getting in Tune,” “Bargain” and “The Real Me.”
Williams Honor frontwoman Richards, like Remember Jones, is an onstage powerhouse, and despite the country trappings of the band’s arrangements, she injects a bit of soul and gospel into virtually everything she does. The set actually veered all the way into hard-rock at one point, with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” and I’m glad to say that “I Can’t Wait to Be Ashamed,” a hell-raising country-rocker that Richards and guitarist Gordon Brown debuted at their Montclair Light of Day appearance as a duo, less than a week previously, worked just as well in a full-band format.
Pisano is well known to Light of Day regulars as the bassist in Willie Nile’s band, but having him open the show gave him a nice opportunity to showcase his own sturdy, punk-influenced songs, and also treat the crowd to a reggae version of the Nile song that has become a Light of Day anthem, “One Guitar.”
Pisano will be back on the House of Independents stage with Nile, Jan. 18, and will also be at the Paramount Theatre with Nile, Jan. 20, in the headlining set of Light of Day’s centerpiece concert.
For lineups and more information on the festival — which has, in its first 18 years, raised more than $5 million for research and programs in the fight against Parkinson’s Disease and related disorders — visit lightofday.org or download the free Light of Day app through the iTunes app store.