EWING, New Jersey (Jan. 2, 2004) -- After two days of celebrating the New Year by boldly taking my liver where it's never been before (since last New Year's that is), I snapped out of my imitation of
Don Birnam in The Lost Weekend to check out my first show of the year: Sharky's Machine, Cryptkeeper Five (CK5) and Sidewalk Heroes. Thankfully, the show was only a mile from my house; so if my scrambled
brain couldn't handle three hours of punk, I could simply drive home.
Marley's Ale House in Ewing, New Jersey, a chain restaurant-looking place isn't the ideal venue for original music, but bands from nearby Trenton have little choice.
"There are no clubs like City Gardens anymore," CK5 singer Johnny said, referring to the Trenton club that hosted amazing punk and metal shows for 20 years before closing its doors. "Right now, you have
to see bands in fire halls, VFWs, and bars that aren't set up for live bands."
Marley's is one of those bars. The bands set up in a banquet room, which is off of the bar area. Cryptkeeper Five provided the lights and PA. Marley's provided a tray of stale breads that looked like
they would make better paperweights than snacks. Seriously, I give Marley's a lot of credit for giving original bands a place to play in an area infested with something worst than rap metal: cover bands.
The Freehold trio Sharky's Machine warmed up the crowd. I'm not too familiar with these guys, but any guitarist with a coffin-shaped case has to be cool, and they did play a killer punked-up version
of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb". Sharky's drummer is leaving the band, but he is playing all of their previously-booked shows.
Cryptkeeper Five took the stage next, as well as part of the dance floor since there was no more room on the postage stamp-size riser for the bassist, keyboardist, and sax player. The band was psyched
to play in front of their hometown crowd one more time before they leave for a two-week tour, and the minor inconvenience didn't seem to bother them.
"We love that a lot of our hometown fans have been there from the beginning," drummer D.T. Graves said. "There's nothing like seeing friends, family, and fans all sharing the same moment."
CK5 started their set with "Little Girl" from their sold-out CD Trenton Makes and got the crowd revved up right out of the gate. The band combines 50s rock and roll with punk in a way that's all
their own. The Ramones, The Cramps, Misfits, and now bands such as The Von Bondies made successful careers out of the mix, but CK5 aren't like those bands at all. The best way I can describe the Cryptkeeper
sound is if Joey Ramone fronted The E Street Band during The Wild and The Innocent era or if the young Glen Danzig crooned lead vocals on The Stones' Exile On Main St.
After the third song, Johnny strapped on his candy-apple red hollow-body guitar (complete with an old-school whammy bar and see-through pick guard) for the next few songs: "Superman," "Our Last Goodbye,"
and "Low Down". It's beyond me how three guitarists on a stage the size of a picnic table managed to avoid a crack in the jaw from a misguided headstock. Poor Jimmy [Ray, guitar] and Scotty [Engle, guitar]
had no room up there whatsoever, but they made the best of it.
Even with the cramped quarters, Cryptkeeper Five played a killer set of songs from their CD as well as a good number of new songs.
"We have close to 15 new ones completed," Johnny said. "We'll see if people like what we got. We may even get fans out of people that hated us before." I did happen to see a few of the regular barflies
get off their stools and stumble over to where CK5 was playing.
I've seen CK5 three times in the past two months and the one thing that stands out to me the most is that these guys look like they're having a hell of a good time on stage and their genuine love for
music just spreads into the crowd.
"We do like playing live that much, we really do," Johnny said. "Scotty is a miserable fuck though, ain't he?" he adds with a sly grin, pointing to Scotty, who is sleeping face down at the merchandise
Sidewalk Heroes took the stage for a quick sound check, which consisted of the band playing a half a song and then lead vocalist/guitarist Brian asking his friends in the back if it sounded o.k. After
a few tweaks of the P.A., and Sidewalk Heroes blasted out four songs in a row from their self-released CD Hard Luck Stories: "Lifer," "Bullets On The Boulevard," "Jack Of All Trades," and "The Wild
One." These guys play classic Social Distortion-esque punk rock, but as Brian says, "What's wrong with that?" Absolutely nothing.
The Heroes churn out catchy songs that aren't bogged down with unnecessary fills or complicated riffs. These uncluttered pieces of music are the perfect medium for Brian's real-life lyrics to ride on.
"Lyrics are the most important aspect of songwriting to me," Brian said. "A song should have real meaning. It makes performing the songs live worthwhile and it helps me to really get into the show."
After "The New Me", the Heroes delved back to their 2001 release Return Of The Hero and played "A Death In Hollywood". The addition of second guitarist Wes (who joined in May 2002) gives the band's
live set the heavy punch that was missing on the Heroes' two CDs. The band is kicking around the idea of re-recording their repertoire with Wes and new drummer Jordan, who joined the band in October 2003.
"This is Jordan's fourth show with us and he's picked up our songs quickly so we were able to get back into the scene faster than we thought," Brian said.
A few songs later, Wes took over lead vocals and the band launched into "The Monster Mash," the cult hit by Bobby "Boris" Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, and changed the lyrics as a tribute to their brother
band: "The coffin draggers were about to arrive / with their vocal group, the Cryptkeeper Five!"
"We met Cryptkeeper Five a year and a half ago." Brian said. "Now a month doesn't go by where we don't play a show with them. We give each other advice and help each other out all the time."
Brian asked the crowd to get closer to the stage for their last song "08638", which is Ewing, New Jersey's zip code and the first song that Sidewalk Heroes wrote back in 1999.
"It references the first time I ever saw the Bouncing Souls at Trenton State College (also in Ewing) and how it seemed that my basement was the only place to hang out besides the 7-11," Brian said. "The
kids from Ewing know what it's all about. That's why when we play it in our hometown."
That song brought down the house and the Heroes took the stage for one more: "Something's Got To Give." A couple of the barflies picked up the tambourines on the floor and banged them along to the music.
Either that or they were having the D.T.s caused by being away from their drinks for more than ten minutes.
By the end of the night, my head was clear of its alcoholic haze. I walked to the car thinking about what I just witnessed: Bands doing a DIY show, bands helping other bands, a group of friends that
like the same bands. What? Could I have possibly discovered, dare I say it, a scene? In my own backyard?
Let's hope so.
[ Websites: www.cryptkeeperfive.com, www.sidewalkheroes.com ]