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Concert Review: Cat Circus in Bloomfield, NJ, 5/2/14

by Joey DeGroot   May 3, 2014 17:43 PM EDT

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Like a great number of "venues" in New Jersey, the Cat Circus is just the basement of a house rented out by college students, but it's definitely the cleanest, most organized college house I've ever set foot in. The original bill for this show/birthday party/vegan BBQ consisted of eight acts, which is three or four more than is usually recommended for a house show, but two of the acts ended up not playing, which I'm sure the neighbors were quite thankful for.

The first band to go on was Nashoba, who came all the way down from Framingham, MA to play this show. Nashoba is a guitar and drums duo that plays instrumental emo based around layers of guitar loops (guitarist Evan Kelley even brings a bass so he can lay down a bass line if he wants to). Though some of the songs could have been excellent with vocals, the band manages to make loop-station rock way more dynamic and captivating than it normally is. It also helps that the drummer Nick Lawler is a beast, staying totally locked in and nailing every fill.

Up next was Darkwing from Leonia, NJ, which is more or less the solo project of singer/guitarist Rich Rogers (or "Rich Rogers lol", as he told me when I asked what his full name was over Facebook), and tonight he played with Kyle Wilkerson (aka Skateboard Kyle) on drums. The two of them claimed they hadn't practiced together even a single time before the show, but I wouldn't have been able to tell if they hadn't said anything. Darkwing's music is noisy, unfussy garage-punk, like a North Jersey version of Wavves, so the songs are all short and punchy, and totally fun to watch. (FULL DISCLOSURE: at one point, Rich asked if anyone in the audience knew "Hybrid Moments" by the Misfits, and I raised my hand, which meant that I had to come up and sing for him. It would be wrong for me to review the performance, but I think I nailed it.)

Following Darkwing was Akasa, who's pretty much the house band since two of the four members live there. Akasa's songs have a lot of potential, but due to some technical difficulties and the fact that it was only the band's second show, the sound wasn't as mixed as well as it could have been, but it's definitely something that can be corrected in future performances. The music is inspired by psychedelic and shoegaze (a lot of guitar effects), and the vocalists Linda and Melyka have beautiful voices that blend really well together.

The next band was Haybaby, a Brooklyn power trio who seems to come from the same school of dissonant punk as Speedy Ortiz, but from a less noisy perspective. The songs are well written and catchy enough, but even more interesting than the music itself is the interplay between the instruments, which is reminiscent of intricate post-punk like the Minutemen and Television.

The penultimate act was Knights Templar, who normally performs as a trio, but was temporarily rendered a guitar and drums duo for the night, which meant that the band had to reconsider its songs to make up for the lack of a bassist. Singer/guitarist Dave Hallinger (self-proclaimed best guitarist in NJ, and it's probably true) used an AB pedal to boost the low-end, and instead of playing the songs straight, the band emphasized its noise leanings even heavier than usual, which meant a ton of guitar abuse and songs that sounded like Nirvana's most extreme stuff like "Endless, Nameless," though Hallinger's a better guitarist than Kurt Cobain ever was.

The final act of the night was a trio named Sunflower Beam from New York (probably Brooklyn, because where else in New York do bands come from?). The band jokingly introduced itself as the Smashing Pumpkins, and though the music wasn't as heavy or melodic, it was similarly psychedelic to early Pumpkins songs, but with more of a hypnotic krautrock feel. Based on audience reaction, this was the favorite band of the night, and an excellent way to close out the evening.

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