College students tend to think of Red Bull only as a means to survive the semester, but the energy drink company is taking an active role in the world of music, aiming to bring new and local artists together to introduce fans to fresh, underground bands.
This musical initiative, called Red Bull Sound Select, brought three acts together at the Stone Pony, a legendary rock venue in Asbury Park, on Sept. 4. For less than the cost of an actual can of Red Bull, one could see punk rock trio Big Eyes, rapper Cakes da Killa and folk punk/orgcore band Against Me! and leave the summer off on the right note.
I was one such fan who couldn’t pass up a $3 admission fee to see such a promising line-up and I wasn’t disappointed. Upon learning of the show’s venue, I was worried. For those who haven’t been to The Stone Pony, it’s a bar-style venue, similar to the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville. This means that the venue is wide, but shallow in length, which can get dangerous when the crowd gets wild. Often, there isn’t enough physical space in the standing area to avoid moshers and crowdsurfers in these types of venues, which is especially of concern at a predominantly punk concert.
Yet, the vibe of the concert was much more controlled than punk shows I’ve been to at similar venues. Part of this relative serenity could have been the crowd reaction to the opening acts.
Although every member of Big Eyes was a talented musician, they failed to captivate the audience fully, which is not unusual for an opening band.
For me, Big Eyes was a solid opener, but not quite ready to contend with either Cakes da Killa or Against Me! in stage presence and sound. As a trio, there was understandably a hollowness in sound, but it left some of their tunes sounding empty and leaving a lacking impression. They desperately needed a second guitarist or at least some backing vocals. The singer’s voice and the band’s overall style of music was also too clean and collected to pull off a raw “punk” kind of feel. I would describe them more as a punk-influenced rock band which succeeded in setting the mood for the more developed and full-sounding Against Me!.
After Big Eyes came Cakes da Killa, an N.J.-native and alumnus of both Montclair State University and The Montclarion. Although I knew Cakes from working with him, I had never seen him perform and was really excited for one of my former colleagues to take the stage. Once again, Cakes didn’t wholly win over the audience, but unlike Big Eyes, I felt that his performance was really impressive and engaging. Instead, his struggle was the scene. Cakes, however, was not discouraged by the audience’s preference for punk music. He was energetic, interacted directly with the audience before and after every song and delivered performance after performance with vivacity and skill. Had he been at a more hip-hop-centric show, I know Cakes would have brought down the house. Even with his genre disparity, he still led many audience members to dance along, especially during his last song when he jumped off the stage and performed in the middle of the audience.
Yet, the real showstopper in terms of audience reaction was the headliner, Against Me! An already established and successful band in the punk scene, Against Me! has a large fan following and when the musicians walked out on stage and pummeled right into “Tru Trans Soul Rebel,” the first song of the night and first single off of their most recent album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the audience went wild.
Although there were no “walls of death” or serious threats of violence in the pit, Against Me!’s fans were some of the most engaged that I’ve seen. One crowd surfer made it to the front of the audience, then stood, suspended by other audience members just a few feet from singer Laura Jane Grace on the stage, belting out the words to the song just as passionately as she.
Outside of audience engagement, though, Against Me! still put on an amazing show. Grace spent minimal time talking on stage, which could have jeopardized her connection to her viewers, but the band’s passion and intensity in playing secured the impact they had on their fans. Against Me!’s sound was well-mixed, full and varied as they played many different kinds of songs, whether they were more traditional alternative rock tunes, 1-minute classic punk-type anthems, folksy acoustic jams or even a cover of The Replacements. Every song possessed a full and balanced sound and each musician put their all into their performance, which paid off with a stellar performance that never fell flat.
Against Me! was a fantastic show and the opening acts as well were suitably talented and engaging. Overall, it was a great concert for a great price and if Red Bull continues to deliver quality shows like this for such low entry-fees, their Sound Select project could be one that is here to stay.