At 7 o'clock I stood on the sidewalk outside of The MiniBar alongside the members of New Hampshire's The Cryptics and a mountain of their gear. It was dark and cold. After someone arrived to unlock the club door, I grabbed two guitars and hurried up the long flight of stairs to the second-floor stage — I'm midwestern nice, but that giant Ampeg bass cabinet was going to have to get up there without me.
Once inside I sunk into the bar's declining couch and pulled out my laptop to catch up on photo editing. For the next two hours I'd look up every few minutes in hopes of seeing the other bands loading in. I kept hoping, but by 9 o'clock it was obvious that the show was a bust. Over the last two hours I learned that only two of the five scheduled bands were going to make it — and one of those two was a man down. Sadly the two bands' seven musicians outnumbered the four patrons that had come out for the Monday night gig. The three employees that evened the teams couldn't have felt good about being there — especially when one was a bartender that counts on tips. But sometimes that's how shows go. And because of COVID, that's how a lot of shows go lately.
It was The Cryptics who took the stage a bit after 9 o'clock. The band's short set wasn't exactly resigned, but it never mustered much energy either. I think we all had realistic expectations at that point. The revolving lineup band has been around since the late aughts trading in a melodic punk with some hardcore spices tossed in. Listen to their albums and you'll hear echoes of Bad Religion and The Decendents. In this live set of newer material, I heard a lot more Farside and Samiam. And I liked it. After playing four or five cuts from its new album, Paintstroke, the foursome closed with "Mystery Line" from its previous album. This sprawling seven-minute song with a nervous guitar lead felt a bit out of place after the straightforward punk that preceded it, but I enjoyed the air of mystery it provided. Also, it sounded like Pylon, so that was a fun and unexpected wrinkle.
There wasn't much delay before the locals of Arson Class were on stage to offer up a short set of their own. Thankfully the band's music is tailor-made for short sets — songs get to the point quickly, guitar riffs are big and obvious, solos are lightning fast, and sing-along "ooh-ooh" choruses do a lot of the heavy lifting. The band is fun to watch. Particularly frontman and guitarist Chris Kinsley whose fast and sure fingers not only define this band, but also make him an sought-after sideman around town. It also makes the band a bit hard to pigeonhole. Even dubious genres like "punk 'n roll" or "garage punk" don't tell the story. Whatever genre the band is, I'm a fan. And after the trio played a song originally recorded by obscure 1980's Boston band The Outlets, the New England openers were similarly onboard. After six songs, Kinsley noted that everyone probably wanted to go home, so the band announced its final song and then wrapped up the show just after 10pm.
While walking back to my car, I admitted that I was honestly a bit thankful the show was only a two-band bill and not the announced a five-band one. And maybe I was happy that the three other patrons left me all the room in the world for social distancing. And I had gotten a lot of photo editing done without the distractions of home. By the time I started my car I had decided that it was not a bad night at all. However, I suspect a touring band that had to lug its gear up that long staircase for a show that didn't even earn them enough gas money to get to its next stop might judge the show with differing criteria.