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Saturday May 21st, 2011 at The Space in Hamden, CT
Voted Most Random, Forget Paris, New Year Premiere, & Stateside
Other Coverage:

I assumed I'd be working on Saturday night. By the time I found out I was free, I hadn't the energy nor time to corral far-flung friends and dream up elaborate plans. So I did what came naturally – I went to the local all-ages club to see the punk bands. It's the same thing I've been doing for 25 years, why would I give it up now?

Of course in those days it was rare that I actually knew who was on the bill, much less what they sounded like. Today, with the internet, I was able sample each of the six scheduled bands. I knew not only what they sounded like, but what they looked like, and how many fans they they had. I was a little worried when I couldn't pick out differences between each of the polished emo pop bands, but by that point I was committed. It would be just like the old days when you went to the show no matter who was playing.

I arrived just after doors opened at 6:30. And just like it has been for the last 25 years, bands hadn't yet arrived, the line-up was shifting, and the show would start late. I'd been to The Space before, but this time it was different. Rocky Votolato draws an entirely different crowd than Boston's Stay. I didn't notice how different until I sat down at a cafe table with a Boca Burger from the club's small concession stand and began to survey the crowd. The guys milled around in groups of other guys, with a girl or two occasionally hanging (sometimes literally) on their beaus. The other girls came in small packs of three to five, and were sitting around tables, gesturing wildly. The house PA played a mix of '90s alternative rock and '60s soul. I was mostly fine with the choices. And I had a long time to take it all in. It was 7:55 before the first band took the stage.

Local five-piece Stateside was the perfect opening act, and the sort that you don't see in the bars very often – that is to say, they weren't quite ready for primetime. Four young guys, making music they like, on a show with bands they like, performing at an all-ages venue in a basement. This is what you want in an opening band if you want a vibrant local music scene. The band only played a handful of songs (maybe six) during a twenty-minute set that was more pop and rock than punk. Two songs were covers: a Kings of Leon song, and an obvious cover of a (the) Jimmy Eat World hit. Connor Quinn leads this recently completed band providing vocals and guitar, but he has't yet developed into a frontman. Grant Morrison plays bass, provides backing vocals, wore flip flops, and occasionally jumped into the air. One guitarist bent over awkwardly to play synth lines on a small Korg that sat on a drum stool. New drummer Dylan Cumpston flailed wildly from under a muscle shirt that swallowed his teen-age frame. He was loose. The whole band was loose. But that's okay. Also, the band had bracelets for sale. Bracelets? Yes. They seemed to be all the rage. Who knew?

It was only fifteen minutes before the local foursome of New Year Premiere began the second set of the night. While the audience had remained passive during the opener – sitting at tables in the back, or up front on the floor – a dozen fans now gathered around the left side of the low stage. The rest of the stage remained open. Curious. When bassist, and Taylor Lautner look-a-like, Steve Ibanez stepped up to his microphone I understood why. The crowd on the far side of the stage was Team Jacob.

New Year Premiere wasn't terribly different from the opener; songs still decidedly poppy, but the performance was considerably tighter. There were no jumping bass players, but there was synchronised head banging as Ibanez was joined by vocalist/guitarist Nick Tornatore and guitarist Mike Varrone for several inspiringly heavy downbeats. Like Quinn before him, Tornatore was an awkward frontman but he was helped by an audience of fans who had taken the time to memorize the band's songbook. Varrone's dark shaggy hair covered his face most of the night, and as he leaned back to play fairly complicated guitar solos, I couldn't help but be reminded of Slash. When the band covered a portion of "Sweet Child O Mine" as part of a medley (one that began with The Outfields' "Your Love" and included both a Lady Gaga track and the blistering solo from "Enter Sandman") it only made sense. I decided I liked Varrone and that he was a secret metalhead – the sort that would have been in Suicidal Tendencies 30 years ago. He also stood up front for the opening band. Scene points awarded. Drummer Ari Burger took off his shirt. This was my favourite band of the night.

When New Year Premiere's 25-minute set ended, Blink 182 played on the house soundsystem. The entire audience sang along. Everyone. I might have even mouthed the chorus, although I'll never tell.

It was precisely 9:10 when the four guys that comprise Forget Paris began their set. 9:10 is when things changed dramatically at The Space. Vocalist, guitarist, and occasional keyboardist Tyler Cohen confidently worked the crowd. He got nearly everyone to the front of the stage, and at one point had 30 girls line dancing to his choreographed steps. This doesn't happen in the bars. But this isn't a band that could play the bars. Firstly, the band is just a rock band – there's no subgenre to throw at Forget Paris that might dress them up for the hipster club crowd. Second, your average seasoned bar band is infinitely more focused and dynamic than this band's output. Forget Paris would be eaten alive in a roadhouse. But that's fine. They're not playing to the grizzled 55-year-old biker crowd raised on early '70s Rolling Stones, they're playing to sixteen-year-old girls and doing that exceptionally well. And besides, Forget Paris is looking for something bigger than the bars anyway. Why else would everyone in the band get to play a solo – an honest to goodness arena rock show solo? And Cohen's personality was much too big for any club. I imagine that Cohen was warming up his relaxed banter for Memorial Day weekend, when his words will need to stir thousands of attendees at Bomb Fest.

Mostly it seems that Forget Paris isn't about the music anyway. If it were about the music, the audience would have been insulted by a reggae-fuelled cover of "I Can't Help Falling In Love" or the slow-jam song where Cohen sings to his "baby girl" in all sincerity. We'd have been confused by the occasional show-tune nature of Cohen's vocals or the ultra clean soulful solos played by guitarist Randy Newbury. Instead the audience submitted to Forget Paris' will, came toward the stage when called to do so, sang on command, danced when led, laughed at Cohen's expressive glances, and had a good time. Except for me. I moved to the back of the club and took in the band's long 40-minute set from a safe anthropologist's distance.

What did I learn from the back of the room? Well mostly, that I was alone. The other bands where nowhere to be found, it was just me, the girls running the club's sound and concessions, the girls sitting at the merchandise booths, the girls in the audience, and the boys on stage. I appeared to be the only male concertgoer. How can this be? Do the boys not know that there were 40 of their attractive classmates swooning on a Saturday night? Do boys not like girls anymore? And how could there be six bands on the bill – nearly thirty band members – and not one girl in a band? Ladies of Connecticut, you're disappointing me. You don't have to stop singing from the audience, but try singing on the stage sometime too. I want to see your bands, and The Space seems more than ready to give you the opportunity. As we sang 25 years ago, "It's just not boys fun."

It took only a minute to clear the stage for Voted Most Random. The five-piece emo pop band joked that two members had been raptured, leaving the remaining members to play an acoustic set featuring barefoot vocalist Ian Reibeisen, stoic guitarist Bennett Pisaniello, and the smiling Joe Mauti who played guitar instead of his usual bass. This incarnation sounded radically different from the emotionally charged pop rock the band normally plays, and shifted the band closer to the heartfelt music of Dashboard Confessional. If the audience minded, it didn't let on. In fact I heard several members declare that this was the best Voted Most Random show ever. It certainly opened the band's sound up and highlighted Reibeisen's songs-about-girls lyrics. Lyrics that the audience sang just as loudly as Reibeisen – even the risque ones from the PG-13 rated "Party Naked" and "Dirty Games." The ad hoc chorus assembled into a single semi-circle around the stage, all in line, all linked with arms around shoulders as if they might erupt into an heterozygous kick line at any moment. This hug fest included absolutely everyone in the audience save me, another photographer who stood beside me, and a tall, intimidating, too-cool-for-school girl who sat in back for most of the evening. I wanted to talk to her about her camera, but I thought that'd be creepy. 25 years later and I'm still not talking to girls at the all-ages shows.

The band ended its set with "Can't Stand Still." As usual, the audience sang along. When the band attempted to end the song, the audience restarted it, singing the refrain once again – Reibeisen looked pleased and egged the audience on for yet another trip through the refrain. Then it was over.

Earlier in the night it was announced that Stay was not going to play the show. Brake failure on the van kept the six-piece band from making the 130 mile drive. Really? How hard is it to pile in someone's car and drive down to play the show on borrowed gear? If Stay's fans are anything like Voted Most Random's, I bet the band could have assembled a caravan with a single tweet. Poor form there boys.

So that was it. The bill promised six bands, but I had seen no merch table for Gone by Daylight so I assumed it wasn't playing either. Surprised at my early dismissal, I made my way out of the club and to my car. After emerging from the basement my iPhone returned to life, leading me into a quick conversation while I sat in my parked car facing the door of the club. When no one else emerged from the basement, I began to question my assumptions. I grabbed my camera bag and headed back into the club to see if another band might still be on the bill. But no. The large "Voted Most Random" banner still stood at the back of the stage, held taut by a rather serious-looking series of PVC tubes, and no one seemed anxious to either clear or reclaim the stage. A few of the boys from previous bands had returned, but mostly the scene was groups of girls conversing with girls, gesturing wildly. 25 years ago I too would have sat in the club all night hanging out with my friends, happy not to be home. But some things have changed, and my friends don't go to all-ages shows anymore. Nothing left to do but head back up the stairs and out to my car.