Words by Bill San Antonio | Photo by Nicole Mago
There is a palpable energy that hangs in the air when a band plays a show in its hometown, whether at a bowling alley out in the boondocks or at Madison Square Effing Garden. Certain details from the show itself stand out, too – besides sounding better, the band generally commands the stage in a way it probably doesn’t on, say, a Monday night in Cedar Rapids. A singer may let the crowd fill in vocals at key points of a favorite song or tell a story or two about what he misses most about home (it’s generally always sleeping in his own bed). Jokes and smiles and laughs ensue. Fun and libations are enjoyed by all.
And if, somehow, that same hometown show were to take place on a Saturday night in early October, in the heart of Williamsburg, before a sold-out crowd funneling into Brooklyn from Queens and New Jersey and Long Island – you’re going to want to keep your earplugs handy, maybe buy a hot pretzel from the concession stand and cuddle up to a free space along the upper railing, safe and sound.
Just kidding, of course: You’re going to jump into the middle of the pit, bounce off sweaty bodies like a pinball and scream your lungs out till your voice rings dry and you find yourself wrestling some 300-pound dude for a guitar pick or set list tossed out into the fray. Apparently, fans seeing New York City natives Bayside and I Am The Avalanche at the Williamsburg Hall of Music on October 4th – and their Canadian opener, Seaway – had the same idea.
The first thing you notice is the sports theme. Avalanche frontman Vinnie Caruana wears a soccer jersey, while Bayside singer wore a Mark Teixeira Yankees t-shirt. Fans chant “Let’s Go Rangers!” in support of Bayside bassist Nick Ghanbarian’s favorite hockey team, whose season opens in a few days. Bayside takes the stage with the “Rocky” soundtrack blaring behind them, indicative of the champions returning home after a long year of touring in support of their sixth L.P., Cult, which was released in February.
The “Rocky” theme befits both bands. Avalanche guitarist John Oliva notes that October marks the band’s 10th anniversary, a decade filled with beer, three L.P.s, lineup changes, touring, beer, whiskey, bartending jobs to finance the band, heartache and more beer. Avalanche has long been a band of survival, whose themes often focus on the triumphant aftermath of life-shaping hardships. These songs fill the band’s set, from fan-favorite “I Took a Beating,” off the 2005 self-titled debut, to “Gratitude,” off 2011’s Avalanche United, to “The Shape I’m In,” off this year’s Wolverines. The songs present a through line of Caruana and Co. taking a hit and celebrating the act of getting back up, and while they come from the Long Island hardcore scene Caruana grew up in, they are always – and rightfully so – performed with a smile.
What makes Avalanche an interesting touring partner for Bayside – aside from their lengthy friendships – is the juxtaposition between themes. Consider Bayside Avalanche’s inverse: Raneri often writes from the perspective of someone searching for resolution to hardship, directing feelings of frustration and anxiety toward his aggressors. During “They’re Not Horses, They’re Unicorns,” Raneri often lets the crowd finish the most damning lyric of his career: “I wish we’d never met,” and on “Devotion and Desire” – the band’s encore because duh – he ponders giving up on relationships entirely – “But what’s so wrong with being all alone / Alone’s the only way I’ve ever known.”
A band for 14 years, Bayside’s set lists don’t change frequently these days, but through the meat-and-potatoes tracks from 2005’s self-titled L.P. 2007’s The Walking Wounded come the rare live cuts off 2008’s Shudder and Cult. But it doesn’t matter. The second the stage lights return from their blackened, “Rocky”-themed state, the crowd gets into it. Pushing and shoving, circle pits, boys hitting boys and boys hitting girls and girls hitting boys and kids picking each other up when they fall. Glasses fall from faces and hit the floor and the pit disperses, with kids stopping to shine their cell phone lights on the floor in deep search. A guitar tech sitting beside Bayside guitarist Jack O’Shea throws kids who crowdsurf to the stage and stay up there too long. Everyone sings, everyone’s hands are in the air. The only hard feelings in the venue come from the tremors of Raneri and Caruana’s youth.
There isn’t a single goddamn hot pretzel in sight.
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