(ASBURY PARK, NJ - AUGUST 5, 2009) - "Sorry if I ever let you down when you needed me to be your man. I was out there playing in a rock n roll band..."
Frankie McGrath and his band Maybe Pete have yet to ever let me down with one of their live shows, something that, unfortunately, I can't say the same about their fans, the media, or the rest of the local music scene. As the band continues with their summer residency at The Saint in Asbury Park (playing every Wednesday night at the club), few of the Maybe Pete fans I've met through the years have been in attendance. Perhaps even more disappointing is the fact that few of the local artists have come to support Frankie and his wife Kelly as well. This despite the fact that Frankie and Kelly are among the Jersey Shore music scene's biggest supporters even though they live over an hour away in North Jersey. I say this because this was not the first show of the residency I've attended, but the fifth or sixth straight and the trend is painfully clear.
The media is also to blame. Many local writers (myself included) truly enjoy Maybe Pete's music and have often wrote or hyped them up, yet whatever words we've all put down on paper apparently hasn't led people through the door. And that's really a shame because there are very few bands I know that are bound to give 100% every time they hit the stage, but Maybe Pete is one of them. We can blame the recession or say it's because the shows are on Wednesday nights, yet residencies like this are when a band needs their fans the most and the fans are letting the band down in my opinion.
So, what are people missing? Well, Maybe Pete is getting ready to release their third CD and the band has never sounded better. If you've never seen the band before, these Wednesday night shows are as good of time as any to check them out. The set lists are peppered with material from throughout the band's career offering you the opportunity to become a die-hard fan immediately. New songs like "Guitars Got Louder" offer proof that Frankie McGrath has become an extremely talented songwriter more than capable of writing powerful hooks; while older songs like "No One But Yourself to Blame" are played with such an intensity that makes the songs seem brand new. Truth is, the older songs seem to have had time to breathe and have not only aged well, but sound as though the best career move the band could make is to release a live album showcasing their catalogue. I think Maybe Pete suffers from the typical Jersey band problem of always sounding much better live than in the studio. A live album that captures the essence of their stage show would represent them far better.
Even though the band would never say anything publicly, I thought they hinted at being disappointed in the crowd tonight. Instead of the loose, free-flowing shows the band had been doing for the previous month, tonight's show was a no-nonsense, straight ahead rock show with song after song just rifling along. Maybe Pete ran through rocker after rocker in an effort to get the crowd going, but it just wasn't there. Songs like "Close Enough for Rock and Roll" exploded immediately into "So Damn Easy" and "Hideaway." "No One But Yourself To Blame" bled into "Outta My Hands", "Guitars Got Louder" and "Exit 140 A". This was a night where stories and comments were kept to a minimum while the band ran through a 17-song set. Other rockers included "Whatever you Want Me To Do", "Another Cigarette", "Ours For The Takin'", "Too Far Gone", "Last One Standing", " and "Through The Static." And as the band has done throughout the summer, they brought out another spectactular cover - this time a truly explosive version of "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love & Understanding".
The night also contained a pair of slower songs, "Kite" and "Somehow". The former was one of my favorite songs off of the band's last CD and the latter is still one of my favorite songs by a Jersey band in the last decade.
Props goes out to Mark Lindsey (The Hudson Falcons) and his wife for making it out to the last three weeks or so - ever since they returned from a European tour. That's the kind of support bands need during residences. I didn't want to add to the list of reviews decrying the lackluster audiences, but the truth is that very few of the people I know who have been fans of the band through the years have come out to the shows. Sometimes you've just gotta call them as you see them.
All I know is that ever since leaving Upstage Magazine, I've had a 9-5 job and shows DURING the work week are just about the only thing that gets me through the work week. I feel lousy on nights when I look back at realize I've just been sitting in front of the television set all night long. It's live shows like these that make me forget about going to work for a few hours. As Frankie says, "This is for anyone who has ever had a shitty day and went to see their favorite band and then felt better." That's what these shows do - they make you feel better.
In case you've never been to the shows at The Saint during the week, they generally start and end a bit earlier than weekend shows. Many times, these Wednesday night shows will end around midnight. While that may be too late for you, see if you find yourself sitting in front of the TV until then each night. If you do, you might want to try catching one of these shows. Come, hang out at the bar, and enjoy the tunes. Chances are it will make you feel better. You still have a couple more chances this summer, so come on out...
In addition to Maybe Pete, the Wednesday night shows have also featured some of the area's best talent opening the night, On this particular Wednesday, the opening acts included John Raido and Bruce Tunkel - two great songwriters from Jersey that I've been fans of for many years.
John Raido kicked off the night with a solo set. The former lead singer of the North Jersey band, Boxcar Nancy, was in a very "Jerry Garcia" mood as he celebrated "Jerry Week" - the period from August 1-9 when Garcia celebrated a birthday and also marked his passing - with a non-stop ode to Jerry in between some original tunes. He was joined by Maybe Pete for a great cover of "The Weight" by The Band to close out his set.
Up next was Bruce Tunkel, the one-time lead singer of the band Red House who has put out several solo CDs over the past decade and is close to finishing another one. Frankie McGrath and Kelly played on several of these discs and their friendship extends back to before the Saint was even born - back when Scott Stamper owned and ran T-Birds Café up the street in Asbury Park. It was something sort of poetic to see Tunkel at the Saint as the club prepares to celebrate its 15th anniversary. Red House was one of a handful of artists I remember heading to T-Birds to see. In fact, they were one of a handful of bands my friend and I would sneak into The Green Parrot to see. Back then, Tunkel was known as "the other Bruce."
Tunkel ran through songs from throughout his career including a few that will be on his next record. Highlights included a pair of requested tunes and a song about his son. First was "Last Chance Afternoon", which Bruce played for Mark Lindsey of the Hudson Falcons even though he couldn't remember how the song went. As he started playing the song, he realized he couldn't remember the opening lyrics. Frankie shouted out the words, "I woke up" and Tunkel ran from there... until a few lines later. But he wound up making it through the tune with a little more help.
The second request proved my theory that if enough people yell out Red House song titles at the same time, someone is bound to have their request played. The winning song this time around was "The Dream I Never Had" - a song I don't believe I've heard live since the early ‘90s.
Bruce called the band up to the stage for the final round of songs, which included "What Tomorrow Brings" from the album Setlist. "I wrote this when my kid was annoying the he'll out of me and tomorrow that kid that annoyed the he'll out of me turns 15," said Tunkel.
It's strange thinking about how many years have passed since I first saw Red House play. Tunkel was actually the first musician I ever met backstage at The Stone Pony. I can still remember him leaned up against the wall with his bright blue shades and long, 80s rock'n roll hair (some things have changed over time...) - he reminded me of Karl Wallinger from World Party. Back then, it seemed like Red House was about to take the world by storm. They were signed to a major label and their first single "I Said A Prayer" cracked the top 40 for modern rock charts. Unfortunately, the band never made it much farther than that.
It's always a shame when good bands either never reach their potential or never get a break. Frankie had a really good idea with these Wednesday night shows. I think Maybe Pete is definitely playing to their potential, now they just need a break. They may never get the success they deserve, but seeing some of the people who came out to see Tunkel (in one of his all-too-rare appearances), I realized that simply by touching these fans they are far more successful than they may even imagine.
1 Close Enough For Rock n Roll
2 So Damn Easy
4 No One But Yourself To Blame
5 Outta My Hands
6 Guitars Got Louder
7 Exit 140A
9 Whatever You Want Me To Do
11 Another Cigarette
12 Ours For The Takin'
13. (Whats So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding
14 Moonlight Ride
15 Too Far Gone
16 Last One Standing
17 Through The Static
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.