(ASBURY PARK, NJ) -- Few rock and roll clubs have ever stayed around as long as the legendary Stone Pony in Asbury Park has and so it's fitting that the club celebrates its anniversary with a block of shows each year. The show on Saturday, February 18th was comprised of an interesting look at Asbury Park's past glory and a look at one of the scene's rising stars.
Kudos go out to the Stone Pony for bringing in new acts to their anniversary series this year and even more kudos for recognizing April Smith. A few months ago, April had one of the largest crowds in years for an unsigned act. Both April and her label ? Indigo Planet Records ? worked their tale off to make her CD release party a success and their work did not go unnoticed by the Stone Pony as they welcomed her back on a bill with Soozie Tyrell and Lance Larson. So next time an artist wants to complain about clubs demanding a certain amount of draw remember that clubs also pay attention when you exceed expectations as well.
April hit the stage shortly after 8pm ? a bit earlier than usual, but the earlier time allowed April the chance to play her entire album. Many of her fans came out early and more kept coming after each song. I think some didn't expect her to start so early, a shame since she not only did a great show but also did several of her most popular songs early on. She was breaking in a new guitarist and teased him that the show was going to be a good test with the band running through the entire album.
Regular fans of April know her distain of Paris Hilton and the night before just happened to be Paris' birthday ? something April could not let go unnoticed before playing the song she wrote about the "star". Interestingly, April even got a bit political with the song that followed when she remarked "at least Paris never shot anybody" before launching into "Suffering." After that number, April kicked her bandmates off stage to do a pair of tunes solo including her wonderful cover of "Unchained Melody" which truly shows off her tremendous vocal range.
Proving that both April and her family appreciated getting a chance to help the Pony celebrate, her mother baked a cake for the club which was presented to Kyle and Carolyn on stage. She then led the crowd through a rendition of "Happy Birthday" for a friend of hers who was turning the magic 21 that night. There were a lot of people in the crowd who looked like they weren't too far beyond that age as well. In fact, it was rather easy to tell who came to the show to see April and who was there for the other two acts.
During the final number, April dragged out the drum she debuted during her CD release party and proceeded to end her show with a stellar tribal beat. All in all, April proved once again that she is not only ready for stages like the Stone Pony but also is making that stage her own.
Following April came Soozie Tyrell, the headliner for the night. Soozie, is well known for being a member of the E Street Band and a long-time friend of Patti Scialfa. Her music is a mix of rock and roll and blues that gets an added punch from her impressive violin playing. She always has a lot of fans in the area, but it's my opinion that her music would be better in a true blues club or a listening room than in a rock and roll club like the Pony. I envision her music going over better in front of an audience seated at tables and having nice drinks than standing in front of the stage.
Unfortunately, the night wound up to be an example of a problem that is really affecting the local scene these days. The show featured three artists (all of whom have something in common ? a relationship to Jersey Shore music) and largely had three different audiences. The young crowd that April Smith brought disappeared when Soozie came on stage and Soozie's crowd largely missed April's set. Meanwhile, Lance Larson who followed Soozie had a much more local audience than both of them. It's something that I really can't understand. People are paying good money to see these shows but they're only coming for one act and leaving. It is something that I'm seeing at clubs all throughout the area and I just don't get it. I mean, whatever happened to people wanting to get their money's worth for a night? Where are they going afterwards? Another bar??
Many of the lineups for these shows feature artists that should appeal to fans of the other groups, but people just aren't interested for some reason. Take this show, for example. I would have to think that most fans of Soozie Tyrell would become fans of April Smith if they saw her live. Either that or the people might be coming strictly on the off-chance that Bruce Springsteen jumps on stage to play with her (as has happened before). That's one reason I'm so glad to see the Stone Pony putting some new blood on their anniversary series shows. It is high time that people started coming out to these shows to see the artists scheduled to play rather than hope someone not on the bill shows up.
As luck would have it, there was a chance Springsteen was going to play as April Smith's guitarist was told to keep his amp on stage for a special guest. Bruce didn't play, but this was obviously more than just a rumor. Unfortunately, whether Bruce shows or doesn't show shouldn't be the reason it was or wasn't a good show.
Closing out the night was Lance Larson and his band. They ran through a mixture of covers and originals highlighted by Lance's own "Saints & Sinners" and his signature cover of "Lawyers, Guns & Money" which is a perfect example of how an artist can make a cover- even a popular one ? their own. When Lance rips into that song, it no longer is a Warren Zevon tune, but becomes Lance's own.
Lance's set also included covers of "I Came To Dance" by Nils Lofgren (always good to see someone cover Nils?), "Road House Blues", "Down By The River", "Unchain My Heart", "Big Jet Airliner", "Prove It All Night", "Sunshine Of My Love", and "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place". His originals included "The Way You Make Me Feel" and "Devils Right Hand". Here's hoping that the band keeps adding more of Lance's original tunes as he is not just a great lead singer but a fine songwriter as well ? and many of us missed out on him the first time around.
You can view pictures from the night by clicking here.
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.