(AUGUST 16, 2008 -- LAWRENCE, NJ) -- Just outside of Trenton, at McGuinn's Place, a bar that the band had played often throughout their career, The Commons played their final show on Saturday night in front of many of their long-time fans.
The set list was peppered with songs running through the band's entire catalog even going back to songs off their first CD that have rarely been played in recent years. It was definitely a treat for the die-hards in the audience that not only have been friends of the band for years, but literally grew up alongside the band members. This may have been the ending of an era, but it was truly a magnificent way for a band to go out.
Lead singer, Keith Monacchio, kicked off the night with "Don't Go On Me" as the sound splattered horribly across the room. Thankfully, Joe Harvard made the trip from the Shore and pulled a rabbit out of a hat once again to save the show. Within the time of one and a half songs, the sound went from horrible to wonderful and helped get the band on their way.
The band picked some very interesting choices for their final show. In fact, it seemed as though they went out of their way in the first of two sets to play the obscure tracks - those that hadn't been played live often in many years - rather than the big hits. In between popular recent songs like "3-2-1" and "Simple Things" were nuggets from albums like Eat Off The Vine and Anchor.
Throughout the night, the band members seemed relaxed and just had fun on stage. It was easy to get the feeling that there was almost a sense of relief in the air. The band had just finished the rarest of tours; one, in which, the band had stated at the onset that it would be their last. That's something that is almost never done. Instead of continuing on year after year and possibly watching the band enter their demise down the road, they chose to make one final record (American Ghost) and go out in style. In fact, many people consider American Ghost as the band's best record. Yet, even with critical praise and recent developments such as the band's songs getting into television and movies in recent years, they had decided to move on and appear to be sticking with that decision.
But I've gotta say they floored me when they played a new song called, "The Best Was Yet To Come." Does this mean we may see a studio album in the future? Maybe instead of touring, they'll simply record ala XTC? Or will the band members possibly get together to record for Keith Monacchio solo projects? Who knows.
After a brief break, The Commons returned for a second set that included "China" - the song Keith described as, "The first song we ever wrote that we thought was any good" - as well as several great cuts from the band's last few albums ("The Van Rolls On", "Big Big World", "Fast Food Parking Lot", and "Kate and Joe").
When you hear the collective output of the band - a mix that really isn't the band's greatest hits but might be the bands idea of their history - you realize just how many tremendous songs they actually created over the years. I've often said that I think Keith Monacchio is one of the best songwriters in New Jersey and the band's catalog certainly backs that statement up. Unfortunately their tunes were meant for listening rooms instead of noisy bars; the lyrics were meant to be relished and discussed rather than overlooked; they were like the thinking man's band rather than the next hip thing. In other words, they were a band for a different time and a different place. They never really got the shot they deserved, by then again, who ever does?
In retrospect, I think they needed to play places like the Tin Angel instead of joints like McGuinn's, but you play the hand you're dealt with and they made a pretty good run with it. In fact, it was a pretty damn good ride for the boys. And Saturday night was the perfect ending.
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.