SOUTH HACKENSACK, N.J. — A cold Saturday in the middle of January was not enough to dissuade a crowd of approximately 150 loyal fans gathered inside a converted warehouse for a good old-fashioned evening of sing-a-longs and hand clapping.
Just one half hour after the doors opened the action kicked off, with the chilly masses warming themselves under the space heaters mounted on the ceiling. The first act was The Exotic Aquatic, a hard-working, DIY-style band from New Jersey with a small but loyal following. On stage at the School of Rock were lead singer/acoustic guitar player Jason Soroko and Mike Castellucci on the horn — this band doesn’t need anyone else.
The duo was obviously very happy to be opening for three big name artists, working its way through seven songs in just under 30 minutes, with some banter in between spent on dedications or explanation of songs. Kicking off the evening with two cover songs mentioning New Jersey’s name was certainly enough to excite the crowd, and more filtered in as friends called friends to come check out this next great Jersey band (or to prepare for the vocal onslaught of the upcoming performers).
Vinnie Caruana, best known for fronting The Movielife and I Am The Avalanche, then took the stage, his voice being the most recognizable instrument from any recording by either group. Having only an acoustic guitar to tune and a bottle of water to drink, he wasted little time taking the stage and telling the crowd about his intentions for the night, and how he nearly always fails to follow his own plans.
“I am going to try and talk as little as possible and play lots of songs but that never happens,” said Caruana.
What followed was an excellent mix of fan favorite tunes from both of his bands, with Caruana opening with a new I Am The Avalanche song. Even a listener not familiar with his material could have guessed which songs belonged to which one of his outfits, but there was one trick — Caruana’s vocal style was completely different on each song, adding an entirely new dynamic to the lyrics.
For the final two songs, he requested the crowd to “get a little louder on a Saturday night” and was rewarded with a beautiful gang of voices. At the end of his set he announced that I Am The Avalanche would be putting together some New York City shows in the next few months as well as a Camden date. After concluding the banter with some audience members, he thanked everyone for coming out and prepared the audience for a man known for his multi-platinum selling Ohio band Hawthorne Heights.
As JT Woodruff took the stage, it was apparent the tempo was about to change. Telling the crowd that he had not done many solo acoustic shows, he took advantage of the opportunity not to be saddled with a band around him.
“It is a nice break from my band, where I usually do not get to talk between songs,” said Woodruff.
His falsetto delivery and smooth guitar playing was a stark contrast to the violent act of music that had preceded him. It was obvious he was enjoying the opportunity to play songs outside of his full time job as vocalist and rhythm guitarist for Hawthorne Heights. Playing some of his own songs as well as a beautiful Face to Face cover, he informed the audience that it would not pick up on this because it would not ring familiar with their usual tasets.
“None of you will know it because it’s not by Cobra Starship or Forever the Sickest Kids,” said Woodruff.
Much of his interaction with the crowd was wry, as he philosophized about what inspired him to start his band, spoke about trying like hell to get out of West Virginia, a legacy his accent cannot escape. He ended the set with two sincere public service announcements: a statement against illegal downloading after which he offered everyone a free download from the upcoming Hawthorne Heights album Skeletons (due out this spring), and a final commentary on the state of the music industry today.
“Music’s imploding with illegal downloading, Susan Boyle is the proof,” said Woodruff, who complemented his ode with the “No More Neon” pins at the merch table.
Another quick intermission brought the evening’s main attraction to the stage, much to the delight of the loyal crowd in attendenace for him. As soon as Anthony Raneri got into his set of Bayside favorites, one solo song as well as a handful of covers, every person in the crowd was singing along much to the delight of the headliner. Impromptu Q&A sessions and song requests dotted the set but Raneri did not seem to mind, even varying off of his set list a bit. After some prodding, he even revealed that a new Bayside record is in the works and should be out later in the year.