At first I was annoyed at World/Inferno Friendship Society for scheduling a show in some place called Stanhope, NJ, a remote location that was just barely within reasonable driving distance. Still, because I am a World/Inferno maniac, and because the band is about to take a few months off the road for recording, and because the band's lineup has peculiar way of altering dramatically between recording sessions, I made the trip to see the modern Gatsbys on June 28, 2013.
Fortuitously, my route cut directly through two Inferno landmarks, Raritan County and Bridgewater. I must say, that for all the tales of witches and great pumpkins, Bridgewater seemed to be little more than a depository for McDonalds and Shop-Rites to me. Though I must admit, on my return route, while driving between Bridgewater's towering trees, it was a little spooky and did belie numerous spots for witching and other spell-casting.
As per my usual shortsightedness, Stanhope proved to slap the sourness straight out of my mouth. Stanhope itself is something of a gothic Mayberry, with beautiful colonial and Civil War-era architecture lining thin streets and backed by healthy clusters of ancient tress and bushes. In fact, one building was a legit haunted house with columns at the foyer, a stone wall guarding the house and gruesome stone gargoyles peering at me from all directions.
The venue itself was The Stanhope House, a building that is over 220 years old and still has some of its original materials, as one could tell from the highly ornate ceiling. The Stanhope House has served as a private home, general store, post office, tavern, and stagecoach shop during its existence and I half expected George Washington himself to step out of the W.C. and proclaim, "What ho, journeyman! Have thee transgressed for yon World/Inferno concierto?" (Instead, I got some drunk crust punk that insisted on leaning on my shoulder and babbling, "Infernites, man… Infernites… for life")
On top of that, despite being a tiny venue with an eight-inch high stage, The Stanhope House has served as sacred ground for the blues, hosting such acts as Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, and even Mr. Born Under a Bad Sign, Albert King! History!
Perhaps because we were close to Inferno's original stomping grounds, the crowd was young and enthusiastic, clothed in suits and with youthful vigor. Inferno took the stage to their usual opening, "Tattoos Fade." Right away, one could tell it would be a special show. Perhaps because the stage was so low, the crowd was particularly rambunctious and the band snapped into an energetic pounding, winding up the tune. Singer Jack Terricloth took the stage and announced "Hello New Jerseeeeeeeey!" and the hometown crowd went nuts.
Terricloth's voice was in fantastic shape, deep and soulful, but also fiery. Meanwhile, the band, which have stayed solid for some time now, is quickly becoming Inferno's most formidable lineup. Long time Infernite Sandra Malak is becoming even more prominent, driving the procession with her thick, energetic bass that is both punk and jazz, as well as punctuating so many songs with her operatic voice, which more than anything else in the band, shows that you can still be classy while sticking it to the man.
Likewise, the newer members of the group are quickly adding their own splashes. Of particular note is violinist Rebecca Schlappich, who is adding her own unique, country/classical touch to the songs. A short, zappy interlude on "I am Sick of People" here and a soaring touch on "The Velocity of Love" there, and Schlappich is growing these songs above their orignal incarnation. Painist Matthew Landis is probably the group's most baroque tinkler, and when the band broke out into songs that heavily referenced the Roaring '20s, Landis' lighter touch made the songs sparkle that much more. (I would also give props to other members, but I need a program book to keep up with this group.)
For the most part, the setlist was of the "greatest hits" sort, which was fitting. Because the show was nearly a hometown hoedown, and because the band is gearing up to record a new album, the younger crowd really got down to the hits. The dancefloor was nearly nonstop action, existing in a half waltz, half circle pit. I don't think I've seen a crowd this enthused at an Inferno show yet.
The band did play the entirety of their new Turnstile Comics EP and frankly, these new songs are so good that they keep the greatest hits feel going. "The Faster You Go" is becoming the gold ring for the live show, with the crowd booming out "Go faster, think smarter!" and driving the song into an almost hardcore speed. "Pickles and Gin" is a zany, tap swing dancer that is both intricate and whimsical, merging Inferno's earliest songs with its most recent harder manifestation. Nice.
Inferno are on the upswing for sure and it may very well turn out to be their most exciting period. Terricloth, Malak, and Lanids really are on the top of their game and the new kids are being bold enough to add their own unique contributions. If the band inject this kind of energy and enthusiasm into the new LP, it may very well prove to be their best to date.
-The Stanhope House has some bangin' wings, let me tell you that.
-Apparently, WIFS always asks for "ducks" on their riders, which, as I now know, is band lingo for drugs. However, the Stanhope House
got the band actual ducks, one of which they named Foie Gras.
-Here is how dumb I am – just last week I realized that "Only Anarchists are Pretty" is a Sex Pistols/Malcolm McLaren reference.
-Alright, I'mma be for really real with you right now and give you some advice I wish I could have given to my younger self. If you are an awkward high school dude, and maybe even an awkward college fellow, go to a World/Inferno show. I guarantee you that there is an equally awkward, but perfectly nice and sweet, young girl just dying for you to ask her to dance. I am telling you, if you put out that clammy hand of yours and say "Can I have this dance?" she will not say no. I've seen it with my own eyes. It's a no-lose situation, bro.
-You know what, listen holmes, take the John Gentile Challenge (TM). If you are an awkward young dude, and you go to an Inferno show and there is not an awkward young girl there waiting to be asked to dance, I will pay you for your ticket. BUT! If you are an awkward young dude and there IS an awkward young girl there without a date, then you have to e-mail and tell me your story AND you have to address me as ♥♥♥♥John Gentile, Punk Rock Match-Maker ♥♥♥♥ (complete with the hearts).