On the day of a concert on Long Island, breaking news came from the camp of the Rx Bandits: Saxophone player Steve Borth left the band, purportedly to pursue his own musical interests. However, as the news section of the site said, the show will go on, and you will all be rocked. And rocked they were.
The progressive ska-punk band Rx Bandits headlined a bill of quite eclectic tastes. Desa, a band that rose from the ashes of a previous band featuring Steve Borth (Link 80) opened the show. Their straight-ahead post-punk would have been a worthy opening band had it not been for the vocals, which were from this side of New Found Glory and the Starting Line. One could hear a clear Bandits influence in the stop-start riffage and stomping drums, but the vocals compromised any push for greatness.
Next was Men, Women, and Children, a disco, dance-punk novelty act. Featuring an eccentric front-man that looks, acts, and sings like Glassjaw’s Daryl Palumbo, this band is what Palumbo hinted at with his debut album from Head Automatica. The band was dressed for the part, fully inviting the image cast upon them. Their stage set included laser lights, bubbles, choreographed dances, and constant requests to “get up on the dance floor.” During the song “Monkey Monkee Men,” front-man TJ Penzone tried to get the whole crowd involved by having it sing the chorus “We’re Monkeys, we’re monkeys, we’re monkeys!” This largely worked, and the band reveled in its cheesiness by bringing out a large bone, people in monkey masks, and someone in a banana suit. One can make the argument that the act of having the crowd yell “we’re monkeys” together is a backhanded political statement that people, like monkeys, cooperate when trained to do so, but a novelty act is not up for such high praise and curveball antics.
Following MWC, Brooklyn-based indie/hardcore band I Am the Avalanche took to the stage. Having a large Long Island fanbase aided their performance; the crowd became increasingly raucous and involved with the added intensity of IATA’s music. Some moshing ensued, and front-man Vinny Caruana responded well. He had an underrated stage presence, jumping around the stage with a mic in hand, getting the crowd more involved. Oddly, however, the biggest highlights of the set were a cover and the debut of a new song. The cover, a rehashing of Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” was chaotic, noisy, and crowd-infused -- everything that a Fugazi song should be. The new song, “Polar Beast” featured the greatest sound dynamics and time changes of the set. The crowd was subdued, but it allowed the band to premiere its new material to a crowd with an unquenchable thirst for I Am the Avalanche.
Finally, after a long intermission, the Rx Bandits came out to a packed and cheering crowd. Lead guitarist and vocalist Matt Embree was upfront about the missing member, and pleaded for more crowd participation to help him cope with the loss of Borth. “We need you to sing more to fill his large void,” he said. Instantly, the crowd was mesmerized. Opening with the rollicking “Sell You Beautiful,” Embree tried his best to keep the fans from remembering that Borth was missing, but try as he might, Borth was an integral part of the band, and he will sorely be missed.
After each song, Embree and drummer Christopher Tsagakis would lead a cerebral jam session, something not associated with most ska bands. This jam session, a staple of Bandits’ performances, always features the drummers from the other performers. Tours are a family affair according to the Bandits, and they say that everyone should be involved. The drumming is the core of the Rx Bandits sound, founded upon the wizardry of Tsagakis, and furthered by the frenzied sessions involving two, three, and even four percussionists on the stage at once. Embree is always one for noodling with his guitar, and this show was no different. He embodies the idealism of the “hippie” movement, without being caught in the trappings of its detractions. The art of performance appears to be something spiritual to him as he hops, skips, and jumps around when soloing, riffing, and noodling. Embree often has call-and-answer sessions between songs along with the jams, having the crowd repeat his vocal acrobatics as he keeps a groove going along with heavy drumming and loud, fuzzy bass.
The set itself relied heavily on the Bandit’s most recent release The Resignation, but it also included a couple tracks off its previous release Progress and some new songs of its upcoming album, …And the Battle Begun. The songs were balanced between soft and loud, rocking and balladry. Highlights included the aforementioned “Sell You Beautiful” and “Mastering the List” off Resignation, “Consequential Apathy” and “Who Would’ve Thought?” off Progress and the new track “Only for the Night.” Each had their own unique energy and vibe, aided and abetted by the most accessible of front-men, Matt Embree.
After a seemingly short set (it was actually about 60 minutes) the headlining band left the stage to loud cheering. The crowd did not expect the set to end so soon. Even more dejected was the crowd when the announcer came back on the speakers. “Do you wanna hear one more?” he asked. Loud cheering ensued; Tsagakis and bassist Joseph Troy return to the stage. They play the opening drum 'n’ bass line to "Overcome (The Recapitulation)" -- the most recognizable song off Resignation. The crowd instantly took up the infectious and repeating chorus: “We’ve had enough of these politicians' wars / What we need right now is love / We’ve had enough of their military scoreboards / What we need right now is love.” Embree and the rest of the band took the stage for a three-song encore in all, closing with the hardest live track, “Decrescendo.” The band left the stage for the final time, waving to the thoroughly pleased crowd, destined for their next show.