Face to Face / Lagwagon / MakeWar - Live in Sayreville (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Face to Face / Lagwagon / MakeWar

Live in Sayreville (2019)

live show

October 11th was my first time at the Starland Ballroom, which is kind of in the middle of nowhere in Sayreville, NJ. Apparently at one point in its history it was the Hunga Bunga Club. From what I understand, that is exactly what you’d think it was. Now it is a pretty nice venue, floor space is rectangular shape with the stage along one of the long sides, giving plenty of sightlines for the attendees. Anyhow, I wasn’t here to enjoy the history of the Starland, I was here to see Face to Face, Lagwagon, and MakeWar.

MakeWar were the first band on the lineup. A recent addition to the Fat Wreck Chords roster, and with a new album coming out soon, MakeWar secured a coveted spot as the opener for the lion’s share of the tour (H20 and Destroy Boys would split the final nine dates). Despite being geographically close to their home base of Brooklyn, this was MakeWar’s first time at the venue. They played with verve and enthusiasm, buoyed by the beats of recent addition Matty Stolpe (formerly of New Jersey’s The Moms) on drums. The slowly filling space seemed to enjoy their music and, despite being the least known of the bands, there was a sizable number of MakeWar fans right up the barriers, singing along with every song they knew. With their new album coming out, MakeWar padded out their set with some brand new tracks that played well with the crowd. A pleasant taste of what’s to come when the new release, Get It Together comes out on Novembers 1st.

As two bands of fairly equal popularity, I was curious who would play first: Face to Face or Lagwagon? Well, this night it was Lagwagon although, apparently, they’d been alternating a bit on who is the last act at different stops of the tour.

Lagwagon came on stage to the canned intro to “The Suffering” off of their new album Railer. But they didn’t stick to the new stuff, nor did they rest on their back catalog. Instead the band put out a hefty mix of songs from their studio albums. By my count, they only left off songs from the I Think My Older Brother Used to Listen to Lagwagon EP.

Although they’ve joked, in song, about the diminishing longevity of their act due to old age, you simply wouldn’t know it seeing them live. I’ve had the benefit of seeing Lagwagon seven times since 1996. Each time, save for 1998 (soon after Shawn Dewey left the band), they’ve been phenomenal. Not only that, but their energy level never seems to have slackened. All four up-front are constantly in motion, which only serves to bolster the audience’s enthusiasm, driving them wild. Security’s job didn’t get much easier as, towards final stretch of their set, many a crowd surfer who came over the barrier got a lengthy hand-clasp from Joey even as security was trying to carry the concert-goer to the side of the stage for catch-and-release.

One thing that has struck me, especially since I saw Lagwagon outside of Lyon in France in 2012, was how the reinvigorated they seem, and just how much more proficient they are at their instruments. Both the Big Bitch and Leon are laying down some face-melting solos that sound even better and tighter live than on album. I’m just blown away by it.

After a slight delay, Face to Face took the stage. Whereas Lagwagon started with new, Face to Face went back to the start, starting off with “You’ve Done Nothing” from their first album. I’ll admit that I haven’t purchased a Face to Face album since ’99, which means I am only passing familiar with songs from the majority of their releases afterward, but that is OK. If anything, I now have an inkling what I have been missing, and am going back to check out the releases from the past twenty years. That being said, I recognized enough songs that it felt to me they were also hitting the whole of their bag of tricks, and it was still pretty damn great.

But the crowd... THEY knew what they were listening to. And they were loving it.

In the same boat as Lagwagon, Face to Face can likely be considered elder statesmen of, if not punk, at least the melodic punk popularized in the early hey-day of the EpiFat sound. Even despite ½ of the band sporting grey (and even white!)-tinged beards, you once again wouldn’t know it by their pure and unbridled energy on stage.

All in all, the show was a blast. My first time seeing MakeWar, my first time seeing Face to Face since ’97, and Lagwagon... well, it’s Lagwagon: across 23 years, three US states and two countries abroad, I feel I’ve grown old with them.

The crowd was a mixture of ages. I saw a lot of older folk who probably listened to these bands in their youth and decided to come by for a trip down memory lane. But that’s not to say it was all old geezers. I also saw quite a few young children throughout the crowd, including a boy (12-14?) who dragged his mom as a chaperone to the show. She was enthusiastic about it, though, and even begrudgingly admitted that the music was “not too bad.”

There you go. Face to Face, Lagwagon, and MakeWar at the Starland Ballroom: not too bad.