Though Ithaca has a thriving basement scene, the undisputed DIY capital of the U.S. is another college town: New Brunswick, N.J. Advantageously situated within an hour of NYC, the scene attracts alternative acts from across the globe, and has spawned an impressive number of punk and indie bands, a small sample of whom found themselves on Saturday night, playing to a modest crown in the cozy, polychromatic basement of 660 Stewart. On their ninth day of touring, the bands were tired and apparently low on funds, but their spirits soared nonetheless, and each put on a high energy performance.
The band originally set to open the show, Hoboken’s Rest Ashore, unfortunately had to cancel, but were replaced by Cornell’s own _____: an instrumental math-rock outfit with a name not meant to be pronounced. Jersey City’s Kadian Quartet followed, playing a progressive jazz-rock set, and though their music made them an outlier, both for the night and among the set of bands brought to campus by Fanclub Collective, they managed to be an audience favorite, generating eruptions of applause after each impressive piano and guitar breakdown. To those weary of what sometimes feels like the cookie-cutter DIY punk sound sported by so many of the bands brought to Ithaca by Fanclub and IU, the quartet came as a breath of fresh air.
Up next was the first of the two New Brunswick-based headliners, Eagle Daddy. The band played a set of emo-tinged punk, laden with pessimistic humor. Funny moments included what sounded like a lyrical allusion to Nelly’s “Ride Wit Me” and the line “I wanted to rebuild bridges but I hadn’t exercised in a while.” The standout out song was “Bummer,” a passionately sung pop-punk number with a jingly little guitar riff. Another fine moment in the set came when the band turned from their melodic punk sound into edgier post-hardcore territory, inspiring a brief mosh pit in the middle of the crowd. Flipping through the band’s bandcamp page, I believe this occurred during their performance of album opener “Pavement.”
Up last was the standout performance: that of New Brunswick’s Professor Caveman. Professor Caveman is a band of strikingly talented musicians in the guise of a group guys who are just fooling around. From their mid-set confusion over what to play next, to their questionable marketing skills (“We have some stickers for sale, I’ll give you one for free”), to their shitty name (and even in a scene where it seems the more hideous your band name is the cooler you are, Professor Caveman is one of the most fantastically awful I’ve seen) everything about the carelessness with which the band presents itself suggests that they aren’t putting more than ten percent of themselves into the project, but their music suggested emphatically otherwise.
The band exhibited a unique ability to weave elements of funk and latin into a surf-punk sound. Standout tracks included “Toca La Guitarra” and “Vaseline.” The former is a track which encapsulates everything that is great about the band — intensely blissful — and the latter is a hilarious ode to sex and masturbation (the chorus: “It feels like vaseline when you touch me like I touch myself” sung in a falsetto).
Frontman Rob Romano is a truly gifted rock ’n roll vocalist whose style was often reminiscent of Dr. Dog’s Scott McMicken. He nailed melodic surf-rock choruses and rough-around-the-edges punk cantos alike. The glowing guitars which comprised the band’s melodies were played in a style reminiscent of Mac DeMarco’s work on Salad Days. All in all, Professor Caveman is a band to watch, and an excellent example of the type of band coming out of the New Brunswick scene. I would love to see them get much bigger, and maybe even get considered for tenure.
Matt Pegan is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.