MAPLEWOOD, NJ - "Boys and Girls! Boys and Girls!" That's what the ebullient Rent Party co-founder Chris Dickson called out each time he introduced the bands during the show on Friday, June 9, at The Woodland in Maplewood. The evening capped off the eighth season of the not-for-profit's live music series and fundraiser.
Dickson, along with co-founder David Wagner, have plenty to celebrate. The once-a-month concert series included a trilogy of signature performances by The Vines of Hoboken, Elk City, and The Defending Champions.
And while Dickson speaks with panache about the music component of Rent Party, he first brings up the hunger-fighting initiatives that serve as the backbone for the music series.
"Donation is the key to all of this," says Dickson. "We're here to help food-insecure kids and continue partnerships with different programs in the community."
In addition to donating to local food pantries, their BackPack Pals program, and making sure fresh produce is growing at South Orange Elks' community garden, Rent Party also began an initiative this year to fund lunch accounts in South Orange and Maplewood schools to help students in need.
Also being celebrated this season: Rent Party's 100th show.
When Dickson was asked how he and Wagner assemble their quirky music lineups, he replied, "that’s like asking McDonald’s what’s in the secret sauce. We try to come up with a common thread and put bands together that have a good fit."
The Vines of Hoboken and Elk City certainly share that common thread. Both consist of tight, wise musicians that have been able to ingest a myriad of music influences while carving out their signature sound. Both are also fronted by elegant female voices.
The Vines of Hoboken, formed by Alirio Guerrero and Suzanne Lavine in the 1980s, became part of the textured North Jersey sound of bands such as The Feelies and The Cucumbers. Originally called The Vines, they added "of Hoboken" to avoid confusion with the Australian band with the same name that formed in the 90s.
The Vines of Hoboken have reunited after 28 years, and their jangly guitars register a mix of haunting and tuneful stories. The band was joined early on by singer Hayley Class, who blended her confident harmonies with Lavine's plaintive and dreamy vocals.
Akin to other Hoboken-rooted bands such as Yo La Tengo, The Vines of Hoboken boast the ability to create vibrant cover songs, as evidenced by their version of The Beatles' "Things We Said Today" and Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth." For the latter tune, they were joined by Jon Fried and Deena Shoshkes of The Cucumbers.
Renee LoBue's voice guided Elk City through their diverse set which mixed songs from their twenty-year history with tunes from their upcoming album. During "Jerks on Ice," LoBue sings the refrain "They always seem so mellow." While the lyrics and Carl Baggaley's keyboards assuage, the song also unsettles with its minimalistic chords and breezy rhythm.
LoBue's presence can alternate between the sway of Stevie Nicks and the gritty poetry of Patti Smith.
Chris Robertson subbed in on guitar for Sean Eden. Eden, who joined Elk City in 2005, is also well-known for his signature guitar work with the band Luna. Robertson, however, fits in well.
Drummer and producer Ray Ketchum has guided the band through strong studio albums. The group effectively brings that texture to their live shows. Elk City knows how to create a nuanced pop song.
The Defending Champions closed out the show, a confident and brassy (literally) group with their tightly orchestrated sound that mixes big-band sound and ska, with a dose of Louisiana chank-a-chank thrown in for good measure.
The DCs, based in Verona and Montclair, is young, vibrant, and relentlessly upbeat. And while brass is king with this band, Dean Nevolis guitar is sharp and agile as he sneaks in and out of the trumpets, trombones, and saxophones.
The band's squeaky clean sound could benefit from a bit more honky-tonk, roughening around the edges, and some rust and dents on their instruments. But boy, can they play.
The impressive trilogy of bands closed out one of the great musical traditions of the area.
Is Dickson slowing down now that Rent Party is taking a break during the summer months?
"My wife will tell you I think about this all the time," he said.
Rent Party's ninth season will include The Blasters, an iconic band of the 1980s Los Angeles punk scene. They regularly performed alongside X, Black Flag, The Gun Club, and The Screamers.
"All of these bands donate their time and talent," Dickson said. "We want to continue to be able to create an environment where original musicians would like to come and play."
To be involved over the summer, tax-deductible contributions can be made to Rent Party here.