There are few sports I enjoy more than shitting on New Jersey. Much like drugs and sex, my hatred for the state remained largely undiscovered until my college years. As a child, New Jersey meant summers in Cape May and boogie boarding on the shore. But, by the time I was 21, words associated with the Garden State began to include “hair wax” and “spinning rims”—both accessories championed by artificially enhanced alpha males with egos too large and ribbed shirts two sizes too small. The state still claims stake to the location of the only shower I’ve ever taken that left me smelling worse afterward.
But, after missing Hoboken hometown favorite Yo La Tengo on my own turf, I found myself calling around, desperately trying to find out the difference between the PATH train and the New Jersey rail.
The Loew’s Jersey Theatre looks out of place. The building’s architecture is European and conservative, but the marquee screams all Americana. It rolls up and down like a crashing wave of light, and what would normally pass as gaudy actually gives this place a certain authentic charm. There is a watering hole that doubles as some sort of seafood restaurant (think Cheers and the restaurant they split rent with) sharing an alley with the theatre. A couple of mod hipsters in Sonic Youth t-shirts smoke their American Spirits outside while the bartender hustles behind the bar. A pair of Yuengling drafts only puts me back five bucks (for 22-ouncers!).
I am on my way to fall, Jersey.
When the band comes on, drummer Georgia Hubley is the only one who smiles. Track lights rest below and the stage is set in red. Most people aren’t even through clapping when the band breaks into a spastic version of “Sugarcube.”
Only a few minutes into the next song—“Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goldkind”—I’m floored by my complete underestimation of Ira Kaplan’s guitar licks. He may look like he works at a record store; he may look like he’ll throw his back out when lifting his guitar, but this guy is filthy. Hubley and James McNew carry the song with a consistent rhythm, while Kaplan’s possessed psychedelic riffs pit him against his two bandmates in a great push-and-pull sonic showdown.
“Sometimes I Don’t Get You,” one of the standout new tracks from the band’s aggressively titled last album, is the first song to truly utilize the theatre’s amazing acoustics. Lead singer/guitarist Kaplan is practically whispering as he sits down to the piano to play this light tender bout of frustration: “Sometimes I don’t know you/ it is like we never met/. . . it messes with my head.”
“The Weakest Part” and “Beanbag Chair,” urged on by Kaplan’s spot-on Schroeder impression, have a rollicking Peanuts quality to them, while “Watch Out for Me Ronnie” has a sweaty sock-hop ballroom glisten. It sounds like nothing the band has ever tried before. The crowd sings along, smiling to the self-aware “Stockholm Syndrome.” Every foot in the place taps in unison and proclaims “I do believe in love.” It’s impossible to brush off the sincerity - the words linger in the air.
But, of course, this band is all about Hubley and Kaplan. Indie rock’s governing King and Queen, the pair are at the heart of the band and its sound. When Hubley hurts her hand banging away on one of their tracks, it’s clear that the band is not moving until her husband knows she’s okay. When Kaplan sits behind the drums and Hubley offers tips on keeping time, the audience can see him smirk and reply, “I don’t tell you how to drum”—it could be any one of us dealing with a lover prone to backseat driving. Nothing ever seems rehearsed between the two of them, and that makes the music all the more organic. Any debate about the band’s sincerity is immediately put to rest as they interact live.
“I Feel Like Going Home” leaves the room silent. Hubley sits behind the piano and cradles the room to sleep: “I can float above the ceiling/ I like drifting through the air/ I tend to lose my concentration/ but right now the clouds don’t appeal too much/ I feel like going home.”
Kaplan stares at his wife as the piano slowly quiets down and the notes fall fewer and farther between. His guitar—his favorite toy and adopted son—lies silently beside him. He has nothing to add. Like any good husband, he’s learned when to listen.