Shoreworld: Jon Caspi and Grand Alto

Jon Caspi @ The Showroom, Jan. 23

Any medium can be judged by the setup of the story elements. Establishing characters, plots, pace and details is key to getting the reader involved as soon as possible. This is applied to music, movies and television. Jon Caspi has figured out how to use his storyteller’s technique to bring the latest production of Eddie Knows! to the live stage, combining the musical selections of the disc with cutting edge video and live dramatic theater.

Caspi, along with his entourage of bandmates, actors, and videographers, really caught me off-guard with this project as I’m sure he did with many that attended the two sold out shows at the Showroom, a Cookman Avenue movie house in Asbury Park. When I first heard of the idea I just thought it would be a band performance running a few obscure images in the background but this was way different from the get-go.

Caspi quietly took the stage to set the background, explaining the synopsis and the intimacy involved to the hushed room, confessing that it wasn’t easy for a tunesmith to undertake something as different as this. He explained that when he originally was on the fence about the idea, it was his wife Jennifer that pushed him off and into the unfamiliar waters of theater.

Caspi started things off with the song “How It All Went Down” before dimming out and focusing our attention on the big screen for the Michael Sodano production for the video “Drive,” an MTV quality piece that setup the intro of actors who jumped right into act one of their American rock and roll journey through the life of Eddie, his love affairs, depressions, elations and the long-term results of life’s complex pathways that we all end up facing.

The actors were quite good both in voice and original idea and held the components of Eddie Knows! together with their sharp interpretation of the roles. Theresa Fowler plays Ginny, the first love interest that Eddie eventually dumps in his quest for something better, and Craig Lawler plays Eddie who eventually stumbles across Sheila, played by Carly DeLuca. Standout Patrick James (Daddy Warbucks in Annie) played Eddie’s father with eyebrow raising reality.

Interspersed with singing, video and live performance, Eddie Knows! kept everyone in the sold out seats glued to the action. Honestly, if something this complex didn’t have the right tempo you would have had an antsy group of folks on your hands but things changed up on cue as actors would leave the stage and Caspi and company would kick into the next song. Act two featured a segment called “Inside The Songwriters Studio,” a great take from Inside The Actors Studio featuring Gary Wien, complete with beard, glasses, and slicked back hair ala James Lipton as he interviewed Caspi about his career. The back nine included more music and finished with a wedding scene and the summation that all was well with the world.

One thing I want to mention was the smart way that they set the band up in the room. They scattered themselves throughout the room (all wireless) with Caspi up front, the guitarist Doug Lane against an opposite wall and Jimmie Mizell (drums) and Ken Kraut (bass) on another side and surrounded by the audience. It leant a very involved feel and the crowd loved being part of the show. Eddie Knows! was a big hit with the crowd and demonstrates yet another musician using his noodle in more ways than the traditional presentation. Big shout out to Caspi and co-producers Michael Sodano and Nancy Sabino, owners of the cool little Cookman Ave. movie house for a collaborative job well done.,

Grand Alto CD Release Party @ The Saint, Jan. 30

This was one of those Saturdays where I’m glad I dragged my weary bones out of the house and down onto the Main Street strip. It was a strange night and even the panhandlers were absent from the city sidewalks as I parked my vehicle and scanned the quiet area. Unbeknownst to the outer world the night was already in full swing inside. And with the exception of one or two people, the crowd was strangers from outside the area, which is always a sign bands are doing their job well. Bricks and Mortar, The Afterbangs, Scott Liss and The Sixty-Six, Grand Alto and a stripped-down River City Extension were on the list and it was a crazy full moon night, which only added to the fun that can happen in that interesting shore town.

I walked in on an impressive ‘70s heavy set from The Afterbangs. Their sound is a combination of Blue Cheer, Sound Garden and Bad Company. Utilizing heavy Les Paul tones, drums and bass, the trio plowed through a dozen tunes like the super grit of “Get low,” bluesy and tight, this band is one to watch. Vocalist Guitarist Chris McKeon has a unique voice sounding best in the mids and lows rather than high spots where he sometimes strays (monitors) but that is easily over looked when tunes like “Shake For Me,” a Led Zeppelin flavored number that borders on blues raunch, had the groovy crowd doing the hippie dance admirably.

While I had heard about Scott Liss and The Sixty-Six, another trio (I think this was the unofficial trio festival), I had never actually seen them so this was yet another reason to brave snow, snobs and the dementia of Asbury Park’s craziest and get down here. Liss and crew are members of the Parlor Mob/Nicole Atkins/Sikamor Rooney tribe and are just as mysterious. Liss has actually worked with Paul Richie (Parlor Mob) in both engineering and production roles and his resulting recorded and live sound is dark, complex and loud. Bassist Gianni Scalise wasn’t even in the mix, which at times interfered with Liss acoustic open stringed flings but leveled out once Liss went to his old electric Telecaster. Liss isn’t one for talking between numbers but that was fine with the attentive party crowd that eventually climbed onstage for a sing-along or two, becoming part of the stage show.

Scott Liss has been around the Parlor/Atkins influences for a while as it shows in his vocal phrasing and complicated use of dark open tunings, sparse arrangements and lyrically smart offerings. Scott Liss and The Sixty-Six are one of the top area groups to watch this year as they are continuing to rise into the industry scope.

Grand Alto did their CD release thing well, switching out turtlenecks for the shirt-and-tie look of The Knack and proving that they’re every bit the contender with their soon-to-be hit “The Reservoir” before making way for a stripped-down version of River City Extension, who took the night all the way home, featuring Joe Michelini and a whole stage of motley peeps including band members from Grand Alto and The Afterbangs all “banging” on drums, water bottles and anything else they could get their hands on. Another thing I noticed with this crowd is that they all pretty much hung around to see the other bands which was key. I wonder if they are for rent? It might just be the new way to keep your bar packed. Watch for all of these great bands and as always, seek new music, take chances and let us know what up-and coming-groups you would like to see over at