Gym Class Heroes @ Starland Ballroom

SAYREVILLE, NJ—Hip-hop fanatics, flannel-adorned hipsters and suburban Rastafarians gathered at Starland Ballroom to experience the ultimate feel-good dance party featuring The Dirty Heads and Gym Class Heroes. The floor had room to spare, especially for a Friday night, but the energy was flowing as much as the drinks were from the bar.

Richard Andrew AKA Outasight kicked the night off with a strong sense of determination. With only him and a DJ-assistant spinning beats behind him, the Yonkers, NY-based artist tried to hold his own in a room full of people seemingly uninterested in what he had to spit into the mic. However, the man-boy (he’s nearly 28 years old, but looks about 18) deserves credit; he has the essence of a stellar MC.

The white-boy wordsmith strutted around the stage confidently and busted into sporadic dance moves to try to get the crowd moving. For the most part, Outasight’s delivery was spot on, but one can blame the man for feeling discouraged. All of his attempts for audience engagement seemingly imploded; no matter how loud and proud his pleas were.

When Outasight exited the stage, the energy in the room spiked. It was obvious whom the audience was here to see. The crowd seemed to split equally among fans of The Dirty Heads and Gym Class Heroes, with some teetering in between. Although the Huntington Beach, CA-based Dirty Heads aren’t the epitome of mainstream success, it’s clear that their fans would (metaphorically) take a bullet for them. For Jared “Dirty J” Watson (vocals), Dustin “Duddy B” Bushnell (vocals/guitar), David Foral (bass), Matt Ochoa (drums) and Jon Olazabal (percussion), it’s clear the feeling is very mutual.

“You’re about to make this the best show on this tour so far,” shouted Watson to his harem of dedicated fans. The quintet didn’t disappoint, either. Their Sublime and 311-inspired sound shined as fans danced and sang along with vigor to tracks from their debut, Any Port In A Storm (2008), including the beloved “Lay Me Down.” The troupe also premiered a few new songs from their still-untitled forthcoming album, which Watson and Bushnell teased to the fans will be coming “soon.” However, the most impressive was the band’s interpretation of the Rolling Stone’s “Paint It Black.” It sounded like quintessential Dirty Heads, but somehow had the spirit of pure rock and roll. It was fun, effortless, and the fans went wild for it.

After the Dirty Heads said their final goodbye to the crowd, the room continued their chants for the band. The pleas for the reggae/alt hip-hop gang came to a resounding halt when the room went pitch black for Gym Class Heroes’ grand entrance. The band came out with guns blazing with “Live A Little” and “Peace Sign/Index Down” from The Quilt (2008). It was a surreal site to see the once-mundane crowd turn into a gang of insatiable animals, “flipping the bird” with frontman Travie McCoy. These first two tracks set the stage of a retrospective roster of songs that highlight the best of Gym Class Heroes. From “The Queen And I,” to “Cookie Jar” and “Clothes Off,” McCoy, Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo (guitar), Eric Roberts (bass) and Matt McGinley (drums/percussion) delivered a fun and astoundingly intricate set. Although the band spotlighted majority of their more radio-played, dance-friendly tracks, it was amazing to see the crowd respond strongly to darker songs from Papercut Chronicles.

During “Taxi Driver,” “Cupid’s Chokehold” and “Papercuts,” fans in the front screamed along to the lyrics, desperately trying to catch the band’s attention. Response also was positive to tracks from the band’s forthcoming Papercut Chronicles II, including “Martyrial Girls.” And it was clear the band was passionate about the new material; the quartet grooved, smiled, fed off of each other’s energy and focused on providing the best show they could. In the middle of the set, however, the crowd threw a fit when McCoy broke into his solo smash “Billionaire.”

But the best moment came at the night’s end: “Sayreville has trumped every city so far,” McCoy earnestly preached to the crowd. “My love for you all is so strong, so loud, it’s almost like a stereo.” As Adam Levine’s croon swarmed through the room, the crowd joined in with the loudest, most passionate sing-along of the night. The men of Gym Class Heroes were obviously eager to showcase their growth as a band and the return of the sound they became so known and loved for. But it was truly a landmark night for the troupe; returning to the small, intimate settings they note as part of their fondest memories.