HOBOKEN, NJ—There are several moments in history that have reaffirmed music’s ability to bring people together, regardless of their age, gender or beliefs. Outside of the extravagant, culture-shifting events, such as Woodstock and Live Aid, countless artists are supporting and driving awareness for their own personal causes. For example, indie up-and-comers Cymbals Eat Guitars performed a groundbreaking set at The Project Matters’ annual benefit show, which took place Aug. 10, 2012 at Maxwell’s in Hoboken.
The Project Matters was developed to help provide education, guidance and mentorship to aspiring artists 21 years old and below throughout New Jersey. Developed by Karen High in memory of her son, Benjamin, The Project Matters has successfully developed an ever-growing network of up-and-coming artists, all of whom joined together at Maxwell’s to perform in memory Benjamin and the songs he wrote for his band, Green Arrows.
Joining Cymbals Eat Guitars at the sold-out show were Justin and Alina, a rambunctious and passionate brother-sister duo that held their own in a pseudo-acoustic pop set. Justin and Alina, who are 19 and 16 years old, respectively, had confidence and spunk as the show’s openers. Between Alina’s mature demeanor and even more promising vocal skills, it was hard to believe that she is still a teenager.
While Justin and Alina successfully cater to young pop lovers, Thomas Wesley Stern creates a hypnotizing concoction of Americana and folk complete with a banjo. Hailing from Jackson, NJ, the five-piece had the stage presence and energy perfectly reflective of their music: a little laid back, but musically concise and enthralling. The band’s stellar harmonies and on-stage chemistry made their set even more genuine, rather than a try-hard attempt to cash in on the Americana/folk revival that’s currently taking place in the music world.
Mitchell Grey, a New York-based four-piece followed up Thomas Wesley Stern’s Americana tracks with an indie pop fueled set. While Mitchell Grey isn’t an honoree of The Project Matters, they are firm supporters of the cause: the band opened for Escape Directors several times, who were the first band under the foundation’s umbrella. During their all-too-quick set, Mitchell Grey showcased the best of their debut opus, On The Stellar Way, closing out with their catchy single “Heartstrings.” Throughout their performance, vocalist Ryan Bandong bantered with the audience and egged them on to sing and dance along, while guitarist Joseph Diaz eagerly supported him. Bassist Napon Pintong and drummer Matt Pana were a bit more subdued in their performances, but still delivered spot-on instrumentals.
It was Cymbals Eat Guitars, though, that truly stole the night, enveloping the entire venue, and hypnotizing concertgoers with tracks from their discography. Joseph D’Agostino (guitar/lead vocals), Matt Whipple (bass guitar/vocals), Brian Hamilton (keyboards/vocals) and Matthew Miller (drums) seemed to be more intent and focused on their performance, rather than displaying vivacious showmanship. However, that is what makes the men of Cymbals Eat Guitars so intriguing and respectable: their continued focus and dedication to giving viewers a top-notch show consistent to their albums, which have put them on the “must-watch” list for countless critics. At the end of Cymbals Eat Guitars’ set, D’Agostino, a longtime friend of Benjamin High, took the stage on his own. Clearly torn up by emotion, the vocalist gave a gut-wrenching, honest performance—just him and his guitar—in memory of his friend, and in continual support of the Project Matters.