Courtesy of Big Picture Media

Closing Out With Midtown

We can’t say goodbye to 2023 without one last punk rock get-together, and who better to do so with than with NJ’s own?

Since the early 2000s, Midtown has been widely regarded as one of New Jersey’s finest bands. They saw success as a pop punk group before making it out of that niche scene and into the mainstream. Although, despite their breakup and brief return for a show in 2014, most people assumed the band had permanently called it quits. In 2022 they had a massive comeback, selling out Starland Ballroom twice, opening for My Chemical Romance, and playing Riot Fest. The band capped all of that off by recording an EP of covers. It was a brilliant time. 

Their supposed “final show” was this year at Adjacent Festival out on the beach in Atlantic City, but lo and behold, the band is back again with a holiday show – one that fans are hyped to see billed as ‘annual.’ As they prepare to put on their Chrismukkah Spectacular at The Wellmont Theater tomorrow, December 21, we declare that these cult favorites are here to stay. 

As fans from the start, we sat down and interviewed frontman Gabe Saporta in 2005, then following that up with conversations with both guitarists, Heath Saraceno and Rob Hitt, in 2022. Now, in 2023, we got the chance to interview all three of them. Talk about feeling joy and getting in the holiday spirit!

Our first question is about how you played Adjacent Festival in Atlantic City this spring. How was it returning to normal life post-show?

Gabe: It was good and sad at the same time. That was the final thing hanging over our heads. We did a good job, now we can go chill.

Heath: It’s always a little depressing when it’s over, but we knew we had this [holiday show] to look forward to.

At the Midtown reunion at Skate & Surf, it was the one show then over; whereas with this one, you had the string of My Chemical Romance shows, Starland shows, and more of a full reunion. 

Gabe: That’s why I think what we’re doing now is amazing because it’s giving us an opportunity for a once a year reunion for us, for our friends, for our fans in Jersey. It’s just a nice, hometown, once a year thing. We were talking about this before, but I’m glad we’re putting it into practice. It seems like people are excited about it and we’re excited, too.

A lot of bands do the Jersey holiday shows like Taking Back Sunday and Mayday Parade!

Heath: I think we just had so much fun playing and being together, going through the songs and memories. We wanted to find a way we could do this more often. We’re all in our forties. We have jobs and families. We have responsibilities at home. We can’t just pick up and go on tour, but the idea of having something in New Jersey that we could always go back to was really appealing to us. The idea of the holiday show just seemed like the perfect idea. We could pick it up for once a year, play for people who want to hear us play, bring our families out, and just have a great time!

Rob: I say, “I should work out,” but I don’t. It takes a lot more as a drummer to prepare to play just one show a year. For all those people going to Gold’s Gym or whatever people do, I use it as my efforts to stay active in my slow sitting at an office job all day long. 

Heath: Yeah, a lot of preparation goes into it! What would you say, three or four months of practice before we even think about playing a show? 

Rob: Yeah! For me that practice is once a week with Heath and Tyler and at least once a week on my own playing drums. Thank God I have a spot in Green Point, Brooklyn that I can hop over to once a week and keep my chops up. It’s interesting – with the My Chem dates, it took a second to get into it, but by the end of the run it was easy to play again, so we can just go and do it. Preparing for one show or preparing for two months of shows, I think it’s the same amount of work. 

Heath: You need your cardio somewhere!

Gabe: I think one of the things that probably was blocking us from doing more shows was the fact that I live in LA and doing rehearsal with the guys was really difficult. The solution that came was because of an accident. I broke my finger and we had to get a bass player for the tail end of the My Chemical Romance shows. Because of that, I just sang and we had someone playing bass. This is actually really easy. It’s easier for me because I don’t have to remember how to play bass and learn the songs. It makes it easier for me to fly out a couple days before the show. We found Benny from the Banner, who are Heath’s friends in another amazing Jersey band – I don’t know if you know them, Valentino. Thanks to them and Benny who has been playing bass for us and is a great person and great on stage, they have allowed us to do this.

I imagine if you keep up this tradition of a Jersey show every year, that rehearsing is going to be a lot less intimidating every year vs that 10 year gap.

Gabe: Yeah, once a year is definitely better to keep it fresh than once every 10 years [Laughs].

Rob: You were talking about Adjacent Fest. I took off June, July, and August from playing drums. I remember what it was like the first few times I played drums after that initial 10 year lag when we didn’t do a show. I was worried when I got back and started rehearsing again this September, but the first time I got on the drums, I was flying and was stoked! Three months you can take off, but you can’t take off more than that.

You have the Wellmont show on December 21. Tell me about why you chose The Wellmont Theater this time. I know last year there were two Starland dates.

Gabe: Starland is amazing! We played there when we were an active band. It brings back a lot of memories for us. We love that venue. People have just been talking to us about Wellmont. It wasn’t around when we were a band and people have just been raving to us about it. It’s closer to where all of us live. I still haven’t been there! When we play there it will be my first time walking in. I’ve just heard it looks great and sounds great. We’re excited. Starland is an amazing venue, but there’s nothing around there. It’s in a decayed warehouse part of New Jersey. 

I do need to ask about the new EP! Last time we spoke there were no Midtown recordings in over a decade. Now we have this collection of covers. What was it like for Midtown to step back in the studio?

Gabe: It was different than before. We wanted to do that. Everyone wanted something new, but we hadn’t written a song in so long. I found that, personally, when my favorite bands write songs after not being together for a while, it’s just not the same. Without taking the risk of letting anyone down, we thought it would be a good opportunity to shine a light on songs that influenced us. We picked a song from different decades and different scenes and all made them Midtown-styled. I think we are all better at being in studio. Heath in particular is an amazing producer now. Heath started the songs, then Rob did all the drums, and I actually recorded all of the vocals out here in LA. Different than any record we ever made, but it all came together and it still feels like Midtown. 

Heath: It was a fun exercise! We looked at a bunch of different songs and the four we decided to record, we looked at them and what kind of vibe would we bring to it. We didn’t want to do a direct copy of it… except maybe the Hot Rod Circuit song because it’s just the perfect song start to finish. We put our own little spin on everything. There are some things that we’ve done that are trademarks of our sound that we definitely made sure made it into the recordings. Overall, we just wanted to celebrate those songs we love.

When you play a show, how is it to keep this legacy of Midtown alive? It’s got to be a strange thing, especially because that first record you wrote over 20 years ago. It has to put you in an interesting headspace when playing them now. 

Rob: I can speak to that a little bit actually! I think there are some songs I can play now that I don’t think I was able to play then – for a multitude of reasons. I don’t know about you, Heath, but I’m having a good time doing some of these songs we played in 1999 or 2001 and then just stopped playing. There are even a few songs that we may have only played at best a handful of times, and we’re going to play one or two of those as well at Wellmont. What’s important to me is, if we’re doing this, to make it more interesting for people that have seen us play 20 years ago that may not have heard a song they wanted to hear. I don’t think they’re B-sides – you just get to track eight or nine like any band! I don’t know if we’ll ever do a full album set, but we’re at least working our way into playing some songs that may have escaped us over the years.