Washington Square Park Uplifts the Underground

WSP 2

As much as it pains me to admit it, this article marks my reintroduction to the underground Jersey scene. I have been completely out of touch with what’s been going on locally, and I’m really kicking myself for that fact right now. Last Wednesday was my first time visiting The Meatlocker in Montclair, as well as my first time seeing what is possibly one of New Jersey’s best-kept secrets, Washington Square Park, play live. I’ve been aware of these guys for quite some time, but I haven’t given them enough of a chance in the past. It was never for any real reason, but on any given day I have at least five bands that I am currently obsessed with or need to listen to, so a fair number of albums in my iTunes lay dormant for longer than I care to admit. I’m happy to say, though, that Washington Square Park’s performance has resulted in a complete 180 in my indifference.

In preparation for the concert, I gave their debut full-length a few spins, and really came to enjoy their take on Emo/Punk Hardcore. I think we’re all aware of the bigger names currently dominating the underground scene, such as Tigers Jaw, Polar Bear Club, and Balance & Composure, with which I would now definitely put Washington Square Park alongside. I understand this may be a bold statement, but you should know – and I came to realize this within the first song of their set list – the recordings really don’t do them justice. Their energy combined with the effect they had on the audience was something completely of its own. I stood on the side for the duration of their performance, watching as everyone around me became directly involved in their set. At first, the crowd simply sang enthusiastically along with the band’s songs. A regular occurrence at any concert (and one that I really wish I could have joined in on), but the dynamics of Washington Square Park’s set quickly took a turn, making this one of the most fun shows I’ve ever seen. Opening with “Asleep” was completely fitting since it’s the first track off their self-titled EP, as well as one of their most anthem-driven songs. In just a few seconds, the crowd went from idly waiting participants to a mesh of bodies in constant movement. The fact that the following three songs were the heaviest the band has in stock only served to alleviate that, though what lead vocalist, Max Rauch, ended up doing probably contributed to the extent of the craziness.

Washington Square Park - The MeatlockerI don’t know if there were serious issues with the mic stand, or if this happens a lot at their shows, but after just a couple of songs, Max ended up abandoning his guitar and joining the audience for the remainder of their set, dancing along with fans during their most upbeat song, “You Are the Sun,” and doing his best to encourage crowd participation whenever possible.  It became clear that almost everyone there knew each other, especially in the way they had a kind of unspoken understanding between them. Everyone was highly energetic and getting pretty crazy, but never to the point of disrespecting anyone else around them. Some members of the audience even replaced Max on stage at the end of the show. I can’t say I’ve seen this anywhere else, at least not in such a friendly and welcoming manner, since Max was the one who egged them on to do so. Needless to say, this made for an amazing closing performance.

One other aspect that made this such an eye-opening show was the band’s stamina on stage. I never cease to be amazed when a band is just as spot-on live as they are on CD, let alone better. In Washington Square Park’s case, this was most aptly conveyed in their quasi ad-lib demeanor. Changing songs around so that they’re slightly different from the recordings, joking during breaks, even changing most of the lyrics to “Loan Slavery,” a manic song as it is.

If you haven’t heard them yet, (and believe me, you should) you can still get their latest EP for free at their brand-new website, www.washingtonsquareparkmusic.com. Also available is their very first digital magazine, Horse Feast. It’s a good read, and you should definitely keep your eyes open for the second issue. Spoiler alert: it may be featuring guest appearances from Sesame Street. Lastly, if you haven’t had the chance to see them play live, they have a show lined up on November 23rd alongside The Ugly Club. I’m already looking forward to seeing them play again – I can guarantee you I won’t remain on the sidelines the second time around.