Field Trip: DRGN KING in Asbury Park

IMG_1086There is route 35 north. It’s how you get to Asbury Park, New Jersey from our quiet, little beach front community. But you’d be better off if you banged a right at the one bridge, a quick pass through Belmar and a wave hello to the Guinness-chuggers at Connolly Station before hitting 71. Route 71 will take you directly into Asbury. And then when you get into Asbury, you can take a right down Cookman Avenue and cruise through new Asbury. Or you can stay on 71. 71 will take you through old Asbury, which is slightly sketchier and a tad bit more Spanish than new Asbury.

Asbury Lanes is in this Asbury Park and on a summer Saturday night, only a few blocks from the bright lights of the illustrious Asbury Park Boardwalk, DRGN KING were in town.

Wonderful. Giddy up.

It was a crowded bill- 5 acts with someone called Julian Fulton and the Zombie Gospel headlining. A zombie gospel? Zombies are like, so in right now. We weren’t there to see zombies though, and we weren’t there to go bowling. A year removed from living in Philly, my wife and I were there for a reminder of what we left behind. We were there for some good fun, good music and good people-watching.

We were there for DRGN KING.

Ah, but first…

This band, a duo, played. It was…it was…uh…so…in the bar off to the side, the beer was good. At least we had that going for us. Not many other folks at this particular bar either. Service was prompt. Bonus.

I don’t know who they were. The singer mentioned something about being on the same record label as Sufjan Stevens. This proved harder to believe with each song they played- each song the same tempo and the same general feeling left behind- uncomfortable. My darling wife said he reminded her of a cross between Bret Michaels and Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. I don’t think that’s a compliment and bottom line, much like the lead singers dreadlocks, this opening band wasn’t very good. And I’ll stop there.

It seemed like a good time to switch over to PBR.

IMG_1085I then thought DRGN KING was next. They weren’t. Instead it was another band, consisting of about 5 dudes,  one who appeared to be on sample duty and danced behind a folding table. They were good and had a fun energy. Watching them made me wonder what Local Natives were like when they started. It’s not because they sounded like Local Natives. They didn’t. It was because they seemed to have intentions that either were unmatched by their talent or the limitations of their current lot in life. It just made me wonder what a band like Local Natives sounded like when they were first starting out.

They had brought a good crowd with them- maybe they were local? As their assembled crew packed the area right in front of the stage, this unnamed band were largely playing to their friends up front and no one else. But fellas, there’s other people here. We’re here and we don’t know who the hell you are. They never said who they were. Not once.

Band on the Road Rule no 1: say your name.

You should say your band name a lot. Especially in such a fine establishment as Asbury Lanes. You’re fighting off being forgettable playing a show like this one. There’s a very good chance you’re going to get lost in the shuffle and when the dust settles- will you be one of the bands we remember or won’t you. Not saying your band’s name? Don’t make it easier for us. Please.

And speaking of Asbury Lanes…a dive of a bowling alley/live music venue. The stage seems to have taken the spots of lanes 7 through 14. There are lanes on either side of the stage and the dance floor. It’s a weird sight. But hey, good use of the space. Asbury Lanes is a few blocks from the boardwalk, the Stone Pony and Convention Hall. It’s 8 bucks to get in and the threat of impending doom is complementary. It would be fitting if there were train tracks in between the boardwalk and the Lanes because that’s what it feels like- like you’ve ventured over to the wrong side of the tracks. If someone hasn’t died of a heroin overdose here, I’d be surprised*. But I dug it. It’s dingy, but in the best possible way.

Google Search results: no heroin overdoses at Asbury Lanes. Closest thing to any deaths are bands with the word ‘death’ in their name.

Back to this band, this band with no apparent name but roughly 20-30 fans/friends. Those fans/friends were all that existed for them. Unnamed Band wasn’t playing to the room- a shame because they were good. Unnamed Band had that progressive jam band with Hall & Oates & jam band funk tendencies sound. Solid Grooves and solid intentions. But what the hell was their name?

Ok, they never said it.

Moving on.

Moving on to DRGN KING, the reason why we had ventured up to Asbury in the first place.

IMG_1088First thought: it’s nice to hear real good polished rock songs. Of the bands that had played so far, DRGN KING sounded the most like pro’s. They sounded the most like a band.

It was the trio version of DRGN KING- bass, drums and the band’s front man, leader and founder Dom Angelella on vocals, guitar and synthesizers. But a synth wasn’t working. Didn’t matter.

“We’re a rock band,” Dom said to the crowd, who had rambled up onto the dance floor.

DRGN KING opened with “Holy Ghost,” much more rock than the recorded version.

“And we got the snythesizer working!” Dom proudly proclaimed as the song ended. A sigh of relief washed over the bar. Back to our drinks.

The second song was a new one, “Fail Big.” It’s a good ol’ power trio rock song and fits this lineup of DRGN KING perfectly. I can’t help but think that the future of DRGN KING will sound more like “Fail Big” than “Holy Ghost.” I have no problems with that. It’s a great song. As was the next song, “Memories of my Baby.” It has a rad, funky bass line and a great beat. And the wife liked that one. So did the crowd. It’s a party jam.

Then it’s back to familiar territory with “Warriors,” one of my favorite DRGN KING songs. The band has done a real good job bringing these songs to a stage and translating them to the power trio format. It had been a question of mine as we drove up 35 to the show. DRGN KING are not your typical band in the terms of how they came to be a band. Whereas most bands start out playing, then go to the studio (if they’re lucky,) DRGN KING were formed in a studio and then became a band. They’re a band formed during producer Ritz Reynolds and Dom’s spare time in the Pennsport section of Philly. Having never seen DRGN KING live, I frequently wondered what did “Holy Ghost” or “Warriors” sound like live.

It’s cool.

They sound great.

IMG_1084Having been told they only have two songs left, DRGN KING played “Barbarians.” Dom ditched his guitar and moved over to his rack of synthesizers- both in working order now. As a front man, he controls the room. He’s essentially what you’d want for a front man on a night like this- casually in charge and winning the crowd over with his charisma. God I love trios, especially power trios. (My favorite power trios: The Police, Them Crooked Vultures, Nirvana, Cream.) DRGN KING were a textbook power trio at Asbury Lanes- an engaging front man backed by a more than dependable and reliable rhythm section. This was on full display on a song like “Barbarians,” which has such a great foundation- a drone-like baseline and a pulsating, driving beat.

Got a little weird at the end, though.

Oh well. It happens. The idea of something getting a little weird at the end at a place like Asbury Lanes is most likely commonplace. Probably be weirder if something weird didn’t happen at the end.

DRGN KING wrapped up with “Wild Night,” another song off of their Bar None Records debut, Paragraph Nights. My darling Wife liked this one too. That made two of us and it was a spot on set closer.

Though one more song would have been nice.

But that’s the breaks. These band factory, 5 bill shows are essentially a gentlemen’s agreement where you’ll pay the cover price, provided they tell you when the band you want to see is playing. It’s a long night. No one is in it for the long haul. No one.

But on stage, DRGN KING definitely seems to be.

Categories: Music

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