There are some bands who seeing them on stage at the Brighton Bar is like seeing an animal in its natural habitat, and Halfway to Gone is one of them. Originally, the newly formed Electrikill was set to open the show, which would’ve provided a good bit of symmetry since Jim and Reg Hogan from that band also founded Solarized, in which Halfway bassist/vocalist Lou Gorra and guitarist Lee Gollin (aka Stu) also played in in Solarized‘s heyday before joining forces with Stu‘s brother, drummer Danny Gollin as the original trio Halfway to Gone. But the semi-reunion wasn’t to be, and when I rolled into a crowded Saturday night in Long Branch, it was Jay Monday and The X-Men on the bill.
Jay Monday was on as I arrived. They’re set sometime soon to record an album with Gorra, also an engineer/producer, and were young. Pulled a young crowd and played young rock and roll. Could’ve been worse. They had a pit going and, well, kids these days. The X-Men, on the other hand, got on stage after a break and immediately proclaimed themselves to be “old fucks,” and held an extra level of interest for featuring as their frontman the owner of the Brighton, Greg Macolino, on guitar and vocals. Their energy and sound were both classic punk, with Macolino bouncing up and down while jamming out and proudly proclaiming the band’s 28 years. Apparently it had been 25 since they last played with that bassist.
Impressive in itself, but the night was unquestionably Halfway to Gone‘s. It belonged to them. They’ve played sporadic shows over the last several years — YouTube confirms the last one was November 2010 — mostly at the Brighton, to crowds of friends and loyal supporters. That was pretty much the case this time too, but the difference between Saturday and the last few times I’ve seen Halfway was that this show they proclaimed the coming of a new album. Gorra spoke about it from the stage, and along with raucous standbys like “Great American Scumbag” from 2002′s Second Season and “Holiday in Altamont” from their 2001 full-length debut, High Five – both highlights, make no mistake — there was a yet-untitled new song that the trio was clearly excited about.
With good reason. That’s their first new material since their 2004 self-titled third album, and while Stu and Danny had played in A Thousand Knives of Fire together in the interim, for Gorra, he was obviously excited about the prospect of picking up Halfway again as the band got going. And the kids loved it. I mean that. Kids. At the stoner rock show. Jay Monday seemed to have a whole crew with them, and they pumped fists, moshed, stage dove (if you can fucking believe that), and had a full-on punk rock brodown while the band played. Cuts like “Turnpike” from the self-titled and “Couldn’t Even Find a Fight” were met with sing-alongs and spilled beer. It was like someone was filming a video, except not staged, and a far cry from the usual “still life with beardos standing” tableau one expects at gigs of this sort.
Halfway fed off it and hit a stride that was palpable. Danny remains a massively underrated drummer, and Stu has enough personality for an entire trio on his own, and together with Lou‘s obviously sincere appreciation for the crowd, the songs and the night as a whole, it was great to watch. The night was getting late, but it didn’t matter. People were practically running in circles while they played, and even a blown bass amp early on did little to derail the momentum. Noodling on Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Sweet Home Alabama” and a few others off classic rock FM, Stu got on mic and announced that he’d never met the bass head that could stand up to Gorra‘s playing. Jay Monday stepped up to provide in that regard and peace spread across the land. By peace, I mean “Never Comin’ Home” off of Second Season. Same difference.
They threw a curve in the form of the slower, moodier “Stormy Day” from the first record, which cut the energy level in the crowd some in the beginning, until a break in the middle in which Gorra teased, “You think the song is over! If you pressed stop on the CD player now, you’d miss one of the best parts of the whole thing,” before introducing Stu by saying he was going to be playing some “heavy metal guitar.” The riff that followed could just as easily have served as the central figure for a metalcore breakdown — and in most bands it probably would — but Halfway to Gone repurposed it into the basis of a killer solo jam, and kept the renewed forward drive going with “Whiskey Train” and “Thee Song” from their 2000 split with Alabama Thunderpussy. When they got off stage, it was to a rousing chorus of shouts for one more song.
Had they played that one more song, I expect they’d probably been in the same situation. Ditto that two songs and so on into the night. It was after 1AM when they finished — the Brighton living up to its reputation for late nights as it had earlier in the week — and the crowd filed out right away to stand in front of the front door of the venue and block passage while blowing smoke in the face of everyone as they walked out, clueless as only frivolous youth can be. I shook a few hands and said a couple goodnights and was back on the Parkway soon enough for the drive north, reminiscing with myself about the many times I’ve made that drive before and the excellent shows — including this one — that routine has followed.
Halfway to Gone never disappoint. Looking forward to that new album and hopefully more nights like this one. Extra pics after the jump.