A biased review of Tasting Grace at Asbury Park Convention Hall

Pics at bottom of blog – dont forget to click “read more”

OK, let me explain the title of this blog first.  I am a huge fan of drummer Johnny Rox going back to the days when he was known as little Johnny Pebblez…  Sorry for that – its just a private joke I have with John since I can’t in good conscience call him by his stage name, and I don’t want to give out his real name in this blog…  Long story-short, John is a great friend, old band-mate, and one of my 501st brethren, so I can’t give anything but a biased review of him…  (RiffSurfer Squad forever!) – Also, as I started writing this, I realized that this is so much more than a review – its a freaking look into my life  LOL

OK, getting that out of the way, he’s in this band called Tasting Grace now and I’ve been hearing a LOT about them for the past few months…   They are about to start an International tour (OK, they’re playing Puerto Rico in addition to the states – I’m not sure how that fits into the international scope of things, but lets just say their tour is bigger than a national tour –  Either way, I’m proud of my friend and the success that he’s gotten and will get — (see how this is going to be biased?)

Last night, November 6th, 2010 was the first show of the tour, and it was at the Asbury Park Convention Hall in Asbury Park, NJ.  They were the headlining band for Lucha Vavoom! – A wrestling event made by MTV (I think), and has strippers and masked wrestlers in the style of old Mexican wrestling luchadors.  But more on that later – This review blog is primarily about Tasting Grace’s show…

We got there at 7pm and walked into Convention Hall – This arena is a pretty historical arena down the shore, and Bruce Springsteen has played there numerous times… The last show I saw at Convention Hall was a Bruce show when I was doing the Richard & the Young Lions thing (damn, I miss Richard, RIP)…  That Bruce show was probably the worst show I’ve ever been to in my life – Not because of Bruce, who was awesome that night. but because we went to see him in July and it was over 100 degrees outside (not exaggerating) and  Convention Hall DOES NOT HAVE AIR CONDITIONING!!   This could have been the best show of my life (great tickets, Bruce in Asbury Park and getting backstage to hang with Little Steven, etc), but the first thing I remember is that it was so hot in there that I really thought I was going to pass out…   Yes, that was a rant against Convention Hall, but its not as much of a tangent as you might think.  Keep reading and you’ll see…

For those of you who have never been there, Convention Hall is like a miniature football stadium…   There is a big space in the middle for events, and the seats are in an oval-shaped bleacher shape around the center.   Its kind of the perfect arena for Wrestling/ Roller Derby events of which there are plenty…   For concerts, there’s a stage on the front, and there is room for the  crowd to stand in the center as well as in the bleacher seats…   Last night, being it was primarily a wrestling show, the wrestling ring was next to the stage, and separated the stage into two visible sides…  And they split it into drinking crowd on the right, non-drinking on the left…

Jackie and I took the left side since we didn’t want to be around drinking wrestling fans… And it worked out great… at first… The opening band Kings Highway played on our side and we had a great view…  They were actually pretty good too – Would’ve bought a CD, but their merchandise table was literally in the dark (as were Tasting Grace’s, but more on that later) and I wasn’t sure if I was buying a CD or signing up for a Roller Derby tournament… Sorry guys, but to make up for it – here is their Myspace page so you can see how good they are.

Kings Highway finished, and we noticed that the Tasting Grace instrument setup wasn’t being moved to our side of the wrestling ring… It was square in the middle of the booze side..   The band came out to play in what seemed to be a cool way, but we didn’t see crap on our side…   I took a few pictures of our boy Johnny Rox on drums –  I’ve taken a lot of band pictures over the years, and found that when you can take clear pictures of the drummer, you have really crappy seats (or you are actually on stage with him)

After a song or two, we walked around the wrestling ring to the drinking side, and of course it was a little more rowdy, but not too bad…  We quickly found John’s Mom enjoying the show (by the way, John’s Mom is great – she’s always at his shows and is one of the nicest people)…

We watched the show from a much better angle,and the music was excellent…  John was banging the crap out of the drums and it sounded great (I know I’m biased, but he was definitely on his game tonight)… Lead singer Jenna Grace was belting out the songs and the crowd was loving it…  Willie Toledo on bass and Drew Leeds on guitar were just awesome too…  It was a cool mix of Pop with Hard Rock that should take them far…

But something was weird – We couldn’t see the band!   There were no house lights or spotlights on them…  Thank God they had their own effect strobe lights and John’s drums were lit up like a Christmas tree – if not we would not have been able to see anything…   I haven’t talked to anyone in the band yet, but I can’t imagine this was the band’s stylistic choice…   It HAS to be Convention Hall’s screw-up…   Tasting Grace doesn’t just sound great, they have a very visual presence… Their lead singer Jenna is an attractive girl, and was wearing a flashy outfit that accentuated her figure (How’s that for not getting in trouble with my wife?  LOL)  And the rest of the band put some real thought into their outfit as well…   They absolutely want to be seen and should be seen…   Not having lights on the band was criminal – Lets put it this way, at one point, Jenna was playing guitar and later violin at the front of the stage, and I couldn’t see the actual instrument and had to really squint to see it.

Just to reiterate, I haven’t spoken to anybody in the band since the show last night, and this is all my assumption of what happened… But if  Convention Hall couldn’t turn a spot light on the lead singer, then they suck big time…    As the show was ending, I looked over at the Tasting Grace merchandise table that was literally in the dark earlier, and I saw that the band rigged up some Home Dept-like lights there that weren’t there when the show started…  Which leads me to believe the band was coping with arena issues beyond their control…  When the actual wrestling event came on, and the Lucha Vavoom strippers came out, there was no problem with lighting…  I hope this wasn’t a case of making sure Tasting Grace did not overshadow the main event…  Because based on the music and what I’ve seen from them online, they sure as hell could have been the main event…  They are just awesome…

After the show ended, the Lucha Vavoom event started…  They brought out the MC, a stripper (which was nice LOL) and then the  matches started…   I used to love wrestling back in the day (and particularly the Lucha Libre style wrestling on Channel 47) – maybe I’m maturing, but I just couldn’t get into it.   Although, my dorky brother-in-law Richie (lets see if he reads this) and I were watching some low-budget version of wrestling on Spanish TV a few months back and we really got into it…   Having MTV (or whoever) fund this type of wrestling is just wrong and it takes away from the purity of the cheesy fun of Lucha Libre…  Cheesy goodness cannot be bankrolled…   Good luck to the wrestlers in the federation tho – they definitely have the moves and acrobatics that they should have to succeed…

We bailed after the first match.   It was still an hour until the Tasting Grace after party, and we just didn’t want to wait around…  Plus we knew the band was going to be really busy hearing all the compliments from their great show…  So we just called it a night…

As we were leaving and taking pictures of the convention center, Jackie noticed something on a wall nearby and went over to it…  Next thing I know she is walking fast towards the exit (kinda like that IKEA commercial when the woman thinks they undercharged her) – I snap a picture, and she tells me to shush and get moving…   I see that she has stolen the poster on the wall and is booking out before she gets arrested (mind you this is next to the Asbury Park Cushman-like vehicle) — It turns out that the poster is for Brandon Flowers (of the band The Killers) upcoming appearance at the Stone Pony which we already have tickets for…  Gotta love the Escudero clan – they love to make a big deal about stealing things that people don’t really mind if they steal!

Summary: Johnny Rox = One of the greatest drummers ever, Tasting Grace = awesome, Kings Highway = pretty good, Lucha Vavoom = too corporate, but the wrestlers are talented, and Convention Center has no air conditioning on 100 degree days, and doesn’t know how to light a friggin’ awesome band…  Oh yeah, Jackie is a wannabe thief, and I’m getting too old for wrestling and dimly lit shows LOL

Enjoy the pictures… Better titled ones are on my Facebook Tasting Grace event photo album

Video #1 here

Video #2 here

Quick advertisement – I wrote a book called Lost Boys of the Bronx: The Oral History of the Ducky Boys Gang – that is now available on the Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders websites…    Learn more about it on the book’s Facebook page (yes it was professionally edited, not like this blog that is probably full of typos LOL)

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