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Oldies but Goldies: On The day Whitney Houston Died, I Saw For Science At Music Hall Of Williamsburg, Saturday, February 11th, 2012

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(On the day that Whitney Houston died, I was at the For Science reunion, a set so good I could have sworn the New Jersey power punk heroes were gonna make it long term. As a huge fan. who never got to see them live it was a wonderful thing and as a friend of lead guitarist and songwriter Joe Steinhardt, I was more than happy to get a song dedicated from the stage. But then the band didn’t reunite at al all and that was that -IL)

What a party big boom? Somewhere in the swamps of New Jersey on Saturday night, For Science came back to us. “Is it a reunion if nobody knows you’ve been away?” quipped guitarist and songwriter Joe Steinhardt at For Science’s first concert in three years.

“It’s not a reunion, it’s a return” lead singer John Slover replied.

Whatever it is, it is the best half hour of music I’ve seen this year.

It had the feeling of something really cool about to go down. And Slover, a near mythic figure to my mind, rushed on after the band, throwing dollar bills at the audience and within two songs was nailing down “Colorado, thereby cementing the myth. After years of listening to For Science, the New Brunswick punk-pop band, it was surreal to see these numbers performed in front of me. Slover, is tall, very thin, he hunched over his mic and danced in white boy mode. Three songs on, Slover sounds out of breathe but he is such a great singer, it doesn’t matter. I realized that from the recordings, but watching him live it triggers how in control he is for a way out of control guy. Slover has a twinge of pain in his voice, he can scream and sound quietly stunned at the same time. He doesn’t have to sell you on his feelings because his voice is so filled with feeling. He never over sings, on song after song he makes his point and drops it. He phrases without emoting. It is almost unconscionably self-reflexive: it is art because Steinhardt’s words are transmogrified from one medium to another in the best imaginable sense. Slover is great.

So is the rest of the band. Don Giovanni Records, we were at their annual showcase at Music Hall Of Williamsburg, co-owner Zach Gajewski, is a loquacious fella in person, but on stage he morphs into a quintessential bassist except he smiles a lot. The band is real tight tonight and doesn’t need holding together the way it has in some old video I’ve seen. Despite Slover blowing one song, For Science doesn’t come close to screwing it up. Before the show, Joe said it was going to be fantastic and fantastic was the least of it. Drummer Brian Gorsegner, who along with Zach, played with For Science on their final album Tomorrow’s Just Another Day, reminded me of Will Rigby of the dB’: he is an iinvisble anchor and a subtle drummer for a man with so much power. The rhythm section are felt not seen, because, For Science is about John and Joe.

Joe is terrific. The thing about Joe is he is one of the best writers of melodies you’ve ever heard (it is why genre will prove irrelevant to his career). Where everybody else in punk ends, he begins. He sculpts and sculpts and sculpts his melodies till they draw you in. What I am saying is, Steinhardt is a great songwriter and Slover is a great foil for Joe’s songs. He loops on stage ina brown suede jacket hijacked off a Steve Stills album cover, and a shaggy fringe haircut and immediately makes it his own. “Anybody got any m&M peanuts?” He asks. “I left mine”.

When playing solo, Steinhardt can come across a little shy but with his band, he is something to be reckoned.. Pointing to somebody in the audience he shouts “That was my fuckinng prom dates”, nailing the riff to “Soledad” he shakes his mop like he has just become Ringo Starr, and striding his corner of MHOW lagrish stage, he is in his element.

I’ve been friendly with Joe for a couple of years now, he is appearing in (and not being paid for) rock nyc’s upcoming commercial. But even so, I was flabbergasted when he dedicated “Headaches” -an acknowledged masterpiece, to “rock nyc live and recorded dot com”. Did you read the interview with him in this weeks Village Voice? Joe noted how Don Giovanni Records has never made any money? Neither has rock nyc. It is a labor of love. But you get your rewards where you can, and I was honored to have pne of my fave songwriters name check rock nyc. And fascinated to see how Slover looked while he sang it. It’s like speaking to a business acquaintance on the phone for years then finally meeting them. The way the voice and the face and body movements match is very interesting. On “Headaches”, stuff like “sometimes I wonder if the sun is outside, sometimes I wonder if I’m even alive” are so great, you want to, when I sing into my mirror I do, over sing it. Glover let’s the song do the work for him. All through the night, For Science let’s the songs do the work for them.

Does this band have some English in them? There is a sense of self-deprecation about For Science all the more pleasing because, honestly, they are on fire: a seamless, powerful rock and roll set. You can see the ghost of the teenage boys on punk they used to be, but that isn’t what For Science are in 2012. These are men going about their business with a sense of sustained joy.

For half an hour, a set that went by so fast I was surprised it was over, For Science dug into their classic punk rock catalogs. A moshpit soon took hold, but the sound wasn’t hell bent on reforming as a hardcore band. The speed was fast but slowed when needed. The songs were executed with sharp, tacticle hits to our pleasure zone. There was no rust, indeed, I expect the years have made them even better in person than the self-proclaimed bad boys who nearly got thrown off their label for performing drunk.. They gelled perfectly, took so much pleasure in their performance that even if you didn’t like them you’d like them.

And again: “Leeloo”, “Fenway Lights” “Soledad”, “Tip Of The Iceberg”, “Heavy Blues”, “Colorado”, “Headaches”… how many shows have you been to with a tier of songs this good.

I can’t believe For Science won’t reunite after this. Steinhardt does have a lot going on, but this good a band… tough to leave alone.

John changes the last line of “Leeloo” to dreaming of New Jersey. If so, it was a dream come true!!!

Grade: A

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