I want to tell you a little story. This story, unlike many of my posts, has a beginning a middle and an actual end. It starts back in Melbourne about a year ago but mostly plays out on a steamy Summer’s night (last night in fact) at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park.
Shall I begin, then? Good.
Sometime last year (I forget quite when it was), while I was stuck back in Melbourne feeling nostalgic for all things Jersey, I was reading up on the history of Asbury Park. I was particularly interested in the musical significance of venues like The Stone Pony and the Wonderbar and was getting that familiar itch to be back there.
On a whim, I typed, “Asbury Park bands” into YouTube, thinking, “I wonder if the next E Street Band is slogging its heart out around the traps of AP, hoping a little Bruce magic might rub off on them?”
Almost immediately, I stumbled across some videos of a band called Deal Casino. The first was a live video of them playing a small gig at Porta (that’s the old Student Prince, Springsteen fans). They sounded tight and I was pretty impressed by the songwriting.
Next, I found a number of their recorded tracks and was instantly taken with this one in particular (obviously the Bruce reference helped).
I got on iTunes then and found them easily enough (a minor miracle on the Australian version). They had a number of EPs out at the time and so I downloaded the lot and ‘liked’ the band on social media so that I’d be able to keep track of what they were up to.
Jump forward to just a few short weeks ago, me back now in Jersey and newly married. I was aware that the band were about to drop their first album and was fully intending to download it at the first opportunity when, quite out of the blue, I received a friend request from Christopher Donofrio, drummer with Deal Casino.
I accepted, of course, and, almost immediately, got a message from him saying, “Hi Tony! This is Chris from the band Deal Casino. We are mailing tickets directly for our record release show because T**********r sucks. Let me know if you’d be interested in coming!”
Needless to say, I was in and so, we purchased said tickets – at a considerable saving – and, just a few days later, they duly arrived (complete with a free vinyl single, I might add).
So, last night, Jersey girl and I jumped in the car and drove down to Asbury Park. The traffic gods were kind and we arrived with time to spare, so we strolled the boardwalk, had a couple of beers at the Beach Bar, and then a delicious dinner at our favourite Cuban restaurant, Cubacan.
As it turns out, we hadn’t had quite as much time as we’d thought, so missed the first support band, Born Cages. We did, however, catch the second band, The Cold Seas and they were amazing. If I had to categorise them, I’d say they fall within the Post-rock genre.
We both really vibed on these guys and I downloaded all their available recorded material as soon as I got up this morning; really good stuff.
Deal Casino took the stage not long after (I like a band that doesn’t keep its audience waiting around too long) and the gig took off.
Deal Casino are: vocals, guitar – Joe P. Parella, guitar, keys – Jozii Cowell, bass – Jon Rodney, drums – Chris Donofrio. I’m not sure how the band divide writing duties but the songs have a consistency of vision that suggests that it’s mostly down to one member.
The thing that struck me the most about the gig was how dedicated the crowd was. You got the distinct impression that there was a strong core of people present who go to every show the band plays in NJ. Having now experienced them live, I can understand where that loyalty comes from. It all made for a really entertaining experience.
At one point, a large section of the audience suddenly squatted down on the floor during an extended guitar build, only to leap back up as one and go wild at the song’s big crescendo.
Joe really is a very good vocalist and his voice never wavered through what was, in the end, a pretty long night. His command of the stage was impressive and he even indulged in a little onstage Springsteenesque storytelling. And what was the subject of his story? How he came to be inspired by Bruce and the E Street Band, of course.
It transpired that Joe and another member of the band (not sure which) have held day jobs at Porta. I wondered if they knew the significance of that place in the Springsteen legend.
I also have to say that, though every member of Deal Casino is extremely good at what they do, Chris needs to be singled out for special mention here; he is one of the best rock drummers I’ve seen in a very long time. I wish I’d filmed the crazy solo he performed (with a little technical aid from Joe), it was mind-blown good.
So that was my first ever gig at the famous Stone Pony (Jersey girl saw The Gaslight Anthem play the Summer stage several years ago so, for her, only the first inside gig). It seemed very appropriate to be seeing a couple of young up-and-coming bands at the venue that birthed such legends as the Asbury Dukes and Bon Jovi all those years ago.
Oh, I promised you an actual ending to my story.
This morning, I was putting some of my phone pics of the night up on my Facebook page and, literally within moments, Chris posted a comment thanking me for coming. That’s before any of my actual friends had even hit ‘like’ and, even more incredibly, at 9.30 am!
What he was even doing awake so early after a gig like that is beyond me, but I predict that kind of dedication to the fans is going to take this band far. If this show was anything to go by, they certainly deserve to get where they’re going.
Deal Casino’s self-titled debut album is available now.
Words and images (except where otherwise credited) are my own.