Posted by Stephen Smith on 02/15 at 02:35 PM
The stage is buried in a small corner room in the basement of Bar Bleu. The artfully painted walls support a low ceiling. There are two booths along the back wall and tiny two-person tables lining the perimeter of the room. This basement area also contains a second bar, an even smaller corner room for mingling, and a set of bathrooms. All of this is located below the first level, which is more spacious with comfortable seating, a much larger bar, and half-a-dozen hi-def TVs. Such disparity between floors led me to believe that live entertainment was not highly valued at this sports bar. But after listening to Lowjack perform, I see now that Bar Bleu knows what it’s doing.
It’s hard to stand out as a cover band in a town saturated with them, but Lowjack proved last Friday that they are of a different breed. The band played their usual 10:30 gig at Bar Bleu this past weekend, entertaining a crowd of around 40 that grew as the night progressed. I sat in one of the booths along the back wall of the entertainment room and was no more than 15 yards away from the stage. The seating filled up quickly, forcing people to stand in the middle of the floor and in the entryway. It was crowded and frantic, adding to the usual buzz of a State College bar on a Friday night.
But unlike other cover bands, who merely provide a backdrop to this energy, Lowjack grabbed the room by the horns and steered it with their music, post-song banter, and overall stage presence. I could tell that this band was not only experienced, but genuinely enthused with their shows. While setting up, they were cool and serious. But when the lights were on them, frontman Jason Davoli turned on the charm and enhanced the party mentality of the audience.
By their second song, everyone was either dancing in front of the stage or bopping in their seats. After every song, they awarded Lowjack with a loud round of applause. There were several miscues during the night (including a song mix-up and a faulty mic) that Jason seized with good-natured humor. It only added to Lowjack’s laid-back ethos. Jason even took a minute to pitch bassist Frank Yarnal as the man of their dreams, rattling off his affinity for long walks on the beach and poetry. As the crowd got more inebriated and swarmed the stage to shout requests, Jason acknowledged them with the same pleasantly insulting attitude that a stand-up comic would use to poke fun at his audience. They controlled the high-energy crowd with lively song choices and an easy-going stage presence. These aspects truly make Lowjack stand out among cover bands in State College.
Another thing that’s unique to Lowjack is their versatility. Their Swiss Army knife approach to shows allows them to scale many different genres of music, from alternative rock to southern country. Only drummer Steve Arnold and bassist Frank Yarnal played the same instrument throughout the night. Jason handled lead and rhythm guitar, along with lead vocal duties. Jeremiah Reyes played a very bluesy keyboard and an acoustic rhythm guitar, in addition to showcasing his saxophone skills during Dave Matthews’ “Ants Marching.” Dan Collins’ fiddling gave Lowjack its most distinctive edge, while also exhibiting amazing electric guitar solos and singing a spot-on Dylan imitation for “Don’t Think Twice, it’s Alright.”
Jason’s vocals were solid and had a raspy edge to them that fit with most songs. Jeremiah contributed back-up vocals, as well as having a few songs for himself to demonstrate his range. At times, Jeremiah over sang, washing out the rest of the band through the speakers. However, he performed with passion and talent and had the strongest voice of the night, in my opinion.
The rhythm section was tight, but nothing brilliant. Steve Arnold kept time well and Yarnal had fairly intricate fretwork, but most of my attention was drawn to the melodic experimentation of Jeremiah, Jason, and Dan. Both Jason’s and Dan’s solos had an interesting balance of hammer-ons, pull-offs, vibratos, bends, and sprints on the scales. Technical proficiency is not an area where Lowjack is lacking.
As mentioned earlier, their set list spanned several genres, but they sounded most at home with classic rock from the likes of Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. They started their set with Buffalo Springfield’s “For What it’s Worth,” and then followed with “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealers Wheel. Lowjack then shuffled roles, and Jeremiah got the vocal lead for Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May.” Next Dan stepped up to the mic for “Don’t Think Twice, it’s Alright.”
Other highlights during the set included fusing Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” during the bridge of “Folsom Prison Blues.” “Slide” from the Goo Goo Dolls and “Hey Jealousy” by the Gin Blossoms were some of the more popular alternative rock songs played during the night. Dan spiced up “Steal My Kisses” with an absolutely amazing solo. And, since he plays such a mean fiddle, he is obligated by unwritten law to perform “Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Personally, I thought this was the highlight of the night. It was an exact cover in regards to the fiddle solos. It’s also one of those songs that can win over anyone in the audience if pulled off right. Needless to say, Dan pulled it off with ease, and I felt the greatest sense of crowd appreciation of the evening after that song.
Lowjack provides an interesting contrast to the typical cover bands of State College. They juxtapose a laid-back visage with lively song choice and musical versatility. In the shortest, simplest way to say it, they make you have fun. They know the audience and know how to keep the party going. Not only are they very capable musically, but they have an intangible skill at entertaining a crowd and making them listen. I would highly recommend Lowjack as one of the better cover bands that downtown State College nightlife has to offer.
Author: Stephen Smith
Bio: Stephen Smith is currently a senior English major at Penn State. In his free time, he enjoys playing Xbox, drumming, playing his guitar, and writing fiction. His favorite genres include alternative rock, emo, indie, metal, and most anything played acoustically. His favorite bands include Say Anything, Counting Crows, City and Colour, and Daphne Loves Derby.
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