On of the most dramatic scenes in young-adult literature comes in The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton’s vivid portrait of adolescent social rivalries, when a greaser named Ponyboy forgets about socioeconomic differences and asks the pretty Cherry Valance, “Can you see the sunset from the south side real good?” and she replies, “Yeah, real good.”
The members of Lifetime use this exchange as the introduction and chorus to “Ostrichsized,” which they saved for a memorable moment in their July 9 sold-out show at the Bowery Ballroom. The nod to Hinton is an appropriate allusion for a band that transcended labels and released two of the most memorable hardcore albums of the ’90s, Hello Bastards (1995) and Jersey’s Best Dancers (1997). There was no pronunciation of Hinton’s conversation at the show, but the progressive spirit of her emotional novel was alive as the band surged through its set, with practically the entire audience echoing lead singer Ari Katz’s every verse.
Placing Lifetime on the hardcore spectrum was never easy. The band, which would be cited as an influence by such bands as Saves the Day and Dashboard Confessional, rose up through the New Jersey hardcore scene, although the band members shunned many of their peers’ prototypical elements. (Lifetime was often called “melodic hardcore” even back before “emo” was a pejorative.) The band broke up after releasing Jersey’s Best Dancers, but got back together last summer for some “reunion shows,” released a singles and rarities compilation in March and did nine shows earlier this month with the Bronx and the Loved Ones.
Nearly a decade has passed, but Lifetime’s two consecutive sold-out Bowery dates brought out the pride of every scene’s hardcore faithful, many of whom used to don thick Xs on the backs of their hands. Every chorus spawned a huddle around Katz that recalled classic acts such as Sick of it All or the Gorilla Biscuits. Of course, not everything stayed the same during the band’s ten-year hiatus. Katz addressed one big difference between those in attendance on Sunday night and the crowds Lifetime drew in the ’90s.
“Were you here last night?” he asked someone who was leaning into the stage. “There was a kid last night who looked just like you. He said he was wasted.” At which point a number of people announced their intoxication, which drew a humble response from the still-Bic-headed Katz: “We used to never get wasted people at our shows.”
The lack of a good lager on tap at many of New Brunswick’s basements might be one explanation as to why, but there are other reasons. The Bowery’s sixteen-and-older prerequisite would have inconvenienced a good portion of the crowd (myself included). Furthermore, Lifetime’s scene-driven ethos tended to blur the separation between the music and the then-thriving New Jersey straightedge hardcore scene. On the other end were the kids too emotionally involved to bother having a drink. This dichotomy might have been the downfall of some bands striving to establish a fan base, but Lifetime seems to transcend the politics of specific genres. As Katz declares in “Irony is for Suckers”: “Try not think about bad things and just be happy, or maybe we could go get a drink.”
In terms of the music, though, the ten-year break was hardly noticeable, even for a band whose passion and emotion animated every song. The band members casually took the stage with the house lights on just moments after a stagehand peeled off the Bronx banner behind the drum set. “How’s everyone’s summer?” Katz asked, as if he didn’t notice the crowd’s push toward the stage. After beginning with “Turnpike Gates,” the opening track from Jersey’s Best Dancers, the members went back to the Hello Bastards opening tandem, “Daneurysm” and “Rodeo Clown.” The band would only play two songs that weren’t on these two albums, and all but one song from Jersey’s Best Dancers.
The crowd wasn’t composed of the same ’90s Jersey kids who would literally hang from the rafters of forgettable venues to see the band (particularly Lifetime’s “last show” — two sets, back to back — at the Melody Bar in New Brunswick in 1998). Still, when Lifetime played “Theme Song for a New Brunswick Basement Show” halfway through the fifty-minute set, few in the crowd didn’t know the lyrics.
One of the set’s most memorable sequences began with Katz’s introduction of bassist Dave Palaitis, who sang the opening verse of “How We Are,” which led into “Theme Song for a New Brunswick Basement Show.” Throughout the night, a pocket of kids flung themselves around the middle of the floor in between huddles at the foot of the stage, which recalled Lifetime’s past, when most everyone in the audience was intoxicated not by alcohol but by the band’s emotional delivery.
While accommodating to an energetic pit, the band also catered to their melodic roots. As if not a day had passed since he wrote “Francie Nolan,” Katz segued with vivid sincerity to the song’s finale, in which he reminisces, “We talk about nothing until she had to go where second chances and small talk could have kept me up all night.” In the song that naturally followed this ode, “25 Cent Giraffes” (another admission of the band’s never-straightedge history), the final verse ends with another portrait easily identified as from Katz’s (or anyone in the audience’s) past: “I’ll pull into town when the saddest sun sets down. I’ll see you at the show. You’ll be there just waiting for me.”
The fans were there just waiting for the band after the set concluded with the Hello Bastards finale, “Ostrichsized,” a predictable finale. The audience got its wish for an encore, although it was brief, featuring only “Starsixtynine” from an early seven-inch recording.
The two sold-out shows at the Bowery marked a well-deserved recognition of Lifetime’s past achievements in the hardcore scene, the band’s quick set revealed little to nothing about what to expect from its forthcoming full-length of new material, expected to be released by Decaydence this fall. It remains to be seen which direction the band members will take their current momentum, but only an amateur Lifetime fan would expect them to follow up this tour with something less than outstanding. We can only hope there won’t be another lengthy hiatus between this album and Lifetime’s next tour.
1. Turnpike Gates
3. Rodeo Clown
4. Young, Loud, And Scotty
5. Irony is for Suckers
6. Bringin’ It Backwards
7. The Truth About Lars
8. Boy’s No Good
9. How We Are
10. Theme Song fo a New Brunswick Basement Show
11. Francie Nolan
12. 25 Cent Giraffes
13. Knives Bats New Tats
14. Somewhere in the Swamps of New Jersey
15. (The Gym Is) Neutral Territory
16. Verona Kings
17. I Like You OK
18. Hey Catrine
Streaming audio: http://www.myspace.com/lifetimenj
“Young Loud and Scotty” MP3“The Boy’s No Good” MP3