It’s always interesting to size up the crowd on day two of a festival – how many had overslept after night one? Which jammers stuck around? Who’s here for which Billy? The latter was the best people-watching game: fashion choices differ a bit between Billy Idol fans and Billy Corgan fans. Certainly, the herd of Sea.Hear.Now attendees swarming the boardwalk and beach was still looking solid on Sunday, even after such a hard-rocking day one. After lockdown life, it was once again enthralling to be enjoying live music with so many fellow happy humans out in the sun and salty air of Asbury Park, NJ. Friends reclined in the sand in view of the ocean, the sky, and the wide range of music.
Our day began with fun from Liz Cooper and her band, all dressed in red as if matching her bright energy. The audience enjoyed songs from her new album, Hot Sass, which she delivered with just what the title promises. The good times kept rolling with The Happy Fits, the cello-centered trio whose sound flips from pop to punk to rock to indie in an upbeat continuous twist. Keep an eye out for our full interview with The Happy Fits, in which Calvin Langman describes how he has been custom-rigging his cello – or “MacGyver-ing his cello,” as guitarist Ross Monteith and drummer Luke Davis call it – in unprecedented ways. The Happy Fits shared that this was not only their first show in two years, but their biggest crowd, so the band’s enthusiasm was palpable. An equally happy fit of bubbles was provided by the smiling kid watching from shoulder level.
Being someone who digs the studio work of Strand of Oaks (discovered via the My Morning Jacket connection), it was extra neat to see Timothy Showalter live. The folk rocker was all smiles as he and his lively band whipped up a resonant ten-song set for the cheering beach crowd, kicking it off with “Goshen ‘97” and a snappy, catchy “Ruby.” Strand of Oaks then got into an In Heaven groove, warming up fans to four songs in a row from the forthcoming album (due out on October 1st, 2021): “Galacticana,” “Somewhere in Chicago,” “Jimi & Stan,” and “Horses at Night.” Nashville indie band Moon Taxi have added some rad saxophone to their flashy indie sound, getting big cheers for their thirteen-song set at Sea.Hear.Now. We liked their nod to Bruce Springsteen, a peppy cover of “Dancing In the Dark” that prompted a bunch of bouncing.
Orville Peck drew an impressive crowd given how many strictly-rock enthusiasts were present and how traditional his deep-timbre country singing can be. While his tunes can be pretty slow and croony, he has a strong voice and puts on an intriguing performance. Memorably, fab local drag queen Tastie was amazed by a surprise shout-out during “Queen of the Rodeo” when Orville Peck said, “I wrote this song about a drag queen and coincidentally, there’s a drag queen here right now!” One of our favorite sets of the whole Sea.Hear.Now weekend was Tank and the Bangas, the made-for-dancing New Orleans outfit that revolves around the abilities of Tarriona “Tank” Ball. Her rich vocals and their genre-surfing sound resulted in sand-stomping grooving among both old and new fans, which crescendoed until the start of the sunset. Percussive, funky songs from 2019 record Green Balloon – plus their forthcoming LP (due out in 2022) – came to life like bursts of confetti. Tank owned the stage with her spotlight-stealing presence and brought the soul with her gorgeous voice.
Billy Idol drew a massive Sunday crowd under the big yellow harvest moon and pink sky. All the way across the shore from the Surf Stage to the Sand Stage, everyone was turning to face his direction and proceeding to dance hard per his pure-punk urging. It was sweet how the charismatic legend took a moment to embrace each of his bandmates before digging into hits with electric intensity. During the scream-causing “Dancing with Myself,” Billy Idol kept grinning and shouting, “Asbury Park, New Jersey, Come on! I wanna see you fuckin’ dance! …Let’s fuckin’ dance!” He and his talented band wowed with their ten fiery tracks – including “Eyes Without a Face,” his famed takes on “Mony Mony” and the “Top Gun Anthem,” plus an audience-led encore of “White Wedding.” It was such a blast watching guitarist Steve Stevens shred and solo behind his head that it’s one of Sunday’s finest memories.
The unison partying picked up even as the fest was winding down. Folks seemed to be intent upon squeezing more happiness out of the weekend like juice from an orange. New York’s Ani DiFranco decorated the warm atmosphere with thirteen songs showcasing her eclectic sound, starting with “Shy” and “Do or Die.” You could see that her fans were ready with all the lyrics, their sound melding with her nice singing voice. It became evident that day two had flown by when The Smashing Pumpkins took the stage for the final set of Sea.Hear.Now, a twenty-song journey around their discography that began with 2020’s “The Colour of Love,” then the vampiric classic “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Aligning with 2012’s “One Diamond, One Heart” (though that one was not played), Billy Corgan’s cool look included a diamond and a heart painted beneath his eyes.
“Thank you New Jersey. Thank you Asbury Park. What a beautiful night,” Corgan said in a rare speaking moment between songs. The gold-and-black-dressed rocker grabbed attention with his voice, which doesn’t seem to have changed a bit over the years. Even the most worn-out and sunburnt fans nodded and swayed to The Smashing Pumpkins’ fast-paced grunge synergy. Other Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness highlights came out too, like an acoustic version of “Tonight, Tonight” with no drums, and later on, “Zero” and “1979.” We also got a solid taste of 1993’s Siamese Dream, including “Today,” “Quiet,” a crowd-pleasing “Cherub Rock,” and “Disarm.” The Smashing Pumpkins closed out the gnarly festival weekend with “Shame” and the revolution-themed “United States.” Admittedly, the main revolution we were singing about, at that point, was a munchy desire for any nearby source of food. Even so, Sea.Hear.Now ‘21 was a surreal and exciting treat after so much time inside. We’re thrilled to have witnessed it.
Article: Olivia Isenhart