photos by Tim Griffin
The band was formed in the summer of 1989 by singer Keith Caputo, bassist Alan Robert and guitarist Joey Z. After playing with several drummers, they enlisted Type O Negative drummer Sal Abruscato before recording the debut album River Runs Red (1993) after they signed to Roadrunner Records.[Wikipedia]River Runs Red (and the demo that was out before it) was a major album for me growing up. Unlike Pixies' Doolittle (which I got into years after its original release), I remember the day River Runs Red came out. So, there was no way I was passing up the chance to see the Brooklyn band perform it in full to celebrate their 20th anniversary, even if they chose to do it in New Jersey. Why mention Doolittle? Because I saw the Pixies perform it in full just five days earlier.
I arrived at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville around 9pm on Saturday night (11/28). That meant sitting through two of the four local openers which was good because it gave me time to talk to friends. The show sold out in advance and the place was packed. Shaved/bald heads, tattoos, and muscles were in abundance. I knew it was going to get rough when LOA finally took the stage at 11:00, and that's exactly what happened as the band immediately broke into "This Time", the first track off "River Runs Red".
Starland has raised back and side areas, but the majority of the 2200-capacity room is the floor area and the pit broke out from the front to the back. There wasn't any stagediving (the occasional crowd surfer), but you did need to watch out for fists and 400 pound shirtless men occasionally barreling towards you. Fists were also constantly in the air and everyone knew all the words.
Without much stage banter, the band played the entire album. They were full of energy and completely on point, Keith's vocals included. They even played the taped skits that happen at the beginning, middle and end of the concept album ("Monday", "Thursday" and "Friday").
Produced by Type O Negative keyboardist Josh Silver, River Runs Red was the work of songwriter Alan Roberts (bass/backing vocals/lyrics), Keith Caputo (vocals), Joey Z (guitar) and Sal Abruscato (drums), four kids from Brooklyn with the kind of personal lives that make you wonder how they even got out of bed in the morning, much less made one of the most definitive underground records of the early '90s. But who'd have guessed they were total Floyd nerds? For a band that was ostensibly associated with the NYC hardcore scene, Life of Agony weren't really much of a hardcore band. Keith Caputo is an actual singer with an impossibly mighty voice; Joey Z's full-metal solos are straight from the Kirk Hammett school of amphetamine-shred, and Alan Roberts wrote the kind of hard-knock concept record--at age 20--that most 30-year-old prog-rock dorks couldn't dream up in their most vivid Jim Carroll fantasy-headaches. [Decibel Hall of Fame]After River Runs Red they left the stage for a bit and came back to finish off the night with six songs from their later albums. Unfortunately those six songs felt like a downer after the first part of the show. The energy in the room lowered - I even walked to the front with minimal fear of getting a broken nose.
They started the encores with "Other Side of the River" off 1995's Ugly which, as the title of the song even suggests, was a good segue into the later material. Then came two sort-of-blah songs off 2005's post-reunion, major-label-attempt-at-being-a-band-again Broken Valley. Keith dedicated one of those, "The Day He Died", to his parents (RIP) (I was hoping to hear the similarly themed "Time to Pretend").
They closed the whole show with "Lost at 22" (or "Lost at 35" as Keith changed the lyrics to at least once in the song) , but not until after a slight interruption from family and friends. There was a cake on stage, "20 girls from the audience" (I think they were even embarrassed), champagne, and a bunch of speeches.
They're not performing the album again (that I know of), but you can catch LOA at Highline Ballroom in NYC on December 15th. More pictures and the full NJ setlist below...