The last time A Great Big Pile of Leaves performed in New Jersey, the stage at Asbury Lanes collapsed under the weight of the indie-rock unit, their instruments and over a hundred fans.
The band’s show at the Rathskeller on Friday, Feb. 20, was not nearly as rowdy, but according to frontman Pete Weiland, it was just as energetic.
“The first two times we played here, less than half the tables were full, and everybody stayed in their seats,” Weiland said. But on this night, dozens of students flocked to stage and danced through the 45-minute-long set.
Before Leaves took the stage, The College of New Jersey’s own Gianna’s Sweet Debut opened the night with its punk-rock sound.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous,” lead singer and guitarist Chase Destierro said before the show. “But hey, even Jay-Z gets nervous. Or at least I hope so.”
Destierro, along with guitarist Matt Decker, bassist Scott Calhoun and drummer L.J. Dosono, performed songs such as “Accurate Self Appraisal” and “Rest in Peace, Hopes and Dreams.”
“We have a house show or two planned, and we’ve been preparing for the release of our EP,” Destierro said after the set.
The EP, titled “Barely Getting By,” took the band just three months to complete, compared to the two years it took to put together its first effort, “North to the Future.”
New Jersey natives Accidental Seabirds performed next, opening their acoustic set with “Untitled 16.”
Vocalist and guitarist Jesse Lee Herdman and usual drummer Alex Letizia sat side-by-side, trading banjo and guitar every few songs.
“We’ve been doing the two-piece thing since May,” Herdman said after the show. “It’s a little easier to pack into a car and find a place to sleep when it’s just two people. It cuts the cost of touring in half.”
Letizia taught himself to play guitar and Herdman learned the banjo so the duo could perform their inventory of songs acoustically together.
“Playing guitar really pulled me out of my element,” Letizia admitted. “I’m used to drumming.”
He and Herdman have traveled all the way up and down the East Coast and as far as the West Coast during their current tour, occasionally joined by bassist Anthony Defabritus.
The pair has proven to not only be talented musicians, but innovative ones, as well. The band personally cut six-packs apart and stitched pieces of the boxes back together to make CD sleeves for their full-length album “The Greenpoint Spill.”
They also handmade a percussion instrument that Letizia controlled via foot pedal during the set.
“It’s made from beer bottle caps and fishing line,” Herdman said. “Alex literally popped holes in 300 bottle caps.”
Accidental Seabirds played “Black Horse Blues,” a secretly recorded single, as well as fan favorites such as “Where are you, how’s your son?” and “The Appearance of New Animals.”
When headliner, A Great Big Pile of Leaves, took the stage, students clamored to the front of the Rathskeller and earnestly sang along to hits like “We Don’t Need Our Heads” and “Snack Attack.”
For Weiland, drummer Tyler Soucy, bassist Tucker Yaro and guitarist Matthew Fazzi — ex-member of Taking Back Sunday — this was their first time headlining a show at TCNJ. The band opened for The Narrative in 2011 and for Casey Crescenzo of The Deer Hunter in 2012.
The Brooklyn-based band was signed to Topshelf Records in 2011 and has since toured with Hellogoodbye, Say Anything and other major groups.
“Tonight was just incredible,” Weiland said. “A Great Big Pile of Leaves will keep coming back to play for as long as you keep inviting us back.”
*This story was originally published in The Signal.