The Rock Lobsters Scrape and Claw Their Way Back to Nardi’s
They are the lobsters of rock, the seafaring four who lay down the maritime law of rock ’n’ roll, the reason this writer’s cover band could not possibly conceive of naming itself Roctopus, and they want you to party like a lob-star.
The Rock Lobsters have been holding tight to the jetty that is the Jersey Shore cover-band scene since the spring of 2009, and if there is a favorite warm spot along it for them, it would be Nardi’s Tavern in Haven Beach, where the band played Friday night.
After they had played Beach Haven bars for several years, Rich Higgins of Nardi’s decided to give them a chance and made the Rock Lobsters its go-to local house band for special events, such as its annual Halloween party. In fact, that show in 2012 was the last any band played at Nardi’s before Superstorm Sandy struck. Lead singer John Mitchell credits playing that show with much of his band’s equipment being spared by the storm, as it was kept in a trailer on somewhat higher ground than his home, where 3 feet of water piled in through his windows.
“If we didn’t play here, all my crap would’ve gotten ruined,” said Mitchell.
The band’s gear was still damaged, and a waterline remains on their public address system’s speakers, showing how far floodwaters reached.
Much equipment was lost, and the money earned during most of the band’s winter shows was spent on replacing it. Gigs were lost immediately after Sandy as the band waited weeks for an evacuation order to be lifted before they could reunite with their first-responder lead singer. A Jetty clothing company New Year’s Eve party had to be cancelled, though the band looks forward to returning this year.
When Nardi’s reopened March 1 following Sandy flood damage, the Rock Lobsters were the first to play there.
“We’re excited for the summer,” said drummer Patrick Sullivan. “You can feel it tonight. The parking lot is full. We’re trying to get more shows.”
“We’re an aspiring band again,” said Mitchell.
The four members of the band are all Southern Regional High School graduates living in Southern Ocean County and are as working class and blue-collar as it gets.
“We’re seriously like the Village People,” said bassist Greg Thomas.
“It’s YMCA right here,” Mitchell said.
They are a cop, a contractor, a cook and a commercial fisherman. Three of the four have been playing together since high school as former members of the original punk band Figured Out, while guitarist Mike Wark – formerly of his own original band, Vicious Valentine – joined the band in 2011.
The band’s name came during a spirited trip to Vermont where the crew caught an episode of “Family Guy” in which the B-52’s “Rock Lobster” was used repetitively during a bit. The band’s range of upbeat songs touches on just about everything but that song, though they did admit in an interview with The SandPaper to trying it last practice.
Converting to a cover band came with adulthood, the band members said. They wanted to make it clear that it had nothing to do with not making money in an original band.
Being local and independent from an agency allows the Rock Lobsters to be loose but still respond to the crowd’s energy. They also craft solid sets appealing to all age groups.
“If we’re not playing here, we’re here drinking around here and seeing what goes over well,” said Thomas.
On Friday, they opened with a medley of “My Sharona,” “Pump it Up,” “What I Like About You” and “Walking on Sunshine,” showing the band’s positive energy and upbeat heart.
Soon the well-dressed populace from a nearby yacht club wedding stormed in and flooded the dance floor. That’s just part of the random ebb and flow of Nardi’s, which sits in the middle of the Island and continues to siphon in patrons via its trademark pink party bus. With fewer Island bars featuring live bands this early in May, Nardi’s found itself packed all night as a wedding party met a bachelorette party, and middle-aged beach house owners mingled with young beauties from near or far.
The Rock Lobsters sets really are one endless medley. The second set included an expansive classic hip-hop medley that gains a rock edge when in the clasp of the Rock Lobsters’ claws. If a rare minor break is taken between songs to insert witty stage banter, drummer Patrick Sullivan still keeps the band’s rapid heartbeat going on the bass drum.
“Should I Stay or Should I Go” packed the dance floor. In response, Mitchell left the stage to join the crowd for “Jessie’s Girl,” and was quick to pass off the microphone to revelers and encourage their participation in the show.
“This is a serious crowd right now,” said Mitchell. “It must’ve been a good wedding.”
There were standards, such as the obligatory high-pitched squeal from some woman remembering watching The Violent Femmes play Woodstock 94 on Pay-Per-View after the first run through the iconic riff of “Blister in the Sun.”
There was something chilling about the most modern section of the band’s first set, a combination of Phillip Phillips’ “Home,” “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers, and “Some Nights” by Fun. It worked swell to capture not only the modern popular music scene, but perhaps the emotions endured from Superstorm Sandy.
After Mitchell exclaimed, “All right, two more!” to the crowd, the band played six.
Just when you thought the lengthy first set would end with the cover band gospel “American Girl,” the group dropped The Ramones combination punch of “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “Blitzkrieg Bop,” before smoothing things over with a “Rock and Roll All Nite” kiss goodbye as the hour-long first set came to a close.
“We were really into the tunes they were playing,” said Brad Perrine, who came from Jamesville, Wisc., to be a part of the wedding. “I’m sure they were probably playing (those songs) already, but if they weren’t, they knew exactly who the hell walked in the bar and knew what needed to be there. It’s like they figured ‘Everybody here knows everything from 1984 to 1997.’”
Stanley Szostek of Ship Bottom has been seeing The Rock Lobsters since their Figured Out days, of which he was a fan. “They’re all hardworking guys. They work their asses off, they have families, and they still come out and jam.”
“Everybody gets along really well. These guys are best friends. We don’t argue, we discuss things,” said guitarist Wark.
“Everyone has families and busy lives, and this is the chance for us to get together and hang out,” said Sullivan.
“We all work hard, and this is a release for us,” Mitchell said.
Next the band heads to Calloways in West Creek on June 15, and looks forward to a Ship Bottom Fire Co. benefit show on July 6, a concert in Beach Haven’s Veterans Bicentennial Park on Aug. 28, and returning to the annual Beach Haven Fire Co. Block Party held during Chowderfest each year in early October. To see what bar the Rock Lobsters crawl into next, head to facebook.com/rock.lobsters.1?fref=ts.
Set List Snippet
“Little Lion Man,” Mumford & Sons
“Sweet Home Alabama,” Lynyrd Skynyrd
“In the Middle,” Jimmy Eat World
“Miserlou,” Dick Dale
“I Melt With You,” Modern English
“Two Princes,” Spin Doctors
“Dead or Alive,” Bon Jovi
“Hey Jealousy,” The Gin Blossoms
“Ho Hey,” The Lumineers
“Home,” Phillip Phillips