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May 9, 2006

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The Court Tavern
New Brunswick, N.J.
May 6

Up until a surprise round of gigs last summer, Lifetime was little more than a distant memory. An endearingly quirky Jersey hardcore pop group that fled the scene in 1997 before getting the chance to cash in on the sound they aided in taking to mainstream radio, MTV and most recently, Myspace.

Few could've predicted that in the years following Lifetime's separation, younger practitioners like Saves the Day, New Found Glory, My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy all would achieve various levels of success and stardom (and if nothing else, major label contracts) by mimicking the relentless tempos, unintelligible lovesick babble and razor sharp melodic chops that Lifetime didn't necessarily invent but certainly did better than most in the '90s.

It seemed as if Lifetime would forever be the anonymous favorite band of your younger sibling's favorite ubiquitous emo starlets, selling modest amounts of its independently-released back catalog whenever Pete Wentz hyped 'em in Spin articles or generously-sized "remember when" round table interviews showed up in the pages of Alternative Press.

And, no, that fate isn't such a bad one. But of course, that's not the end of the story.

After a much blogged and bandied about honest to goodness reformation, Lifetime gave more grist for the gossip mill last month by inking a deal with DecayDance (boutique label of F.O.B's Wentz) before any new songs hit the streets and only after a handful of shows were played. Newly back, the band's intentions and cred immediately received the grilling treatment.

Last weekend, the invigorated Lifetime geared up for the massive Bamboozle festival at the mansion-on-the-hill Meadowlands by watering its old roots in the cramped, dank basement of the Court Tavern, home to many legendary Jersey punk and hardcore shows over the years. No less than a decade ago, Lifetime held court as the Rutger's basement band of choice (after all, "Theme Song for a New Brunswick Basement Show" wasn't written for nothin'), growing wheels and touring the country multiple times, but always staying the town's house organ and the trusted reference guide to younger N.B. groups such as Thursday and Midtown.

The Saturday, all ages matinee, as informal and relaxed as it was, served the purpose of offering a toast to the old boys before they headed off to compete in the young man's arena. Collectively, Lifetime hadn't been around those parts since they played their final two shows in '97 at the now non-existent Melody Bar up the street, and both the sixteen-year-old die hard freaking out at the front of the line outside and the older, tattooed dude at the bar with the perspiring PBR can were ready for action.

Savoring the moment, the band took to the floor (the venue had no elevated stage) without any rush at roughly 6 p.m. and kept the two hundred or so sardines enthralled as they ripped with deft precision through "Hello Bastards" and "Jersey's Best Dancers," the two albums that made them a VFW and college hall staple. Ari Katz's young, loud and bratty voice continued to belie his age, and even though wife and baby (she had on pink air traffic controller headphones) watched from the wings, his despondent and decidedly undergraduate lines like "next time that star shoots across the sky/I'm gonna grab it and smash it/under my feet/who the f&*k wants to be happy" didn't come off forced or trite. Herculean guitarist/psychologist Dan Yemin and Peter Martin's razor sharp melodies sliced through each two minute cut, chiding Scott Golley's lockstep, militaristic drumming.

The sound remained faithfully thick and slick, proving that Lifetime's brand of pop punk sounds best during an afternoon show in a club with low ceilings and enthusiastic audience participation. The thinned out Katz is still a hangdog everyman, spouting out meter-defying, self-deprecating witticisms with ease. During the gig, he slowly paced back and forth with the slouching gait of an affable bartender who calmly refills drinks despite the crush at the bar. The crowd, a good mix of young and old, friends and family, hardcore and not so hardcore, repaid the band with smiles, fingerpoints, stupid banter and massive sing alongs.

With some pounds lost and gained, hairlines moved and gray hairs grown, Lifetime could have a tough road if they're shooting for the bedroom walls, ringtones and Myspace backgrounds of teens unfamiliar or unconcerned with them or hardcore past. However, Pete Wentz moves weight right now, and his endorsement could do wonders for Lifetime's future.

Even though Katz once sang "I can truly say/I don't give a f&*k about your money" during a passable cover of Embrace's (D.C.) tune "Money," I hope some of that much deserved coin comes the band's way during this lifetime.

New York Daily News

Andrew Katchen