Rye Coalition: The Story of the Hard Luck 5: DVD

Mar 19, 2015

Never got into Rye Coalition. I first heard of them from their now-famous split 12” with Karp, but at the time they always came across as a weird and distancing amalgam of emo and post-rock; jagged and seriously devoid of hooks and, well, kind of boring. Turns out I was wrong about that. The film shows the band to be a lot of things, but boring isn’t one of them. But, hey, that’s where I was at at the time.

The Story of the Hard Luck 5 starts at the beginning and shows the band from their roots: a bunch of New Jersey kids in the mid-nineties playing VFW halls and basements, half of them touring before they could even drive. In many ways, it’s the same story for a lot of bands that lived through the feeding frenzy of the mid-nineties punk explosion: the band plays shows, slowly rises in popularity, begins putting out records, then tours incessantly and works their asses off for a number of years while muscling through any number of shit jobs that are easy enough to leave to go on tour. That cycle, right?

And after a few years, a ton of shows, and a few full lengths they decide to give full time touring a shot and just hustle. A few things begin to click into place: Steve Albini engineers an album. They get opening slots for Queens Of The Stone Age, the Mars Volta, At The Drive-In. Finally it happens—in 2003 they get signed to Dreamworks, a major label, and Dave Grohl produces their record. But in keeping with the band’s history of shitty luck, Dreamworks promptly goes bankrupt and is incorporated into another major that wants nothing to do with the band or their album. The label sits on the record. The band still muscles on in spite of no new album, slowing momentum, and growing tension in the band.

Finally the album’s released on Gern Blandsten, a NJ label that’s run by a friend of theirs and most likely one that’s now too small for them, but at this point the band just wants it out, right? Shit’s imploding; tensions are high. And in 2006 the band breaks up. They’d gotten close to that idea of “rock success”—i.e. just being able to make a living playing in a band—but it just never quite happened. Just always a bit out of reach.

In 2010, at the behest of a band member’s father, they get back together to play a show for his birthday; it’s one of the most touching moments in the film. And that’s essentially where The Story… leaves off, with these five longtime friends who almost had the dream by the tail and then just watched it kind of vanish.

Like I said, I was never really a fan of the band, but the film itself is excellent. It was totally engaging for someone who was not that into them, so this shit’s probably enthralling to someone who’s a fan, you know? Jenni Matz did a stellar job at directing and editing. The pacing’s just right and is full of solid live footage from all eras. The interviews show that the band were, well, often kind of dicks—but goddamn, they could own a stage. (I’m still not that into their recorded output, but there’s no denying that even on video they are a fun and absolutely captivating band to watch.)

I think the film’s greatest strength is that it serves as a great snapshot into a volatile time for both punk and the music industry as a whole, and shows a band really hustling in their prime. It’s heavy with personality—that’s good television right there—and those accents just kill me. When guitarist Jon Gonnelli’s grandmother, in her heavy Jersey accent, laments the fact that the band hasn’t been able to put any money away (“Not even putting away ten dollahs in the bank!”) after all their years on the road, it’s absolutely charming. Really well done. –Keith Rosson (MatzOrific Productions, 203 Windsor Rd., Pottstown, PA 19464)