As I enter the dark-and-slightly-dingy room that is Forbes Blackbox, my mind is suddenly assailed. Suddenly assailed by the age-old tales of up and coming bands that I picked up from Wikipedia in ye olde days of high school (when free time existed). Maybe it’s my penchant for old English rock bands who started off in dark-and-slightly-dingy rooms, maybe it’s the Beatles poster hanging on the wall, or maybe it’s the writing that adorns the walls. Or maybe, just maybe, my sleep-deprived brain is on its last legs, and the assault is more a cry for help. Who knows? I know from the energy in the air that it’s going to be a good show, a show that takes me back to the sixties when I didn’t exist.
On Friday, October 7th, The Divergence, a band of Princeton students, played Forbes Blackbox for reasons unknown to me. The Divergence consists of sophomores Nick Av (violin), Arjun Jain (guitarist, token Englishman), Phil McNeal (drums, vocals), Daniel Penner (guitarist, vocalist), and Jacob Sunshine (bass, Columbia student). They had their humble beginnings in the fall semester of freshman year, a semester renowned for crushing freshmen dreams of greatness in Princeton University (sorry freshmen), and from there it’s been ships a-hoy. Their music is self described on their Facebook page (which has 305 likes—impressive) as “Rock with a heavy dose of everything else you can think of” which may sound a bit abstract but actually turns out to be correct. In March 2011, they released their debut EP, which surprisingly enough is entitled “The Divergence”.
In a very rock n’ roll way, as soon as I arrive (10 minutes late), everyone is awaiting the guitarist, Arjun Jain. I start to thinking that maybe he’s been drinking some tea or eating some crumpets, as is characteristic of his people, and has gotten so caught up in this splendid tea party that he completely lost track of time. It was wishful thinking on my part, it turns out. He in fact had been at one of those events where the sole purpose is inebriation, events that afflict our school. It’s actually an epidemic. However, when he arrives in this state, the audience members and I chuckle to ourselves at the turn of events. What a rock star.
The show finally begins in earnest, and of course as a female, I have to check out all their outfits. To be quite honest, they look like a motley crew (not Motley Crüe, the band). Penner looks like some type of activist in his waving, flowy white shirt; Jain is dressed in some type of military style jacket; Sunshine (yes, that’s actually his last name) is dressed like he came for an interview; McNeal is wearing a nice dress shirt that makes him look like he’s ready for a date; and Av looks like a typical Princeton student. Would have appreciated more co-ordination of outfits, guys.
Yet despite their random assortment of outfits, what they produce in terms of music, is a well-integrated, symphony of pure talent. You can tell these guys spend a lot of time practicing. And the crowd can feel it too. There’s none of the annoying chitchat that occurs in audiences when they’re bored, but instead everyone is standing (or sitting for those of us who are too hipster to stand) enraptured by the music. As Sophia Deng’14 said (someone with a clear bias but correct nonetheless):
“[The concert was] really great. They’re good musicians, brought a lot of energy, and got the crowd pumping. The thing about their music is that it’s different and complicated. You never know what to expect.”
And she’s correct. As a human, I’m prone to trying to characterize things, and I found myself throughout multiple songs left with no characterization. My notes for the song “Tomorrow” consist of “hmm…there’s a reggae beat…oh wait now it just got all heavy rock like.” Obviously a clear exemplification of what I’m trying to explain. But the point is that you don’t know what to expect. You get lulled into a false sense of security about what a song will sound like, and then that security gets completely snatched away from you, like taking a bib from a baby. But it’s completely and utterly exciting.
A crowd pleaser was “Bags Beneath My Eyes”, a song that the band also thinks was their best played song of night. Maybe it’s because of the title of the song, but whenever I hear it, it reminds me of “I’m So Tired” by The Beatles, but that song always makes me sleepy. And if you had bags under your eyes when you started listening to this song, then they’ll definitely be gone by the end of it. The song begins with a creepy (but good!) violin intro and transformed into something that was both dreamlike and edgy. I loved it and so did everyone else.
There were of course, the typical problems that go wrong in a show. Technical problems, and the like, and one criticism I did hear was that “[Penner’s] voice was a bit off” but nothing threw off the energy that was created.
When I tried to gauge reactions after the show, I think everyone just was speechless, because they weren’t saying much. I got:
“Awesome. Legit.” and “In awe” from two freshman and, “Good. Really good” from a sophomore.
This definitely speaks to the power of the music that The Divergence performed that night.
But I think that one sophomore summed up the performance perfectly.
“People came for the food, and left for The Divergence.”