Campus in concert – bands club it at Conduit

Some of the best college acts in the greater Trenton area came to Conduit on South Broad Street in downtown Trenton to show what they’re made of. Two of the groups performing at Conduit/WTSR’s Ultimate College Band Showcase were from the College. Megan Burtnick, junior communication studies major, performed solo and the band Higherline closed out the evening’s events. Also featured was the Princeton University band Fabled and from Mercer County College (MCC), Here Tomorrow.

Burtnick opened up the show with just an electric guitar and her beautiful voice. Mixing the sounds of grrl rock and the sophisticated voice of a singer-songwriter, Burtnick performed seven original songs. Burtnick showed great stage presence bringing a sense of personality to her songs, including “Examining My Sanity,” in which rich, dark guitar work was overlaid with the sighing asperities of schizoid desperation. An echo effect on her voice highlighted this lamenting quality. Burtnick’s style is reminiscent of Jeff Buckley, in that harsh guitar and attitude-filled lyrics are contrasted with beautiful melodies. Burtnick closed her set with “Hobag,” saying, “A friend told me I can’t just do bitter jerk guy songs so this one’s about jerk girls.” “Hobag” works as a poignant social commentary about college life while keeping the subtle punk-rock attitude in Burtnick’s songs. Sophisticated irony and attitude combined with a disarmingly pleasing voice are what made Burtnick’s set.

MCC’s Here Tomorrow brought a harder edge to the night as they tore through high energy metal. Probably the most visually involved band of the night, Here Tomorrow’s members, especially singer J. Mattaliano, constantly moved around the stage and engaged the audience. Mattaliano consistently encouraged members of the crowd to join him on stage and even hoisted some people up himself toward the end of the set. Unfortunately, this sparked an on-stage fight between audience members and two people were ejected from the concert.

The violence was part of the excitement of Here Tomorrow. Mattaliano fought with bassist Mike Law early in the show, which resulted in Law bleeding through most of the set, but there was no major damage and the band kept on playing. With a vocal style somewhat like Incubus, Mattaliano was a mix of thrash screams and floating melodies. Jeff LaCour’s guitar work, backed by Jason Wilson, was stellar. Drummer Nick Tazza took off his shirt mid-set after much prodding by Mattaliano. Here Tomorrow’s chemistry and musical integrity are their strongest points. Their sense of fun and excitement, not to mention great music, translated directly from the band into the audience. Despite, or because, of the occasional outbreak of violence, Here Tomorrow was constantly entertaining and kept the audience wondering what was going to happen next.

Princeton’s Fabled filled the third slot on the bill. They brought a more emo-oriented sound to the event, similar to Dashboard Confessional, but a little bit harder. This was a change of pace from the other more attitude-filled acts of the night. Playing heartfelt songs like “Skylar” and “The Opposite of Reason,” Fabled won over much of the crowd, though those who were there for some hard rock’n’ roll had a differing opinion. The band put on a good show with excellent musicianship, especially by lead guitarist Tim Skerpon. Yet, Fabled seemed somewhat disjointed at times with Skerpon kneeling and facing his amp during solos while bassist Aaron Ellerby remained aloof, standing off to the side, alienating the audience a bit. Overall, the band put on a good show filled with emotion and some impressive music.

Closing out the night was the College’s own Higherline featuring Jay Sinclair, junior biology major, on bass, senior business major Derek Dilberian on guitar and percussion major Mike Mastropierro on drums. Higherline combines elements of Staind and old school Metallica to create an evocative new form of speed metal. Everything is fast, hard and intense but with an emotional edge. Even with their lead singer suffering from a cold that wiped him of his usual stage antics, the vocals and energy were still powerful. Mastropierro’s drumming ability was astonishing at times, reminiscent of John Dolmayan of System of a Down. Despite Higherline’s late spot on the bill, the remaining crowd loved them. Their intensity and musicianship made them stand out among the bands of the night.

WTSR promotes shows at Conduit twice a semester, which feature college artists and sometimes pulls in bigger acts, such as Virginia Coalition. Conduit is a music club in downtown Trenton that offers musical entertainment almost every night of the week, depending on bookings. Though this event admitted all ages, most shows only admit those 21 and older. For more information about upcoming shows, visit

Burtnick occasionally plays at the Rat and Higherline plays many of the local clubs. Here Tomorrow has a two-song demo out and Fabled has mp3s available on their Web site.