Almost Famous: College favorite Casual Blue stops home on the way to the big time

Something magical happens when a bunch of N.J. boys play a great N.J. song in a N.J. bar. This was a homecoming. Brian O’Neil and the boys of Casual Blue returned to the Rat this past Tuesday night to play to a standing-room-only crowd of fans and friends.

An almost spiritual feeling washed over the crowd towards the end of the show when the band launched into a cover of Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.” The crowd sang along as O’Neil and the band shouted the words to the ceiling in their best guitar-god, rock star poses.

The show consisted of mostly original material that the crowd seemed to be familiar with such as “Blur,” which was featured in an episode of “Dawson’s Creek.” Others were “Strings,” “Congratulations” and “Everyone.” The set also featured some new and live debut songs for the band including “Settle This” and a song tentatively titled “Start All Over Again.”

Casual Blue consists of O’Neil, class of ’02, on lead vocals and guitar, Neal Austria on lead guitar and vocals, Mark Treimel on bass and Chris Badami on drums. The band has released three albums and is currently touring on the N.Y. club scene.

Austria’s guitar work was sensitive and searing at the same time with solos that varied in melody and took the songs to some place new. Treimel’s bass was right on target and held each of the songs together with its precision. Much like John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, Badami was all over his drum kit, exploding with power on every hit of the skins. His impressive cymbal work added unique accents and minor solos to almost every song.

The band covered REM’s “Losing My Religion,” U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name,” and Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.” Their sound amounted to optimism with edge. The newer material, written after the band broke in New York, has a much more fun punk edge to it, similar to Blink 182.

Casual Blue has grown in a lot of ways since O’Neil was a student at the College. Their sound has matured past the heartbreak lyrics of college rock into a more sophisticated realm. While O’Neil’s voice still has the nasal whine of an adolescent – much like Jack White’s – his stage presence and attitude are much more professional now. Still, at times, you could tell that he felt like just a kid playing for all his friends at the Rat again.

Casual Blue has played at the Rat on one other occasion since O’Neil’s graduation and was a staple of the local music scene while O’Neil was a student here. After playing at N.Y. clubs like The Elbow Room and The Lion’s Den, O’Neil was happy to be back among friends. “In New York, it’s more fans for the music. Here it’s more friends and fans, which is the best part of coming back,” O’Neil said.

O’Neil graduated with a degree in finance and had been working up until two weeks ago when he “resigned,” as he likes to say. Casual Blue has just finished up writing a new album and are looking for a debut on a major label. O’Neil’s leaving his job was “a step towards music. I can’t ignore it,” he said.

The crowd only encouraged more steps towards music for Casual Blue.

“It’s always good when Casual Blue comes back,” Christina Puglia, junior English and sociology major, said.

“We all love Brian O’Neil,” she added.

It’s safe to say that Casual Blue is on their way to their college dream of success. Both talent for songwriting and performance are strong in the band. It’s only a matter of time before someone a little higher up in the record industry ranks starts to notice, but for now, we’ll always welcome them back here.