It’s a little after 6:30 p.m. and dozens of millennials in skinny jeans and hoodies, with their hair swept forward, mill around the Mount Airy Fire Hall as the band A Spike Lee Joint sets up. “Come closer,” lead singer G’Ra Asim, 24, urges the small crowd. “We promise, you want everything we got.”
There are as many other bands as audience members, plus a smattering of parents, standing off to the side, but the vibe is appreciative and upbeat.
Asim turns to his bandmates, drummer Brendan Bessel, 21, and bassist Steven Edward Taylor Jr., 24 — whom he has known since attending James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring — and they start their melodic, pop-punk set. They pause for commentary between songs.
“Sleep Cute” is a cautionary tale about dating girls who already have boyfriends, Asim explains. “Cement Sneakers” is about being on the come-up but surrounded by people who try to bring you down.
They move through their set and nearby a guy in a skullcap nods to the beat while someone else plays a fingery riff on his air guitar. A young couple in front hold hands.
Asim jumps on the drum stand to jam with Bessel, and Taylor sticks to his spot in front, playing straight man to Asim’s kinetic hipster. They nod to each other and along with the music, and a pervasive sense of doing their thing animates their faces.
The band, together nearly a year, arrived at its name by taking a touchstone of black culture and repurposing it. And “there’s nothing more punk than that,” Asim explains.
They’ve played larger venues, Bessel says, but regardless of crowd size, the music “is something I’m really passionate about, and I want other people to see that.”
When the crowd starts nodding, it just feeds into the energy, he says. It affirms all the “countless hours of my life” spent practicing alone in the basement.
“We all have this connection that’s easy,” Taylor says, and “it translates into this unspoken thing,” where we all know what we’re doing next. And for that brief time, everything else in your life gets put away.
What’s harder to see is how being part of the band is a gateway to new experiences, Asim says. It’s “little things like driving to an area of a state you live in, but have never heard of, for a show,” he says. “Meeting people who you won’t otherwise meet and having a connection with them. . . . We have communion with each other and the audience. I feel more comfortable onstage using that as a medium than at a bar or party or job interview.”
And when you’re at a show and people know all the words to your songs, “that’s an amazing feeling,” Taylor says.