This feature originally appeared on LamplighterNJ.com in September 2013
After nearly seven years, pop-rock veterans Trees Above Mandalay decided that they will no longer be making music. So what, right? Hasn’t the New Jersey alternative music scene always been a revolving door for its local acts? They’ll be replaced soon enough, won’t they? Au contraire, my dear reader. Bands of Trees Above Mandalay’s caliber are few and far between. I would even go so far as to say that they were in a class of their own during their tenure. Now that class has graduated, and the freshman prospects don’t look so great. So you’ll understand how disappointed I was when I stood in the barely quarter-full room at Mexicali Live on the night of Trees Above Mandalay’s farewell show. Why weren’t more people upset about this? Why weren’t more of us there to say goodbye to the band we all once thought would make it big?
Perhaps the scene is to blame. Poor attendance seems to plague nearly every venue in the North Jersey area these days, and even during its heyday, the North Jersey area favored heavier bands. So when the members of Trees Above Mandalay put their screamo and grindcore days behind them to craft a mature blend of pop-punk and alternative rock, they may have signed up for inevitable failure in this mosh pit-obsessed culture.
But it couldn’t be the scene, because it never really mattered that they weren’t playing breakdowns. Their talent transcended genre lines. You didn’t have to be a diehard pop-rock fan to enjoy the energetic and spot-on live performances that Trees Above Mandalay was known for. Back then, we were all there, and we knew every word. So why didn’t we show up one last time?
Perhaps it was the timing. Trees Above Mandalay enjoyed being ahead of the curve for more than a few years. For a while, they were on the cutting edge, and nobody knew how to categorize them. But even when the songwriting was at its best, the fuzzy recordings never quite did their songs justice. So we waited, certain that one of these albums would capture just how big their live sound really was. It never came. The albums took longer and longer to drop, with only slight audio improvements each time. The fuzz was gone, but it still didn’t feel right. By the time they were ready to make their big push, our patience had long since run out. After almost two years without new music, Growing Pains was released in February of 2013 to little applause. Sure, the songs were great. But, unfortunately, it takes more than a clean recording to bottle the energy that we had seen every time Trees Above Mandalay took the stage. But even if they missed their window of opportunity to capitalize on an invested fan base, why did we pass up our last chance to witness that energy we felt their albums lacked?
I’ve had the good fortune of sharing the stage with Trees Above Mandalay on multiple occasions, but I can still remember the very first time we played together. The band I was in at the time was still young, and we constantly felt out of place in the exclusive North Jersey scene. Everybody knew everybody, yet nobody seemed to know who we were. We slowly began to believe that nobody really wanted us there because they were all outside smoking cigarettes during our sets. Except for Trees Above Mandalay. It was a seemingly meaningless gesture, but to have these older guys from a respected, talented group smiling and shaking our hands after we finished playing meant more to us than they may ever realize. They were the first band to make us feel like we actually belonged to something. It gave us the confidence to continue making music, and it’s one of the few reasons we’re still together today. I’ve come to know that our experience was not an isolated event, either. Everywhere that these guys have played, you will find nothing but good things to be said about them. Whether they were rushing onstage to catch your falling cymbal stand, handing you a guitar because yours stopped making sounds, or simply patting you on the back after a set, they were always genuine on and off the stage. I couldn’t possibly count the number of times I have heard people in the area say, “I love those dudes.”
It was for this reason above all others that I expected to find a packed house at Mexicali Live for their final show. Instead, I found vocalist David Glynn outside smoking a cigarette, shrugging his shoulders when I asked him where everybody was. He told me that people would not stop talking about how sad they were to see the band retiring, yet nobody was here to prove it. Of course, I don’t mean that literally. People came, and those of us who were there sang along and had a blast. But it wasn’t the goodbye that this band really deserved. In the end, it was probably a fitting conclusion, considering that they almost never got what they truly deserved.
What I’m saying is that you should be upset that Trees Above Mandalay is no longer making music because it’s all your fault. You, who bought too little merchandise from their table. You, who attended too few of their shows. We all said that we appreciated them, but how many of us really showed it? Even an untouchably talented band can only survive for so long on kind words, and now we’ve learned that lesson the hard way. Trees Above Mandalay finished playing music on August 31st, 2013, and we let the “Encore” chants die too soon. We, who didn’t give them a reason to stay. Here’s to hoping that we don’t make the same mistake again.