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Late Cave In Bassist Caleb Scofield: The Austerity Program’s Justin Foley Reflects on Boston Tribute Show

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“Singing is an inclusive thing. It gives somebody something to do at a concert – they feel like they’re a part of it… When I see people singing, it makes me feel like I’m getting something back”
-Ian MacKaye on early writing for Fugazi
Our Band Could be Your Life by Michael Azerrad

Just after midnight last Wednesday, I ran into a friend The Royale in Boston as the room was emptying. He’d been a part of planning the just-concluded event – a benefit show for Caleb Scofield. He and many others had felt lots of anxiety leading up to the night. But his eyes had a sparkle I could see from twenty feet away as I approached him. “So,” I asked expectantly, “how do you think it went?”

“It was chaotic and powerful and messy and fun.” He stopped for a breath. His broad smile carried some sadness. “Yeah… it was great.”

He was right – it was.

*

Caleb Scofield was the bassist and some-times singer for Cave In and Old Man Gloom, as well as the chief driving force in Zozobra. Scofield died in a car wreck in March; he was 39 and left behind a wife and two kids. His bandmates and friends organized a benefit show for the family last week, including sets by all three of his bands as well as The Cancer Conspiracy and Converge. (A second show was announced for October 13 in Los Angeles featuring Cave In and Old Man Gloom, as well Pelican, 27, and a one-time reunion of Isis; it sold out in about 20 minutes.) At different points in the night, his position in the bands was filled by others, most notably Steve Brodsky, Nate Newton and Caleb’s brother, Kyle.

Although at least two of the bands are still active and vital, the prospect of the show had a feeling of looking backwards. You could have seen a bill for the same lineup fifteen years ago, although the venue would have been much less fancy. And there was the almost literal shadow of Scofield over the night – the massive LED backdrop had a shadowed image of Caleb projected behind all of the bands. It was supposed to be a memorial and a celebration, but as I drove up to the show I wondered to myself – what else are we here to say goodbye to?

*

At the end of their blistering and cathartic set, Old Man Gloom vocalist/guitarist Aaron Turner unshouldered his guitar and turned to the crowd. “You can never tell your friends and family and loved ones that you love them enough. Say it every day, every hour, every minute of the day.” He turned to the rest of the band and pointed at each of them in kind. “I love you. I love you. I love you.” Then to the crowd – “I love you all. Thank you very much.”

The crowd roared in approval.

*

Cave In started to close out their set by playing their best song – “Big Riff.” (I’ve always assumed it never graduated from its “practice name” – the way band members would refer to a song in progress until it was given its final moniker.) The song encapsulates the tension at the band’s heart – flipping between raw hits of cement heaviness and… all the other things they also wanted to do: pop harmony, multi-octave singing, Rush style space-rock flourishes, chorus pedals. The band’s past and future are mashed into a ying/yang Cliff Notes exposition – it flashes black and white over six minutes.

That is, until the song reaches its last chapter. The backbone riff opens from a three-note grind to a five-note melody as vocalist Steve Brodsky launches into a final verse:   “On a concrete road to recovery …”. It is a transcendent point of music.

On Wednesday night, I was dead center on the floor – five people back from the stage and point blank to all of the amplification pouring from the stage. But I couldn’t hear Brodsky’s aching and soaring voice. Everyone around me had taken up the song and was singing it back at the stage, drowning out the room’s massive PA. I was amazed, blinking back uncontrollable tears at the moment – that everyone around me was swept up in this song they all knew, that we’d known and loved for years and years. And my throat was burning because I was singing along with them.

Justin Foley plays guitar and sings for The Austerity Program.  Visit them online at www.austerityprogram.com.  All messages about urban bike riding, vegetarian BBQ, and monetary policy will be answered first. 

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