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Magic in the night: The Past Masters, NBHS grads, at the Crow’s Nest

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

IN TUNE : The thrill of magic is that you’ll never know where or when it’ll happen. Sometimes it’s in reconnecting with a dear friend from decades past. Or in righting a terrible wrong. Or in meeting a dream come true. One thing’s for sure: There’s no better soundtrack for such miracles as the music of the Past Masters.

The Past Masters crank up U2’s “Vertigo”

Between reunions, Facebook invites and mailing lists, the Crow’s Nest was packed to overflow Saturday night — mostly with people who, like most of The Past Masters , grew up or lived in North Bergen.

No matter your favorite rock and roll, the band nailed it: From early Beatles (“I Saw Her Standing There”) through Bad Company (“Can’t Get Enough”), the Eagles (“Already Gone”), Springsteen (“Born to Run”) and Mellencamp (“Pink Houses“), as well as a power-pop medley (Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” sequed into the Romantics’ “What I Like About You”) and even a bit of punk (“I Wanna Be Sedated“) — not to mention Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” and Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” — The Past Masters played with fire and precision, amped by a crowd that cheered every song, every solo, every marker of times gone by.

They hit their stride with a roof-raising version of U2’s “Vertigo,” then had the crowd in their sway with what has become the band’s tour-de-force, “Maggie May.”

“The Rocks” at 64th Street even got a shout-out — a nod to dozens of North Bergen High Schoolers who hung out together every weekend, car trunks open, radio’s tuned to WNEW-FM, back in the 70s.


It’s no knock on cover bands, but they do tend to be a dime a dozen — which makes The Past Masters so special. Guitarist Russell Garcello flawlessly flew through his solos, lead singer Steve Avillo poured passion into every lyric, and drummer John Mansmann did more than hold a solid backbeat, dropping fills wherever he could to keep the music tight and danceable.

Only trouble was: The floor was so full that most of the dancing tended to be in place.

Luckily, the Crow’s Nest has so many nooks and crannies that friends pooled into pockets, snapping group and individual photos, reminiscing and even forming some new friendships.

For many of us, posing and strutting are ancient memories. With fewer years left than we’ve spent on this earth, we see ourselves — and others — a lot clearer. Adulthood has been good to some: We see the toxic signs a lot quicker; we smell a line from across the bar; we forgive others, and ourselves, a little easier.

We know what we want. We realize life isn’t perfect, nor should it be. And we understand that sincerity, and simply being nice to one another, matters more in the end than trying to look good — or to be right. (I don’t see the hole, I fall in, I learn; I see the hole, I fall in anyway; I see the hole, I walk around it….Eventually, there is no hole.)

Only years of experience can teach us that. Only mistakes can bless us with humility. And only on a night when the fires of our youth are so intensely stoked can we grasp how far we’ve truly come.

Personally, it thrilled me no end to see you, Sam. If I only had the words to tell you, Joyce, I  know you’d understand. Russell: You make me smile from deep down inside. And Frances: You are truly a revelation.

Robin: You’re still the handsomest bastard from the 64th Street crew. Denis: You and I have to talk, my friend. You, too, Rachel: We’ve got lots of notes to compare. And to Karen Schlein and the ladies from 61st Street: Va-va-va-voom!

As for The Past Masters: Damn, you guys are good. Can’t wait to see you again. (Can’t remember EVER saying that about a cover band.)

And, finally, to Ellen:

For all you’ve overcome, for the brilliant faith and optimism that defines you: thank you. For teaching all of us what courage and valiance and true friendship means, I hope I in some way honor you with this story.

I know how tough it can be, folks. But, please, if you can: Stay in touch. Magic like tonight doesn’t happen by accident.


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