The Homeless Gospel Choir: Saint Vitus Bar 3 November 2019

by Carene Lydia Lopez on November 11, 2019

Last summer I saw The Homeless Gospel Choir (Derek Zanetti) open for Frank Turner (Lucero also opened for Turner on that tour). He was this adorable guy, playing folk punk rock on an acoustic guitar (fast and loud), and would introduce each song with “This is a protest song.” I could not wait for him to return to NYC so I could see him again.

He finally announced a tour and for the first time in most cities he would be playing with a full band. The Homeless Gospel Choir would be opening for Harley Poe and it was a relatively early show on Sunday night, so I figured I would see the opener and if I was not too tired, I would stay for the headliner. Saint Vitus Bar is a small bar/club in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and easy to get to from my house by public transportation. There’s a small bar in the front and then a small room in the back with a stage. I did not want to stand at the stage, so I found a spot in front of the soundperson. I looked around and it seemed the place specialized in punk and heavy metal based on the posters on the walls. As the room filled up, the absolute tallest people in the NYC stood in front of me. Not just one or two people. All of them.

Before that I saw Zanetti sit on the stage with a big piece of cardboard and write out the set lists and tear the cardboard up to have a set list in front of each musician. There is something about his DIY punk rock sensibility that I just love. When the band got on stage, he was drinking some water and he started extolling the wonders of water, telling us that it is made up of good stuff like oxygen and hydrogen.

The band – Derek on acoustic guitar, Matt on electric guitar, Meghan on electric bass, Maura on electric guitar, and Craig on drums – which Zanetti introduced by first names only, at the start played one song into each with just a quiet thank you in-between each one. The crowd was enthusiastic and when Zanetti asked who had seen him before, very few of us raised our hands, which surprised me because as an opening act he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. But I should not have been surprised because he had done that when I had seen him last year and it was a much bigger crowd. Zanetti has this quality that makes you love him immediately.

After a bit, he started telling some stories in-between the songs and telling us how punk rock saved his life (a friend gave him a Green Day cassette). He said punk rock builds a bridge from his heart to ours and we find commonality. At one point he forgot what the next song was supposed to be and he said that is what happens when you do a lot of acid in middle school and said it is good to have a band to help out. “Do you want to have good dreams? I’m going to be in your dreams tonight.” And every song was introduced with “This is a protest song,” which cracked up the crowd.

This was only the 11th gig with the full band and they sounded good and tight. I had asked rtb if she wanted to join me because I thought she would really like him (and I still think she would) but I do think the full band and small room would have been too loud for her, so I hope she does see him but in a different environment.

I decided I was not up for staying for the headliner (maybe I will catch them another time) and as I was leaving, I caught sight of Zanetti at the merch table. I walked over and told him that I had seen him open for Frank Turner last year and he said, “And here we are again,” as he kissed my hand. He asked me how I liked the full band and I told him that I loved it. We hugged. He thanked me and I thanked him. He asked me my name so he could thank me by name, which he did.

Punk is part of my soul; it is in my heart. I pogoed to the Ramones at CBGBs. I sat and danced to numerous bands there, many of whom were never seen or heard of again. I love the DIY-ness of punk. Anyone can play. Anyone can sing. You just have to have heart. And turn it up loud so the music beats inside your chest.

This is a guess at the set list because I am not familiar with every song but I know he started with “Depression.” Then, I think, “Untitled.” There was the protest song about Big Pharma, “Art Punk,” “Blind Faith,” a Weezer cover, “Figure It Out,” “Normal,” and “Punk AF” (done in 6/8 time – have you ever heard a punk rock song done in 6/8 time?).

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