Normally reserved for packed and sweaty parties, Pine Palace was transformed on Friday night into a concert venue for the debut of The Racquets. The group broke onto the University music scene with a 12-song set of both covers and originals that got the room dancing. With an aesthetic most closely aligned with The Vaccines and at times even The Strokes, The Racquets feature nuanced lyrics and a bursting sound that far exceed the expectations for a newly formed band.
The Racquets’ members include Jared Fineberg ’17 and Jeremy Freeman ’18, who both play guitar and have been performing together since high school. Fineberg also serves as the lead singer. Coupled with an energizing Sam Beck ’17 on the drums and the prolific Ryan Breen ’17 of Thatcher on the bass as well as backup vocals, The Racquets’ four members manage to provide a full sound unusual for a band of their size. Since the Pine Palace concert was their debut, The Racquets opened up during soundcheck about how their group formed over the course of the year.
“Sam [Beck] and I have been playing music together since the first month we got to Wesleyan,” Fineberg said.
“Gender Bender!” Beck corrected, referring to the annual orientation event.
“We live together this year, and we were writing some songs first semester,” Fineberg recalled. “Then Ryan [Breen] came back from abroad, and we hit him up, and Jeremy and I went to high school together way back in the day, and things just kind of came together really nicely.”
But Beck and Fineberg explained that before they could settle on a name for the band, they had to find their sound.
“Bands a lot of times will get hung up on a name and it ends up becoming such a contentious thing, and you’re thinking, like, ‘Let’s do this one name!’ and it sounds stupid, because there’s no actual band or music to back it up,” Beck said. “So we put that aside for awhile, started working on some stuff, and then eventually we were like, ‘Let’s try and bring a “The” name back,’ because we like that old rock aesthetic. It’s simple. It’s unapologetic. And I think Racquets was just a nice image of like, ‘We’re preppy Connecticut people.’”
The pronunciation of the band name has been a source of some confusion among concertgoers, so Fineberg clarified.
“[The fancy pronunciation] has been amazing to me,” Fineberg said. “It’s such a mundane, straightforward, elementary school word. People have come up to me and been like, ‘How are the Racquettes or the Roquettes?’”
The spelling, however, is the only fancy thing about The Racquets. They prefer that their fans pronounce it “rackets,” American spelling, nasally accent and all.
The Racquets then went into considerable depth about the Wesleyan music scene, how it attracted all of them to Wesleyan, and what it’s like playing shows in what is now being called “The Post-Frat Era.”
“Well, we’ll start with the easy stuff—politics aside—for a second,” Beck said. “It’s weird because wood-frame houses [like Pine Palace] aren’t ideal for shows. It’s hard. It’s a lot of noise squeezed into a small space that doesn’t disperse the sound well. That’s purely the physical element….We played a show at DKE that was so fun in part because it was a great stage, a great room…and great people, too.”
The DKE show occurred last year before the formation of The Racquets, and featured Beck and Fineberg in their now defunct band, MFDP (Music For Drunk People).
Fineberg then delved into the political side of residential fraternity spaces being off-limits to all students this year.
“I’ll handle the politics,” Fineberg said. “These fraternity spaces are large communal spaces that, I think, bands should not be afraid to go into. I think that if you look at, at least what I’ve seen of the Wesleyan music scene for the three years that I’ve been here, Psi U had always been a space that was very open to live music, as was Alpha Delt and Eclectic, but we went into DKE, and I don’t remember in my time here ever seeing a live, original band that wasn’t playing Top 40 songs play a show at DKE that was successful. And I think that, you know, these are spaces that bands, if they’re not afraid to shake the social stigma of the music scene of the school versus the more athletically inclined scene of the school…you can bridge a lot of gaps on campus and do something great.”
The band’s goal of bridging social gaps on campus was certainly achieved at the concert on Friday night. Individuals from across the spectrum of student life at Wesleyan, including but not limited to class year, race, athletics, and arts came together and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the show.
“I feel like a slice of butter running down a big ’ole pile of flapjacks,” said David Miller ’16 after the band had finished.
“I am so blissed out right now,” a sweaty Beck exclaimed after pouring a bottle of water on his shirt to cool down, a vital piece of information that his friends who mistakenly patted him on the back after the show ought to have known.
“I’m in the after-glow,” Breen said.
Highlights of the set were the band’s performance of their second original song, “Sophomore,” and their cover of The Killers’ “When You Were Young” that surprisingly resulted in a mosh pit in the tiny Pine Palace living room. The Racquets also show a range of lyrical diversity. While their whole set got the room moving, some of their original songs feature self-aware and even dark lyrics, such as “Sidewalk.”
“Even if you’re looking off the edge / I don’t care to hear you ringing in my head / The water’s at your eyes, it’s far too late I realize / We’re through, there’s nothing you can do,” the lyrics read.
Although the Snapchat stories of the show will fade, and the sticky beer residue on the floor of Pine Palace is (hopefully) cleaned up by now, The Racquets are here to stay. Most schools are not as lucky as we are to have live shows from student bands every weekend, or to have produced artists like Santigold, MGMT, and Das Racist. So while you still have time left here, make your way to a concert, and let the music move you to wherever you are going next.