Friend Zone ‘More Than Just a Bar Band’

By Monique M. Demopoulos | Jul 17, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Beach Haven, NJ — Pop, Motown, classic rock, funk, punk, ska, dance … there’s a flavor for everyone. Just add horns. Party band Friend Zone returned to the Sea Shell Beach Club on Saturday, July 13, for the first time this summer. They braved an hour and a half in weekend traffic to bring the heat to Beach Haven.

From a bridal party of bachelorettes in their early 20s to a 50th-birthday affair, the room was buzzing with vacationers of all ages dancing, clapping and singing along. The audience came to celebrate, and Friend Zone was glad to oblige.

The band was founded by Kaitlin McLaughlin of Manasquan, and Dave Attilio of Spring Lake Heights. They have performed together for six years, three of them with Friend Zone. During their time performing together in a former band, they developed a romance that was coveted by other band members. To preserve the integrity and longevity of the band, McLaughlin said, Attilio placed her in the “friend zone” twice. Eventually, the two say they became inseparable, which led to the decomposition of their former band. This event inspired them to cultivate their own group, Friend Zone. Attilio said of his current bandmates, “We actually are all good friends, so it doesn’t feel like work.”

Their bassist is Greg Warren of Toms River, who, in addition to laying down a heavy foundation, provides back-up vocals. Eric D’Arcy, according to his bandmates, was dubbed “sexy sax man,” during a show, and he certainly lives up to the title, alternating among four different saxophones, in addition to providing vocals, in a single performance. Absent from Saturday’s performance was Jake McDonnel, on trumpet, rhythm guitar and vocals. While McDonnel is away for a month fulfilling his duties in the Army National Guard, standing in is female trumpeter/vocalist Pagean DiSalvio, who is a doctor of music. The ensemble is complete with Kevin McMahon of Toms River keeping rhythm on drums.

Attilio provides lead guitar and lead vocals for the band, in addition to keyboard and trombone. “I’m also the sound guy, usually,” he said, laughing, although the Sea Shell provided them with an in-house sound technician on Saturday. Finally, ushering the performance is front-woman McLaughlin, who contributes far more than lead vocals. Her percussion and dance experience is also very evident in her powerfully sassy and rhythmic stage presence.

McMahon commends the leadership efforts of Friend Zone founders Attilio and McLaughlin. “It’s their brain child. They put all the leg work in; they drive the ship. It’s largely their concept. They put an immense amount of work into it, and we can all focus more on playing. That’s the perk of being in this band,” he said.

Friend Zone is mostly a top-40 cover band but covers everything from The Beatles to Bruno Mars. According to McLaughlin, Attilio “was brought up on classic rock, and I grew up listening to Motown and the Stones. I love disco so much, I got made fun of for it.” The couple said they love having the opportunity to pay tribute to the many great artists who inspired them over the years.

“We’re definitely more than just a bar band,” said McLaughlin, who agreed with Attilio that their favorite events are all-ages. He continued, “We do a lot of mashups to add variety,” to which McLaughlin responded, “Which is great for all-ages venues because old people love it, young people love it, and that’s what we want. My parents love it, and that’s all that matters.”

They perform the hits that get their audience members up and dancing, “and it’s a lot of fun, because everyone knows the songs,” Attilio said.

Music is a passion the members of Friend Zone like to share with people both on and off the stage. Outside of Friend Zone, they all work in music education, according to Attilio, who is a public school music teacher as well as a camp counselor. Attilio and McLaughlin agree that one of their most gratifying shows to play is for the Philly PALS Program, which is a program specifically for teens and young adults with Down syndrome.

The exception is McLaughlin, the only band member who is not a music instructor, but has worked as a dance instructor. She is a self-proclaimed Jane-of-all-trades who currently works as a freelance event planner when she is not performing. Her ability to orchestrate and deliver an experience is obvious in Friend Zone’s interactive production. “We want every show to showcase everything we are capable of,” she said.

Friend Zone uses a sort of time travel to captivate its audience, equal parts nostalgia and celebrating the here-and-now. They came out with a roar, opening their first set with Blink 182’s Y2K-era pop punk hit “All The Small Things,” sending the audience springing on their toes. Just when the audience began to predict the next verse, they were swept into a zesty mid-’90s alternative mashup, including Green Day’s punk tune “Basket Case,” Gwen Stefani’s “Just a Girl,” Third Eye Blind’s “Semi Charmed Life” and The Black Crowes’ alternative on Otis Redding’s bluesy “Hard to Handle.”

By mid-set, they ramped up into a medley of ’80s hits before finishing with a spicy Latin mashup of Santana’s “Smooth,” Camilo Cabella’s “Havana,” Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” and Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito.” Interspersed throughout were snappy, timeless party hits such as “I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5 and “Walking On Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves. They opened their second set with the summery “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, to which a woman was overheard exclaiming, “I love this! This reminds me of being on the shore.” They even performed a few throwback hip hop jams, including Run-D.M.C.’s classic “It’s Tricky.”

Friend Zone uses no stage monitors and is largely wireless in order to maximize audience interaction. “We feed off of the crowd energy,” said Attilio, “so we like to put ourselves out there with them.” In addition to upbeat harmonies and smooth on-stage choreography, the band also engaged its audience in a full-on conga line, as well as a sing-along during a vivacious mashup of Queen hits “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Don’t Stop Me Now.”

They performed a total of three engaging sets, closing out the club at 2 a.m. with a Myspace-era mashup that included “Stacy’s Mom” by Bowling for Soup and Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar We’re Going Down.”

“We really enjoy playing down here,” said Attilio. “Everyone treats us like family, and the entertainment venues are very organized and treat us well.”

Friend Zone returns to LBI to perform at Nardi’s on Aug. 3, and then again at the Sea Shell on Aug. 24. Attilio and McLaughlin invite LBIslanders to come out and be swept up in the beat of their time machine. To learn more about Friend Zone, visit www.friendzoneband.com.

— Monique M. Demopoulos

 

Set List Snippet

 

“Semi-Charmed Life,” Third Eye Blind

“Hard to Handle,” Otis Redding (as performed by The Black Crowes)

“Come on Eileen,” Dexy’s Midnight Runners

“You Make My Dreams,” Hall and Oates

“Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” Wham!

“24K Magic,” Bruno Mars

“Ain’t No Mountain High,” Ashford & Simpson (as performed by Marvin Gaye and Tami Terrel)

“Fireball,” Pitbull

“Tequila,” The Champs

“Jump in the Line,” Harry Belafonte

“Don’t Stop Me Now,” Queen

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