Anything Box Give Us a Synth Pop Flashback in Fullerton

Sometimes time travel is a state of mind. Say you’re going through your closet, and you find a shoebox with a bunch of mix tapes you made throughout the ‘90s. The label “Happy / Sad Mix” catches your eye, and you decide to pop it in. A wave of familiarity washes over you as you re-experience this particular progression of songs and the associations that this collection brings. For example, you might think, “Ah, I remember driving around Chicago, commuting between art school and dance clubs, with freakishly long hair in a floppy pseudo-mohawk, listening to this tape.”

One of the songs on this tape is “Jubilation” by Anything Box. Last week, I noticed that Anything Box was slated to perform at Fullerton’s Totally ’80s Bar & Grille. The song came back in a flash — then the memory of the shoebox. Being an art student in Chicago. My first pair of Doc Martens. Obviously, Totally 80’s Bar & Grille is the kind of place that enables some sort of time displacement to occur, and on Friday night, April 22, Anything Box’s performance brought me and a club full of nostalgic sentimentalists back to a time when synthpop was raw, hard-edged, and fresh.

The club’s black light artwork, its numerous TV screens (showing ’80s music video mash-ups), and the thundering bass of the DJ’s new wave and synthpop set brought the boisterous crowd to the edge of yesteryear, but it wasn’t until Claude Strilio, Gary Strilio, and Paul Rijnders started the show with “Kiss of Love,” that the magic of being both in and out of the moment took hold. The set of the now OC-based Anything Box included several additional songs from its debut album, Peace (1990), including “When We Lie,” and “Our Dreams;” alas “Jubilation” was not one of them. No matter, their invigorating performance and Claude Strilio’s unique and powerful voice gave the old-school, alternative dance music enough life to transcend the anachronism of ’90s music being performed in the 2010’s.

Over the years, this band from New Jersey has seen variations in its line-up. Recently, the line-up had come full circle to its original (including Claude Strilio, Paul Rijnders and Dania Morales), but Gary Strilio [Claude’s brother] performed excellently in Morales’s stead. He and Rijnders stood at synth stands on either side of the stage, activating the loops and playing those old-school synth bass lines and arpeggiated chords. Rijnders also occasionally switched over to guitar throughout the show, while Claude Strilio held the center of the stage.

Then, just as suddenly as the magic had begun one hour prior, it ended at about 11:20. A moment of disorientation occurred as the lights of the dance floor were promptly switched back on, and the DJ resumed spinning. I suppose this sort of adjustment is to be expected with time travel; however, just as quickly as one reality ended and another began, the music never missed a beat, and the crowd, which had been dancing while focused on the band, now returned its focus to the dance floor.

While the past is the past, Anything Box is still out there. Any long time fans or neophytes who visit their website and sign up to be on their mailing list will receive a link to a free download of an EP consisting of remixes of some of their classic tunes as well as a few new songs. Interestingly, band leader Claude Strilio, who also creates the artwork for the album covers, is also engaged in an ongoing experimental film series called Fan Tapes and Time Travel, which consists of fan footage edited together from throughout Anything Box’s history. The band’s cryptic nature doesn’t end there, but in order for music lovers to forge their own connection to the band [known by fans as “Abox”] and its mystique, they should go exploring on their own. In doing so, they may become, as Vonnegut says in Slaughterhouse-Five, “unstuck in time.”

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