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The Jersey City natives of Rye Coalition take center stage in this documentary about relentless drive (it plays for one night only tonight at the Grand Illusion). The five came together in the 1990s as teenagers who loved music, but couldn't play, so at first it was about trading tapes, and then it was about bashing things out until songs took shape. They released cassettes and toured the basements and dives of America.

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Some called it emo, but to me, their early material plays more like hardcore filtered through a math rock sensibility (they would move in more of a classic rock direction in the 2000s). There's screaming, sharp angles, and odd time signatures. To judge from the abundant concert footage that saturates the film, they consistently cut loose on stage: cracking jokes, setting things on fire, and running around like lunatics.

To make ends meet, the players worked in liquor stores and drove taxis (among other jobs) while living with family members. As the grind took its toll, they decided to make Rye a full-time gig. They worked with Steve Albini and Dave Grohl, toured with Queens of the Stone Age, and signed to a major label (in addition to Albini and Grohl, speakers include Jared Warren from Karp and Big Business, Tim Green from Nation of Ulysses, and Jon Theodore from QOTSA).


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And then it all went to shit. Some bands would've given up at that point, but Rye forged a compromise between staying together and breaking up. Surface details aside, theirs isn't a unique story, but it's one filmmakers will continue to tell for years to come, because musicians will never learn: the music business isn't about friendship and love. It isn't even about music. It's a fucking business.

Backed by a successful Kickstarter campaign, Jenni Matz's Rye Coalition: The Story of the Hard Luck 5 marks the group's 20th anniversary. Though longtime fans are sure to find it of interest, I hope young musicians add it to their itinerary, as well; not as an instructional manual, but rather as a how-not-to guide.

Rye Coalition: The Story of the Hard Luck 5 plays tonight and only tonight with director Jenni Matz in attendance—find Movie Times here.