If you never experienced the live show of New Jersey band Rye Coalition, then you really missed something special. They channeled the energy of hardcore punk with a rock and metal sensibility in a way that very few of their contemporaries ever did. Though they’re no longer as active a band as they once were, their story has been wonderfully told in the documentary film Rye Coalition: The Story of the Hard Luck Five.
Formed in 1994 as Rye, the band would come to be known for their wild, out of control shows, thanks in part to the comedic and often confrontational lead singer, Ralph Cuseglio, a guy with a keen sense of humor and a fearlessness that was often shunned in the indie-rock world. Dude was a rock star, even if he wasn’t a conventional rock star, and the band exuded confidence from the get-go. They would become more well known with their split EP with Karp, and their excellent debut album, 1996’s Hee Saw Dhuh Kaet, which were both supported by wild, endless touring. 1999’s The Lipstick Game gave them further exposure, and when they released their third album, On Top, recorded in Chicago with Steve Albini, the band was at the top of their game; their songs, tight, sudden flashes of cock-rock brilliance, performed by seemingly “Classic-rock loving Italian goombahs from Bergen who are into Jesus Lizard.”
This documentary follows the band’s story, and though they definitely had their share of bad luck—label problems, hassles on tour, personal issues—it’s not hard to agree with the assessment other people make in the film that the band isn’t necessarily any more ‘cursed’ than other hard-working indie-rock bands. The “hard luck,” however, is definitely there, as we witness a band who is seemingly, legitimately on the edge of breaking through to a mainstream audience, resulting in a major label deal for their third album, which was recorded with one of the band’s most well known champions, Dave Grohl. The sense of anticipation is palpable, yet it all falls apart, not due to anything the band has done, but because of changing times in the music industry. When the band experiences some hassles on the road for their finally-released fourth album, Curses, the tension builds, resulting in the band’s seeming breakup.
But by the end of the film, years have passed since that split, and the group is united in a goal to help celebrate a beloved family member and supporter of the band, who had requested the group get together for a show—which quickly turned into a sold-out show, and sporadic live appearances since then, with band members relaxed, the pressures of being “the next big thing” removed, the band can finally enjoy themselves, their friendships, and the music.
Ultimately, that’s the real story of Rye Coalition, the story of five dudes who were friends first and who grew into one of America’s top live bands, and even though it didn’t work out the way the prognosticators expected, it doesn’t matter, because sometimes, friendships and the love and bond they have with each other is the most important thing of all.