Lily Vakili Brings NJ-Rock to Mercury Lounge

Posted on: February 9th, 2022 at 5:08 am by

Photo: Charley Crespo

What follows is a checkup of the downtown music scene with Everynight Charley Crespo, prolific editor of The Manhattan Beat. Here is the latest entry.

Lily Vakili’s father was a plant geneticist whose career necessitated frequent relocation. Vakili says she was born in Honduras during a military coup. “In the hospital, my dad had to walk over injured soldiers to welcome me to the world. He’s always said that set the stage for everything else in my life.”

Vakili’s parents and five siblings lived in Honduras, Florida, Puerto Rico, Iowa and Thailand. She left home at age 16 and joined a theatre troupe in Minneapolis, eventually transitioning to working as a dancer, actor, summer stage director, choreographer, corn detasseler, night nurse, human rights researcher and waitress in New York City, Hoboken and Boston. In the 1980s, she pursued acting, landing small roles in a couple of made-for-television movies. Rooted since 2001 in Montclair, New Jersey, the mother of three became a biotech industry lawyer by day and a rocker by night.

Lily Vakili released two New Jersey-themed albums, Lake City Blues – Next 3 Exits in 2013 and Meadowlands in 2016, and played the New Jersey club circuit, backed frequently by the LV Band. In 2018, the rebranded Vakili Band released the Oh Alright album. The band’s second album, Walking Sideways, will be released later this month (February 25). The band presently consists of Vakili on vocals, with guitarist Ben St. Jack, harmonica player Joel Dorow, bassist Matt Jovanis and drummer Gordon Kuba.

If rock is dead, the Vakili Band is the wrong band in the wrong place and the wrong time. If rock has an audience in today’s world, then the Vakili Band is the right band at the right place and time. At Mercury Lounge last week (January 31), Vakili’s passionate vocals, St. Jack’s sizzling guitar licks, Dorow’s bluesy harmonica blasts and the rhythm section’s solid drive drew several formerly complacent listeners into a hip-shaking boogie mode. With its bluesy vocals and guitar approach, the Vakili Band successfully honed in on the spirit of the 1970s, when hard rock was king.

Can the Vakili Band help revive the rock scene in New Jersey and beyond? In the 1970s, similar-sounding bands like Twisted Sister, Another Pretty Face, Rat Race Choir and the Flossie Band ruled the then-thriving New Jersey club circuit. We may have to get past the pandemic to see where this goes.

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