Muscle Tough, a bass-driven trio that can perhaps best be classified as a metal punk jam band, played one of the most dynamic, engaging, and unique opening sets that I’ve seen in as long as I can remember on Thursday night at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, NJ. (Actually, I do remember the last time I was so moved by an opening set and it was when Cage The Elephant opened for Beck in 2019.) Headlining the 2023 Asbury Jams Concert Series this past Thursday was Yam Yam, a five-piece party band who unbelievably lifted what were already soaring spirits with its trademark funk and jams.

Muscle Tough describes itself as “Philadelphia’s premier Futuristic Funk Fusion trio” and rumor has it that its name was derived as an alliterative play on words for the Hebrew phrase “Mazel Tov” meaning congratulations. Neither of those tidbits, however, does as much to clue you into Muscle Tough’s sound as does the Korn t-shirt proudly worn by eye-catching bassist Jonathan Colman. Appropriately weird for his chosen vocation, Colman has a stage presence and smile that makes audience members feel as if they’re in the show as opposed to at the show, a distinction that quite frankly makes all the difference in the world when playing to a room of first-time listeners and potential fans.

Hitting his Serek bass hard and with a high dose of …well, oddity, Colman used every last inch of space in the groovy pocket so liberally afforded him by rhythm partner Joe Baldacci. Playing a stripped-down kit with nothing more than a snare, a floor tom, and a kick drum plus a few cymbals, kudos to Baldacci for not just making his borrowed kit pop all night but also for delivering a kickass drum solo that had the room getting down in overdrive.

Rounding out the trio, guitarist Ross Bellenoit played in, on, and around his rhythm section with a dazzling variety of soundscapes and leads that added some wow factor to the already high fun quotient. For those keeping score, a jazz-style drummer, an oddball (in the best possible way) bassist with a proclivity for metal/punk, and a funk/fusion guitarist made for an intoxicatingly unique–and fun–sound that I can’t wait to hear more of, preferably late into the night.

Related: Muscle Tough Talks Collaborating With DJ Logic & The Horn Section At Karnival Of The Arts [Interview/Video]

After the kind of high-energy opening set that no band really wants to follow, fans couldn’t be blamed for thinking the best part of the show was behind them. However, just as Beck was able to headline above Cage The Elephant and still blow minds, so, too, did Yam Yam live up to its top billing. Considering that I was expecting a one-size-fits-all jam band–you know, the kind who plays endless songs that all sound alike and none of which are memorable–I was even more pleasantly surprised to hear them fit more into the funk with a touch of disco and psychedelia boxes than the now somewhat standard tension, release, rinse, and repeat jam band box.

Similar to Muscle Tough before them, Yam Yam’s sound seemed to be built around the low-end notes of bassist Xander Moppin. On the back of Moppin’s energetic and funky basslines and drummer Tyler Fuller’s upbeat timekeeping, the highly engaged crowd never slowed down as the dance floor seemed to swell in time with Michael Dempsey’s organ. Tom Fuller (drummer Tyler’s brother) added a touch of psychedelia on guitar as the peaks soared along with Jason Mescia’s saxophone. At first confused by the litany of sounds coming from Mescia’s tenor sax, it all seemed to click when I noticed him using a full pedal board to coax what would’ve been otherwise unusual sounds coming out of a brass instrument.

Interestingly enough, both of these new-to-me bands that instantly achieved don’t-miss status were part of a summer concert series known as Asbury Jams. Originally called Jams On The Sand when it debuted in 2016, it was then a free series of beach concerts that featured acts such as Soul Monde, Marco Benevento, WOLF!, The Hip Abduction, and more before it was interrupted by COVID in 2020.

Jams On The Sand then regrouped, retooled, and rebilled as well as moving across the street to the famed Wonder Bar with a remarkably high value and low-cost cover of just $10. The point is, I’ve been *discovering* new music for seven years now thanks to Jams and ElmThree Productions and am grateful for the continuation and proliferation of this concert series. Asbury Jams concludes its 2023 season with Of Good Nature this coming Thursday.

Check out some photos of Muscle Tough below from photographer Joey Lugo.

Muscle Tough – “Oracle Door” – 8/24/23

[Video: Jonathon Colman]