Breaking Benjamin bassist Aaron Bruch taking over vocals for Pan.a.ce.a reunion in Wilkes-Barre on April 11
Last week, a big benefit show was announced for Bret Alexander, one of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s most loved and respected musicians. Headlining this massive lineup of local artists is a series of reunion performances, and one more that was just added today will be a welcome surprise for fans of Breaking Benjamin and local rock music.
Pan.a.ce.a will reunite for the first time in nine years at “BANDing Together for Bret” at The Woodlands Inn in their hometown of Wilkes-Barre on Saturday, April 11, though the lineup will be a bit different this time. Members Paul Young, Matt Jaffin, and Mike Morgan will be joined by Johnny Jones of Ashfall and Aaron Bruch of Breaking Benjamin, with Bruch taking over lead vocals in place of Tim Farley, who currently lives in Austin, Texas.
Bruch was previously a member of local bands like Pan.a.ce.a and OurAfter before he started performing with Breaking Benjamin frontman Ben Burnley in 2013, eventually joining his multi-platinum rock band when Burnley reformed the group in 2014 after a hiatus. When Pan.a.ce.a was still active, they opened for Breaking Benjamin, and then-Breaking Benjamin guitarist Aaron Fink produced three songs on Pan.a.ce.a’s second album. Last September, Pan.a.ce.a updated their Facebook page to say, “Due to overwhelming calls, emails, and harassment by Aaron Bruch, the entire Pan.a.ce.a catalog is now available on all digital formats,” showing just how much Bruch still loves this music.
Formed in 2002, Pan.a.ce.a was one of the most popular hard rock acts in the area in the early 2000s with two major releases, “All or Nothing” and “We the Broken.” They signed a management deal with Terry Selders (The Badlees) of Susquehanna Entertainment and opened for national acts like Alice in Chains, Velvet Revolver, Hinder, 10 Years, and Rev Theory while packing local venues. Though they had their own ambitions of being a national touring act, the band suddenly disbanded in 2011, and Farley went in a different musical direction and released two indie/alternative rock EPs as “Farley” before he moved out of the area in 2014.
Bret Alexander recorded all of Pan.a.ce.a’s music, so it’s appropriate that they’re joining a lineup filled with musicians who worked with and were influenced by him since his career began as a studio engineer in the late 1980s and later rose to national fame as the principal songwriter and guitarist of Selinsgrove rock band The Badlees with their hit album “River Songs” in 1995. As the owner of Saturation Acres in Dupont, he has recorded many notable NEPA artists, including Breaking Benjamin’s debut EP. Before Pan.a.ce.a released “We the Broken” in 2009, Farley told PA Music Scene, “Bret Alexander – he’s a singer, songwriter, producer, engineer, consummate professional, and he consistently puts out fantastic work. If you want the best, you go to the best!”
In that same interview, Paul Young added, “The recording process with us is quite different than others. We actually spend a few months working on the songs in pre-production with our producer even before we step into a studio. It makes for better songs, better preparation, and making the recording process a smooth one. We have 98 percent of the groundwork laid out; the rest is just the icing on the cake! … Bret makes the experience just that – an experience! He is the man! We work hard, but we also have a lot of fun in the process. It is also great that Bret is a fabulous songwriter, one hell of a guitar player, an all-around great musician and, foremost, a great person.”
While Farley not participating in the reunion may be a disappointment to some fans, Bruch is a solid choice as a replacement. Aside from being a former member and big fan to this day, he performed for years as a solo artist, and now he has a prominent role in Breaking Benjamin, handling bass and backing vocals as well as singing a few songs himself at all their live shows as they tour the country. Burnley said in interviews promoting their sixth album, “Ember,” that, in the past, he largely wrote everything himself, but with this record, he let the current lineup of Bruch, guitarists Jason Rauch and Keith Wallen, and drummer Shaun Foist make more “significant contributions to the music,” such as Bruch writing the music and vocals for the chorus of the first single, “Red Cold River.”
“Everybody that’s in the band now is deliberately handpicked,” Burnley said, specifically pointing out that “Keith and Aaron are really, really amazing singers. That’s kind of what the band always needed.”
Organized by music journalist and Music on the Menu radio host Alan K. Stout and AJ Jump, drummer and co-owner of Karl Hall in Wilkes-Barre, “BANDing Together for Bret” also features reunion performances from Underground Saints, Mere Mortals, and the original lineup of Graces Downfall, along with Aaron Fink, Dustin Douglas & The Electric Gentlemen, Joe Burke & Co., the Husty Bros., The Boastfuls, Ed Randazzo, Tom Flannery, Joe Cigan, Tony Halchak, Ellie Rose, Jeremy Hummel, Nyke Wan Wyk, k8, and an all-star musical tribute featuring former Badlees and current Gentleman East members Ron Simasek and Paul Smith.
The 21+ concert runs from 4 p.m.-10:30 p.m. on April 11 in the Grand Ballroom of The Woodlands (1073 Hwy. 315, Wilkes-Barre). Tickets go on sale this Saturday, Feb. 1 for $15 in advance via Eventbrite or $20 at the door. There will be raffle prizes from local businesses and a rock auction with items from bands like Breaking Benjamin.
Last week, the news was made public that Alexander has a genetic kidney condition that requires a transplant. His cousin will donate his kidney, but he will be unable to perform or work in the studio for a while after he undergoes the operation in February, so “BANDing Together for Bret” will help him cover his expenses during his recovery.
In the meantime, a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign has started for Alexander’s medical fund. In just over a week, $5,850 has been raised of its $10,000 goal.
“For all of these years, [Alexander] has been the heart, the soul, and the center of this musical community. From The Badlees to his great solo work to The Cellarbirds to Gentleman East, he has given us some of the best music that we have ever heard. And as a producer, he has helped hundreds of other artists. And when it comes to charity events, he has always been there,” Stout wrote on his blog.
“To say we owe him one would be an understatement. We’ve all owed him one for a long time.”
Learn more about Bruch and his long career as a local musician in an exclusive interview in Episode 114 of the NEPA Scene Podcast: