i99Radio

i99 Radio Concert Series Recap: Four bands (plus one) you need to see right now

We all want to tell this story.

You walk into a small bar.  It’s empty and at first glance a little scary. The number of exposed pipes in the ceiling is surpassed only by the number of neck tattoos. A band is setting up, but not even on the stage.  Their second-hand equipment is on the floor, in front of the stage, cluttered about like a neighborhood rummage sale.  You decide it may be safer to have one beer then split than to turn around immediately and run out the door.  In the meantime, you debate if using the bathroom is worth the risk, presuming you could even figure out which was the men’s room.  As you are doing everything in your power to not touch anything in the disaster area called a restroom, you hear the band starting to play through the door, and you almost can’t believe your ears.  This band is good.  Really good.  As you head back towards the stage, it keeps getting better. Now you can see that they are performing as if there are thousands instead of just you and the few millennials that haven’t decided if they care enough to look up from their smart phones.  Is this band in the right bar?  They sweat, bleed, throw beer, and destroy instruments.  After the set, you sit with them at the bar and just talk.  You drink and laugh, and then head on your way. You don’t even stay for the headliner.  Three months later that band is all over the radio.  And you saw them first.

For any diehard music fan, discovering one of today’s most popular recording artists before they become famous is the dream.  In Philly, you can only have wished that you had caught Dr. Dog, The Roots, or The War on Drugs when they were starting out on the underground scene.  A mischief of local bands is colonizing in dank basements and dive bars and they are becoming more brazen every day.  They are tunneling for sunlight, wanting to feel that first bit of warmth on their skin.  They have the whole world in front of them, but they need your loving care.  The Fishtown section of Philadelphia is host to a bevy of small clubs packed with bands waiting for you to show them that light of day.  Johnny Brenda’s, Bourbon and Branch, Kung Fu Necktie, and The Barbary.  Once a rundown neighborhood, this section of Philly is now the new musical Bohemia.  It still has its rats and its rubble, but it is home to hope and the promise of what lies outside of this riverside town. Artists from Billy Joel to Judah and the Lion have credited Philadelphia and their radio stations for their success.  Seattle had Grunge.  New York and LA had Punk.  It’s our time.  The time of the Philadelphia Rat Scene.

Wait.  Did he just say what I think he said?  Rat Scene?  That sounds pretty shitty.

Well, rats do thrive in the dark and in basements.  And if you have ever visited the Kensington section of Philly, they can also be the size of small children.  But rats are more than just rodents that need to be exterminated. Rats have risen to a level of celebrity status.  Michael Jackson’s Ben had a movie career and more recently, Pixar gave us Remy in Ratatouille.  Aside from the title being a clever integration of biological taxonomy and gourmet eating, ratatouille is an apt metaphor for anything one might consider a melting pot of sorts – a stew containing a smattering everything, served hot or cold – just like the Fishtown music scene. It contains all parts of Philadelphia’s lush musical legacy.  Soul, Rock, Prog, Synth, Alternative, Punk, and Metal.  It is all over the place, but it pairs so well together.  Philadelphia once served as only a stop for bands between DC and NY, but now it stands alone.  i99 Radio set an example this past weekend by hosting their first concert event series at The Barbary, featuring four bands you need to know in the Philly area.  Four bands that you can meet before they hit the big time.  Because I am feeling rather generous, as a bonus, I am going to throw in a fifth band that was not on this card that you also need to see.  It’s your ground floor entrance and here are the doors you can open.

Nothing Vital – When you are the first of four bands to take stage and you can get a mosh pit started on the floor, you know it’s going be a good night.  This band has gone through some changes recently with their former drummer, David Giller, becoming their lead singer and welcoming Chris Slabicki on the skins. Raw, punk-like energy from their set filled The Barbary with a sound that is reminiscent of early Shinedown or Circa Survive.  Heavy lyrics combined with a light spirit enable these guys to achieve the number one goal of any band – to have fun. Opening bands should be like shot of adrenaline to get the crowd going.  Their new lineup is young, but it is still growing.  You get the opportunity to grow with them.

David Giller of Nothing Vital. Photo by Fran Chismar

Karmalatta – Emulating everything I loved about female-fronted Indie Rock of the 90’s, Karmalatta is sweet and soulful with a little bit of that slacker bravado of college radio.  Songs roll by like the landscape through the window of a sunny, weekend drive.  Singer Beth Arnold Gilbert had such a Susanna Hoff vibe, had she looked at me sideways out of the corner of her eye I might have audibly gasped.  After the bolt of Nothing Vital, Karmalatta leveled me off and grounded me with a laid back and chill set.  I found myself closing my eyes and just swaying along to Beth’s voice.  It was the first time I had seen them and hopefully not my last.

Beth Arnold Gilbert of Karmalatta. Photo by Fran Chsimar

Daddylap – This is a solid band with excellent songwriting, but I can’t help but get the feeling they haven’t written their best stuff yet.  Elements of prog, rock, alternative, funk, and punk-pop are delivered with the luminous energy of lead singer Jessie Sabella.  They can set your mind free with a rollicking, Tool-inspired jam like “Submerged” and then wake you up with the rally call of “Railing,” channeling equal parts Red Hot Chili Peppers and Led Zeppelin.  Daddylap has a way of bringing you to a boil and then kissing you on the forehead and rocking you into oblivion.  The ability to take you on that kind of journey is a rare and special gift.  It is a lofty aspiration that can leave you flat on your face if you make one wrong step.  The groundwork is there, and the foundation is strong.  When the walls go up, it’s going to be fun watching them rip the fuckers down.

Jessie Sabella of Daddylap. Photo by Fran Chismar

Saint Slumber – I first saw Saint Slumber in December as the opening band in a five-band card.  I had never heard of them, and to be honest, I was there for other bands.  As soon as they played their first note, I had that “moment.”  I got a little lost in the dreaminess of their sound, the soft lights, and the hypnotic beat.  I may have even had a bit of a man crush.  As soon as their set was over, I started asking where these guys came from.  A month later, they were opening the Radio 104.5 Winter Jawn on the same stage as The Struts and Dashboard Confessional and holding their own.  The love followed them to the Barbary on this night, and the fans were swooning as Joshua Perna set the stage with his vocals.  This guy knows how to front a band.  The underlying bass line of Adam Jessamine adds an R&B groove to their dreamlike soundscape.  Saint Slumber’s music is good, but their live show is so much more.  You still have the opportunity to see them in intimate settings.  Don’t miss your chance.

Joshua Perna of Saint Slumber. Photo by Fran Chismar

Bonus: Andorra – The self-anointed “Boozehounds” bring back the days of bar-soaked rock and roll.  These guys are the real deal.  Not only do I consider these guys the godfathers of the current local Philly Rat Scene, but I consider them my friends.  I have witnessed guitarist and lead singer Kevin McCall jump onstage with his pedal board to help another band.  They promote shows that can showcase what Philadelphia has to offer and help take bands to the next level.  The competition is friendly, but the friendships are serious.  I have never seen any band work harder to promote an entire scene.  Of course, none of this would matter nearly as much if the music wasn’t good.  In fact, the music is great.  I was drawn to them by all-out rockers like “Habits,” but stayed because of the sentimentality of songs like “Brother” and “Can’t Run Forever.”  I love these guys and I have the feeling you will, too.

Kevin McCall of Andorra. Photo by Fran Chismar

Being able to tell that story is like winning the lottery.  You gotta play to win.  Your homework assignment is to go out and see a local Philly band.  It doesn’t have to be one of the ones I have just written about.  Go see Civil Youth, Resilient, Tiny Hueman, The Great Enough, Egocentric Plastic Men, La Capitaña, or discover someone new on your own.  Most of the time $5 to $10 bucks will get you four or five great bands. This is roughly the same price as a specialty, triple, venti, soy, no-foam latte Starbucks creation – minus the vegan, soccer-mom motif.  As Butch Walker would say, “Stop running your mouth, get out of the house, get yourself downtown, and shake it all out tonight”.  Challenge a friend to do the same.  Support the clubs, support the bands, support the Rat Scene. Basically, give a fuck about what is going on in your backyard. i99 gives a fuck.  This was just the first of many i99 Radio Concert Series events.  i99 has set the table for you.  They laid out a musical feast that is fit for a king.  But as the proverb goes, “Give a man a Rat, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to find a Rat, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.”