When your birthday falls at the beginning of February, it can be difficult to celebrate with some good live music. All the big name acts are either saving up for summer tour or they’re playing in venues too far away to reach on a limited budget. One of the reasons I was really psyched to move back to Philadelphia was because now there is a virtual smorgasbord of small venues and bands at my fingertips to quench that pre-summer music thirst. And, for the first time in my now 27 years of life on this planet, I was able to celebrate my birthday (it was the 7th…please send all birthday related e-mails directly to the website) with some live music.
As with my last two posts, the band I was checking out was one I had never heard of, but had heard good things about through my small network of Philly audiophiles. After a less than stellar bartending shift (yes, I worked on my birthday and yes I’m a bartender…raging doesn’t pay the bills…yet), I made my way to Silk City at 5th and Spring Garden. For those readers unfamiliar with Silk City, it might be easy to walk right by when in search of music with which to get down to. I mean, there is a diner attached. However, walking by would be a disservice to you because this is a place that has live music nearly every night of the week, good booze prices, and did I mention there is a diner attached? I’ve been to Silk City on many occasions to hear everything from live bands to dubsteb DJs and there are three things I have learned. Thing the first: it isn’t a huge place so dancing room can be at a premium. Secondly: it is hot in there. Period. Thing the third: if you’re looking to rage and have a good time with good people, this is the place to do it. Also, since it was my birthday and the drinks aren’t that expensive, my friends bought my drinks.
Tonight’s act was Grimace Federation, a Philly-based trio that instantly grabbed my attention from the moment I walked in the door. Upon entering Silk City, I immediately hit a wall of sound. Every inch, every nook and cranny, every crack in the floor was stuffed to capacity with a heavy electronic sound. With the intensity of the music, I expected to look on stage and find at least five people throwing down, but, to my surprise, there were only three. Guitarist/computer guy Wes Schwartz, bassist Jim Calvarese, and drummer Chris Wood were in full swing and creating some very bass heavy grooves from the tiny stage.
To watch these guys onstage is a show in itself. In between making sure the sounds coming out of the computer are what he wanted and slaying on his guitar, Schwartz took to the role of bandleader a la the 1940’s swing era. Using both vocal and hand signals he helped guide the rest of the band through transitions and when it hit just right he would pound his fist and dance as if he were in the crowd and not on the stage. Calvarese, in between switching from the bass and synthesizer, exuded the quiet cool that has become synonymous with the bass. No matter how dirty the beats got, he kept that simple waist rock down while keeping a watchful eye on the small, but appreciative crowd.
What really sold me on the band was drummer Chris Wood. Here is a guy that must have been plugged into an outlet somewhere because there is no way to keep his kind of energy up through an entire set. Every song brought new rhythms and they were always fast and complicated. He was beating the drums like they had done something nasty to his mother. What made watching him even more impressive was the fact that his eyes were nearly always closed. Not all the time, but enough that I thought he was going eventually miss a cymbal or something, but to his credit, he hit every beat and kept on trucking.
What you got from watching the three of them was that these are three dudes who are really into what they are doing. They weren’t afraid to dance when the beat dropped and they weren’t afraid to play with a melody until it got to where they wanted it. Time and time again they would build around a central theme and before anyone knew what was happening the song was at a peak that got the people moving. What is even more impressive is that the band is just now beginning to play around with their insanely bass-heavy electronic sound. The original lineup had two drums, two guitars, and even the occasional horn section. A lot of the material you can find online is a lot jazzier and melodic than the dance-inducing bombs they were dropping on Tuesday. The transition is a major one and if this is just the beginning of what Grimace Federation can do as a trio then I think we can look forward to getting down even harder as they continue to move forward.