SPUN @ Triumph 1/20/12

Published on January 26th, 2012

What’s a guy to do on a Friday night in Philadelphia when a healthy mixture of ice and snow is falling and putting the entire city into almost cardiac state of standstill? I was wondering that same thing when I got a text message from a friend of mine telling me to come to Olde City to see a band. Normally, there are only two reasons I ever go to Olde City: to work, and to show my visiting friends the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. The friend that called me was a reliable source, so I ventured into the cobblestone capital of the northeast to check out the scene.

The band was playing at a bar/brewery called Triumph on Chestnut between Front and 2nd Streets. Upon entering this longer-than-it-is-wide establishment, I was immediately impressed by the old school décor and overall vibe of the bar. While it was packed to the gills with people ranging from smelly white kids with dreads to frat boys and sorority sisters, everyone seemed to be getting along famously while enjoying the home-brewed beers that Triumph has to offer (I personally recommend the Bengal Gold IPA…if you’re into beer that tastes like beer and has a fairly high alcohol content). The only problem I had with the place was the lack of walking (let alone dancing) room. Fortunately, my friend had been there before and took me to a completely separate bar upstairs that provided all the good beers on tap, reasonable sound for the music, and the always valuable dancing room. I digress, however, and unlike an STS9 show I won’t get you all worked up and leave you hanging, so without further ado, let’s get to the music.

My friend that brought me to Triumph said that the headlining act for the evening was a band called Spontaneous Underground, or SPUN to their fans. We got there while the band was still setting up, so I had some time to enjoy my Bengal Gold IPA and be social before the band started. However, when they actually did begin to play, all ideas of social protocol and manners left my head. An assortment of jazz and funk beats radiated up the stairs complemented by a rocking, walking bass line and keyboard flourishes John Medeski would be envious of (check out their rendition of “Bubblehouse” at the bottom of this post). Having only moved to the city in November and not knowing a lot of good local music, now finally hearing some after months of searching sent me cascading down the stairs to elbow my way into the “dance area” by the makeshift stage that is set up in the back corner of the bar (I initially thought it was a breakfast nook converted to a stage).

Spontaneous Underground is a Wilmington-based trio consisting of Dr. James Charles Dunstan Jr. on keyboards, Tony D’Amato on bass, and Jamie Newitt on drums. From the start of the show I knew I was in for something good based solely on how hard these three dudes were getting down. There was an electric energy that washed over the crowd and sent everyone into a funky dance throw down. There were only about 100 people in the place, but watching the band you’d have thought it was 100,000. The good Dr. on keys, clad in a very sweet throwback Randall Cunningham jersey, was throwing his head around in time with the music so hard I was afraid it was going to come right off of his neck. While D’Amato kept the bass lines funky and always on the move, the true highlight of the live performance was drummer Jamie Newitt. He sat behind his kit and blasted up-tempo beat after up-tempo beat for the better part of two hours. At one point, to begin a new song, he even stood up behind the skins and beat the hell out of the bass and snare before sitting back on his stool and helping launch the band back into a face-melting dance party.

While most of the material you’ll find online by SPUN is very heavily jazz-oriented, I think the boys got the vibe that this was a crowd who wanted to get down and they did not disappoint. Imagine if the New Deal and Lotus had a baby…that baby would be Spontaneous Underground and they let the dance party rage. I’m referring specifically to their strictly instrumental approach. There isn’t anything you can say with words that a tuned-in band can’t say with their instruments. An exceptionally cool part of the show came just as the bewitching of hour of two was about to be upon us and SPUN launched into a very dance-heavy jam that sounded very familiar, but I couldn’t place my finger on it. Stopping in mid-groove (which is something I do NOT do very often), I scanned my music soaked mind for what this song might be. And then I had it…they were playing a house-heavy version of “Come Sail Away” by Styx. As I resumed my dancing and discussed just how truly obscure of a song this was to be playing with a wook next to me, the band went right into “Tomorrow Never Knows” by the Beatles. As if paying homage to the greatest rock and roll band of all time wasn’t enough, they rounded out the song by jamming out what sounded like the “Star Wars” theme before finishing it all up with some more “Come Sail Away.” You want to talk about a mixture of songs that really have no business being together, but that can be blended seamlessly by three outstanding musicians, then look no further.

With my ears ringing, legs tingling, and head swimming, I walked out into the snowy evening satisfied and thoroughly drained. There truly is nothing better than walking into a show knowing nothing about a band and walking out a fan. I am now officially a fan of Spontaneous Underground and lucky for all of us they are playing again in the city on the 30th. I’ll be there. All I want to know is…who’s coming with me?

Bubblehouse by spontaneous underground

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