MUSIC IS ALIVE AND WELL IN THE CITY OF BROTHERLY LOVE
By Barry Brandow
Philadelphia is a city with a rich history. It was our nation’s first capitol, where the Declaration of Independence was signed and it’s where Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag. Two of our countries most treasured landmarks have their homes in Philly; the Liberty Bell and of course the Rocky statue. Even though it happened about 50 years ago, nobody will ever let us forget about that little “snowball incident.” Sorry Santa. Philly is also known for some fine delicacies like cheese steaks, soft pretzels and Tastykakes. There have also been some famous people from movies and television who once called Philly home: Kevin Bacon, Grace Kelly, Bradley Cooper, Sly Stallone and even Larry Fine of the Three Stooges.
The City of Brotherly Love also has a wealth of musical history as well. Kids were “hoppin and boppin” on American Bandstand while they all “twisted the night away” with the great Chubby Checker. Many highly acclaimed bands have catapulted to stardom from the Philly area in the 70’s and 80’s. Bands and artists such as Hall and Oates, Boys 2 Men, The Hooters, Patti LaBelle and Todd Rundgren have all risen to fame with roots in the Philly area. Speaking of “roots,” more recent bands like the Disco Biscuits, Halestorm, G. Love and Special Sauce and of course The Roots have all become premier award winning bands filling concert halls and venues all over the country. Now a new invasion of outstanding bands is ready to take their music to the next level and make an impact in music throughout the country. What’s especially gratifying is that these four bands perfect their craft from three different genres of the musical spectrum. SWIFT TECHNIQUE and NIK GREELEY AND THE OPERATORS bring high-powered fun and showmanship to the world of funk; OUT OF THE BEARDSPACE seduces the ears with their progressive blend of fusion, rock, and jazz; and POOL OF THORNS brings beauty and passion to the raunchy high powered metal class. All three bands are gaining momentum through sheer hard work and commitment to their music while creating a huge devoted following in the process.
One of the things I always look forward to when I go to a multi-band event like a festival is having an opportunity to see bands that I might not have seen perform otherwise. Every spring and summer South Jersey hosts an event called Camp Jam. Camp Jam is a three-night festival that offers national headliners such as Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, The Main Squeeze and New Riders of the Purple Sage as well as local up and coming artists and bands. That is where I was first introduced to OUT OF THE BEARDSPACE. The only thing I wanted to do after the headliner was finished on the main stage at the end of night three was head back to the campsite, chill with some friends and then call it a night, but my friend Joe convinced me to join him to see the late night band performing on the pavilion stage. I agreed to head over, but said I would probably only hang for two or three songs and then I was going to bail.
Well, over an hour later when Out Of The Beardspace finished their set I wanted to hear more! I was blown away by their ambitious musicianship and talent. Both guitar players were insanely impressive, the bass player rolled amazing bass lines, the keyboard players hands were a blur and I could have sworn that the drummer had two extra arms. I remember the craftsmanship and chemistry of the music being so tight. It was kind of a cross between Lotus, Particle, Zappa and even early day Pink Floyd or King Crimson all rolled together. It can easily be described as a “psychedelic explosion of sound” that will certainly move you. Zach LoPresti’s amazing guitar work was incredibly impressive as he commanded the foot and effects pedals like a tap dancer throughout the performance with great precision. As a band they have been playing since 2011, but prior to that they had experience touring around the country and Germany as All-Star students jamming for Paul Green’s School of Rock in Cherry Hill, NJ. The All-Star program is an honor only the most elite students get to partake in. Along with their aggressive touring schedule which recently had them sharing the stage with bands such as Moon Hooch, Consider the Source, EOTO and Lettuce, Out of the Beardspace hosts its own annual DIY (do it yourself) festival called “Beardfest.” Beardfest is an event that evolved from huge backyard parties to a much larger event that hosted around 1000 people this past summer with close to 20 bands at a campground in Hammonton, NJ. The event was such a success that plans have already been made to expand again in 2016. I recently had the opportunity to see these guys play again when they opened for The Main Squeeze in Philadelphia a few weeks ago and I was blown away. I was again impressed by their talent as musicians and also by their craftsmanship as songwriters and showmanship as performers. It became obvious how they were able to develop such a loyal following that continues to grow. It’s only a matter of time until word spreads around the country about these guys. I grabbed a copy of their latest release “Intent To Express Pt 1” and enjoy it more each time I listen to it. For band information, tour dates, and how you can download their impressive body of work go to their website www.beardspace.com. For information about Beardfest go to www.beardfest.net and “LIKE” their page on Facebook to get current news and information.
Another band that I’m confident you’ll be hearing many great things from is Philly’s “First Family of Funk,” SWIFT TECHNIQUE. Swift Technique is another band I was made aware of at Camp Jam last summer. I was so impressed and excited about their set I “featured” them in my article about the event. Ever since Camp Jam they have been gaining momentum and growing in popularity, headlining many local shows and events as well as supporting some of the biggest bands in the music industry. When you go to a Swift Technique show you can expect to hear great music and have a night full of fun! I have seen them several times since then and can testify that that is absolutely the case. I’d say it’s very reminiscent of the atmosphere you’ll witness at any George Clinton show, like one big house party. When you look up at the stage everyone in the band is having a blast, and when you look around the crowd everyone is dancing and having a good time. It’s very contagious. You might even question who is having more fun, the band or the crowd. There is one guarantee; you know you will have a blast!
Since forming in 2007, Swift Technique has quickly established themselves as one of the top live music forces in the Philadelphia area opening for acts such as Wu Tang Clan, Soulive, The Meters and Kung Fu. They fill the stage with a bevy of talented musicians including Jake Leschinsky on bass, Andy Bree on Guitar, John Perry on the drums, Jay Davidson on the keys, a triple threat on horns with Greg Rosen on trumpet, Ian Gray on trombone and sax player Jason O’mara. They also consist of two energetic, enthusiastic, and talented vocalists Chelsea ViaCava and Nik Greeley who keep the party going at full speed all night long. ViaCava has a beautiful and dynamic voice with endless energy, while Greeley constantly establishes himself as one of the area’s top show-stopping front men. Greeley, along with Out of the Beardspace members Sam Gutman on keys and Zach LoPresti on guitar, join forces with the Swift Technique horn section Gray, Rosen and O’mara to form the equally funky super group Nik Greeley and The Operators (also capable of breakout status) who recently opened for George Clinton last month and will also be sharing the stage in support of Robert Randolph in early March.
Greeley has also been a part of an event called Bomber Jam (an annual fundraiser that raises money for the National Brain Tumor Society) playing an awesome solo acoustic set. The tireless front man is always willing to lend his vocal talents and energy for a worthy cause. Speaking of worthy causes, Swift Technique often lends their time and energy to fundraising and charity events such as the “Music For All Ball,” “Spruce Foundation Gala” and the “Opple Topple Fest,” supporting Toys for Tots.
Swift Technique has also received great reviews on their most recent release “You Boys Be Aight” and is currently working on a new release due in early 2016. Along with their superb original music they also do a stellar job covering many songs in their live performances. Their amazing and uncanny versions of Mark Ronsons “Uptown Funk,” Chili Peppers “Power of Equality” and BB Kings “Thrill is Gone” have had music lovers in awe every time they perform. They started off 2016 with a bang as they opened for Karl Densons Tiny Universe on January 2nd at the Ardmore Music Hall just outside of Philly and are scheduled to open for The Disco Biscuits when they play The Filmore in early February. Their Halloween show which featured a recreation of the classic duel between Prince’s Revolution and Morris Day, made famous in the movie “Purple Rain.” is being brought back by very popular demand on February 20th to the Brooklyn Bowl in Brooklyn, NY. I missed it the first time, but I won’t miss it this time. They are a very enthusiastic band with a very ambitious show schedule. It’s pretty certain they’re playing somewhere in the Philly/NY area in some capacity or another. For music, information, merchandise and tour dates for Swift Technique go to www.swifttechnique.com. For Nik Greeley and the Operators find them on Facebook, hit “like” and get updated information, pictures and video on a regular basis.
I didn’t know much about the band POOL OF THORNS before I saw them perform at this year’s Bomber Jam Musicians BBQ and Fundraiser that took place in Medford, NJ (an event that raised close to $10,000 for the National Brain Tumor Society) this past September. I had heard of them, but I wasn’t at all familiar with their music or history. Bomber Jam, in its 4th year of existence, usually has more traditional rock bands and musicians from the South Jersey area performing at the all-day event. I was intrigued to see how an alternative metal band would be received. As a big fan of Black Sabbath since my younger days, my excitement grew as I watched the band setting up for their performance. Supplying their own lighting and fog, and also donning masks, my initial feelings were ‘regardless of their musical talents this will be pretty entertaining.’ With Sam Ross on bass, Will Tee and Zach on guitar and Carlo on drums, Pool of Thorns kicked their set into gear with heart-pounding rhythms and grinding guitars before vocalist Domino Del Sol made her first appearance. The sultry metal songstress, dressed in exotic metal attire, approached the mic and from her first note I was immediately captivated by both her beauty and her passionately hypnotic vocal style. Her affection for the music she was performing was intensely obvious. Their set, which included impressive original material as well as a few rearranged classic songs made a very favorable impression on me and many of the others in attendance. Not only was their set visually entertaining, but very musically superb as well. When their set concluded I didn’t hesitate to tell them how excited I was to highlight their performance in the article I was writing about the event. I also turned “fanboy” and asked Domino if she would please take a picture with me and she gladly obliged. She also rewarded me with a copy of their most current five song release on CD that has been in my CD changer ever since.
Since Bomber Jam I have listened to their awesome CD several times and researched as much as I could about this group of talented musicians. I was extremely impressed with what I learned. Since forming in January of 2009, Pool of Thorns has been earning a reputation for being one of the hardest working bands in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area and lately as one of the most steadily performing bands on the east coast. That is evident in their schedule that has them playing two to four shows a week both locally and as far as Baltimore, Chicago, South Carolina and parts of Florida. They have also supported bands such as Bret Michaels of Poison, Type O Negative and many others. Also, just like at Bomber Jam, P.O.T. has performed at over 70 free shows and fundraisers, devoting their time and energy for several worthy causes and charities without hesitation. All of this adds up to them often being considered and voted as one of the top overall bands in the Tri-state area by several music publications. They have a unique sound that I would classify as “metal with passion.” Grinding and thumping guitars and basslines reminiscent of a band like Slipknot with the melodic passion of bands like Tool and Nine Inch Nails. Not a bad comparison. It’s another easy comparison, but just like Amy Lee of Evanescence and Lzzy Hale of Halestorm, Domino Del Sol is a TRUE performer with a beautiful voice and a passion for the music she plays. Their songs “Changes,” “Behind The Rose” and a few others have gotten airtime on various college radio playlists and have also been getting recognition and steady play in the rotation on Sirius XM and Gas House radio. When Domino is not performing with the band she also devotes time gracing the runways of several fashion/music shows and projects in her local area. The tireless work ethic of all four band members combined with their talents and craftsmanship of the music they play has been very instrumental in Pool of Thorn’s success. I believe it is only a matter of time until these efforts are paid in spades and there will be no limit to what they can accomplish as a band. One of their recent notable accomplishments includes first place in a competition that earned them a spot on the soundtrack and a part in the zombie comedy “Blood Lodge” which stars a few former cast members from the Sopranos. Pool of Thorns will be receiving accolades at the Elephant Talk Indie Music Awards (A Benefit for Autism) taking place on the 26th at the Boneyard Bar and Grill in Atlantic City, NJ… winning the 2015 People’s Choice Award. Domino will also receive an award for 2015’s Best Female Vocalist and Bassist Sam Ross will also be inducted into Elephant Talks Music Hall of Fame.
They will soon be embarking on an extensive national tour that I recommend all music lovers to experience especially if you’re a fan of the metal genre. If you see them on a local venue schedule…GO!!!!! You will be thoroughly impressed and entertained. They are also releasing a new album in the early part of 2016 that I highly recommend everyone look out for. The buzz I’ve heard from a trusted source close to the bands is that it’s going to be awesome!! For tour dates, music, merchandise and information about this unique and ambitious band go to their Facebook page, hit “like” and get updates and information on a regular basis.
Even though I’m not a big fan of the cold weather in Philadelphia during the winter, it’s a warm feeling knowing that there is great music being performed somewhere just about every night in the City of Brotherly Love. These four bands are highly responsible for that. As they all grow in popularity and start to invade the music loving folks around the country they will all be blazing a mighty trail for the next crop of bands not far behind. No matter what your musical taste might be you’ll be able to enjoy one of these four bands playing close by every weekend. Even if you want to try something new you’ll be sure to enjoy a great night of music and fun seeing any one of these bands perform. When they start touring the USA and come to a venue near you, do yourself a favor and check them out. You might just discover a new “must see” band. I found four.