I don’t know if being so late to Kyuss Lives! the other night made me more in a hurry to get to The M-Room for the start of the Small Stone Records showcase in the Philadelphia Film and Music Festival or not, but considering that it took me an hour to go seven exits sound on the Garden State Parkway, I was glad to have allotted myself the extra time. It being my second time in Philadelphia in a week, the drive was familiar, and once I got on the Turnpike, not bad in terms of traffic, but it was moot anyway, since (as I found out upon arrival) the first band wasn’t going on until 8:30 or so.
There were a couple years there where I never missed a Small Stone showcase at SXSW in Austin, Texas. It was 2004-2007, and I still consider those to be some of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Memories of those days and nights (hazy at times) came back throughout the course of the evening, but it was a different kind of vibe altogether in Philly. The M-Room is a small place, essentially a bar split in half with a pub on one side and the venue on the other. The space where the bands play is rectangular, and the stage has a kind of divot cut out the right side. For being small though, it’s got decent sound, as I found out earlier this year when I drove down to see Lo-Pan and Backwoods Payback do a show together.
Both of those bands played last night, as did Virginian rockers Freedom Hawk, New Orleanian mainstays Suplecs, and my current home-state heroes, Infernal Overdrive, who kicked off the night. Their set seems as good a place to start the notes as any, so here goes:
Infernal Overdrive: They’re Jersey‘s rock hope. They don’t yet have a record out (it’s reportedly being mastered), but I’ve heard some of the tracks, and if their live show is anything to go by, the thing is going to smoke. Fronted by the classic rock charisma of Marc Schleicher (ex-Cracktorch), they were perfect to start the night off, and their album has quickly become an anticipated release for 2012. As drummer Mike Bennett launched into a solo toward the end of their set, Schleicher — whose brother Keith more than ably rounds out the rhythm section on bass — jumped off the stage and danced his way through the crowd like a stoner rock James Brown. I’ve seen him do it before, but it’s awesome to watch someone have so much fun making good music, and with the show-stopping lead work of guitarist Rich Miele, Infernal Overdrive‘s potential was practically dripping from the ceiling. Killer band. If you don’t know their name yet and you dig the rock, you will.
Freedom Hawk: Hard to argue with straightforward fuzz rock topped with vocals that sound straight off Bark at the Moon, and that’s what Freedom Hawk does best. Their first album, which came out on MeteorCity was a little less realized than the new Holding On, but the four-piece’s development has taken a really interesting course. Like Sheavy before them, they’ve successfully partnered stoner riffing with an early Ozzy Osbourne vocal approach — guitarist T.R. Morton does it really well both live and on record — and their set was strikingly tight. The last time I saw them was a few years back in Manhattan, and they were all around a better band this time, guitarist/bassist brothers Matt and Mark Cave were in tandem enough to underscore the relation, and drummer Lenny Hines very casually kicked ass. Seriously. He was casual about it. I don’t know how else to say it than that.
Lo-Pan: I’ve said an awful lot about Lo-Pan this year, but what struck me most about this set, aside from the fact that I could see Lo-Pan twice in the same week and still be way into it, was “Bird of Prey.” Not three days after seeing Kyuss Lives! do “Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop,” and “Bird of Prey” was better. That sounds like hyperbole, but it’s honestly how I feel about it. So much of their material is upbeat, quick — it kind of rushes at you as they play it — and then the big slowdown in “Bird of Prey” is a completely different atmosphere and the hard-touring Ohio foursome have mastered it. Their set, as ever, was a highlight of the night. I don’t even know how many of their shows I’ve caught at this point — frontman Jeff Martin told me before the show started that he’d seen more of me in the last two months than his family — but the songs haven’t lost any of their power for the increasing familiarity, and I find I’m no less excited about Salvador today than I was when I first heard it toward the end of last year. If it wasn’t so much work on the band’s part, you could almost call it magic.
Backwoods Payback: Were the local draw as much as anyone was. The West Chester, PA, two-guitar four-piece play so loose that you think at any point the whole song could just come apart as they play it. What makes them works so well on stage is that it never does, but every time I’ve seen them, it’s looked like the band just wrote these songs an hour ago. They have a freshness and an energy to them, and I’m apparently not the only person who thinks so, as they pulled in the biggest crowd of the night. Of all the bands on Small Stone‘s roster currently (and it’s a packed lineup), I feel like Backwoods Payback could really go anywhere with their sound. They have a kind of country underpinning that’s bound to poke its head up sooner or later, and frontman Mike Cummings looks ready to break out an acoustic guitar at any moment. They’re a fascinating act to follow, but more than that, their rock is damn heavy. It was a tough spot for them to be sandwiched in between Lo-Pan and Suplecs, but they gave a solid showing, as always.
Suplecs: At one point during their set, Suplecs guitarist Durel Yates made mention of the band’s being used to playing three hours at a clip in New Orleans. Watching them both in Philly and earlier this week in Brooklyn, I believe it. The set they played at The M-Room wasn’t a completely different list of songs, but they definitely took it in a different direction, and where in Brooklyn, I’d been struck by the variety in their material — the jams, the punk, the stoner — last night it was more straight up rocking. “Gotta Pain,” “Stand Alone” and “Tried to Build an Engine” from Mad Oak Redoux were highlights, and they made it readily apparent why they were headlining instead of playing anywhere else on the bill. Having not seen them in at least six years (Tuesday notwithstanding), it was interesting and encouraging to see them as the statesmen of the Small Stone lineup, even though they just put out their first record through the label. They still threw some jams in at the end, and they killed, plain and simple. When they finished, the crowd shouted for one more song, and they delivered yet again. For a band that’s had so much bad luck in their time together — from the dissolution of Man’s Ruin Records just before a European tour to Hurricane Katrina more or less derailing them entirely — you couldn’t help but be glad they were getting their due at The M-Room. Great band. They need to put out another record before half a decade has passed.
I said my goodnights and marched back to my car — parked right outside Kung Fu Necktie about a block away — just in time to see the young woman in parallel parked in front of me back into it. There was no damage, and I’d just gotten a sandwich I was going to have for a late dinner, so I waved her off after only the most cursory of “What the hell?”s and made my way back to the hotel, to futz around with pictures and eventually crash out in anticipation of getting out before noon checkout today. The short version is it worked out.
One more night to go tonight. I’ll have a report at some point tomorrow of tonight’s bands — no later than Monday. For now, there are a few extra pics after the jump, so please, enjoy.
SuplecsBackwoods Payback, Freedom Hawk, Infernal Overdrive, Lo-Pan, Philadelphia, Small Stone, Suplecs