Philadelphia Grand Jury, John Steele Singers @ The East Brunswick Club, Melbourne (11/04/2010)
Playing back-to-back shows at the East Brunswick Club over the weekend were Philadelphia Grand Jury or ‘the Philly Jays’, as they are affectionately known to the herds of shaggy haired Uni students of the male variety who showed up in droves. Wedged in between their beer-swilling midst were some of us who were (a) chicks (b) born well before the 90s and one who was© all of the above (ie. me).
Following on from the John Steel Singers and their leisurely brand of psychedelic indie pop, the ‘Philly Jays’ (heck, when in Rome…) eased into what could be their final Melbourne show for some time before they relocate to the UK with Wet Winter Holiday. Having just played the Moonee Valley Sounds Loud Festival earlier that day, the band started off the show at a much more subdued pace than expected.
What exactly did I expect? Perhaps it’s the wild-eyed, bearded bassist/keyboardist/guitarist Joel Beeson (aka MC Bad Genius). Or the crazed jibberings of vocalist/guitarist Simon Berckelman (aka Berkfinger). Or the bizarre instalment of Calvin Welch of erstwhile disco, R&B and jazz drumming fame and who, by some freak turn of events, has found himself a long way away from home-town Michigan and a part of this Sydney indie outfit. The point is: I expected not to know what to expect.
Tame beginnings aside, next up from the Philly Jay’s lineup was No You Don’t, a hard-hitting straight-talker of a track that seemed to fire up most of the crowd fitting the description of (d) none of the above. Leading into Ready to Roll, most of the rest of us followed suit with at least a bit of glass tapping, head nodding or even a bit of thigh slapping.
Midway through Growing Up Alone, stage theatrics began as Beeson and Welch stopped dead in a freeze frame as the music cut out and Berckelman staged some sort of mock argument with the sound guy. Pity it was impossible to hear what the sound guy was saying.
Slowing back up with Phillip’s Not in Love With You, charismatic drummer Welch seemed to channel Merv Hughes as he stood up and started waving his drumsticks in the air from side to side, getting the crowd to sway their arms about in unison. Not just fun and games, Welch’s veteran prowess shone through in the edge he brings to tracks like When Your Boyfriend Comes Back to Town. Proof that you can take the man out of the disco and randomly plonk him into an Aussie band decades later, but you can’t take the disco out of the man.
Unsurprisingly, Going to the Casino (Tomorrow Night) and I Don’t Want to Party (Party) were easy crowd-pleasers. Yet it was the less showy but just as catchy The Good News that took honours for the night’s stand-out crowd favourite.
For the encore, the East Brunswick Club was treated to a Philly Jay’s cover of Jay-Z’s 99 Problems. Berckelman jumped off stage and into the crowd as mass hilarity and an i-phone photo frenzy ensued.
All in all, it is easy to see why Philly Jay’s are a force to be reckoned with in the Australian indie scene. The band boasts a dedicated Aussie fan base and delivers a sound likely to appeal to an American market the Philly Jays are about to flirt with as they set off on a US tour later in the month. Some other elements, however, need a lot of fine tuning. Particularly the pre-recorded MCing in-between tracks and the staging of pretend sound mishaps. Better yet, these add-on extras should be left out of Philly Jay’s live shows altogether to let the boys loose with whatever the hell they feel like doing on the night so that punters can really expect the unexpected.