In the desperate cold of mid-February Philadelphia, four Californians bravely ventured forth from a ’98 Dodge van, gear in hand, to play some summertime rock’n'roll in a decidedly less-than-summery environment. Just to underscore the situation, a pipe at Boot & Saddle froze and burst earlier in the day, provoking fears that the show would be cancelled or moved to another venue. Fortunately a repairman was called, and R5 Productions decided they would open the doors anyway. The Californians in question are the members of Francisco the Man, Los Angeles indie standouts that recently signed to Fat Possum. Scotty Cantino, Nestor Romero, Abdeel Ortega, and Brock Woolsey are enjoying their first national tour, having undertaken a few on the West Coast, a couple trips to SXSW, and one to CMJ as independent artists before taking advantage of their new label’s management and booking services this time around. Monday night they played in their first snowstorm in North Carolina, before hauling everything 8 hours north to Philly for a Tuesday night show, along with tourmate Jackson Scott, who was recently dropped from the same label.
The evening began, however, with local five-piece The Fantastic Imagination, whose powerful three-guitar onslaught and reverb-drenched vocals made for a wall of noise not easily reckoned with. They began their set by encouraging the touring bands and bar patrons in the adjacent room to join them in the back, then proceeded through a brief set of originals and one cover, hanging around for the remainder of the show with a few friends in tow. Submerging vocals in the mix behind massive distortion seemed to be the order of the evening, as Jackson Scott did the same with his distinct, nasal high notes. A few audience members were reminded forcibly of the Pixies, commenting loudly in the brief, deafening silences between songs, drawing looks from the audio and video recording team there working for Out of Town Films. Evidently Scott and his drummer both grew up in Pittsburgh, which they hailed as a sort of a homecoming, before acknowledging that that was a stretch and launching into another song. The music fit well with the Philadelphia scene, with hints of Kurt Vile and other local standouts in a similar vein.
As headliner, Francisco the Man brought the energy up a bit, hard-hitting rhythms and hints of danceable surf and punk rock submerged in a similar amount of distortion to the acts that went before. Cantino’s vocal was up a bit in the mix, however, and Romero’s occasional addition of harmony added a welcome musicality to the proceedings. This is not The Shins, however, though they share a similar West Coast pop sensibility; Cantino at one point removed his whammy bar and began hitting his guitar strings with it, producing one of many experimental sounds pouring out of the amps throughout the show. Their set was tight, sharp, and to the point, with even guitar solos, big rock endings, and slightly extended jams never taking a song over a few minutes. This is a band that appreciates the need to grab an audience’s attention and keep it in this smartphone era, and that they did quite well, drawing back many of those that had scattered when the sound man brought up the lights between sets, as well as a few more from the increasingly full barroom in the front. By the time the early show ended at 11, apparently to account for a noise regulation, there were several drunk girls dancing along in the front, backed by a quiet throng of head-nodding, foot-tapping music types, still rocking hoodies that looked as if they wore them no matter what the weather outside. The bands loaded out, the guys from The Fantastic Imagination encouraging Jackson Scott to try to go through New Jersey to fuel up more affordably as the tour heads to U Street Music Hall in Washington, DC tonight and Aurora in Providence, Rhode Island the next day. As the tour continues north, here’s hoping they bring some Southern and Western warmth along with them!
By Dave Fox | Philadelphia Ambassador | @philosofoxthedj | Beat-Play and Music Without Labels, LLC