Though Hebe Music closed down their BYO venue in Mount Holly and became the music lounge at Big Shots in Burlington, they remain committed to all ages shows in the DIY tradition. Bringing together a diverse variety of acts from throughout South Jersey and beyond, they’ve really nurtured a scene that continues to grow in both size and influence in the Philadelphia region. Friday night saw Midnight Mosaic, Solus Rex, Soraia, and Black Rue gather together for rock’n'roll madness far more memorable than the day’s shopping. The latter were first up, bringing their radio-friendly blend of nineties alternative and early aughts modern rock sounds to the dwindling happy hour crowd and early arrivals for the show. The atmosphere was welcoming and convivial, band members, bar staff, and regulars catching up and introducing newcomers almost as if it were a house party as the band played on. Making sure to thank the other acts and plug the free music available on their ReverbNation profile, the Flexitone Records act from suburban Perkiomenville ceded the stage to Soraia.
Soraia Mansour and her eponymous four-piece backing band have built a raw garage rock sound around Mansour’s impassioned performances both on stage and on record. For Black Friday, they focused on the more uptempo selections from their two studio albums, building the energy and drawing more of the crowd from the bar to the back room. While they put together a solid live in-studio album recently, they certainly surpassed its energy level on this particular occasion. Feeding off of the crowd, Mansour, guitarist John Glaubitz, bassist Travis Smith, keys man Jack Farracchio, and drummer Jeff Leonard worked up quite a sweat, driving riffs, screaming solos, and howling vocals conspiring together to get some movement out of the seated crowd. Their quest was successful, bringing several people to their feet to sing and dance along, a decision that stuck with them as the night went on to the remaining two acts.
Solus Rex has been hard at work in the studio with producer Ron DiSilvestro for quite some time now, and took Black Friday as an opportunity to offer the first physical results of that labor. Hard copies of “Smoke Signals”, the lead single from their upcoming project, were available, finally giving fans some new recorded material since summer 2012′s Checkmate. Their set was heavy on the forthcoming material, which the audience already seemed familiar with, singing along perhaps even more enthusiastically than to the Checkmate cuts. Frontman Colin Newell’s trumpet was noticeably absent, though their jazz and cabaret influences were still readily apparent in his wildly expressive vocals and the playful keyboard vamps passed back and forth between his small keyboard and Matty Rogoff’s more expansive setup. In this intimate setting, certain songs verged on hardcore in places, especially as Tyler Perle’s drumming switched to half-time cadences matching Rob Franchetti’s punk-influenced bass breakdowns, driving Newell’s vocal toward a scream. This is a band that can flex their sound to match just about anything, but their set stood out rather than fitting in in this particular lineup, which will be reunited at Club Risque in Philadelphia December 20th for Rock the Yule 2014.
The first thing one notices about Midnight Mosaic is that this is an enormous band with an enormous sound. They packed enough instrumentalists and vocalists on stage that I’m not sure I kept track of them all, with everything from wailing saxophone to bouncy keys constantly propelling showgoers to the dancefloor. The self-described rock’n'soul group is an amalgam of most of the sounds you’d hear walking down South Street in Philly on a Saturday night. Pass any of the buildings artist Isaiah Zagar created as the clock strikes twelve on that walk and suddenly their name makes a great deal of sense. Holding it all together with sheer charisma, frontman A.T. Hunte simply rocks. While the Asbury Park rockers’ recorded debut Fire Work doesn’t completely capture just how loud and unhinged they can be, it serves as an excellent introduction to their music for as little as a dollar. While they lack The Boss’ working-class storyteller aesthetic, comparisons to their hometown’s most famous export are not unwarranted, as the group holds it down for big, bombastic rock music at the local level much as he does at arenas, and their setlists and influences can be just as unpredictable. You can catch them live at the aforementioned Rock the Yule show, as well as The Claddagh in Highlands, NJ before the year is out.
By Dave Fox | Philadelphia Ambassador | @philosofoxthedj | Beat-Play and Music Without Labels, LLC