Thursday night was my first visit to North Star Bar, a perennial favorite among both local and touring acts in Philadelphia. With a front bar that opens up into a seated dining area with two doors into the back room where the venue is, there’s quite a lot to do and see, including delicious food worth eating even if there isn’t a show, according to Colin Newell of Solus Rex. Booked by Jace Miller of Alright Junior, the night’s entertainment included high quality local and regional talent in a variety of genres connected by the punk diaspora. Opening act Cafe LaMotta is on the synthpop end of the spectrum, complete with keytar wielded by Antonio Sharp. All the way from Baltimore, they traveled furthest afield, spreading frontman Dave Suhomlin’s impassioned hooks backed by drummer Eric Brosh’s pounding beats. Brosh and bassist Mike Suhomlin have been working on hip-hop production as a side project, so their propulsion makes use of a variety of influences not limited to the four-on-the-floor so common in dance music. The band’s camaraderie was palpable and welcoming, inviting and receiving participation from their fellow performers and showgoers as they gradually trickled into the club. They gave away free hard copies of their latest effort Nobody’s Gonna Dance, which is also available for free digitally at Bandcamp:
Drunken local punkers Venice Sunlight were up next, road testing some new material for their forthcoming third release under the current lineup. This is a veteran band, with frontman Jay Verdibello, guitarist Dave Cohen, and drummer Alex Brown playing together since 2006, and Steve Krostyne joining before the release of their debut EP in 2010. Laughing and joking together on stage, this is a band that loves both the music they play and the people they get to play it with, from the members of the band itself to peers like John Faye of John & Brittany who were enthusiastically dancing along in the front. Seemingly every song was announced with self-deprecation or a non sequitur, tongue planted firmly in cheek in the best pop-punk tradition. The humorous tone carried over into Solus Rex‘s set, with a quick instrumental run through Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend” for soundcheck. The New Jersey five-piece was also road-testing new material for a forthcoming project, much of which I hadn’t previously heard. Singalong favorites “Hysteria” and “Sink or Swim” were still in the setlist, unsurprisingly since they will also be included on the new album. Their jazz and prog influences made this perhaps the most varied set of the night, with Newell’s histrionic wail gluing it all together regardless of instrumentation. Locals will have four more opportunities to experience this in person this month, at Dr. Lou’s Place the 10th, Witches Ball the 11th, Kung Fu Necktie the 16th, and Bourbon & Branch the 24th.
Headlining pop-punkers The Escape are from suburban Norristown, and the lateness of the evening and distance of the journey from home undoubtedly hurt their turnout for the show, but they remained undaunted. The show they put on was worthy of a larger audience, and would be right at home at Warped Tour or opening for bigger national acts like All Time Low or Anberlin. Frontman Stephen Angello’s lyrics are clearly heartfelt, at times reminiscent of Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba, who recently graced the same stage with his current band Twin Forks. The riffs and rhythms are substantially more upbeat, though, keeping the energy up no matter what the lyrics dwell on. Their most recent release, 2013′s New Direction, marked a break from touring to focus on songwriting and the love of music itself. They certainly seem ready to head back out on the road though, so you can check them out at Oddity Bar in Wilmington on November 1st.
By Dave Fox | Philadelphia Ambassador | @philosofoxthedj | Beat-Play and Music Without Labels, LLC