words by jason stives/photos by dan bassini — live at at Johnny Brenda’s, Philadelphia, PA, June 5th, 2012
As a fan you don’t care where your favorite bands play as it could be an arena, a festival, or in the back of a convenience store, it doesn’t matter. Fan devotion is a strong thing to grasp from those who don’t share the same feel for rock bands that one would a favorite book or activity. Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia is a wonderful venue to see a good show acting as a legit bar and restaurant on the first floor and on its second tier and balcony, a full on concert venue where intimacy takes on a whole new level. As fans filed in throughout the evening to see UK indie rockers The Cribs, who were beginning a brief tour of the US, I couldn’t help but notice a big climate change in what these guys normally play to at home.
Like most trendy UK-based bands, they are revered in their homeland racking up hit singles and albums amongst a plethora of US imported pop and hip hop acts. However, stateside they are critical favorites but lack noted radio plays and genuinely play to smaller venues. One fan I met during the evening, an obvious anglophile, was discussing her love for UK acts like the Cribs and how it’s a shame they don’t get noticed as much over here. She noted how last month she attended a show at the Union Transfer featuring UK rockers Kaiser Chiefs, big name stable mates in the UK who have Top 10 records and can sell out arenas across Europe. Here, there popularity is minimal and their show at Union Transfer only garnered some 100 people in a venue that holds about 800. It’s tragic at best and shows the changing climate of music here in the United States, as most rock bands struggle to get radio play while other sometimes less than worthy acts have hit singles and sell out arenas across the world.
Regardless, telling the 100 or so people who packed into Johnny Brenda’s on Tuesday night this would say otherwise and care much less. An eclectic crowd by far, fans of the Cribs from around the Tri-State area waited in hot anticipation for the 10:30 set start time, a set time set back by about 5 to 10 minutes in the end. When the Wakefield trio (quartet this time with a touring guitarist) took the stage, the atmosphere rose from getting things started to transitioning quickly to a room full of happy music lovers jumping up and down singing loud and proud. Opening with the track Chi Town, the Cribs played loud, fast, and partially distorted, which made it almost deafening inside this tiny club. Within 30 minutes of the show starting the band had run the gambit on all their releases mixing newer tracks like “Anna” and “Jaded Youth” with old favorites like the scene slapping “Hey Scenesters!” and the slick echoing ballad “Cheat on Me.”
The bulk of the bands 80 minute set was comprised of their recently released fifth album, In the Belly of the Brazen Bull, which if you are reading this and haven’t checked it out, you got issues. Performances of album tracks like “Back to the Bolt Hole” and “Come On, Be A No One” were greeted in a hypnotic-like fashion ranging from a full on riot to a translucent state of euphoria. A weird mixture indeed for an indie rock band but the fans loved it none the less and it spoke volumes of the acceptance of their sound by the audience. The Jarman brothers who comprise the trio weren’t ones to shoe gaze and from the moment they took the stage they never stopped moving around the stage. They would only bring the mood down for a minute in between songs where they would engage in fun banter with the audience with their playful British charm.
While very much pleased to be back in Philadelphia after four years, the geography of Pennsylvania seems to escape bassist Gary Jarman and lead guitarist Ryan. Trying to make some nice on stage banter, the city of Brotherly Love was mistaken to be by the brothers as being the home of Bruce Springsteen (they were thinking of this because of the Boss Oscar winning song Streets of Philadelphia) but balanced out their flub with a great nod to Sleep Away Camp and its star Pamela Springsteen (close but no cigar, guys!).
Around midnight the show began to slow but only by ending on a trifecta of ruckus numbers that sent all kinds of feedback and lo-fi nature into overdrive. After playing fan favorite Baby Don’t Sweat, the band launched full swing into their UK Top 20 single “Men’s Needs,” getting the packed club off its feet amidst the glare of house lights and unnecessary smoke. After clearing the house with an uproarious performance of “City of Bugs” off 2009s Ignore the Ignorant, the band thanked the audience quietly through a wall of feedback and distortion, leaving the contents of this club on Gerard Avenue absolutely pleased and partially deaf. A few days on, this reviewer is still happy with the show but still has a slight ringing in his ear. Earplugs need not apply.
OPENING ACT NOTE
The opening act, named Devin, was actually a nice early blast of sonic garage rock. The lead singer of the band’s name sake was quite entertaining even if he was completely incoherent to understand, might be nerves and it might be other things but who knows. Despite that, the NYC based trio performed a solid 30 minute set even without the advantages of consistent house lighting and made quite an impression on the crowd that filtered in throughout their performance. Highly recommend checking them out.