Live at Schubas in Chicago, Philly’s own Marah go “acoustic” and GLONO’s there. Get your soul on with live versions of “The Catfisherman” and “Walt Whitman Bridge” as the brothers Bielanko show you just how loud an acoustic guitar can be.
Acoustic shows are supposed to be nice, quiet affairs where the artist revisits songs and reinterprets them in a more thoughtful manner. We expect solemn stories and maybe a whiff of pipe smoke. What we don’t expect is a raucous tent revival sweatfest of rock and roll. That’s supposed to happen in the later full-band set. We weren’t ready for Marah.
Billed as an “acoustic” set, it was a bit of the old bait and switch since there was only one acoustic instrument on stage. Just the same, Philadelphia’s best-worst-kept-secret barreled into Schubas for a terror of a set. Teetering throughout, singer Dave Bielanko swayed and sweat and screamed his way through the hour-long celebration of rock and roll. Leaning throughout on his brother Serge and sporting Keef Richard beads in his hair, Bielanko reminded us all that stripped down need not be stripped of rock.
Marah turned ten years old last year. Unless you’re a friend of an avid, rabid fan, you probably have never heard of them. It’s too bad, because they fill an increasingly widening void in rock where bands just are—there’s no posing or calculation in what Marah does and that is a beautiful thing. As Nick Hornby wrote in his review of the band in the New York Times, “there is still a part of me that persists in thinking that rock music, and indeed all art, has an occasional role to play in the increasingly tricky art of making us glad we’re alive. I’m not sure that Throbbing Gristle and its descendants will ever pull that off, but the members of Marah do, often.”
Ain’t that the truth?
Before Chicago, they were in Lansing, Michigan. Loftus reports:
“We love Lansing,” one of the Bielanko brothers said from the Temple Club stage. “We’ve never been here before.” It’s not clear anymore which of them said it – guitarist/vocalist Serge or vocalist/guitarist Dave. It was last February, and there have been a few late nights since then. But that comment, delivered from underneath a sock hat screwed down onto inky trucker shower hair, summarizes Marah’s ramshackle flair. That was an undersold night in Lansing. The club was probably half-full, and most of the types there seemed to have come out more for the eager hemp rock of the forgettable college town band that opened. But once Marah had assembled onstage and gotten past a few jokes about dieting on Jack Daniels and Benadryl, they made Lansing, Michigan feel like the romanticized streets of Philadelphia. Songs about hard luck, harder dreams, and dudes in Members Only jackets disappearing into rooms in the back. Guiding lights like Springsteen and Steve Earle. And harmonies and crackling, shifting guitars and keys that made everyone imagine an era when facial hair wasn’t ironic. Bassist and keys man Kirk Henderson knew what was what – with his mob informant moustache and a wrinkled grey suit that looked like it came from underneath the spare tire in his 1978 LTD, he was straight out of the casting pool for French Connection 2. Marah were about the music first – they played everything that night with the casual precision of a professional road band. But there was more happening than the songs. Marah came at that Lansing crowd like unexpected house guests, the old friends from back east who show up suddenly on a quiet weekday night, drink all your beer, call all your ex-girlfriends, and ask things like “Is it cool if I store three barrels of industrial solvent in your basement for 2 years?” And the Lansing crowd loved it. How could they not? Those kinds of old friends don’t show up very often. And when they do, you don’t say no.
GLONO original, Johnny Loftus is the Music Editor for Detroit’s Metro Times.