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Buddy Mercury: “A Person Has a Choice About Which Path to Take. In Mercury, They Always Follow the More Insane One.”

October 6, 2015

MercuryRadioTheater09Philly veterans Mercury Radio Theater have a big show on Saturday at Bourbon & Branch. The one-time instrumental surf punk band now features a deep bench with a variety of instruments, creating a wonderfully eclectic sound that will make you run to the dance floor.

The show also features New York’s Big Lazy and Gringo Motel from Philly, and two Gretsch guitars will be given away.

We caught up with Mercury Radio Theater’s frontman, Buddy Mercury, and talked about the band, his life in music and his life away music.

MercuryRadioTheater101015Mercury Radio Theater has been around for a while now. What keeps you guys going?

Yup, we’ve been around almost 15 years. I think maybe a little bit of unhealthy compulsion and free drinks?

What’s new with the band? There are more members than in years past, no?

Well, a few years ago we stopped touring as a three-piece full time and when we did, I looked around at all my friends who were amazing musicians and asked them if they wanted to help us make music. They all found their own voice and place in the band, and it really moved from being a band to a community. We added vibraphone, trumpet, farfisa organ, bari-sax, a whole bunch of stuff. I honestly don’t get out of the house much – I tend to be anti-social – and if it weren’t for band practices and shows, I’d never see my friends. It’s a fantastic motivator to make sure I make time for the things that matter to me.

For folks who haven’t experienced a MRT show, can you describe what transpires?

There is usually a lot of dancing, shouting and drinking. We try and tie everything together with a theme or a story. The one we’ve been focusing on lately is about a guy who has a job he doesn’t like and tries to start a revolution. So the songs lately have had a more populist vibe to them. We watched a lot of old Russian propaganda films when we were writing them.

You’re giving away a guitar at the show on Saturday? Cool. How did that come about?

Yeah, two guitars actually! Well, Woods (the other guitarist) and I have been playing Gretsch Guitars for a long time. We love how they sound and feel. They have an aesthetic that matches both our personalities. I’m pretty active on their message board and I frequently post videos of our band or pics from shows and a lot of the folks on there have become fans of Mercury.

We had this show coming up with Big Lazy from NYC – they’re a  three-piece instrumental band that Woods and I just love – and wouldn’t you know it, he plays a vintage Gretsch too. Well, we knew Tom from Gringo plays a vintage Gretsch and we start joking that the show is sponsored by Gretsch. So, I went to the message board and talked about the show and how it was an unofficial Gretsch sponsored event.

Next thing you know, I get a call from one of the folks at Gretsch asking if we want to make it an official event. Of course we jumped on the chance. We’re hoping they decide to make it a regular thing.  We’re hoping that Philly shows them we appreciate good music, so they’ll wanna have a bigger presence in the city.

Anything else on the horizon for the band?

Well, like I said, we got this new Russian propaganda show and we’re dying to make a record with it, so I think in the winter/spring we’re going to find a good studio to record it and finally make a vinyl full length. People have been asking for one for years and I think this group of songs really deserves it.

You are in a Ph.D program, studying criminology? Why crime?

Ah, why crime? In the years I spent touring, the thing I was most likely reading in the back of the van was either a Batman comic or a hard-boiled detective novel. I went into criminology because I wanted to fight crime and dole out justice.

Once I began my studies in earnest, I learned a lot about justice and how screwed up the criminal justice system is and it really changed my view. I became a lot less focused on crime and a lot more focused on justice. I began to read a lot of philosophy and took my career in a different direction. Now, I fight for people to be treated fairly and not fall through the cracks of the system.

Is there a connection between crime and Mercury Radio Theater?

I never really thought to hard about it but now that I do, yeah, there is. Mercury has always been about the outsider, the one stand-out and what extraordinary circumstances will push a person to do.  In that moment, a person has a choice about which path to take. In Mercury, they always follow the more insane one.

You also teach undergrads, right? Are they intrigued by the music side of you?

I do! My undergrads are great. I have a policy of being really honest with my students, so they know all the stuff I did before I was teaching. If they get too rowdy, I usually settle them down by telling them a tour story. They all stare wide-eyed as I tell them about the time we showed up to a show in Minnesota with our car covered in blood from the deer we’d hit.

Hall & Oates @ Opening Night of The Fillmore.

October 6, 2015

Hall and Oates at the Fillmore

Text an images by Morgan Smith.

Bustling with drunk middle-aged couples, Philadelphia’s newest – and extremely impressive – concert venue, The Fillmore, opened it’s doors to the public last week.

Who better to kick things off than Philly’s own Hall & Oates? Daryl Hall and John Oates, accompanied by their band – including a saxophonist who looked like an awesome version of Benjamin Franklin in a sequined blazer, made their way through their most popular hits as the audience sang along to every word. Although both Hall & Oates are 68 and 66 respectively, they filled the two floor venue with as much energy as they would have in the 70’s.

After performing countless hits, including “Sara Smile,” “She’s Gone” and “Maneater,” Hall & Oates closed out the night with “I Can’t Go for That.”

Being the immense entertainers that they are, they came back to the stage for not one, but two encores. Let’s be honest, they couldn’t end the night without performing their most well known hit, “Rich Girl.”

After a four-song, double encore, Hall & Oates finally retired for the night but not before Daryl Hall said of Philadelphia, “It’s been a long time but this is our musical home and that is the truth.”

Pentagram, Satan’s Satyrs and Electric Citizen @ Underground Arts.

October 5, 2015

Pentagram at Underground Arts_093015_Photo by Jason Melcher_046Text by Chad Sims. Images by Jason Melcher.

Pentagram brought back that good, old rock ‘n’ roll last Wednesday night at Underground Arts. Despite some members having played for decades, Pentagram can still send shivers down your spine.

Singer Bobby Liebling is in a league of his own. If you saw him on the street you would probably be worried that he was liable to break a hip. On stage, it is a whole other matter. Liebling dances around with a swagger that almost no frontman even half his age could match.

While Liebling gyrates and leers at the audience, guitarist Victor Griffin effortlessly shreds through the bands catalog.

The younger members of the band – Greg Turley on bass and Pete Campbell on drums – play like they have been doing it for decades as well.

The set included songs like “Relentless,” “Sign of the Wolf” and “Dying World” from their self-titled album, all the way up to “Walk Alone,” “Curious Volume” and “Devil’s Playground” from their new album Curious Volume.

Satan’s Satyrs and Electric Citizen opened the show. The Satyrs definitely had some great ideas happening but their set was somewhat buried beneath a rumbly, muddy mix. I only caught the tail end of Electric Citizen and that was a mistake. This band had a great sound and incredible vocals in the form of singer Laura Dolan.

Morgan’s Pier: The First Pop-up Beer Garden (and Open Through October!).

September 30, 2015

MorgansPierRDS01smallText by Beth Ann Downey. Images by Rachel Del Sordo.

With a drink in hand, sun on your skin, the cool breeze of misting fans, the sound of birds and laughter and the PATCO train passing over the Ben Franklin Bridge, it’s hard not to enjoy any time spent at Morgan’s Pier. When day turns to night, there is also frequently the chance to catch a live band or DJ playing at the 500-person capacity outdoor bar and restaurant. It has rightly earned its self-proclaimed title of “Philadelphia’s Backyard Beer Garden.”

Now in its fourth season, Morgan’s Pier plays annual summertime host to a slew of bands, a renowned chef-in-residence and thousands of revelers there to eat, drink and enjoy the city’s waterfront. For the first time, the restaurant will stay open through October, with a series of events planned.

When it first opened, long before amenities like the Spruce Street Harbor Park were created, Philadelphia boasted few outdoor beer gardens and casual eateries on the water.

“I feel like we were probably the first pop-up beer garden that wasn’t pop-up, because we’re stationary,” says Dana Canalicho, the Morgan’s Pier general manager who is in her second season in the position. “I do feel like we helped begin this trend.”

Along with dozens of beers on tap and a number of signature cocktails, Morgan’s Pier complements its beer garden vibe with a menu imagined by one local and celebrated chef-in-residence each season. Past chefs include George Sabatino (Stateside) and David Gilberg (Koo Zee Doo). This year, “Top Chef” winner and Laurel owner Nicholas Elmi has found that going from feeding about 40 people per night at his East Passyunk eatery to serving as many as 1,500 people on any given Saturday at Morgan’s Pier to be an interesting and fun challenge.

“The food is simple,” he says of the current Morgan’s Pier menu. “Everything has two or three ingredients, so obviously everything has to be really good. You have to pack a lot of flavor into a lot less things. It’s a good challenge.”

Elmi called on his New England roots, integrating ample seafood and other light-but-satisfying items, for this year’s menu. His main inspiration? Thinking about what he’d eat if he were drinking a beer or a glass of champagne on a nice summer day.

“That’s sort of the basis of the menu – what would my ideal vacation be and what would I be eating at the time?” he wonders.

Aside from many diverse options of snacks and sides, there are burgers and sandwiches, including crab, lobster and clam rolls. Elmi also introduced several large plates to the menu, including fish and chips, steak and a whole grilled lobster, which give the menu both a casual and upscale feel.

“The larger plates we serve are still kind of down-and-dirty, eat-with-your-hands kinds of things,” he says. “They’re all served on wooden boards, so nothing plated, nothing garnished.”

Elmi says the base of the menu will remain the same throughout the summer. But as the season progresses through different varieties of vegetables and fresh seafood, he and his dedicated crew will change things up.

“We can switch things out and alter it,” he says. “Or if we get sick of something, we can just completely scrap it and start over.”

Morgan’s Pier has applied this same “switch things up” strategy to musical offerings this season. This will be the first year in which R5 Productions doesn’t have a hand in booking when the restaurant and bar turns into a venue. In years past, R5 brought acts like James Murphy, Parquet Courts, Fucked Up, Ted Leo and Waxahatchee to Morgan’s Pier. Most were free shows.

Canalicho explains that the split came about due to some changes within Four Corners Management, which also owns Union Transfer, Ortlieb’s, The Dolphin and both Drinker’s establishments.

“It wasn’t a negative thing,” she says. “Just moving some things around in different directions.”

Canalicho says they’ll now host more local DJs as opposed to traveling acts, as well as live bands on Wednesday nights. Forthcoming acts include The Business, The Sensational Soul Crusiers, DJ Eddie Tully and DJ BeatStreet.

Though many of Morgan’s Pier offerings still cater to a younger, drinking crowd, Canalicho hopes things like the revamped live entertainment and brunch offerings will please a diverse patronage.

“We’re finding that during the day, people want to come with their kids and they still want to have a drink, which you can’t do at most places,” she says. “So, now mom and dad can sit there and have their cocktails. The kids play and the parents can play, too.”

Victor Griffin: “Life Just Happens and You Have to Roll With the Changes.”

September 28, 2015

Pentagram02Pentagram is a band whose history stretches back to the early 70s metal underground. They toiled in obscurity with little success or notoriety. By the early 80s, the only original member of the band was lead singer Bobby Liebling, and a new incarnation of the band was formed with Victor Griffin on guitar. The band put out two albums (Pentagram/Relentless and Day of Reckoning), neither of which garnered much acclaim, and they broke up again in the late 80s.

Liebling reformed the band with various new members throughout the 90s but still never gained much attention. This all changed when Relapse Records rereleased some of the band’s early material and fans took an interest in this great lost band.

Pentagram’s sound is in the doom metal vein of Black Sabbath but with their own foreboding twist. Part of their unique sound stems from Liebling’s vocals that betrays a reality behind the gloomy lyrics.

Liebling was the subject of the 2011 film “Last Days Here,” which documented his struggles with drug addiction and his attempts to keep Pentagram afloat. The film exposed even more people to the music of Pentagram, and set the stage for one the greatest comeback stories in the history of rock-n-roll.

They are gearing up for their latest tour, which starts in Philly on Wednesday at Underground Arts. Our Chad Sims spoke with long-time member Victor Griffin about the band’s strange history, their new album and more.

Curious Volume has been out for a few weeks. What can you tell us about the album?

It seems to be getting really good reviews. We are happy about that. It is mostly brand new but we tend to record some old demos that were never released. The band has been around for a long time and we have a bunch of those types of things. The album is probably a little more on the hard rock side of things than the doom metal thing side we are known for. Of course it has all the flavors of those things but it isn’t as slow as some of our older stuff.

Who were some of bands that influenced you to start playing guitar?

Well, I have been playing for, wow, 42 or 43 years. So Steppenwolf was my favorite band when I was 9-years old. And the original Alice Cooper band with the original lineup. But I was also influenced by a lot of classic country stuff. My dad had that going on in jam sessions with his friends on the weekends. You know stuff like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Sr., Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, so that had a big influence. Then I discovered Black Sabbath and that was huge influence. Then ZZ Top and Hendrix, but all pretty much heavy blues based stuff.

How would you say that country music has influenced you as a musician?

It comes out more lately than it did early on. I was so set on playing hard rock that I probably shunned that country stuff in my playing. As I have gotten older and my songwriting has progressed, I start to discover some of those earlier influences.

Pentagram has been a rollercoaster of a band across the years. What has it been like as a member?

I have been in the band over a span of 35 years, though I have been in and out of the band several times. Sometimes we would just lose momentum. Back in the 80s and 90s, we didn’t have tour support and it was really hard. At times it was pretty depressing. We would do albums and we couldn’t get picked up on tours. When other opportunities came along, I would decide to check out other things just to get out there.

You can see through the history of the band there have been lots of members in and out of the band. Even in the last five years, that is true since I have been back in the band. Sometimes I think it is just drama. Sometimes it is just personality issues, myself included. Life just happens and you have to roll with the changes. We made it this far and we have a lot of momentum. We have been able to keep things going on the road.

You touched on it there a little but what was the reaction to band when you played back in the 80s? It seems there were a lot of bands doing similar things to Pentagram but it wasn’t what was going on in metal at the time.

Well, first it was hard to make it as an original band playing heavy music to begin with if you weren’t playing covers. It was hard to get gigs unless you played three sets of cover tunes. Also, hair metal was going on and what we were doing wasn’t trendy. It still isn’t trendy now but things have opened up. Luckily, there were a few clubs around the Northern Virginia, Southern Maryland and DC areas where we could play. There were people who wanted to see heavy, live bands.

There were other bands that were doing the doom metal thing bands like Trouble, coming out of Chicago, The Obsessed from Maryland and European bands like Witchfinder General. People just learned about them from tape trading and word-of-mouth. We just wanted to play the music that we wanted to play. Even in the 90s it was hard. Only in the last ten years has the doom metal label become a legitimate form of rock. It was always legitimate to us, but as far as large amounts of people getting it. Then the movie came out (“Last Days Here”) and that was huge.

The Pentagram self-title album (aka Relentless) was not popular when it was first released. Did you ever imagine that it might be this sort of lost classic album?

No, not at all. When we recorded that album, we recorded it as a demo for the band, Death Row, that we were at the time. We used to just pass out the tape as a demo and it made it around the world. Later, we changed the name to Pentagram and the tape made its way into the hands of a couple indie labels. We did some remixing on it and it became the first Pentagram album.

It sounds somewhat like a demo but that album has a magic about it.

We recorded that album at two different sessions, so you can hear that some of the songs have two different sounds. We had to try to match them up. The other thing was it was a pretty primitive studio. It was just an 8-track studio and the guy who produced it was just starting out. We kind of went into together and we didn’t know what we had. With just an 8-track to work with you have to bounce a lot of tracks and sometimes the levels aren’t right.

I read you are really into motorsports and motorcycles. How did you get into that?

As far as auto racing, I had four uncles who raced stock car, circle track stuff. So I caught that bug as a kid and it stuck with me. I love all kinds of motorsports. I even raced out in California on circle tracks. I just love the sights, the sounds, the smells.

I started getting into motorcycles in the 80s, specifically Harleys. I got a sportster in the mid-80s and road that a little while. Then I wound up building my own bike, which was a 76 Shovelhead. I still have that bike and I still ride it. Then I had my own shop as well for about eight years building custom bikes. When the economy fell through, a lot of business like that went under because people just stopped spending money on that kind of thing.

Pentagram01What’s it like being in a band with Bobby (Liebling)? He obviously has his demons.

Well, you just start to get used to it. I have demons of my own. Bobby and I have always seen eye-to-eye. We hit it off right away when we first met back in ’81. We never had a serious falling out even when we went our separate ways.

It isn’t a big secret that Bobby has been a drug addict for 40-something years. He pushed the envelope a lot more than most people, a lot more than most people would be alive to testify about. We are just good friends and you have to give people leeway. He is doing good these days. His health is as good as it can be. If you are a drug addict for 40 years, there are consequences. He is on a couple of meds that help him maintain certain health issues. He is mostly happy when we are on the road. We have just grown together over all these years.

What do you want to tell us about the tour?

We start off in Philly. It is mostly northeast. We are playing New York, Detroit, Chicago, DC and a few other stops. Then we are going to Europe. Next year, we will get busy again in the spring time. We are going to be playing a bunch of stuff off Curious Volume and then at least one song off of each of the older albums.

Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

Thank you.

Mike Thatcher: “It Has That Real Magic, in a Space That Kinda Seems Illegal.”

September 24, 2015

MichaelThatcher2015OnlineAs part of our partnership with Philly Beer Scene magazine, we’re documenting Philly’s relationships between music and beer. For the most recent issue of Philly Beer Scene, G.W. Miller III caught up with Mike Thatcher, the production manager at Underground Arts.

Mike Thatcher weaves through the crowd at Underground Arts, the basement venue on Callowhill Street in Philadelphia’s Loft District, and navigates the dark labyrinth with an expertise few people share.

He helped physically create the popular club, putting up walls and building the actual stage that has since has hosted everyone from Philly guitar phenom Kurt Vile to hip-hop legend Rakim.

“This place was absolutely scary the first year,” Thatcher says.

Located on the bottom floor of the Wolf Building, the 12,000 square foot space had been used primarily for storage for many years. But the building’s owner, Gary Reuben, began allowing arts groups to hold rehearsals and then performances in the vast space. By 2010, bathrooms were installed, a seating area was established and theater groups held regular events in the rooms.

In 2011, Reuben called Thatcher and said, “I’m getting a liquor license. This would make a cool venue.”

Thatcher and others cleared out the debris, installed the sound system, built a bar and kitchen and began being officially a part of the burgeoning local music scene.

“I dig it because it’s got that dirty, CBGB’s kind of vibe,” says Thatcher, who is now the club’s production manager. “It has that real magic, in a space that kinda seems illegal.”

The décor is simple – a few concrete pillars in the otherwise wide-open room, with exposed pipes and conduits along the dark ceiling. The two performance areas – a 650-person main room and the 250-person area called The Black Box – create an intimate experience with the performers while being spacious enough to dance and move around.

“I really wanted to give it the basics of good sound, a good stage,” says Thatcher, “and make it a place where local artists can get their act together.”

Three years ago, Bonfire/Electric Factory began booking shows at the club, bringing the talent to a whole new level.

The father of four girls ranging from 4 months to 18 years old, Thatcher, 47, allows a handful of local acts – like Tutlie, The Districts, City Rain, and Vita and the Woolf – to use the venue for rehearsals. A guitarist who has performed in numerous bands over the years, Thatcher previously owned Sonic Studios. The studios, located on Delaware Avenue near Frankford, were the home of Sonic Sessions performances and recordings, which aired on WDRE and then Y100.

“I’ve always tried to help bands,” he says. “That’s been my thing for more than 20 years.”

The dedicated crew at Underground Arts continues to support the local arts scene, having been the home of the Fringe Festival’s Late Nite Cabaret, and they’ve hosted numerous Philly Beer Week events.

“The craft beer scene is just insane,” says Thatcher, who likes to chill with a Philadelphia Brewing Company Walt Wit in his down time. “It’s similar to the way the club scene has exploded. Back in the 1980s, there were a handful of great music venues. Now there are dozens. Back then, what did you drink? Now we have so many great options.”

Dev79: “It’s Really Dope to Bring Things Full Circle With my Early Rave Memories.”

September 22, 2015

dev79Text by Chip Frenette. Image courtesy by Jen Dobrydnia.

With the PopePocalypse closing in on The City of Brotherly Love, many people are planning on getting out of town to avoid the traffic boxes and extreme security measures put in place to protect his holiness. If you are one of those who have decided to or are still on the fence, Bombadillo just might be a good option for electronic music aficionados. Bombadillo is being produced by the granddaddy of the mid-Atlantic region’s electronic music scene, Ultraworld.

Bombadillo which is an all day event, takes place in Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park on Saturday, September 26 and will feature a few acts from Philadelphia. You can get out of town but still sample some electronic music samplings from our home scene.

DJ, producer and label owner Dev79 will perform at the festival. Dev79, aka Gair Marking, is one of the minds behind the labels Seclusiasis and Slit Jockey Recordings. With a genre-bending street-bass style of production and mixing that crosses reggae, grime, dubstep, UK garage and hip-hop, Dev79 produces a sound quite unlike the everyday.

“I was honored and excited when Lonnie (Fisher), the Ultraworld godfather, reached out to me,” he said, noting that he’s had many memorable experiences at the Ultraworld. “It’s really dope to bring things full circle with my early rave memories.”

Dev79 will be joined by duo tag team Wolf Dem, who play a style that is driven by dancehall reggae and beats that can be described as haunting and deep. DJ Everyday is also playing, bringing his tech-house, big room sound to the event.

Bombadillo will also feature Big Freedia, Kevin Saunderson, Charles Feelgood and Lower Density.



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