Sun Airway, Cruiser and Historics @ Johnny Brenda’s.
Text and images by Michael Bucher.
On Saturday night, Johnny Brenda’s hosted a trio of pop-rock bands that took the audience on a wave of West Coast sunshine, crashing monotone darkness, and finally a sublime dream world.
Philadelphia-based Cruiser, led by Andy States, opened the evening with their California-inspired rock. With States leading the vocals and guitar, Josa Lazos on guitar, Kyle Cook on bass and Jonathan Van Dine on drums, the band ripped through songs from their self titled album like “To California,” “Home Turf,” and the slow-grooving “Souvenir.”
Every bit of the music feels authentically grown from a California surfer’s world surprisingly because the band is entirely rooted in Philly. On drums, Van Dine is a rolling energetic force driving each song.
Between songs, a member of the audience in the front row said “I’m gonna pee on your sister” just loud enough for States to hear although he didn’t show it.
I thought for sure he was a close friend of the band and when Crusier wrapped up, I brought up the outburst with him. As it turned out, he had no relation to the band but it was his birthday so he could urinate on anyone’s sister he wanted. The young man he was with who brought him to see the next band, Historics. He proceeded by lecturing me on the current state of affairs between Israel and Palestine.
Historics couldn’t start soon enough.
Lead man Don DeVore was masterful with his guitar along with Jeff Knutsen on the Moog David Jack Daniels on drums and a really tall bass player not usually included in the band. The live music is a starkly different than their studio recorded songs.
Between songs DeVore brought everyone’s attention to Peter and Jay, the technicians for the show. Following a theme for the Historics set, DeVore complemented the audience saying, “You guys are good, all loud and shit.”
He is a proponent of “loud-quiet-loud” where parts of songs are blasting and ripping the audience to pieces, then quickly drops to a soft drone almost like a space to breath and then right back to thrashing. The vocals took a hit in the live show becoming indecipherable, possibly an effect of DeVore’s inebriation seen stumbling into bandmates equipment mid song. But this had no ill effect on his guitar performance, the music pouring out of him during long loud riffs. Altogether, the set was a twisted disorienting mix and the crowd seemed pleased with it.
In DeVore’s mind it could have been even better. “Were playing with one amp,” he said. “Shit’s broken. Should be twice as loud.”
The show then made a hard right turn out of the darkness and into the breezy vibrant tones and textures of Philly’s Sun Airway.
The music is colorful. The projectors shining beams of light from behind the band into the crowd only emphasized this characteristic. Frontman Jon Barthmus jumped back and forth playing a synthesizer, guitar and lead vocals with songs like “Close,” “Wild Palms,” “Oh Naoko” and “Black Noise.”
The band’s presence on stage is quiet and reserved. The music is busy enough. The crowd pulsed along with the music instead of letting go and breaking into free dance. After a brief pause, the band returned for a single song encore with the crowd pleading for a favorite “American West,” and they got it.
It seemed fitting to bring the show back from where it started – Philly bands singing about the West – but now jumping onto an entirely different musical plane more steeped in fantasy.