On a rainy Thursday night, three energetic bands took the stage at Northern Liberties venue Johnny Brenda’s. First up was April Smith And The Great Picture. Smith’s rag-doll appearance makes her larger-than-life vocals all the more stunning. Rock melodies combined with imaginative, Tom Waits-esque narratives resulted in a captivating first act. Though the audience was sparse during Smith’s set, she had most of us hanging on her every word. During “Drop Dead Gorgeous,” Smith crooned, “Is there anything going on in that pretty little head?/‘Cause if you’re just drop-dead gorgeous/You should just drop dead,” as she swung cheekily back and forth. At the end of her set, when Smith seamlessly slid into a few bars of Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” the crowd had definitely fallen for Smith’s storytelling.
When Dawes took the stage, a large following of fans pushed its way to the lip of the stage to sing along to almost every one of the band’s Springsteen-inspired songs. Frontman Taylor Goldsmith seemed to draw a timeline of influence throughout his set: A toe-tapping blend of folk/rock with a country twang took cues from the plugged-in Bob Dylan, harmonies of Simon & Garfunkel and, on one song, the lyrical cadence of Social Distortion. While the fist-in-the-air percussion and sunny melodies were satisfying, some of Dawes’ lyrics were hard to stomach. On “Love Is All I Am,” Goldsmith preaches, “Love is not excitement/It’s not kissing or holding hands … Love is all I am.” Oddly, the gaggle of fratboys in the front row didn’t seem to mind.
At few minutes after 11, the stage lights dimmed and the crowd erupted in hoots and hollers worthy of a much larger venue. Langhorne Slim (a.k.a. Sean Scolnick) could not hide his enthusiasm at the feedback from the adoring audience; his energy is like a wind-up toy only briefly stopping between songs to gather strength again. His raw gospel sound carried over tenfold in a live performance with help from Malachi DeLorenzo (drums, vocals), Jeff Ratner (up-right bass, vocals) and David Moore (keys, banjo, vocals).
Bright, folksy songs such as “In The Midnight,” “Mary” and “Electric Love Letter” had the audience smitten. Scolnick used this energy to create a massive call-and-response, though he admitted, “I’ve never really been good at organizing anything,” and relinquished the responsibility to an overly enthusiastic fan. Perhaps it was the hype of the call-and-response, manic clapping and foot-stomping that had one fan in a tizzy, calling out song titles just one beer short of “Play ‘Freebird’!” Scolnick put said fan in his place several times. At one point, Scolnick shot back in a steady drawl, “I’m gonna be playing your upper lip in a second, buddy.”
The exchange quieted the fan but only threw the women in the audience into more of a frenzy. It was amazing to see the ladies in the crowd catcalling and screeching notes usually reserved for boy-band concerts. Perhaps Scolnick’s Pennsylvania roots—he hails from Philadelphia suburb Langhorne—explains the swooning. The set seemed to be just one tense build-up, culminating in a square-dance-sounding tune that had Moore playing so fiercely that streaks of blood from his fingertips stained his bone-white banjo. Even when the band left Scolnick onstage to perform solo, the energy lingered.
Though the clap ‘n’ stomp gospel tunes propelled the show, Scolnick also reached the audience with multi-faceted tales of love and life. As he strummed through “Diamonds And Gold,” he sang: “Take some chances/Allow yourself to get lost/You’re beautiful, baby/You’re the boss/You’ve gotta learn to get happy along the way” had dozens of couples in the audience nudging each other as if to say, “He’s talking to you!”
“I Love You, But Goodbye” (download):
“Say Yes” (download):