Live Review: The Ben Vaughn Quintet, Palmyra Delran And The Doppel Gang, Philadelphia, PA, April 12, 2024

There used to be a time within the pop continuum that music was allowed to have a sense of humor. I’m not necessarily talking about the novelty song of Dr. Demento’s playlists, the snark of Frank Zappa or the cheerful kitsch of bachelor-pad-lounge sound creators such as Esquivel and Martin Denny. (Though I dare say that the primary subject of this review, Ben Vaughn, has been a fan of all the above.) Some of the best pop has had its tongue nestled softly in its cheek while offering a sense of play and jive between its makers and its audience. You know how a well-told joke can break all ice and create an air of relaxed levity and community? So, that.

No one would accuse New Jersey natives Ben Vaughn and Palmyra Delran of being jokesters. That would be wrong and wildly inaccurate. But when it came to their happy Friday-night double bill at World Cafe Live’s Music Hall, longtime fans of Vaughn and Delran knew to breathe easy at the thought of pop that wasn’t drenched in dread or self-conscious/socially conscious soliloquy.

Ageless vocalist/guitarist Delran has long been a hero of Philadelphia’s post-punk scene with ensembles such as Pink Slip Daddy, the Friggs and Booty Olympics/Santa Marias looming in her past. Her garage-pop solo work, however, is what famously brought her to the attention of Little Steven’s Underground Garage playlist with “You’re My Brian Jones,” a fizzy tune that she and her band revved-up and played crunchily near the top of Friday’s set.

Delran is no one-hit wonder, and she proved the depth of her material in tandem with her crackling Doppel Gang on the sing-song-y “Lucky In Love,” the playfully mid-tempo swing of the tender-hearted “Happy Birthday Middle Child” (think first-album Blondie) and a cocksure “(If You’d Like To Make A Call) Please Hang Up” that begs the question, “Who writes new songs with rotary phones in them?”

Palmyra Delran does—proudly.

Ben Vaughn and his tight-loose team—including Gus Cordovox on accordion and gong and saxophonist CC Crabtree—held his audience enthralled from the start with the soft-core jangle of “Seven Days Without Love,” a playful “Jerry Lewis In France” complete with a “World Cafe Live only” low-harmonica solo at song’s end, a cheerfully jarring conjunto take on “Darlene” with its accordion cranked up for maximum Doug Sahm-dom and a snotty “Miss Me When I’m Gone” with Crabtree’s yakety-sax living proof of his Mummers affiliation.

With Vaughn’s sandy voice aged like fine wine, originals such as “Railroad Track” and “New Jersey Rock ’N Roll” elevated the role of poignancy in his sound to new heights, while covers like “Sheba” (by Johnny And The Hurricanes) and Buddy Guy blues romp “I Dig Your Wig” kept the party going even when World Cafe Live’s lights came up at night’s end.

—A.D. Amorosi