— Story by Harrison, Featured Image By Dan Cohoon
It’s a hot summer night and I’m drenched with sweat. Not from the heat radiating off the pavement of Front Street, another day baked into it, but from the bodies I spent the past hour jumping around with. It is the scene of my second Birds of Maya show, and my life has changed forever.
I’ve had the privilege of seeing many great shows in my day – Rush shooting cannons into the air while rocking a 20-minute Working Man, Daft Punk in a tiny baseball stadium on the shores of Coney Island, Bruce Springsteen’s four-hour birthday show at the Meadowlands, to name a few – but nothing compared to this. Shoulder to shoulder with 200 other music junkies, half deaf, feet away from the stage as we were ceremoniously blasted with bass-heavy riffs, booming drums, and chainsaw guitars. Thunder and Lightning. Cats and Dogs. Complete mayhem.
The show abruptly ended when an amp caught on fire – maybe the countless beer cans that had been hurled at the stage (with love!) finally drowning out a vital taped-up cords (I was informed late by Jason, the bassist and singer, that it “happens all the time”). We were left dazed, ears shaking, staring at the completely realized chaos that came before still echoing in our heads. The walls seemed to move like a kaleidoscope through the fog. I chugged my beer, barely cold, as I’d forgotten about it for most of the show, trying to push back the imminent reality.
I thought I’d never see another show like it; never experience the magic again. Luckily, I was wrong. This became almost the norm over the next five years as I followed (and played with) the best psych rock bands of the new millennium: All courtesy of intoxicating Philadelphia.
Words are nice, but what follows is a sonic statement as to why the City of Brotherly Love may someday soon be known for something else.
Birds of Maya
Founded by Mike Polizze, Ben Lepart, and Jason Killinger, this power-trio are a cult staple in Philly, and have been for a decade. On the studio side of things they’re known for low-fi, guitar heavy, roughly distorted (and now impossible to find) albums. On the live side, they’re known for high-energy shows, painting dronescapes with one to no song breaks. A marathon and a sprint all in one. Each of the members now belongs to other, international touring groups (some listed here), but BOM is where it all began, and they continue to innovate. Thank goodness for that.
Killer in the Snow – Live @ Johnny Brenada’s
St. James and the Apostles
Equal parts Deep Purple, Free, and Mountain, these guys know how to rock – and get weird while doing it. Sprinklings of James Brown show up too, especially in guitarist, singer, and songwriter Jamie Mahon’s vocals. Supported by a smooth flowing rhythm section consisting of Mike Kiker making memorable Moog magic on his synth and supplying vocals, as well as Jeff Caster, slamming the skins like a freight train running through the room.
]Blues and Garage-rock are certainly the base here, but the unique set up (no bass? Unless you count Mike’s feet on the bass pedals) really set them apart. Listening to their records you’d never know it’s just three guys making all that noise.
“Friend in Jesus” – Live @ Underground Arts
Simply put: there would be no Philly Psych Scene without Bardo Pond. They’ve been doing it the longest, and arguably the best. Currently comprising Micheal Gibbons, John Gibbons, Isobel Sollenberger, Clint Takeda, and Jason Kourkonis, the Pond’s psychedelic noise-rock has been compared to Pink Floyd and My Bloody Valentine as well as Acid Mothers Temple, Black Sabbath, and Janis Joplin (I hear a little Captain Beyond there too). They cover the gamut, making their albums and live shows a complete experience unlike much else. They’ve embraced the “album-as-journey” mentality. Listening to one of their albums or going to show will take you from the deepest recesses of your mind to the far reaches of space.
Be A Fish by Bardo Pond
Swinging blues built on a punk frame is what Lantern offers. Certainly the most intense group in the lineup, and they drop enough talent to warrant inclusion on ‘Best of the Year’ lists and open for national acts like The War on Drugs more than once. Every live show has at least one elongated riff-fest that will make any space-rocker happy, and their albums contain gems like Fool’s Gold and Untitled off of 2012’s Dream Mine that will please dreamscape psych fans as well.
Lantern — Evil Eye
To say that Weekender is the perfect psych-pop band is a bold statement, but that’s the first word that comes to mind when listening to their EP Spanish Peaks. Swirling shoegaze ambience mesh with just enough fuzz, all up against dream-psych vocals. It immediately recalls My Bloody Valentine – but with more focus – and even early The Verve. The pet project of brothers Derek and Nic Sheehan (both were also in the underrated Tweeds, and many other groups), Weekender has kept fans wanting more than just their 5 song EP Spanish Peaks, hoping that 2015 is the year they finally deliver.
Spanish Peaks off Spanish Peaks
Working hard seems to be a common theme for many Philly bands, and Kurt Vile is no exception. After leaving The War On Drugs, Kurt has been releasing multiple albums a year and touring non-stop. It didn’t hurt that both 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo and 2013’s Walkin on a Pretty Daze were monumental indie rock hits, making it on almost every publication’s Best of the Year lists. But he’s not just tasty hooks and pop licks. Kurt’s songs and history are drenched in lo-fi psychedelia. Starting with Constant Hitmaker in 2008, he pumped out an ode to psych 101 with songs like Breathin’ Out, Space Forklift, and Freeway. He’s never moved too far away from his spaced-out roots, with each album having highlights reminiscent of his early work, such as Jesus Fever and Girl Called Alex, if a little more produced and refined. (At least some of time).
Freeway off Constant Hitmaker
Started as the solo project of Birds of Maya’s guitarzilla Mike “Dizzy” Polizze, his lo-fi lovefest has pumped out an average of two albums a year. A tighter, more radio-friendly version of Birds, sending melodic guitar riffs into (former tourmates) Dinosaur Jr.-style distortion. It has its far-out, endless jams too, like Almost Washed My Hair and Water On Mars that tickle the hard-to-reach spots in your mind. It’s caught the ear of Philly ambient-psych vets The War on Drugs too, as Adam Granduciel produced their 2013 album Water On Mars. Their most recent effort, 2014’s Weirdon, captures garage rock with a psych twist from decades past effortlessly, sounding more timeless with every listen. Everyone who likes guitar should know about this band, and see them soon.
Six Ways To Sunday from Weirdon
Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band
Chris Forsyth has been a staple of the Philly music scene for years as a solo artist – what took him so long to put this Allman Brothers-meets-the-Doors-acid-rock escapade together is anyone’s guess. But who cares. The Solar Motel is here now, and everyone who has spent an afternoon lying on their bed, zoning out while listening to records is better for it.
Solar Motel Part II by Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band
Another Birds of Maya side project, this time from bassist (and Spacin’ guitarist) Jason Killinger. Rhythmic drum and bass lines reminiscent of early Stooges evolve into hairy guitar solos and watery vocals. The laid back vibe of the lyrics and cruising speed of many of the songs make the entirety of their 2012 release Deep Thuds fantastically listenable. The haunting twin guitars of Ego-go send you into fuzzy-reverb bliss, while the buoyant beat of Sunshine No Shoes makes you wanna ditch your kicks and stroll the day away. Spacin’ is what Spacin’ does – and they want you to be Spacin’ too.
Ego-go by Spacin’
The War on Drugs
Arguably the most interesting band in the country right now, The War on Drugs have been consistently putting out beautiful sonic landscapes, painted by the collision of organs, guitars, and drums, for more than five years. Reminiscent of the “Wall of Sound” that Phil Specter and Bruce Springsteen became famous for, and crossing over to Crazy Horse land, with Adam Granduciel’s Dylan-esque vocals. They are completely original, producing songs like no other working band today. While the WOD’s is at times a very pop-accessible band – with radio-ready hits like Red Eyes, Best Night, Brothers, Under Pressure, and Burning – they’re a psych band through and through. It’s Your Destiny, Black Water Falls, The Haunting Idle, and Reverse the Charges fluctuate between mysteriously foreboding and enchantingly surreal.
Each album and live show is a fresh new experience, keeping listeners hooked for whatever they put out next.
The War On Drugs – Taking the Farm