By Dan Williams
It began with the sound check. Not hours before the show, but right then as the MilkBoy crowd watched. Each band member wandered onto the stage; Andy Frasco took his place at the keys and took off his cap to release a wild mane of hair. Guitarist “Wing Man” Shawn Eckels gave Frasco a fluff and a thumbs up. As the rest of the began to tinker and tune, Frasco warmed up with entertaining snippets of tin pan alley, blues, and rock.
Without notice, the band leaped into a frenetic first number, every member exuding the same manic showmanship, immediately grabbing the audience. Shortly into the set, they launched into the easily learned sing along “Stop F*****g Around.”
At instrumental breaks, it appeared Frasco would climb right out of his skin. During the first song, off came the boots, then the socks, and soon even the keyboard came off its stand as Frasco stood playing it over his knee.
The band from L.A. is known as a constantly touring force, but surprisingly, this was Frasco’s first time playing in Philadelphia. They earned immediate invitations to return, and return often.
About six tunes in, Frasco directed Eckels and saxophonist Ernie Chang to climb down into the audience for a musician’s battle. Frasco called out styles he wanted to hear improvised, including Metallica, Star Wars, and any number of diverse favorites. As the guys played in close quarters while being mobbed, Frasco continued his manic dancing and orchestration of each transition.
This was one crazy party with a band that is as tight and in sync as any I have ever seen. Their brand of energetic blues-rock with hints of disco and old school hip hop locked the audience in and never let them go. Each musician is at the top of their craft, and their harmonies resemble the good time stuff of Huey Lewis & The News … on gallons of Red Bull.
Opening the night was NYC import MH The Verb. This was not the usual opening act. They are a 5-piece built on positive rap, but quickly showed they are much more. Slick melodic harmonies introduced touches of soul and jazz. The players behind the keys, bass, and drums are all clearly trained in improvisation. They recently moved to Philly for a scene change. Local rapper Kuf Knotz was in the house and joined the band twice for some freestyle work. The crowd made it clear all were welcome.
The support act was local singer/songwriter Nicky P. His indie style harnessed a bluesy growl and endearing personality. There were times I thought I was listening to a young Jim Croce, and other times he reminded me of another local singer/songwriter, Jason Ager. Adding to his acoustic guitar was a terrific bass man and a wailing, shredding electric guitarist.
There may have been only a few similarities between these three acts, but together, they made for a heck of a music night in center city.