by Adam McGrath
For a little while there, I could have been in an episode of HBO’s True Blood. The stage at Ortlieb’s Lounge was bathed in red neon and Reese Van Riper was pumping out dirty rock that would make the supernatural residents of Bon Temps feel right at home. Though they hail from our neighboring garden state, RVR brought that southern gothic vibe to north Philly on Sunday night.
It was my first time visiting Ortlieb’s Lounge, which reopened in the spring of 2012 under Four Corners Management, the same group behind Union Transfer and Morgan’s Pier. And while I had not experienced its history as a jazz house, this incarnation delivered everything I’ve come to expect from a 4CM venue: good sound, good beer and good food. The only qualm I had with the room was the fact that the stage is aimed directly at a wall no more than 10 feet away, leaving room for just six people to get a straight-on view of the band. It is open enough, though, to enjoy the performance from the front bar or the retro booths in back.
Reese Van Riper began as a vehicle for its front-man but has grown into a traditional three-piece rock outfit. Van Riper wrapped his six-and-a-half-foot frame around the microphone while he belted out three strong opening numbers: “Promenade,” “Whiskey Queen,” and “Paper Mache Bandits”. The set hit a bit of a speed bump though, as Van Riper broke a string on his electric guitar and was forced to use his acoustic through the next four songs, which included “Pitchfork” and “Lucy”. The band communication faltered as members openly wondered how many songs were left and which ones they would be, and the rails came fully off during new song “Kansas City,” when the cord to Van Riper’s guitar completely went on the fritz. Luckily, he was able to borrow a Telecaster and gather the troops for a kick-ass rendition of “Hoodoo Rising” off of 2012’s Ghost Oil Revival EP. It was on this final song that Reese Van Riper showed its strength, with energetic, bluesy distortion, and Reese’s Rob Zombie-like growl.
Tinmouth took the stage next, and brought a more straightforward indie rock vibe with them. Another three-piece, it was clear these youngsters had listened to plenty of Death Cab for Cutie. Lead singer Timothy Tebordo pushed the pace through the first half of the set, maybe too much so, as drummer Alyssa couldn’t quite keep up. Even so, I’ll be keeping my eye on this band.
The opening act was Lost Verses, a solo singer whose stage name is a reference to a Sun Kil Moon song. Though his performance was a bit disjointed as he paused to change tuning almost every song, his voice was strong and the songs engaging.
The show at Ortlieb’s was fun, if not perfectly executed. I’m always excited to check out new bands and new venues, and this spot and these acts are now firmly on my radar. I suggest you put them on yours, too.