written by Nick Hopton
There’s nothing like Philadelphia music.
The passion, the drive, the soul… the bands.
It’s our blue-collar atmosphere and style of music that sets us apart from many other markets. It’s about busting your ass to make something of yourself. Literal blood, sweat, and tears. The beautiful thing about this though is that you can feel every step of the journey come out in the songs created here. You can follow bands from the bottom as they rise to the top. This past weekend was a perfect example of that. Foxtrot & The Get Down decided to throw an old school, hometown party at The Foundry inside of The Fillmore….and brought along their friends in Saint Slumber and PHNTMS to help kick it off.
I grabbed a cocktail, got my spot on the rail, and strapped in.
Up first: PHNTMS.
I’m not exaggerating when I say this band is destined for great things. Take Fiona Apple…and stick her in the front of This Is War era 30 Seconds To Mars, with The Edge from U2 on guitar. Absolutely biblical tunes. The lead singer, Alyssa Gambino, has this beautiful, haunting way about her. Her range is incredible, and it seems as though she does it with complete ease. Never once hitting a wrong note or seeming to strain. It’s pure vocal mastery. I was blown away, to be honest. It’s not very often the first band of the night leaves you in awe, but they did just that to me.
Adam Jessamine is silky smooth on that guitar too. Tight, crisp… perfection. The scary thing when using so much delay on guitar as Adam does, especially live, is that if you hit ONE wrong note, the entire song can derail like a train wreck. It never happened. This dude is good. Really good.
But we can’t forget about the foundation of the band, guitarist Mikal Smith and drummer Beth Murphy. The glue that holds the entire act together. Just flawless. It’s hard to put together a perfect lineup, and I believe PHNTMS has done it. They ooze that new Philadelphia alternative-soul. They are the real deal. Mesmerizing for the entirety of their set. I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage, and neither could the crowd. So keep your eyes and ears open…you’re going to hear A LOT from them very soon.
Set change. I grab a quick smoke, and head back in for another gin, and get set for the next band, Saint Slumber. I bump into another friend… up and coming rocker… New York City’s own Micky James. It’s always great to see the support from other artists at gigs such as these, and it also shows how big this gig actually was. We chat for a few minutes, discussing life, the future, and a bit of rock and roll. I’ll sit down with Micky sometime soon for a conversation…but remember that name, and get ready for what he’s about to bring to the table.
Saint Slumber, a post-pop 3-piece outfit hailing from the Philly/NYC area, shot out on the stage like a goddamn cannon. Vocalist Josh Perna has that “it” factor. He knows how to work the crowd, constantly and consistently getting the crowd to clap and stomp along to each song. Guitarist Aaron Brown, the main melody machine of the band, carries them through with spot-on guitar licks. Never missing a step, always on point. But the star of the night was drummer Matt Carpenter. This night was about him, as this would be his final show with Saint Slumber. The audience found out about this early on, so I keyed in on watching him play.
Goodbyes are the hardest, but goddamn if you don’t play your ass off knowing it’s the last time. And that’s exactly what Matt did. The intensity, the focus, the fun… Matt was on fire. And rightfully so. That’s how you go out… exactly as he did. The band itself carries a vibe similar to early Imagine Dragons, especially with the extra drum on stage for Josh to smash away on, but they keep it original. No signs of imitation or stealing. Watching them on stage though, even with this big sound, they have this working-class vibe that the two cities are known for. It goes a long way, as connecting with them and their message is that much easier knowing that they’re one of us.
I spot various members of the crowd singing and hanging on to every word that comes out of Josh’s mouth; that connection is real. The emotion is real. These guys are real. Three different people came up to me and asked…”what’s the name of this band?” That right there… is a good thing. People want to remember who and what they saw. They want to remember that feeling. I sense a theme of wanting to get out of here… wanting to escape. They keep this up… they’ll find exactly what they’re looking for. A way out.
Another set change… another journey around the venue. I can feel the excitement begin to build. The band everyone has come to see is moments away from the stage. The crowd starts to really fill in around the stage…drinks in hand and smiles on their faces. They know what’s coming. The fun is about to really begin.
I make my way to the side of the stage… a little elevated area where I can observe the show from an outside perspective, really getting a chance to grasp the reaction of the crowd. I take my seat, look to my right, and see Foxtrot & The Get Down all together…. in that beautiful tradition we call the pregame huddle. Smiles on their faces, jumping around… knowing damn well they’re about to light this place up like the Fourth of July. The lights dim. The band takes the stage. The crowd roars, and then ladies and gentlemen, blast off. The closest thing I can compare it to is a modern, Philly version of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band… blistering saxophone and all. The styles are vast. There are blues, there’s funk, there’s R&B, there’s rock and roll.
It’s Philadelphia summed up on a stage. You want it? They got it.
They embody what this city is all about. Influences from all over, meeting in a single place to make something beautiful. It’s a wall of magic sound. The soundtrack to a night out on South Street. They’re flat out fucking FUN. They open up with a few fan favorites, and then decided to play their entire new album in full. THE ENTIRE ALBUM IN FULL. In the middle of the set. They even dropped the lights completely at the start and legitimately made it feel like you were venturing into hearing this for the first time in a candlelit bedroom, Almost Famous style. Front to back; exactly how you will hear it when they release it.
The crowd is in full dance mode for the majority of the set, something not typically achievable for a local act. But then again…they’re not a normal “local act.” They’re about to break through that title. Primed for the next step. That “next” band out of Philly. One of the new songs they premiered, “Monster,” is a stomping masterclass of dirty blues straight out of the Schuylkill River. Colin O’Donnell hangs on every word as he stomps around the stage, beating the shit out of his guitar, and roaring into the microphone. He’s an architect of both the song and the stage. It’s intoxicating to witness. The crowd is fixated, eyes forward instead of on their phones. Speaking of which, no phones out. An absolute rarity nowadays. They’re all soaking this in. It’s an old-school rock and roll show. The way you’re supposed to enjoy a gig. It just felt special; something was in the air that night. Like nothing else outside of that room mattered, just what we had in front of us.
In a fitting finale, the band comes back out to cheers for an encore, and proceed to play a song called “Shine.” Before they begin, O’Donnell mentions that he wrote this on the back porch when he went to West Chester University. Being from West Chester, it made it that more special to me. It felt like a bridge to myself and the band; it felt like home. It was a fitting end to one hell of a night.
I caught up with O’Donnell for a brief moment after they left the stage, hugged him and let him know they were absolute magic on stage tonight. I also let him know one other thing…
“Pal. If Bruce is The Boss of New Jersey… I think you might have just become The Foreman of Philadelphia.”
We share a laugh… and he responds, “Hell yes. Spread that word!”
Will do my friend. Will do.
Goddamn, I love this city.