By Adam McGrath
After cutting their teeth in the Ohio DIY scene and garnering plenty of praise last year for debut album Kicking Every Day, three-fourths of indie-pop band All Dogs now reside in Philadelphia. Thus, it was the perfect launching pad for an intense six-week tour that includes several showcase gigs at SXSW. Maryn Jones, Jesse Wither, Amanda Bartley and Nick Harris headlined an impressive collection of local talent March 5 at the First Unitarian Church in Center City West.
A young crowd clutching beer cans pressed forward to catch a glimpse of All Dogs’ ingénue, made especially difficult since the setup was on the floor instead of the stage. Jones bashfully peered from behind a tangle of stringy hair as the crowd loomed mere feet from her microphone stand. Her shy, nervous energy only served to further endear her to the gathered fans as she quietly joked about her new t-shirt, an upside-down smiley face rimmed by the phrase ‘Serenity Later.’
All Dogs’ music greatly reflects the singer’s sensibility: pleasant, fuzzy pop wrapped around a deeply personal core. The set worked backwards through some of the best tracks on Kicking Every Day, opening with the subdued “Garden”, building momentum through “Black Hole”, then finally bursting through on “How Long”, one of the most assertive efforts from the group, buoyed by Jones’ drawn-out vocal, Harris’ shiny guitar line and Wither’s insistent backbeat.
The good vibes continued through the up-tempo “Flowers” before the band turned the page back to a few older songs like “Buddy” and “Basement.” The second crest of the set came with earworm “Sunday Morning,” featuring more delicate guitar lines and Jones’ airy falsetto. The song transported me to a bedroom kissed by creeping sunlight and the promise of an unspoiled day.
There was a brief respite during “Your Mistakes” and “Skin” before the final crash of All Dogs’ biggest hit to date, “That Kind of Girl,” a true rock song with a fantastic narrative. If I were to offer a criticism of the performance, it would be that the group could use more of the unbridled energy found in this last song instead of the more introverted aura that characterized the set to that point. A minor point though, easily overlooked considering this was the first night of a big tour. No doubt All Dogs will make many new fans in the coming weeks.
It’s likely I wouldn’t have noticed the reserved nature of All Dogs’ performance had I not just been blown away by the most intense and exciting set I’ve seen in ages. Pinkwash, the math-punk duo comprised of friends Joey Doubek and Ashley Arnwine (who also performed as Ingrid down in D.C.) absolutely shredded my expectations with their relentlessly precise noise rock.
It pains me to admit that I was not familiar with their story or their music before that night, but the complex syncopation between Doubek’s heavily distorted guitar and Arnwine’s insistent drumming awesomely assaulted the liquid center of every cell in my body. The release of their full-length album cannot come soon enough, and I cannot overstate how impressed I was with their performance.
There are several great interviews with Pinkwash online that delve deeply into the political and personal motivations behind their music, so I’ll leave it to you to discover that story for yourself.
Prior to Doubek thrashing and screaming in front of a wall of amps, Scranton natives Three Man Cannon played a pleasantly polished set of tunes featuring a mix of tunes old and new. I could see the connection in their playing to the NEPA scene that turned out bands like the Menzingers, and I enjoyed the trade-off in vocal performances from drummer Pat Brier and guitarist/songwriter Matt Schimelfenig.
Local band Loose Tooth opened the evening with a sludgy, propulsive sound. All told, the lineup put together by R5 Productions proved once again the wealth of Philly’s current music scene. Catch All Dogs on tour through April 9, with five performances lined up at SXSW between March 14–18.