by Geno Thackara
Well, this is one show that lives up to its name (or since the program first started in London, I should say it does what it says on the tin). Communion is an ongoing showcase that brings a bill of up-and-coming artists to a series of major cities each month for some exposure to fresh ears. It worked just as intended for the four acts that came to Milkboy on Thursday, if the room’s reaction was anything to go by. This show was all about new connections and discoveries.
The job of kicking things off went to Family Vacation, a fun rootsy group from Temple who look like hipsters, sing like folkies and play like a group of longstanding friends having a friendly rock jam in a big backyard. With a name like that and titles such as “Sunrise Surf Club” and “Horizon,” you might suspect it’s music with a groove-for-the-road sound and a generally optimistic feel. You’d be right. Starting to warm up the place is never an easy job, but even with an odd wobbly moment or two, they got it done in fine style. By the first break any nerves felt gone from the room.
Bensalem’s The Burgeoning offered even more optimism (well, just look at the name) and a bit more energy, mixing some of this century’s R&B with touches of trippy 70s rock, 80s pop, 90s grunge and a good-time attitude that’s suited to any era at all. They’re the kind of guys not afraid to enjoy some wild guitar soloing in one song and then slide into smooth soul crooning with lush keyboards for the next. With a good helping of their EP Love Alchemy, Life Algorithm, a couple new songs and a rocking Police cover, they certainly got the audience jumping – at one point literally, but thankfully not enough to make us worry about the floorboards. It is a second-floor room in an old Center City building after all…
Some more soulful pop/R&B came next from singer-songwriter Kevin Garrett, but this was a more subtly charming kind fit for a late-night coffeehouse as much as a club. This lineup was a simple trio of electric keyboards and drums, simple and synth-y without being programmed or overprocessed. He has a beautifully understated style with a very tasteful touch on the keys and a pure clean falsetto that’s soothing instead of grating. (The voice gave me a pleasant Bon Iver vibe even before his excellent cover of “Skinny Love.”) He was celebrating his first EP Mellow Drama, released only two days before, and the compelling single “Coloring” alone shows why he’s getting such good word of mouth (or more likely word of Tweet) as an artist to watch. Look him up the next time you’re unable to sleep and just feel like quietly staring out a window for a while.
As much as I enjoyed all of them, it was the irresistible Hey Rosetta! who completely bowled me over at the end of the night (believe me that they’ve earned the exclamation point). They deserved a good round of applause just for fitting themselves – all seven members – and all their gear onto a stage that would have been a tight squeeze for a VW Beetle. Each of them plays at least two instruments, by the way. Their wonderfully expansive range of sound includes lovely voice harmonies, multiple keyboards, multiple guitars, bass, trumpet, French horn, violin, cello, drums, xylophone, mandolin and cowbell. This group has to be a sound engineer’s nightmare, but for the listener it’s an absolute delight.
They’re getting plenty of good mileage out of last year’s Second Sight, whose first song and current promo single “Soft Offering (for the Oft Suffering)” felt just like the beautiful sunrise it describes and had me hooked in the first five minutes. You could call them folk, alternative, post-rock, jam-band, Americana (or rather Canadiana since they’re from St. John’s), and a handful of other things I can’t even put a finger on. I simply call it addictive and uplifting.
“Neon Beyond,” “Alcatraz,” “Cathedral Bells” and “Harriet” all appeared, as well as older tunes like the gorgeous “Bandages.” I remember most of those because someone in the middle of the room couldn’t contain his enthusiasm in shouting back requests. It was occasional happy shouting and not the constant or annoying kind, and nobody minded much since the crowd was already familiar enough to cheer for most songs at the first few notes. One hour was enough to make it unmistakably clear why they’re inspiring so much love and excitement to keep the crowds coming back for more. Hey Rosetta! will also be returning to the area in June as part of Dover’s Firefly festival.
It’s no wonder the Communion series has grown so much in the last almost-decade; you could hardly ask for a more inviting opportunity to come out and maybe take a chance on something new. Milkboy will also be hosting Philly’s next on May 6th.