by Adam McGrath
The Shakers brought a slick Hollywood sensibility with them as they revisited their Philly roots for a feel-good show downstairs at World Café Live on July 20th. Guitarist and songwriter Chris Lee went west a few years ago to pursue his musical dream, and immediately clicked with vocalist and writer Jodie Schell, thereby birthing a modern hard-rock outfit with feminine fire that fills a void in today’s laptop-laden soundscape.
The four-piece group was the highlight of the night, as their polished sound and confident stage presence proved that The Shakers are ready for the next level. The set started strong, with newer tracks “I’ll Find You” and “Whatcha Want Whatcha Need” getting the crowd to leave their spots on the back bar and head down to the floor for a closer look. The energy was high as the band teased the intro to “Train Song” off the debut EP, with Lee warning that “this song is only for good dancers.” Lee’s guitar style is a little James Iha and a lot Dan Auerbach, as he moves from forceful distorted riffs to furiously strummed wah-wah solos.
The driving pace continued with a surprising but kick-ass cover of Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” followed by “Set My Sights,” the band’s 2012 single. Schell was a commanding presence on the microphone, as she belted out dynamic choruses and danced with her whole body. Her cute, compact features peeked out from under strawberry bangs as she alternated between the nuanced delivery of Karen O. and the full-throated roar of Ann Wilson. The vocals were a little overpowered when in the lower range and during softer verses, but that was a consistent sound issue with every act that night.
After slowing things down with “The Weight,” the set picked right up again with brand new song “The Hold” leading into “Over and Under.” The rhythm section— Kyle Kozlowski on bass and Nick Woods on drums—kept things tight and moving in the right direction. Their ability to move from standard blues changes to hard rock riffs adds an extra dimension to the band.
It was hard rock that carried the performance to a climactic three-song progression of “Gimme Honey,” “Hey Lil Darlin,” and “Villain”, all older songs that had fans, friends, and family in the audience singing along. It’s my opinion that the sound on these latter tracks is where The Shakers should focus their energy. It’s great that diverse genres such as soul and blues influence their music, but the band really soars when they embrace the balls-out hard rock sound that plays so well on Sunset Blvd. and beyond. Schell’s voice is a touch thin, and she is best when wailing in the upper register on top of Lee’s screaming guitar. This theory was solidified during the bluesy closing track “Thunder Cloud,” which did have some nice dynamics but brought me down from the high of the previous songs.
The Shakers are a band on the move, and I recommend checking out their new album Rescue Team on its August 31st release. If you’re craving some heavy guitar riffs and dig female vocals, this band is sure to satisfy.
This was the fourth annual Mid Summer Classic, organized by Philly rock group The Better Half. The lineup was full of Philly and Jersey bands, and it was obvious there was a real camaraderie among the acts. Especially touching was the support for Brett Talley, who was recently diagnosed with leukemia. During their set, The Shakers sported white t-shirts that promoted Brett Fest, a benefit concert to be held at World Café on August 16th. Make sure to spread the word and support this cause.
Some thoughts on the other acts:
The Quixote Project – Capitalizing on the current folk-rock movement, the band put good energy into songs with city names in the lyrics while augmenting their acoustic guitars with bongos and a ukulele. Frontman Jeff Selby sold the act from under his jeff cap.
The Brett Talley Band – A fun three-piece with Brett on guitar and vocals and his wife on bass, their sound was a throwback to 90s rock in a good way, like Hum and early Nirvana. Bonus points for the “Knights in White Satin” cover featuring Ronnie from The Better Half.
The Better Half – The kind of band who likes the idea of being in a band. Can’t say any tunes stuck out, so maybe focus more on songwriting and less on working the crowd. Drop the beach balls and the Rage cover.
Dime Street Joker – A hard rock group with a female lead, this band kept it pretty generic. With the exception of Natasha, the band could use a wardrobe stylist.