by Matt Kelchner
With Johnny Brenda’s already buzzing due to the opening tap of Philly Beer Week, Dave Hartley aka Nightlands kicked off another set of tour dates. Earlier this year, Hartley released his sophomore album Oak Island on Secretly Canadian Records and has been touring behind it ever since. On Friday night he brought out not only his touring band but also a special choir dubbed “The Sighborg Singers” to add a little special flair for a hometown show. Fellow locals Ape School and Our Griffins joined him for a night of great Philly talent.
First up was Easton, PA’s Our Griffins. Led by DJ Brown, the young band showed a lot of promise. The five-piece breezed through an impressive set with what looked to be relative easy. Song after song, the crowd watching grew larger and larger and the cheers in between louder and louder. The band draws strong comparisons to the intricate songwriting styles of Broken Social Scene and, at times, Brown’s voice sounded almost too similar to The Editors’ Tom Smith. Our Griffins shared a number of songs off their recently finished album Michael Boyd, including the single “Come and Wake Me Up”. Our Griffins showed that night that they are a local band that is not to be missed. Don’t be surprised to see them taking the lead as one of Philadelphia’s next up and coming bands ready to break out.
After a bit of time spent setting up and sound checking, Ape School took to the stage. Numerous guitar pedals spread across the stage, blinking in their own individual patterns. Ape School is the solo project of Michael Johnson, who has previously played with our Philly bands such as Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs and headliners Nightlands. Johnson takes his sound in a different direction than what he’s played in the past and Friday night he went out to show the city again. With no introduction, the band began playing and quickly into the set it became apparent that every member was very talented. With Johnson taking center stage, they played through a set that went from complete, off-the-wall psych to a more poppy, polished tunes. There was one element that ran throughout the entire set, noise. Walls of fuzz were built up and taken down as Johnson and company played hits both new and old. While the characteristics of the songs ranged greatly, a mix of 70s psych and garage rock was the central theme in them all. As Ape School’s set began to whined down, the room started to fill as Nightlands went up next.
Stuck in the middle of a pair of keyboardists and a drummer behind him, Dave Hartley and Nightlands kicked things off with no hellos or welcomings, just music. If there’s any one thing that stands out on Nightlands’ latest Oak Island, it’s the vocal harmonies. The same was apparent in their live sound as well. The beautifully layered voices of Hartley and his band shined through early on in the night. After a couple of songs, Hartley mentioned an experiment he was toying with finally coming to life. As he was mentioning that, five additional singers came on stage to assist with the harmonies. The Sighborg Singers were tucked away in one of the back corners of the small stage, but their voices certainly were not. Song after song, all eight singers (both keyboardists included) combined to fill the room with sound and quickly stole the spotlight of the show.
Another constant throughout Nightlands’ performances was the proud smile from Hartley. With his family and friends in attendance, Hartley went on to show off the fruits of his labor. One letdown of the night was the low number of just two NBA references. A huge fan of the game and leader of the campaign to get the San Antonio Spurs’ Matt Bonner into the Three-Point Shooting Contest during the All-star Game Weekend, one could expect a little more love given the league is in the height of the playoffs. Nonetheless it did not take too much away from the show. Nightlands and The Sighborg Singers ended the night with their rendition of “99 Miles To Los Angeles”. Hartley shot down ideas of an encore and invited the crowd to join him with a drink as he waved goodbye. It was a humble way to end an impressive night of music at Johnny Brenda’s.