by Ricky Haldis
On Friday night, the sidewalks of South Street were populated with a noticeably different assortment of individuals who were scattered among the usual congregation of beatniks and oddities. This peculiar crowd, who donned full surfer garb, made the small, Philadelphian street feel as though it was actually in the heart of Malibu. All of the tank tops, muscle shirts and bandannas that were speckled among the droves of pedestrians were worn to show support of the Hawaiian band Pepper, who were set to headline at the TLA.
As a few straggling bohemians spilled into the large body of the theater, they were met by an energetic quartet of musicians who called themselves RDGLDGRN (pronounced red-gold-green). Their style was instantly captivating, as it brandished a broad, yet perfectly uniform range of influences. Their riffs were heavy and rocking, their choruses had a refreshing sense of catchiness and pop, and their breakdowns payed homage to the hip-hop greats. The opening band was clearly welcomed by the audience, who waved their hands and sang along as the band cycled through their setlist. They ended with a final, powerful chorus and graciously thanked the crowd for sharing the evening with them.
The audience watched with anticipation as the next band set up. This second act was not preparing a drum kit of any kind, which left the crowd to chatter in curiosity. The projection screen that blocked the stage finally rose to reveal a keyboardist the the far right of the stage, and a single guitarist opposite him. A massive pre-recorded drum track exploded through the hall, and a tall, skinny man ran from backstage, and began rapping to the beat. The duo of musicians joined in with funky guitar parts and staccato piano riffs, and the audience erupted with excitement. The frontman, who introduced himself as Grieves, spent the evening proving that he has reserved a spot among the hip-hop greats. It was never more evident that a group who has already achieved a respectable status had the potential to explode onto the level of worldwide fame. Grieves kept the audience intrigued, occasionally making them laugh with some lighthearted jokes, but frequently took time to express his gratitude for his success. His lyrics held a depth to them that was able to touch everyone in the crowd. After the group finished one last song, the projection screen descended again, and the crowd began to chatter, but this time, there was an energy that was obviously present in everyone in the room.
As the room filled to capacity, awaiting the headlining act, the audience buzzed with an infectious feeling of positivity. Everyone was smiling, and sang along to every song that poured out of the house system. Suddenly, the lights went out, and the word ‘Pepper’ was projected onto the black curtain that hung behind the stage. The “Cantina Theme” from Star Wars burst out from the PAs, and the audience erupted as the band rushed out to the stage. They tore into their first song, “Stormtrooper,” and immediately proved that their music had the power to move people. The entire room bounced to the beat of the band, utilizing what little space they had in such a crowded room. The sheer power of the three-piece band was staggering; the bass was like a punch to the chest, and every kick to the bass drum was like a burst from a cannon. This incredible sense of power juxtaposed with the tasteful, groovy feel of the songs resulted in a style that was unique to Pepper. The contagious energy of the reggae that they brought to the room stayed with the audience, even after they spilled back onto South Street. The uniquely dressed concertgoers, with smiles still on their faces, could be seen speckled all around the area, in restaurants and bars near the venue. The happiness that resonated in the air was enough evidence that Pepper had achieved their goal; the audience did not only leave with a night of good music, but a memory of a truly incredible experience that everyone who attended can share.