Gonna make me feel better / make everything all right.”I don’t really care if that rhyme is simple and obvious. We all understand the idea because, well, good music is one of the things that makes life worthwhile. When Stolen Rhodes’ frontman Matt Pillion sang that chorus around the midpoint of Wednesday night’s show at Milkboy – part of a new tune “about how the right song can save your soul just a little bit” – he spoke for everyone there.These bands aren’t jaded even though they’ve been around the block and around the world. They’re always conscious of how great it is to be out on stage playing together, they wouldn’t think of treating it like just another night at the office, and they don’t rest until the whole room feels it too. Actually they don’t rest at all, come to think of it. Each of them cranks out enough juice to short out the building (if not the whole Center City block). Put all three together and I’m not entirely sure how the place was still intact afterward, let alone how we all found enough energy to drag ourselves home.
If you enjoy punk, funk and crazed rockabilly in equal measure, you’ll have fun getting to know Thee Idea Men. They’re just about the friendliest bunch of goofballs you could hope to meet and they’re as irresistibly fun as they are goofy. It was a handful of songs made for volleyball games or summer barbecues, full of tight hooks and lyrics that almost might have seemed smarmy if the whole package wasn’t so good-natured and friendly. It’s funny to be using those words for music with this much hard-rock bite, but somehow they pull it off with gusto.
Where that first set felt like a barbecue, the second one took us to church. Picture the classic Southern-style service with people dancing and whipping themselves into a frenzy, but then replace the gospel singing with blistering roots-rock louder and meaner than you’d ever hear in a choir loft. Stolen Rhodes is closer to Lynyrd Skynyrd than James Brown, but shares the same exuberance and the ability to get a crowd hopping. (And in one case air-guitaring like mad – there was a fellow up front who’s apparently won contests for it and had all these guys’ songs nailed. Sound silly? Not in the least. His uninhibited thrashing up close with the band was simply a joy to watch.)
They shook the room with ferocious numbers like “Down in Flames” and “Gone,” which added to the blues-rock flavor with hints of flat-out metal. We were also treated to some all-new songs including the abovementioned “Save Me” (possibly a future single). That one made just about the only slower breather we got all night. From there it was a fast ride until “So Long,” which started with a taste of Chuck Berry and ended with bassist Dan Haase calling the faithful like a tent-revival preacher. His enthused turn at the mike “preaching the gospel of rock and roll,” as he put it, brought the house down and made it impossible for anyone not to feel the love. These fellas are the real thing, y’all.
Soon enough it was time for the Delta Saints, and suddenly the vibe felt less like a tent revival and more full of snake handlers and witch doctors. Their blend of grungy boogie and deep-South swamp blues was even more bewitching than it was on this month’s studio release Bones (and that induced plenty of chills to begin with). The set opened with its first three songs up to the wild “Heavy Hammer,” spread out to include staples like “Cigarette” and the dark rave-up of “Death Letter Jubilee,” and even made for a reinvention of “The Chain” more eerie than Fleetwood Mac ever would have imagined it. Lead guy Ben Ringel didn’t just sing, he went through vocal acrobatics and flailed like he could barely contain himself. I could have sworn somebody was about to start speaking in tongues at any moment.
These players all work together like parts in an engine. It’s hard to imagine how their sound really felt complete before Nate Kremer’s keys were there to add organ stabs, funk synths and all kinds of colorings. The guitars packed a mean punch in tone as much as volume. The atmosphere was electrifying and the grooves were indeed primal enough to rattle your bones. Band chemistry or black magic or both, it made for a smoking headlining set to leave us exhilarated and wrung out all at once.
“Hope you enjoyed it,” Ringel signed off at the end. “We sure as shit had a good time.” You can often tell when a performer’s saying those things out of habit and when it’s heartfelt. The Delta Saints leave no doubt – they’re as genuine as they come.