Marah / Damnwells / Bill Mc Garvey @ Maxwells / June 3, 2004

Three durable combos representing nearby locales Philadelphia, New York City, and Jersey merged for one solid show at Maxwells in Hoboken this Thursday evening. ‘Singing drummer’ Bill Mc Garvey (formerly of underrated indie pop band, Valentine Smith) led his Good Thieves through a diligent hometown set. Supporting recently released gem, Tell Your Mother, Mc Garvey’s troupe relied on honeyed melodic conviction, meaningful heartfelt lyrics, and gauzy textures. He wove tenderly engaging baritone inflections across salient guitar-bass-violin-flute arrangements with relative ease.

Next, Brooklyn-based quartet the Damnwells – now receiving exposure for ‘03s acclaimed Bastards Of The Beat from Fordham’s heritage rock station WFUV – took the stage. Sporting shaggy long-haired and wearing similar black dress jackets (‘cept the drummer), singer-guitarist Alex Dezen drew the growing assemblage in with urgent flinty-voiced sentiments that drifted through restrained melancholia, poignant romanticism, and reserved uplift. But the Damnwells proved just as efficient delivering loud, assertive rockers as they did remitting debonairly twanged acoustic respites.

To get started, headliners Marah communicated penetrating sensitivity without getting sappy, uncovered a few wonderful new songs from their highly anticipated 20,000 Streets Under the Sky. A South Philly quintet led by Bielanko brothers David (lead vocals-guitar) and Serge (backup vocals-guitar), Marah confirmed eternal eclecticism could secure, rather than hinder, the joyously celebratory fare they pushed forth. Redolent of Springsteen’s E Street Band when unveiling hard driving working class rock ‘n’ roll, they blazed forward with raw energy and roughed-up edginess, oft-times letting more aggressive material perilously implode. Blending raucously upbeat R & B-derived coquetry with infectious acoustical retreats, they continually got partisan heads nodding in approval. Unexpectedly, Superchunk’s Jon Wurster has taken over drum chores, providing seasoned instinctive fortitude to each number. In several spots, Serge’s steel guitar detailed rural glint.

‘Tween songs, David offered charming tidbits of wisdom, claiming ‘if your band has one baseball song, you’re cool, but if you have two, you suck’ before breaking into a spare, harmonica-filled ode to America’s pastime. He even reminded the dumbfounded audience that the first recognized ball game took place in this mile-squared town. After bringing the house down with the nifty hand-clapped helix “Soul” (from ‘02s irrepressible Float Away With The Friday Night Gods), he suggested, ‘It’s hard to figure out what’s cool anymore. That’s the story of my life.’ Taken at face value, he may be right considering Marah would’ve been hailed as ‘mainstream’ rock heroes if they’d been around in the pre-punk ‘70s. Subsequently, David broke out a banjo for a harp-doused song concerning a faraway girl.

I’m convinced Marah will be one of the most exciting bands touring this summer. Guaran-fuckin’-teed.

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