On Saturday I celebrated the 4th of July at a shindig here in downtown Lancaster, PA, called Freedom Fest. Hosted by radio station WXPN on the deck and the surrounding grounds of the Marion Court Room Restaurant, Freedom Fest boasted 7 hours of live music from 12 bands on 2 stages, along with several art exhibits, all for $10.
I got there about two hours into the festivities, and met up with Ken Mueller, who does promotional work with WXPN, and who gave me the rundown on the bands coming up. I knew that I wasn't likely going to stay the whole night, but from the first Ken recommended I stick around to hear the band Perkasie. "They're easily the best band in Lancaster right now," he promised. They weren't going on until about 8:45, though, so I wasn't sure.
Listened to some decent music from a few regional bands, enjoyed some good food and drink, and made my around the crowd, running into friends here and there and spending a great deal of time just people-watching. At one point, the skies seemed to darken a bit, and since I don't drive and had about a 25-minute walk home ahead of me, I thought maybe it was time to get going.
"C'mon, dude, you gotta stick around for Perkasie," Mueller implored when I stopped by the WXPN table on my way towards the exit. "It isn't going to rain."
Ken isn't exactly always on the same musical track as I, but he knows his stuff. When I recently wrote about Nick Cave, he suggested I check out Wovenhand, and what a perfect recommendation that turned out to be. I asked for an idea of what Perkasie was going to sound like, and surprisingly, I seemed to have stumped him with that question. "Well, they're different..." he started, searching for a way to describe them. "They've got a washboard and a mandolin..." He trailed off again.
Well, now my interest was piqued, so rain or no, I was sticking around. Boy am I glad I did!
As noted on their MySpace page, Perkasie's sound has been described as "bubblegum baroque pop," and "more Puff The Magic Dragon meets Lynyrd Skynyrd meets O Brother Where Art Thou than Woody Guthrie meets Left Banke meets The 1910 Fruitgum Company." That should give you a rough idea of why Mueller was having such a hard time describing them. In my mind, I hear them as Squirrel Nut Zippers meets Poi Dog Pondering in a dusty saloon. Elements of diverse musical styles clash, crash and emulsify in the Perkasie blender, creating a musical version of one of those slushy bar-on-the-beach drinks which leave you far more buzzed than you ever expected they could. With each new song, another ingredient was added to the mix: here's some rollickin' rag-timey piano; here's some fairly traditional-sounding folk; let's add a little bit of swing to the mix; wait, that's almost a march; holy cow is that a tango?; I think I detect some bluegrass in here...and your head is spinning and you feel great. Bartender, pour me another!
Onstage, the band is as entertaining to watch as they are to hear. Kate Foust is center stage for good reason - she is the focal point of attention. She demands it whether you want to pay attention to her or not. From the first note to the last, she is whirling around the stage, displaying seemingly boundless energy. There's a solitary drum next to her that she randomly pounds on, more as a way to release that energy than as an integral part of the song. Now she's over by the keyboard player, bashing away some random chords while he's trying to play. Now she's draped over the guitarist. Even the fellow playing washboard can't escape, and all the while she's winking at the audience as if including us in her mischievousness.
But Perkasie is by no means just the Kate Foust show. Keyboardist Alex Walsh shares lead vocal duties almost 50/50, grinning from behind his keyboard as if he's having the time of his life, and playing off Foust's careening with classic takes. Were they not musicians, they could have been a modern vaudeville act. The rest of the band chimes in regularly too, providing vocal harmonies and reaction shots to Kate's and Alex's antics.
Bottom line, this is a band that has fun. Whereas other bands throughout the day had to ask for audience participation ("C'mon people, clap your hands, you can dance, this is a party.."), Perkasie's enthusiasm just enveloped the crowd organically. THEY were having the party; we didn't want to miss out on the fun!
Perkasie has one CD out, self-titled. I wish I could tell you were to buy it. Plenty of places online where you can download it digitally: iTunes, Amazon, etc. But (and here's the old fogey in me, I guess), I want the actual CD. Really, I would love to have a vinyl LP, but I don't think they pressed any. Sadly, the band does not have their own website, nor any Facebook or Twitter pages that I could find. Their only online presence is on MySpace, but they have no links there to purchase the CD. (Hey guys - if you're reading this - get yourselves set up on Facebook and Twitter, and set up some CD purchase links - you're missing a huge market here!) I'm told you can purchase the CD from the band at their shows; I must have missed that opportunity on Saturday.
If you haven't heard Perkasie yet, here's a clip from YouTube that gives you a sense of the sound (or at least, one of the sounds) of the band. More can be heard on their MySpace page. But seriously, you must - MUST - see them live to get the full experience. I promise you'll leave with the best head-spinning, toe-tapping buzz you've ever had!