Monday, June 25, 2012

Beating the Summer Heat with Freezepop

After experiencing the first official heat wave of the summer around these parts, I was happy the temperature (and more so, the humidity!) broke somewhat this weekend. That pleasant change in weather came just in time for a Saturday night in Philadelphia that turned out to be one of the coolest nights in a long time - as measured on the fun meter, not the thermometer.

As advertised a few weeks back on this blog, Saturday night saw Boston-based electronic band Freezepop headline a three-band show at Kung Fu Necktie on North Front Street in Philly.  This was my first Philly show in a little over two years, since seeing Jello Biafra & the Guantanamo School of Medicine at The Trocadero in March of 2010, and it put Philly right back on my musical radar map after it had been bumped off by Baltimore, MD, as the place to go.

A lot of that had to do with my official tour guide for the evening.  Sue and I have been friends since high school, but fell out of touch as people do over time when Life takes you different directions.  Facebook reconnected us, at least in the online universe, us a couple years back, and we've kept trying to find the time to get together and see each other after 15+ years.  Something always seemed to come up - work, family, whatever.  As soon as I first started talking about the Freezepop show on Facebook, Sue and I started planning our mini-reunion - this time, no excuses!  There are friends you have who, if you reunite after a long absence, you find much to your chagrin you no longer have much in common.  But there are those special Friends-with-a-capital-F who you can go for years without seeing, but when you finally have the chance it's just as if no time had passed.  Sue is definitely a "capital F" Friend, and I was so glad to get to see her again.

When my brother Marc and I got into Philly, our first order of business was finding eats.  On Sue's advice we wound up at Johnny Brenda's, a hip little brewpub on the corner of Frankford and Girard.  Good beer and good food (I had the best Cubano sandwich I've had in quite awhile!) at decent prices - can't beat it.  Shortly after we finished eating, Sue met up with us and, after a bit of catching up with each other, it was off to the evening's venue.

Kung Fu Necktie turns out to be a tiny little place on a corner in a basically residential neighborhood: bar in the front, stage in the back, maybe capable of holding 150 - 200 people all told. There is, apparently, an upstairs area with video games and pool tables, which Sue and Marc discovered, and there is a downstairs which serves as a backstage area/dressing room for the bands.  The staff is friendly and the drinks are served up quickly, and even when the place reached full crowd level for the evening we never felt packed in like sardines like you can at some shows.  Live music has an 11:00 PM curfew there because of the neighborhood (a DJ takes over until 2:00 AM), and on this night doors opened at 8:00 PM for a three-band show.  Three bands in three hours meant shorter sets, but that probably worked in Freezepop founding member Sean Drinkwater's favor given that he pulled double duty, singing lead with his other band, Lifestyle, as one of the opening acts.  He was exhausted (but happily so) by the end of the night.

When we got there, the first band, a local electronic duo called Crozet (there is an interesting story on how they came to be named after a group of islands in the Indian Ocean), had just taken the stage. We took seats at the bar to continue our "how have the last 15 years treated you" conversations, and Crozet's swooping, swirling, almost ethereal music provided a fine background. Think of the sort of lush, ambient, keyboard-based soundtrack music you heard in every mid-to-late eighties teen angst movie, and you'll have a pretty good idea of Crozet's sound.

Lifestyle was up next, and  that was our cue to find our spots up front, stage center.  Our time machine to the '80s revved into high gear as Lifestyle's nine-song set had the band sounding at times like prime-era Simple Minds, Human League, early Pulp, and a little bit of ABC.  They were simply fantastic.  Their between-song goofing indicated a band at ease and having fun, but the music was tight, on point, and excellent. Despite Lifestyle predating Freezepop, a fact I did not know until talking with Sean that night, there are unfortunately no proper Lifestyle releases available for purchase.  However, a trip to their website will be rewarded with almost two CDs worth of material: an online LP and a series of demo recordings.  Go and get them; your ears will thank you.  And don't forget to donate a little something to Lifestyle for providing those tunes; Sean will thank you.

Finally, Freezepop took the stage, opening with "Harebrained Scheme," and launching into an outstanding set that combined classic early Freezepop like "Parlez-Vous Freezepop" and "Stakeout" with more recent vintage material, including "Doppleganger" and a killer run-through of "Brainpower."  I was honored when they played a song I had personally requested, their wonderful "Science Genius Girl," allowing me to check off another item on my live band bucket list: the first time a band has ever mentioned me by name onstage.  (Thank you again, Freezepop!)  Through it all, they had the crowd dancing and singing along.  At one point, Liz Enthusiasm and Christmas Disco-Marie Sagan challenged the crowd to jazzercise, and then demonstrated proper technique.

Of course, they weren't getting away without an encore.  They came back onstage to play "Special Effects," and then - after checking that they had time for one more song - asked what everyone wanted to hear.  Naturally, the cry went up for their anthemic "Less Talk More Rokk," but Sean dismissed that request, saying that it was "too complicated - pick something easier to play."  Someone in the crowd yelled out "Hot Cross Buns" (presumably meaning the childhood rhyme), which caused John "Bananas" Foster to grab his keytar and intro "our newest song, 'Hot Cross Buns!'" followed by a hysterical "come on guys" look while the rest of the band stood motionless.  Finally, it was revealed that Sean's refusal of "Less Talk More Rokk" was all a ruse, and they launched into a truly fantastic performance of the song, complete with Drinkwater taking his keytar and jumping into the crowd in full-on rockstar mode, and Liz Enthusiasm following suit to dance with the crowd.  It was a great, great show.

All four members of Freezepop then hung out in the bar area, being very gracious to those of us who bombarded them with requests for signatures and pictures, clearly enjoying the interaction with their fans.  All four were very easy to talk with and eager to say hello.  I know I say this constantly in my posts, but it so nice to be able to see a band who is so connected to their fan base, and so willing to interact both in performance and afterward.  This old punk really loves seeing the current crop of bands who are embracing that sort of grassroots approach.

This show was part of weekend mini-tour in celebration of Liz Enthusiasm's birthday - I hope she had as much fun celebrating as we all did seeing her and her band perform! As always, more pics will up on the That's What I Was Going To Say Facebook page.

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