Christmas is full of traditions and annual celebrations, including great events to attend. No, I'm not talking about the Nutrcracker. I'm talking about the annual Christmas show put on by Marah at Underground Arts. I just attended for the third time in as many years, and it's perhaps the best yuletide event going.
If you're a regular reader, you already know about Marah, the great Philly-based rock band fronted by the brothers Bielanko. If you don't think they know how to bring a rockin' but very different kind of show to a venue, then check out this video. Yeah, that's a bagpiper calling in the boys to Away In A Manger:
This band puts on some of the most fun and different shows that I've ever attended. The Christmas show this year featured tons of fake snow, the bagpiping, four horns, some young dude playing what appeared to be a homemade ukulele as well as a guitar and electric fiddle, Santa, and a very tight but yet very loose core band. At times there were FOUR guitars going for it (not including the bass), giving a massive mountain of rock urgency to the band's signature tunes.
Marah put out some highly acclaimed albums, played Bonaroo and Austin City Limits festivals, but never seemed to get the widespread acclaim they richly deserve. I feel bad for them, but selfishly, I love being able to catch Marah at small clubs where I can be right in the thick of it. This year was no exception. We were right there up front singing along.
I'm beginning to recognize other regulars at these shows. That's cool with me. I'm also becoming a regular to UA, a unique basement club that feels just kind of right to a no-glamour dude like myself. I will say that UA was a bit toasty this year, and when I took a much-needed bathroom break halfway through the 2:45 hour show, I hung back under an a/c vent for a tune just to catch a break. I don't know how the band could take it, but it didn't seem to slow them down one bit.
Do you want to see a band play a tune as though the fate of the free world hung in the balance? Check this video out. How good are these guys? They are one of the best live acts I have ever seen - fun, committed, free-wheeling, spontaneous, but clearly well-rehearsed and skilled. They play rock the way it was supposed to be played - with urgency and passion.
That is the kind of passion that makes the regulars go wild. Just check out this guy if you don't believe me:
They also don't take themselves too seriously. I mean, these guys have fun. They tore through a bunch of tracks from their albums, like Point Breeze and Angels of Destruction. But it was a Christmas show, so they also did a rousing version of White Christmas and Holly Jolly Christmas. They came out to the theme from Rocky, thus confirming their love for their hometown. And for whatever reason, they love playing Hava Nagilah.
They like that traditional Jewish song so much that they played it twice during this year's show. I don't think I've seen a band play the same song twice since I saw NRBQ do it decades ago. It's funny and clearly shows that the band is having as much fun as the audience.
I got some pretty good pictures of the band, including ones with Santa. And I got yet another great time from a band that brings it with style, fun and panache every show. A few years back, I saw them at the Yards Brawler Fest, and even though they were playing on a small stage during daylight hours to a crowd of about 150 people, they gave it 100%. I was talking to them about an hour before they came on stage as we all debated getting our picture taken with Eddie Alvarez of UFC fame. We ultimately decided to go for it, and the picture of me and Eddie (with his soon-to-be-lost title belt over his shoulder) remains a fixture in my office. I don't know what the Marah guys did with their shots, but every time I look at that picture, I think of them, too.
Oh, and Brawler Fest also featured another hot Philly rock band who I love: Low Cut Connie. I'm off to see them in a few short hours. You see, this year I'm giving myself a few gifts for Christmas! I'll try to grab some good shots from that show, too, but I'm going with a few people who like to hang back. We'll have to see how much I want to play the good host - or better yet, how good are my powers of persuasion.
I might be back before the man with the bag comes through town, but no promises. If I do get back in time, I'll be sure to wish you a happy holiday. But if not, take this video as my sign of undying affection to you during this time of peace, brotherhood and impeachment.
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.