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Concert Review: Grimace Federation’s Popular Science
Philly’s hardest working instrumentalists treat their hometown to night after night of groovy tracks. Photos by Julia Aguilar
Philly’s psych-prog-weirdness trio Grimace Federation are four going on five nights deep into their Popular Science residency at the Kung-Fu Necktie in North Philadelphia. Held in collaboration with Brooklyn based DJ Sonkin, the shows feature a wide variety of supporting acts for the multi-night venture, hailing everywhere from Florida to Barcelona. Bridging the gap between grimy bass DJ acts, dance anthem dubstep, hip hop and everything in between, Popular Science hasproven to be as much of a party as a show, with concert goers rocking the dance floor each night from beginning to long after the end.
The bi-weekly concert hosts an array of different artists and styles for each night. Night one (July 18th) saw the snare frenzied dance beats of Rhode Island’s The Range soar above bass heavy acts Starkey and Dev79, founders of the local dub/grime label, Seclusiasis. Night two (August 1st) opened with Philly dj Krueger’s bouncy swag music, followed by the cloud riding spitting and dope beats of local mc, Lushlife, (whose latest album, Plateau Vision is out now on Western Vinyl), closing off with Sinjin Hawke bringing a taste of Barcelona house music. Philly resident Jesse Miller, performing as his solo act Beard-O-Bees offered more beat-driven electronica than his day job as a member of ambient post-rockers Lotus on night three (August 15th), accompanied by Philly’s Damn Right! and DJ Thibault from Brooklyn. Night four (August 29th) ended in a haze of funk and bass beats from Philly’s Greg D and Sir Charles, making his first Philadelphia appearance from his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. Each night’s unique blend of genre-melding electronica acts serve as only a taste however, to the real treat of the residency, the hosts themselves, Grimace Federation.
Despite their modesty, (Grimace Federation perform each night in the middle of the set, with Sonkin closing) Grimace Federation stole the show each night. Blurring the lines between atmospheric jazz-rock and electro psychedelia, Grimace has been putting in work since day one, and have the scars to show for it; on their debut album Tasted by Chemists (2007), the group was a sextet, but after many changes in sound and lineup, the band stands tall as a powerhouse trio, an absolute behemoth of sound. Despite their changes in sound over the years, from the acoustic nu-jazz of their earliest demos to the post jazz-rock epics of their full lengths, Grimace have retained the complexity that has always made them such a thrill to listen to; having housed a horn section, a vibes player, an additional drummer and guitarist, Grimace don’t sound like any less of a band then they’ve been in the past. If anything, they’ve pushed themselves to the limits of creativity to grow and become more of a band.
Grimace Federation’s newest work at first seems like the largest left-turn they’ve taken, switching up their game as psychedelic jazz rockers to pioneering vast, lush landscapes of electro trip hop, but upon further listening, it seems only natural that Grimace have ended up here; new tracks like “Escape at Dawn” unfold with hooks and progressions that completely immerse the listener in a world of sonic hypnotism, whilst tracks like “Ghosts in a Mirror” pay homage to their instrumental roots. Chris Wood still pounds out the drums with such fervor that you’d be hard pressed to try and tell a listener that they no longer have two drummers, least Wood’s whirling arms were flying across his kit right in front of you. Bassist Jim Calvarese grooves alongside the computer generated rhythms, reminding us that the only true bass is played, well, on a bass. Guitarist and board-master Wes Schwartz conducts with a guiding hand, which he turns with ease to the keyboard or guitar at a moment’s notice, jamming hard on the near-Slayer quoting “Prog Too,” or the doom rock of “Gramonts Memory.”
“We’re always doin’ something,” laughs Schwartz, taking a drag off his cigarette after the fourth night’s set. He’s certainly not kidding either; Grimace Federation have taken little time off between Popular Science dates, traveling to Montage Mountain in Scranton for the Allman Brothers Band’s Peach Music Festival in early August, as well as opening for Circa Survive in later that month for their album release show. Though initially announced as a four night event, Popular Science has added two more dates to their string of shows, one later this month (Sept. 14th, this Friday) and one in October (3rd, Wednesday). Indeed, Grimace Federation show no signs of slowing down, continuing to weave sonic wanderings for both the rocking dance floor and gazing at star studded skies. Stop by the next Popular Science show to see what they cook up next.