Commonwealth Choir | Photo by Wendy McCardle |
The current state of rock ‘n roll is questionable. With so many sub-genres to choose from, how do you define rock music in 2016? I know I found the heart of it on Sunday night as three of Philadelphia’s most promising rock bands, Pine Barons, Commonwealth Choir and The Humble gathered at The Foundry in celebration of the latter’s upcoming EP, Act Accordingly, due March 11th.

New Jersey-based quartet Pine Barons set the evening off right. Watching this band perform is to witness the collision of heaven and earth. A veritable constellation of sound is woven within guitarist Brad Pulley’s effects-heavy guitar while strange sounds appear from seemingly nowhere, sending the listener clawing through the dust and grit of bassist Shane Hower’s low tones to identify its source. Vocalist Keith Abrams’ gentle wail looms eerily as each crack of Collin Smith’s snare pierces like a hunter’s bullet. The sound is creepy and unsettling, yet wholly enthralling. While they don’t carry the “party band” reputation shared by the rest of Sunday night’s bill, Pine Barons’ presence was integral in establishing an artful tone carried to the very end of the evening.

Golden age indie rockers Commonwealth Choir followed with what frontman Davis Jameson Howley described as a “guinea pig” setlist – seven brand new and unrecorded songs, the majority of which were being tested for the very first time on The Foundry’s crowd. Commonwealth’s appearance on Sunday night was its first in roughly six months and as soon as the band took the stage, it was evident things have evolved. They didn’t rely on past crowd pleasers like “Shirtless” or “Rest”. Requests shouted from the audience for “Palace”, Commonwealth’s most recent radio single, were politely declined. But perhaps the most notable change was the disappearance of the floor tom once played by keyboardist/guitarist Wil Chamuris. Chamuris’ wild percussion style has been a major focal point of the band’s performances so far, earning him the unofficial and slightly misleading title of “hype man”. Chamuris now divides his time onstage between guitar, keys and vocal harmonies and while his stage presence is still akin to that of a roaring lion, the energy amongst the Choir is much more balanced. In the absence of the floor tom we find there is more to this band than meets the eye. The audience is now equally drawn to the other side of the stage where guitarist Nick Cislak and bassist Maurizio Mazza both maintain a purely cerebral presence while laying down rhythms that are subtle and intricate yet dark and heavy enough to knock your teeth out. It may be another several months before we get to see Commonwealth Choir live again as they head back to the studio, but no doubt their reemergence will be a formidable one.

Finally, The Humble took the stage to celebrate not only the release of new material but also a triumphant homecoming following their 14-city tour. This is a band that grew out of playing house parties on college campuses throughout the city, at the time under the name Mo Lowda and The Humble. The college crowd has remained loyal to The Humble, packing The Foundry tightly with young voices singing along to every single lyric from the band’s impressive debut, Curse The Weather. But on a sonic level, college is officially over now for The Humble. A road-weariness has replaced the earnestness of the debut album, which is exciting to witness in a young band, particularly within vocalist/guitarist Jordan Caiola. He has somehow developed the gravel of a thousand packs of Marlboros without taking a single drag. His is perhaps the most distinctive voice in Philadelphia, deeply soulful and wise beyond its years. Behind him, the backbone of drummer Shane Woods and bassist Nate Matulis appear as the smartest men in the room, in possession of a secret not revealed to anyone yet. Act Accordingly, with a traffic light as its cover art, marks the halfway point on The Humble’s journey to that revelation. Perhaps they find themselves at a crossroads now but one thing is for sure – The Humble is about to leave us all in their dust.