That’s right kids, The Philly Jays have hit London in a whirlwind of punched up, catchy rock n roll, high pitched wails and crowd-accosting, brilliant nonsense.
The first time I ever saw this band, back in 2008, there were 9 people in the audience. Yup, 9. I actually counted. And out of that 9, 1 was the promoter, another 5 the supporting band. Leaving me and the 2 friends I’d dragged along in my home town of Adelaide. For any other band, performing to such a dismal turn out would be enough send them into an awkwardly rushed and mumbled minimal set. But in true Philly form they carved it up the hardest I’ve ever seen them (and believe me, I’ve been to plenty of shows since). Moving on from their humble beginnings, the band have gone on to achieve national acclaim, securing spots at major festivals and playing to frenzied sold out crowds across the country. It’s safe to say they’re now ‘a bit of a big deal’ and definitely one of Australia’s most well known indie outfits.
Which brings me back across the seas to the fresh, un-phillied, yet to be jay’d turf of the United Kingdom. As a part of the famed ‘Great Escape’ festival showcase, Philadelphia Grand Jury played to a hectic sold out crowd at the ironically named ‘The Hope’ (their debut album being called ‘Hope is for Hopers’ baddum cha). The Hope, a quaint little venue in the seaside town of Brighton, is the type of joint where you’re instantly soaked with sweat just by walking (ok squeezing) into the band room, despite the bitterly cold outdoors sea air. Due to festival madness and scheduling, we got there late and only caught the end of the set. But it was enough to fog up our lenses and have the industry-heavy, drunken Saturday night festival crowd begging for more. Mmm toasty.
Fast forward 8 days and we find ourselves in Notting Hill, London on a quiet Sunday evening. Having come down off their short lived Great Escape high, the guys hit the stage as the final band of an all day, Brit-heavy indie line up. Being a daytime thing, by 8pm most of the crowd had left in favour of catching the latest episode of Eastenders rather than the set of an unknown motley trio from Australia with a weird American sounding name. Whatevs. Those who did stick around hung up the back of the band room, with only a small group of Australians lingering somewhere near the front and attempting a drunken jive or two.
Its always interesting to see the subsequent dynamic of a popular live band when taken out of context, aka retreating back to the days of the sparse Adelaide type shows. At first it appeared that (what remained of) the fine English folk of the Notting Hill Arts Club did not quite know how to take our latest and greatest musical exports. From Berkfinger’s pre-recorded, hyperactive on-stage banter to MC Genius’ punk rock air jumps and newest Jay on the block Calvin Welch’s unassuming ability to carve it up on the kit. Despite (gasp!) not fitting the requisite age range for the rest of the drainpipe wearing teenagers in the London indie music circuit, at the age of 56, Calvin rocks it harder than any Shoreditch hipster.
Regardless of the initial weirdness and misgivings that The Philly Jays may conjure up amongst a virgin crowd, one blatant fact still remains; their tunes are fucking awesome. That’s it. If a crowd is not vibing, it is because they actually have no taste. Perhaps they were just too entranced by MC Bad Genius’ Bluebeard style crazy eyes, or gawking at the close proximity of a gyrating Berkfinger and wondering what sort of new fangled LDN contraband he must’ve taken earlier.
Going through their winning repertoire of indie rock hits; ‘The Good News’, ‘Going To The Casino’, ‘I’m Gonna Kill You’, it appeared they’d decided to end on ‘I Don’t Want To Party (Party)’, announcing it would be their last song in a mess of mic eating, off stage roaming and guitar slashing. But in a bid to keep the night going and perhaps stick it to the prudish Notting Hill-ites even further, Berkfinger announces from his cross legged position on the floor amongst the audience, “Calvin, I think we should do ‘99 Problems’!” Soliciting the help of a scared looking Englishman to repeat the lyrics of Jay Z’s infamous bitch-hatin’ anthem of racial injustice, Berkfinger’s geek-gone-gangster assault on the audience put a few smiles on their stiff English faces.
And then we all got drunk on homemade rum in Dalston and danced to Afro Cuban beats whilst Calvin hijacked the bongos.