SET THE CONTROLS FOR THE HEART OF THE SUN: Asteroid #4, Kung Fu Necktie, Last Night [Photo by TIFFANY YOON]
BY WILL HANNAN Drugs make for better music. Whether you’re playing in a stoner metal three-piece ripping bongs and noodling on your Gibson or you’re in a throwback psychedelic band eating acid and drooling on a friend’s vinyl collection, the introduction of psychotropic substances will inevitably make your music more interesting. If you don’t trust me, take it from the two bands that played Kung Fu Necktie last night: The Asteroid #4 and Gondola.
Gondola, a Sabbath-inspired bass, guitar, and drums act, set the stage. Opening with a series of speedy, fuzzed-out blues riffs and headbanging drum crashes, it quickly became clear what was in store. Masturbatory wah-wah guitar exploration, periodic bass line breakdowns, and a drummer reminiscent of Animal from the Muppets (that’s no insult, he’s one of my favorite musicians), Gondola played a set of standard fare stoner rock. I might have been more into it more had someone passed me a joint during the performance, but whatever.
Around a decade ago there was a little scene in Philly humorously referred to as “Psychedelphia.” Bands like The Lilys, Bardo Pond, and Azusa Plane were playing a lot and all were merry, etc. etc. It was during this time that The Asteroid #4 put out their first release, “Introducing,” and started to receive some critical acclaim. They also did a pretty striking cover of Spacemen 3’s “Che / Rocket Girl,” which didn’t hurt their cred. Now, more than ten years after that first LP’s release, they’re still doing it.
#4’s live show was a sort of hybrid – a mix of airy 1960’s psychedelic grooves and snappy 1990’s Brit-rock, though it often seemed like more of the latter was showing. Some of the retro tones found on the group’s recording seemed lost onstage, but that aside, the throwback vibe was there. The tracks were picked mostly from the band’s last two albums, These Flowers of Ours and An Amazing Dream. Most of their poppy stuff got played: “Outside,” “All Fall Down,” “Let It Go,” “War,” and “Into the Meadow,” which was the closer. I won’t go into a song by song analysis, as most of it was similarly rocking. Reverberating guitar parts, shimmery/spacey texturing, and straightforward, melodic songwriting – that about sums them all up.
Don’t get me wrong — it was a good set, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Philly folk ought to have a lot of respect for these scene veterans. It’s just that something crucial from the studios recordings — the subtle distinctions in sound and texture from one song to another — seemed lost in the live sound making things a little same-y, sonically speaking. There was something of a difference just before the last song, though. The bassist ran offstage and into the girl’s bathroom while the band jammed a minute, waiting for him to get back. Not sure what that was about, but when you got to go, you got to go, I guess.