Just about every band with a copy of “Marx for Dummies” on its bookshelf has tried to don the “Only Band That Matters” mantle that the Clash shrugged off some years back. It’s been significantly more difficult to find a combo with the combination of good heart, good humor and strong liver needed to pick up where the Replacements — aka “The Only Bar Band that Matters” — left off.
In many ways, that seems to be the goal of Marah, a whip-smart, heart-on-the-sleeve band led by scrapping blue-collar siblings Serge and Dave Bielanko. While not nearly as sloppy as Paul Westerberg’s crew, the Philly-bred quintet exhibited a similarly far-reaching way with a tune –albeit with a considerably heavier dose of old-school funk — at this sweaty, fast-paced perf.
Ostensibly promoting their new Artemis album, “Float Away With the Friday Night Gods,” the Bielankos dipped into their earlier indie discs (as well as their sizeable array of cover material) for the bulk of the 80-minute set. The new tunes that they did unveil — the title track, in particular –differed significantly from recorded versions: Scratchy guitar riffs and raspy harmonies sprinkled sawdust and heartstring shavings over surfaces given a high-gloss sheen in the studio.
Dave Bielanko has grown considerably more comfortable –cocky, even — as a front man, waxing both fierce (on a cover of the Ramones’ “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg”) and tender (on a moving version of the murder ballad “It’s Only Money, Tyrone”). The latter tune, like a good many of Bielanko’s compositions, wafts from the stage redolent of the crumbling inner-city streets — and the details (as well as a few hip-hop fillips) make it clear that Marah aren’t tourists on those thoroughfares.
That grit is counterbalanced by a pop culture geek streak certain to lure Gen-X ironists. A spot-on cover of the Jam’s “In the City” earned props for historical correctness, while a spare, harmony-laden version of love allegory “Why Independent Record Stores Fail” ran roughly parallel to Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity.”
Marah ends its residency at the Mercury Lounge on July 30.