So much positive ink has been spilled over Marah that you half expect them to leave tracks on their way in and out of a club. And, after five albums plus a Christmas disc, and vocal support from such venerable rockers as Steve Earle and Bruce Springsteen, as well as pulp-fiction superstar Stephen King, Marah are still very much a club band, stuck on a seemingly never-ending circuit of modest venues where weak beer comes in plastic cups and hard-luck stories resonate all the stronger for it.
T.T. the Bear’s Place was the setting for the start of the now Brooklyn-based band’s latest tour on January 12. Stephen King’s son’s black town car was parked outside, and brothers Dave and Serge Bielenko — the singing/songwriting/guitar-playing brothers at the core of Marah — added a new wrinkle to their already fairly twisted geographical plot by quietly sneaking their French-born dad to play drums on a driving, mid-set version of “Float Away,” the gritty title track from their 2002 E Squared album, Float Away With the Friday Night Gods. As their stepmom, who was standing right next to me in the crowd, happily explained, she and their father have lived in Lowell, Mass., for the past 18 years. How Dave and Serge ended up in Philly, where they got their start before moving to Brooklyn over a year ago, was lost in the crash of cymbals and the buzz of three guitars driving toward yet another anthemic climax.
Americana is a word that gets thrown around so often with Marah that it’s more or less stuck. And the brothers Bielenkos, whose rotating cast of Marah musicians now includes Kirk “The Barber” Henderson, Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner, and new recruits Adam Garbinski and Dave Petersen (they opened the show as Adam and Dave’s Bloodline), more or less settle into a comfortable Americana groove on their latest, If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry (YepRoc), without giving in to twangy country clichés or overly reverent roots-rock arrangements. The disc has the feel of a hootenanny of sorts, with voices yelling out in the background, guitar hooks coalescing mid-song, and poetic acoustic guitar-and-harmonica folk bumping up against straight-on electric rockers. That was the T.T.’s set in a nutshell, save a bristling cover of the Jam’s punk classic “In the City” that the band broke into after the first tune, almost as a reminder that there’s more to Marah than Springsteen meets a Neil Youngian Band on a Dylan bender. With his perfectly tousled spiked hair, lovelorn croon, and dark good looks, Dave, who co-writes with his brother, is, like Liam Gallagher, the natural frontman of the two. In fact, there were times when he almost sounded like Liam, as walls of electric guitar welled up behind him. But that’s another story morning glory.
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