You may not be aware, but this past Wednesday was a monumental night for the funk scene in Philadelphia. It was the night of Darla‘s record release party for their new album Darla Rolls The Dice! at Boot & Saddle in South Philly.
After forming at Drexel University, this instrumental funk 8-piece made a lasting impression at this year’s Beardfest and has continued to play shows all around Philly. Their new record signals a new milestone for the band: it was co-produced, engineered, mixed, and mastered by none other than Philly’s own Phil Nicolo, a legendary producer who has worked with John Lennon, Sting, Bob Dylan, Aerosmith, and many more, and it’s released through his record label aptly titled Phil’s Records.
Before Darla took the stage, the evening began with a rare appearance from the Providence-based Roz and the Rice Cakes. Mainly known for performing at DIY shows and basements surfing up and down the Northeast, the trio took their raw, alternative sound to a venue stage for the first time in a while. This is not to insinuate they displayed any tells of discomfort. On the contrary, they seemed to bring the intimacy of a basement show to the crowd with an off-kilter and unfettered performance to open the night.
Nik Greeley & The Operators took the stage next. The Operators are a collective of some of the finest musicians in Philadelphia who also play in Swift Technique, Out of the Beardspace, The Radicans, and more. At the center of this project is the enigmatic Nik Greeley, who carries the swagger and soul of an artist from Philly’s soul heyday of the 60’s and 70’s.
Nik and The Operators got the crowd moving to the groovy “Hypnotize,” but slowed things down for the more somber “Maybe There’s a Reason,” a beautiful track that became more poignant due to the turbulent events of the past week. “Maybe There’s a Reason” will be the second single from the band, so stay tuned! They finished their set with a lively cover of the James Brown classic “Get On Up.” It’s fitting, then, that they will open for the James Brown Dance Party, featuring the James Brown Band drummer Clyde Stubblefield, at Ardmore Music Hall on Friday, December 30th.
It was finally time for Darla to take the stage, who played their new record from front to back. By turns funky, progressive, jazz, and rock n’ roll, the Darla crew flawlessly blended these genres from song to song. There’s a certain improvisational energy when Darla performs, as all eight members react to the sounds of their bandmates on drums, saxophones, keyboards, bass, and guitars, guiding each other toward new heights. It looked like they were all having a blast on stage, and their joy spread to the dancing audience below.
In a twist of events, Nik Greeley and Roz Raskin joined Darla on stage for an 80’s medley featuring Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” and Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” Leaving the venue after the show with silly grins on their faces, guests couldn’t escape the positive vibes that emanated from the live music all night.
The success of Darla and Nik Greeley & The Operators only highlight the unique funk/fusion scene burgeoning right here in Philly. There’s a ton of talent playing away in your local clubs, so instead of dishing out that hundred dollars for some overrated band 20 years past their prime (I’m not naming names), consider checking out some #localmusic in your Philly backyard.
Thanks to Jade Frias for contributing to this article.