Communion Club Night Concert Series Returns with a Bang (and Crash)

The first Thursday of September marked the return of Ben Lovett’s popular Communion Club Night concert series in Philadelphia. The event’s producers took a break over the summer months, using the time to find the new artists and build the stacked lineups that the event is known for putting forth. The new season’s debut concert held true to form this way: the September show brought eventgoers NYC singer/songwriter Diane Birch, Crash (of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes), as well as three bands from new Philly upstart label American Diamond Recordings.

Along with a packed lineup, Communion brought back several staples of its monthly night. The usually utilitarian environment of Underground Arts was once again transformed by tiny atmospheric details like candles and centerpieces spread across tables; Main St. Music was once again in attendance, allowing for attendees to browse a selection of vinyl during downtime;  and yet again, the concert series spread its many and diverse artists across the two stages available in the venue. In addition to these touches, other merchandise was available for sale, from both the artists performing and from the Communion brand. All in all, the stage was set for a grand return for the Communion series.

Ron Gallo kicked off the night’s performances, singing his self-described “troll pop” songs to a growing audience. Gallo’s set, although fairly reserved in comparison to the night’s following acts, included plenty of entertainment. The father of American Diamond Recordings made sure to drum up excitement for his fellow label-mates to perform later in the night, and even included some brand-new material in his set, as well as favorites like “Fine Diners and Finer Whiners” from recently-released solo album Ronny, the first release to debut on the label. He notably got the crowd’s attention when he played his own take on Tina Turner classic “What’s Love Got to Do With It”, and finished strong with a rendition of Harry Nilsson’s “Early in the Morning”, a track which really shines a spotlight on Gallo’s dynamic vocal capabilities.

If Ron Gallo got the crowd warmed up, then fellow American Diamond artists Levee Drivers followed up and set them on fire. The band took no prisoners, coming hard out of the gate with their unique country-tinged rock (or is it rock-tinged country?) sound that immediately got attendees moving. The band played several fan favorites, including “Bourbon Coated” from the band’s most recent EP, and hinted at the coming release of their first full-length album, being recorded by WXPN’s John Vettese. The set wasn’t all hard rocking numbers, though, as front man August John Lutz III took the stage solo to play a beautiful brand-new ballad mid-set that had the audience hushed and attentive. There was plenty of banter, too, as the band made sure to mention their fellow American Diamond Recordings label-mates who were featured in the night’s lineup. Even Communion attendees who had come to the show knowing nothing about the new Philadelphia collective would have trouble leaving without some idea of the group’s talent.

The third act of the night was New York singer/songwriter Diane Birch, performing solo and acting as her own band. In addition to her music, Birch had prepared a videographic montage filmed earlier that day, during her Philadelphia wanderings. The casually-dressed songstress had good things to say of the city, including her gratitude at an attentive audience, who seemed transfixed by Birch’s soulful voice and quiet demeanor. Her set included selections from recent release Speak a Little Louder, and lent a dreamy feel to the big room. In contrast to the night’s other diverse acts, Diane Birch seemed to draw the audience together in a calm sway–right in line with her affinity for songs “you can cry to on the dance floor.”

Birch’s crowd hypnosis carried the audience well into the night’s fourth act, Crash, of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. The act was a relative question mark until taking the stage, with attendees unsure of what to expect. The dandily-dressed quartet that took the  stage quickly put questions to rest, playing songs from Crash’s solo debut album Hardly Criminal and setting up a folksy vibe that set feet two-stepping. The singer’s New Orleans home was evident in his easy stage manner, and the set took an even more honky-tonk vibe when he invited Levee Drivers members from earlier in the night to join the group on stage for a special number called “All My Friends”, usually performed with musical pals Mumford & Sons. From soothed swaying to easy enjoyment, Crash bridged the gap between the night’s final performers effortlessly.

Finishing the night out was the last of the American Diamond family’s artists on the bill, Philadelphia favorites TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb. The gravelly rock quartet had the unenviable position of having to rouse a dwindling audience late on a Thursday night while still promoting the release of their latest EP, KONG, and the band wasted no time in doing so. After a brief word about the album and a hat tip to the American Diamond Recordings presence throughout the night, front man Dan Bruskewicz launched the band immediately into the first song of their set. From the opening guitar chords of “Don’t Come Home Pretty Woman”, the audience was nodding heads and jumping around. Devoted fans shouted and sang right along with the band, while newcomers were swept up in the frenzy of those around them. The group jumped straight from song to song, pausing only briefly before “Snakeskin”  to nod at two of the video’s dancers who were in the audience. A rendition of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by the Animals had the crowd excited even before it turned into “Because the Night”, at which point the dancing crowd went berserk. From newer songs to covers to old favorites, TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb kept the energy so high for those who stayed late that the night ended with many wanting more.

 

There were several surprises at this month’s Communion, not the least of which was the electrifying presence of American Diamond Recordings artists–a group that Philadelphia music fans should definitely keep an eye on. The takeaway from Communion’s return to the event calendar, however, is that the series is back and even better than before. So good, in fact, that you should probably just pick up your tickets for next month’s show on October 2 (featuring Birdie Busch, Weekender, and more) now.

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