Kill The Alarm
December 9, 2011
PHILADELPHIA, PA—When New Jersey performer Garen Gueyikian (aka Kill The Alarm) sent an invite for a South Street Philly show, I thought, “What the hell?” A night out of the Shoreworld zone and into the City of Brotherly Love sounded like a fun distraction. The club he was playing was the old Pontiac Grille, which used to be the original JC Dobbs that went out of business back in 1996 and then recently returned to being JC Dobbs in 2010. Dobbs is probably the most famous club on the block, having played host to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Steve Earle, Oasis, Dwight Yoakum, Lucinda Williams, The Jayhawks, Sara McLachian, Rage Against The Machine and Tool, as well as hundreds of regional and local bands. The original Dobbs crew of Joe Garrison (RIP), John Travis, Donnie Tedesco (RIP) and Kathy James put the bar on the international map and into a head-to-head competition with New York’s CBGB and The Bitter End.
The new JC Dobbs is a bit different from the Dobbs that ran from 1975 until 1996, and seems to cater more towards the out of town curious (tourists) than national acts now. To be fair, the room had some original vibe and the staff was friendly, which is not a bad start for a room that has just celebrated its one-year rebirth in December of 2011. As with any room that churns out multiple bands, there is a lot of drama to take in. I stood against the wall and watched bands grumbling about set time changes and bullying defenseless little merch girls in their mad, free-for-all dash to sell cheap t-shirts and hopelessly ridiculous stickers. Garen Gueyikian has seen it all before, and just takes it all in stride.
His performance at JC Dobbs was both intimate and powerful. Garen did things a bit differently than most solo people I see. Instead of reaching for an acoustic guitar to get his point across, he chose a big, hollow body Epiphone through a Marshall amp. Sitting on a stool, Gueyikian went through a dozen Kill The Alarm tunes, such as Shoreworld favorite “The Only One,” a song that I cannot believe hasn’t been grabbed by a publisher or label fat cat, and “No More Excuses,” before catching me off guard with a great cover of Adele’s “Someone Like You.” Trust me, if this guy did not bang it out in just the right way that he did, I would have given him my thumbs down. But this is a performer that knows arrangement so it was a good fit.
In between songs, KTA managed to win a few folks that were chatting loudly in the back. His main supporters were all up front while other bands and their fans chatted noisily in the background, waiting for their turn on stage. Engaging and unflustered, Garen coaxed a few laughs from the front as he good-naturedly asked if everyone in the back could hear him adequately.
Other cool tunes were “Fire Away,” off the 2007 album of the same name and “Never Come Around,” from Against The Grain. Things that remained consistent through his show were his vocal delivery, his easy-going audience interaction and playing accuracy. He did not flub a note. So, the combination of solo electric guitar and his raw vocal style was unique and a pleasure to watch.
Garen is stepping up his game as a writer, collaborating with others and taking his career to a much higher level of visibility and commercial appeal. Garen’s recent forays to Los Angeles and Nashville for writing sessions have allowed him to see the bigger picture, and that picture is proactive networking and attention to vision—two important things that many local groups miss while they worry about fighting over table space to sell one CD and a crappy black shirt at the back of a bar.
Rest assured that wherever KTA lands next, it’s going to have a big impact on several different crossover scenes. Go buy KTA’s latest CD, Against The Grain at killthealarm.com.
JC Dobbs – Part Deux
Another band that played that night was a group called Broken Glow. Broken Glow might hail from Brooklyn, but this northern foursome makes frequent trips into New Jersey and the world beyond. The band gave me their current self-titled EP at Dobbs, and I gave it an extended listen. Their playing skill is good, and the band sticks to what they know best: Traditional ‘60s rock clashes head-on into the tempestuous pathway of the Deftones, Earshot and Quicksand.
Songs like “Month Of May” hit sonically hard before dissipating into dynamic sparkle and clean tone, supporting Garrett (vocals) without drowning him out. Guitar work comes courtesy of Brenner and features buckets of blues-rock likeability. His sound is on the edge of breaking up without getting lost in unintelligible feedback and squeal. If I had to guess, he’s playing a Les Paul, and has a good hold on that syrupy tone.
“The Great War” dances close to the edge of “Sober” by Tool. They are not cooking in the same backyard, but it’s pretty close to that fire. The song manages to turn from that errant direction as the band proceeds, and at 2:46 into the song, the minor key change breaks it all up and puts the tune back on a level playing field as Brenner drops a blitzkrieg of harmonic minor runs all over the tail end of this composition.
My favorite cut is the last song, called “Dogs And Demons.” Gnarly, syncopated rhythm guitars chug alongside heavy-duty bass and drums (courtesy of Andrew and Pauly) as Garrett wails out onto the fog-drenched moors of Sir Loxley’s estates. I made that last part up myself. The only thing missing here are fire fountain pyrotechnics and amps that go to 11 as the band sizzles and pops old school ‘70s.
While this style of music is not everyone’s bag, I have to admire and respect a band that puts their heart and soul into what they believe in, not what is popular or trendy. Go check them out when you get a chance.
As for my overall trip onto good ole’ South Street, I could have done without the $8 beers, the temper tantrum of the singer freaking out because he had to go on at 11 p.m. (the band was holding an album release party… for 12 people.), and the jaded security, but all-in-all the sound was good and the oblong club will probably have another good run in phase two of its lifespan. For more on Broken Glow, go to reverbnation.com/brokenglow.