From the first notes chopped and shoveled on the Asbury Lanes stage, I knew that this was a band that catapults honest musical barbs straight through the analog soul. Comprised of Adam “Devil Hands” Falzer, bassist/producer Gerry Griffin, drummer Jonathan Riordan and guitarist/singer Alan “Sucia” Smith, The Porchistas barrel down free-form routes of American folk rock like few others can hope to.
The Porchistas have endured long enough to create their own flourishing cosmos of multi-genre music. The evidence of this is exemplified by the band’s many ardent fans. This is a fanbase that mixes stage diving daredevils with trippy hippies all bopping alongside whiskey drinking good ol’ boys and girls. It’s a mixture of collective dynamic perspiration and some hardcore partying attitude, and they all extol the songs as a unit. To me, this is a wonderfully unique achievement in a realm of “pop punk” poseurs and guys that stalk backstage doors because they play Springsteen covers.
When it comes to industry standard presentations, The Porchistas don’t have an easy solution to that orderly shelf of unopened collectibles. Their sound is ragged and reliable as Crazy Horse. Their blatant thumb in the face of songwriting guidelines is exhilarating and crisp.
This is music to live parallel to. Music that glides through creativity stoked excursions and myriads of intimate links made available to the listener. This is music to sip moonshine by. Down in the holler, staking out the still and fermenting the components that make up the innermost back porch believability of this organic band.
I had the occasion to speak with Alan “Sucia” Smith about the choice to release a live recording over the conventional 10-song studio stuff.
“We thought a live record was a good idea because we are very happy with our previous three studio records, but they didn’t quite catch the vibe of our live shows with the addition of Gerry Griffin on bass and Jon Riordan on drums. Plus, our shows at Tierney’s are a real ruckus, so we thought it would make sense to capture that magical essence. And our bassist Gerry is a sound engineer and really pushed to make a live record. He did all the recording. We recorded a bunch of live shows plus a BlowUpRadio [Lazlo’s] acoustic webathon. When we were finished with everything, we had a sizeable body of work to choose from for the record. Adam Falzer and Gerry went through all of the recordings and decided what worked best for the record, always thinking foremost about which songs best captured our live shows.”
And even though I’m pretty god damned late to the party, I’d have to agree that this batch of songs really does captivate the imagination and drive of a live band in their prime process and moment. The Porchistas’ last studio release, The Baby Album, did quite well, and some of those songs are revisited on The Porchistas Live.
I have my preferences but once again asked Smith what he thought about the songs and what stood out. “Oh, my favorites on the live record are ‘Make A Wish,’ I think that’s a solid live recording, and that was a great night for us. That was actually recorded at our previous CD release party of The Baby Album. ‘Zombie Jesus’ is fun on the live album because it’s so different than how we perform it. Usually it’s a big rock song, but on the live album it’s acoustic, so I like that you can really hear the words and the good time we have singing it.”
There’s nothing about this live recording that suggests excessive production or obsession with a particular direction, and I enjoy the evocative breath of fresh, overall design. The band went through their top tunes at the Asbury Lanes in their opening slot for the Accidental Seabirds’ CD release bash.
“Frankly, You Can Thank Me” is an exceptional mixture of Wings and The James Gang as The Porchistas wade into a swampy mix of distorted guitars and vocal wails of warning. Simple, powerful and loaded with fleshly interpretation, the guitars are like spooky, malnourished junkyard mongrels snapping and slashing at anyone that prowls within reach before vocals grab the chain and yank it back down for a melodic vocal sing-along as the group surges back into its fuzzy and frenzied finale.
The songwriting diplomacy of this tight team really beams bright on “She Deserves.” The guitar arrangements bring back rich memories of Lennon and McCartney’s early Beatles work and the vocal melodies are pristine and custom fit for this smoky mountain folk song. This is the classic dismay of not being “the guy.” And haven’t we all thought about the line, “She deserves someone who wants her, yes she does, but it’s probably not me. She prefers cocaine to coffee; she dances naked in the rain by the sea?”
Skipping over to “Hope For The Flowers,” I find the group’s upbeat, pop flavored ivy in the garden of good and evil. An in-depth breakdown of the allegorical novel written by Trina Paulus, “Hope For The Flowers” is quick and constant pop in the rosy veinlets of They Might Be Giants, Barenaked Ladies and The Arrogant Worms. With a memorable chorus that will have the audience singing along for hours after they shut it off, “Hope For The Flowers” is a great live mix of perennial insight and compositional flourish.
“Los Pescadores De Puntarenas” is another local preference, and it bounces along as it might have arrived between Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville and the tour bus shenanigans of Sublime. Smith sounds close to Randy Newman as he tells the true story of a four-and-a-half month trip to the Costa Rican center of Puntarenas. Evidently Smith spends a portion of each year in that part of the world building shelter for those that need it as well as getting up to other “pursuits” while there. This is a cute and humorous ditty that crams everything from fishing to Otis Redding and cocaine into its “stepped on a pop top” feel. Celebratory and fun, “Make A Wish” is plausibly one of the band’s more triumphant puntos fuertes.
“Zombie Jesus” is off of the last studio record and remains a popular standout in the armory of eccentric Porchistas ballad box hits. Embracing the clever topic of zombies and our dear, heavenly lord, Smith, Griffin, Riordin and Falzer throw down like biblical scribes and Pharisees on a mission of impregnable transformation for the eternal light of blind faith. “Eat my body, drink my blood, you could be a zombie too.” Between the over-infatuation of all things Asbury Zombie and the almighty hands down guarantee of Jesus H., it’s a win-win.
Although they didn’t play this track live, the haphazard slip and slide razzamatazz of “Waddling Fool” deserves mention. The band drops in with a three chord Leon Redbone promenade before tearing into a Neil Young, wah-infused guitar lead that blows through the drums and bass hustle of Griffin and Riordan. Vocals are sing-along simple. Backgrounds are a reverent and traditional call and response holler as they answer the riddles put forth by Smith and Falzer.
The Porchistas have demonstrated to have distinctive compositional ability and a lasting tenure done their own way. I’d be flat out of prospects if asked to associate this raw and unpolished band to anything else in the area, and that’s a good position to be in with me.
The best part is that the band will be performing over at the Wellmont Theater on February 23 with APB, The Defending Champions and Reno’s Men. The Wellmont is located at 5 Seymour St, Montclair, NJ.
For more data on The Porchistas, the music and the forthcoming show madness, please go to theporchistas.com.