Pop music is garbage, and things aren’t like they used to be, say the boys from Philly band Satellite Hearts, playing in residency throughout February at Ortlieb’s in Northern Liberties. It might sound cliché, but they are charming in their ambition.
And don’t let the trio trick you into thinking they aren’t trying to be a part of the glorious mess of musical fabric that defines popular culture — whether it’s simplified but intelligently pissed-off punk rock, or richly produced pop schlock designed to crawl up the charts, or the complex and bold rock ‘n’ roll that hearkens back to a perceived golden age that thrived decades ago.
Naturally, the bandmates — Justin Pellecchia, Lucas Rinz, and Keaton Thandi — identify with that last mentality. And they’re trying to prove it this month with their Ortlieb’s shows. With two records under their belt, 2012’s “Imperial Green” and last year’s “Desire Forces the Flow,” they’re armed to the teeth with tunes that they hope will melt minds and fry brains.
“I just want to get people moving and let the drinks flow and let people have a good time,” says Rinz, the band’s bassist. “We’re having a great time while we’re playing. I feel like our music is pretty straight-forward rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s pretty easy to get down to, to get people moving and get off their feet a little.”
“You really can’t help yourself,” says Pellecchia, chiming in. “You really have to move. You forget where you are, what day it is, what time it is.”
The boys hail from disparate Philly neighborhoods. These days, two-thirds of the band call Fishtown home, but they found their artistic home in New Hope, Pa., where Michael “Mickey” Melchiondo Jr. (better known as Dean Ween) took a shine to them. It’s also where Ween‘s former manager, Greg Frey, took them on. In fact, John and Peter’s on Main Street is their spiritual music mecca, a venue that Ween frequented for ages.
And Satellite Hearts is starting to get booked and noticed.
They threw a record release party at Ortlieb’s last year. “We sold it out, and we had a huge night, and it was awesome,” says Pellecchia, who credits Cheerleader’s Josh Pannepacker (sound man at the newly remodeled pseudo-dive on North Third Street) for their current month-long stint. “He approached us and asked if we would want to do a residency there. We’re really excited about it.”
They’ve tapped all kinds of buddy bands for support at the shows. Members of Up The Chain, The Lawsuits, and Toy Soldiers opened, and next week it’s the Levee Drivers and Bill McCloskey. Strangely, I’m not even sure these buddy bands represent Satellite Hearts’ sound, which is, to say the least, eclectic.
Their latest, for instance, opens up with a barn-burner in “Carry Them Bones,” 2:20 of snot-nosed snarl that sounds like garage punk spiked with California surf guitar and shaken up inside a rockabilly tumbler.
Then “Smoke and Mirrors” is injected with hazy , boozey piano man vibes a la Low Cut Connie. The track “16:12” opens with a great bass dirge, slowly built-up drums, and a psychedelic guitar whammy, a track that’d fit nicely on the “Pulp Fiction” soundtrack. One surprise in the middle is the beauty of “Whisper on the Breeze,” a piano-driven dream that should footnote both Tobias Jesso Jr. and Henry Nilsson.
Ask them to give you a band to compare them to, and it’s as grand as it gets: The Who. “I know people will always need something to compare us to. And I don’t really want to compare us to anything, but for me it’s like you’re watching old Who shows with Pete Townshend jumping and going crazy and Keith Moon going nuts,” says Pellecchia, the band’s theoretical Roger Daltrey. “They’re all doing something different but they’re in unison with each other: it’s chaotic, it’s positive with all kinds of emotions mixed together.”
And it’s loud. “When we’re really hitting it and killing it, it feels like we’re unstoppable in the moment,” says Pallechia. “It feels like this huge ball of energy just exploding,”
He’s the most talkative, and I could listen to his thoughts trail off all day — they keep going and going. “Mainstream music is crap right now. The political world is just a doozy — it’s just crazy,” he goes on. He even acknowledges that Philly’s band scene is having a bit of a “moment,” one that’ll get looked back on with amazement and fondness. Not unlike how soul music flourished here in the ‘70s or the way the Hooters soared in the ‘80s into the ‘90s.
“The last great rock band from America was Nirvana,” says Pellecchia. “They were in the right time and place when they made that record.” (I’m guessing he’s referring to 1991’s “Nevermind.”) He wonders why Gwen Stefani is on “The Voice” and not in the studio, and why “American Idol” lasted as long as it did. (“I’m so glad that it’s over,” he says.)
He hits on something that I love about music — its ability to let you tune out the pop culture noise. “There’s so much going on and all this technology and information overload coming at us 24/7. The music sounds superficial,” Pellecchia pleads. “I think it’s time to raise the bar a little bit.”