On Stage: The Connells return to the area with show at Brooklyn Bowl

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

The Connells

When music fans talk about Southern rock, they are usually referring to a subgenre of music that is a blend of rock, country and blues with the focus on electric guitar.  Southern rock started in the 1970s and featured such bands as the Allman Brothers Band, ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

There is another Southern rock subgenre that appeared in the South in the 1980s. Often called “jangle pop,” it featured more conscious lyrics and jangly guitar work in the style of the Byrds and early Bob Dylan.

The three major bands in this genre – R.E.M., Let’s Active and the Connells — all came from the Mid-South…from college towns that had a progressive vibe.

R.E.M., the first and the most famous, hailed from Athens, Georgia, the home of the University of Georgia. Michael Stipe provided the cerebral lyrics and vocals, and Peter Buck was responsible for the jangly guitar.

Let’s Active formed in 1981 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, home of Wake Forest University. The band is often identified with the jangle pop guitar work of the group’s frontman and songwriter Mitch Easter.

The Connells formed in 1984 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Raleigh, part of the “Research Triangle,” is the home of North Carolina State University. The triangle also includes Chapel Hill with the University of North Carolina and Durham with Duke University.

Let’s Active disbanded in 1990 and R.E.M. called it quits in 2011.

The Connells are the only ones that are still an actively working band – although they did have a stretch of semi-dormancy in the early 2000s.

Now, the veteran band is playing shows around the Mid-South and the Mid-Atlantic in support of their new album, “Steadman’s Wake.”

On March 5, the Connells will make a long-awaited return to Philadelphia with a show at the Brooklyn Bowl (1009 Canal Street, Philadelphia, www.brooklynbowl.com/philadelphia).

The band’s line-up still features three original members — David Connell, bass (1984–present); Mike Connell, guitars, lead and backing vocals (1984–present); and Doug MacMillan, lead and backing vocals, guitars (1984–present) — along with another longtime member, Steve Potak – keyboards (1991–present). The two “new kids” in the Connells are Mike Ayers, guitars (2001–present) and Rob Ladd, drums (2012–present).

“We’re coming up your way this week for a show in Brooklyn on Thursday and a show in Philly on Saturday,” said Mike Connell, during a phone interview Wednesday evening as the band drove north through Virginia. “We’re really excited for these shows.

“We’ve always had a great time in Philadelphia. We had many shows at the Chestnut Cabaret that were a lot of fun as well as great shows at JC Dobbs and the Troc.”

The Connells built a strong fanbase in this area during the time between 1983 and 1993 – a time when they released five strong-selling albums

“Darker Days” (1985), “Boylan Heights” (1987), “Fun & Games” (1989), “One Simple Word” (1990), and “Ring” (1993).

They followed with “Weird Food and Devastation” (1996), “Still Life” (1998) and “Old School Dropouts” (2001) – and then sort of became dropouts themselves.

Though somewhat dormant since the turn of the century, the Connells never officially broke up and have continued to occasionally perform during the last two decades.

In the United States, the Connells had three top 10 hits on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart, but they are best known for their song “’74-’75”,” which was a number one hit in Norway and Sweden in 1995 while reaching the Top 10 in a total of 11 European countries.

“After 2000, we all had day jobs and families came along,” said Connell. “Things were slowing down with the band. Coming off the road was inevitable. Being in a rock band that tours all the time is a young person’s game – and we weren’t young.

“All the years since then, we remained a band and did about a dozen shows a year — at best. There were never tours. The shows were scattered out. It was a question of logistics.”

While Connell focused most of his energy over the last two decades on being a family man and a highly respected lawyer, he never abandoned his artistic side – nor did his bandmates.

“In the summer of 2016, we realized we had a bunch of songs written so we started on a new album,” said Connell. “It took us five years to complete it. That’s why we’re coming back north first the first time in 20 years.”

Ironically, one aspect of the album featured Easter, who is the thread that links Let’s Active, R.E.M. and the Connells. Easter produced several of R.E.M.’s early albums. The Connell’s new disc, “Steadman’s Wake,” was produced by John Plymale and recorded by Easter at his Fidelitorium studio in Kernersville (NC) and Plymale at Overdub Lane in Durham.

“We did four or five tracks with Mitch Easter in February 2016,” said Connell. “Then, we shifted to Durham where we could work and stop for as long as we wanted whenever we chose to do so.

“The album was mastered in New York in March 2020. It was supposed to come out back then, but everything got pushed back because of the pandemic.

“It was finally released in September 2021 – self-released on our label, Black Park Records. After its release, some promoters decided to take a chance on booking us. I’m excited about playing Mid-Atlantic shows. Right now, the tickets sales in Brooklyn are decent.”

Fans of the Connells have been waiting 22 years to hear the band perform live once again. They’ll have the opportunity this Saturday. Odds are good they won’t be disappointed.

Video link for the Connells – https://www.facebook.com/TheConnellsOfficial/videos/260548779240222/

The show at Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia, which has Wesley Stace as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Other upcoming shows at Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia are Live at the Fillmore on March 3 and Tauk on March 4.

This weekend, Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) is presenting Justin Gonzalez Trio ft. Justin Gonzalez of 33 1/3 Live’s Killer Queen Experience on March 6.

Gonzalez is an internationally touring choral musician, classical soloist, award winning operatic singer, ukulele player, pop singer, and musical theater lead.

The Justin Gonzalez Trio features two other classically trained musicians — Celina Velez and Barry McCommon.

Gonzalez, who is also a stand-up comedian and magician, is a local Renaissance Man. He is an independent musician based in Philadelphia who travels throughout the tri-state area and beyond.

Gonzalez, who began performing professionally at the age of 11, now performs with a repertoire that includes classical, big band, Broadway and opera. Most recently, he added a new genre when he assumed the role of lead vocalist for “33 1/3 LIVE’s Killer Queen Experience.”

“I’m originally from Northeast Philly,” said Gonzalez. “I went to school in South Philly at GAMP.”

The Girard Academic Music Program (GAMP) is a college preparatory school for students in grades 5 through 12 that provides a unique educational environment, focusing on college and career readiness, while allowing all students to pursue music as a major subject.

“I was at GAMP for eight years,” said Gonzalez. “I studied voice and instruments starting with lower brass. Voice was a large chunk of it. I got my first professional performance in Europe.”

At the age of 13, Gonzalez was asked to join a chorus as a soloist on its two-week tour of Germany and France. On that trip, he had the opportunity to perform in many castles, mansions, and historic houses of worship. The most memorable moment for him was singing in the Cathedral Notre Dame in Paris, France.

“It was amazing,” said Gonzalez. “I was 13 and I was singing at the Cathedral Notre Dame. I was just a poor Puerto Rican kid from North Philly, and I was singing in places like a castle in Germany and a cathedral in Berlin.”

After years of laying the groundwork for a promising career as an opera singer, Gonzalez was diagnosed at the age of 18 with Multiple Sclerosis, an autoimmune disease. One of the symptoms of MS is memory loss. His opera career was over just as quickly as it began.

“It affected my brain’s ability to memorize,” said Gonzalez. “I still sing classically at venues around the East Coast and on Broadway.”

Today, 20 years since that first tour, Gonzalez is still a sought-after classical music soloist. He is also a practitioner of the American Song Book and the music of Broadway. He uses all of this music to entertain, educate, and share his story.

“I also have several music projects,” said Gonzalez. “There is the Little Big Band Lounge Revival, which does lounge and popular standards along with classic love songs, and the Justin Gonzalez Jazz Trio, which is a pop trio that uses classical instruments. And there is also ‘33 1/3 LIVE’s Killer Queen Experience.’ “

Video link for Justin Gonzalez — https://youtu.be/jLB33yk_jVA.

The show at Kennett Flash on March 6 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $11.50 and $15.

Another show this weekend at Kennett Flash is Poor Man’s Gambit on March 5.

Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985, www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) will host Chris Timbers Band on March 4 and Kerry Kearney Band on March 5.

Every Thursday at Jamey’s, there is a “Thursday Night Jazz Jam” featuring the Dave Reiter Trio and every Sunday features “Sunday Blues Brunch & Jam” featuring the Philly Blues Kings with Maci Miller.

Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, www.uptownwestchester.org) will present local comedy legends Bettter Than Bacon on March 4.

Jimmy Gnecco is OURS and OURS, which will be headlining a show at MilkBoy Philly (1100 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 215- 925-6455, www.milkboyphilly.com) on March 4, is Jimmy Gnecco.

Jimmy Gnecco

Gnecco may be OURS but he is also definitely his own man.

The veteran singer has an unmistakable voice…a proud voice. His voice is strong and so is his spirit.

His voice is great enough to have attracted a legion of fans over the last three decades. His spirit is great enough to have helped him survive all the bullshit aspects of the music industry and enabled him to keep moving forward on his own terms.

OURS is a band that has released six strong albums from 2001-2021 and OURS is a band with no set line-up. OURS is Jimmy Gnecco similar to the way Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor.

“I’ve been at it a long time,” said Gnecco, during a phone interview last week from his home in Newton, Connetcicut.

“I’ve been at it for 30 years. I just chose to make music under the moniker OURS.

“OURS is based on my relationships with everyone around me in life.”

The studio discography of OURS includes “Distorted Lullabies” (2001), “Precious (2002), “Mercy (Dancing for the Death of an Imaginary Enemy)” (2008), “Ballet the Boxer 1” (2013), “New Age Heroine II” (2018) and “OURS” (2021).

“We started in 1992 in New York playing wherever we could,” said Gnecco, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer.

“By 1997, I got enough of it right to get record people at that time interested. I got a record deal when I was young. I wasn’t excited – I was terrified.”

Gnecco signed with DreamWorks Records and released “Distorted Lullabies” not long after. His sophomore album, “Precious,” also was a DreamWorks release. Then, he was signed by Rick Rubin for his label American Recordings. Gnecco’s only project with Rubin was the “Mercy (Dancing for the Death of an Imaginary Enemy)” album.

After Gnecco released two solo albums, he came back with OURS’ fourth album, “Ballet the Boxer 1.”

In 2012, OURS launched a PledgeMusic campaign to fund the recording of “Ballet the Boxer 1” and reached almost 150% of the goal for their crowdfunding. That LP was the first part of a trilogy. “New Age Heroine II” was the second. The new eponymous disc is the third.

“I don’t like looking back much,” said Gnecco. “I just put my head down and work – and be proud of what I’m hearing back.

“I sing about all the bullshit that’s going on and I ask the questions. I got a bad rap at one point because I was on a major label. All I care about is making great music. It’s always been in me.

“I never feel an urgency to play the game. We just do what we want. We do things on our own schedule. The moment we left Columbia and Rick Rubin and that machine, we started doing things on our own schedule.”

“OURS” was released on May 15, 2021.

“This record is still new to us,” said Gnecco. “We were ready to put it out in 2019 and it wasn’t released until May 2021. It came out during the pandemic, and we couldn’t tour. That’s all right. I know that if it’s good enough, it’s going to last.”

Video link for OURS — https://youtu.be/7fWULRa6dZ0.

The show at Milkboy on March 4 will start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $25.

Other upcoming shows at Milkboy are Kat Wright on March 3, Defeated Sanity on March 8 and Art D’Ecco on March 9.

Area music fans might wish they were able to clone themselves prior to heading out to a show on March 5 because there are so many good options including John Byrne at the World Café Live, Honey Dew Drops at the Grand Theater, Enter the Haggis at the Sellersville Theater, Nellie McKay at Tellus 360 and Stephen Marley at the Ardmore Music Hall.

One of the more interesting shows on Saturday night will be Nation of Language at Underground Arts (1200 Callowhill Street, Philadelphia, http://undergroundarts.org).

Nation of Language

Nation of Language is a band you may not have heard of yet – but you will.

PASTE magazine described the band’s first album, “Introduction, Presence,” as “the most exciting synth-pop debut in years.” The LP landed the band major radio play from the BBC, KCRW, KEXP, SiriusXM and many others.

Nation of Language, which formed in Brooklyn in 2016, features husband-and-wife team Ian Richard Devaney (lead vocals, guitar, synthesizer, percussion) and Aidan Noell (synthesizer, backing vocals) along with Michael Sue-Poi (bass guitar).

“It was in 2016 when it got more serious,” said Devaney, during a phone interview Wednesday morning from the couple’s home in Brooklyn.

“I had been writing songs since 2014 as a personal project. Once Aidan joined the band, it got very serious. She’s a very driven person.”

Devaney had previously been in a New Jersey band called the Static Jacks. He left that band and started a new band — Nation of Language. He got Noell to play synth and one of his old bandmates, Michael Sui-Poi, to play bass.

“We started recording singles,” said Devaney. “We’d save all the money we made from our day jobs and, when we had enough money, we’d go in the studio and record a single. In late 2018, we recorded the rest of ‘Introduction, Presence.’

“That process stretched out while working shifts at a café in Brooklyn. When Aidan and I got married, instead of having a wedding registry, we just asked people to gift us money. The main thing was getting money to record our album.

“We went to a studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn – Transmitter Park. I had been doing some writing and recording at home, so it was nice to get into a real studio.

“We finished the album in late 2018. We had it ready, but we weren’t sure how to put it out. It was scheduled for an April 2020 release, and it got pushed back. I thought touring was the way we’d get our fans – and then the pandemic hit.

“We released almost every song on the album as a single. Then, finally we put the album out.”

The combination of well-crafted songs and well-made videos caught on and soon, the disc was a word-of-mouth hit.

“In July 2012, we started working on our second album,” said Devaney, who grew up in Westfield, New Jersey

“That album – ‘A Way Forward’ – came out in November 2021.

“I see the albums as related. In my mind, the second album has more of a 70s krautrock influence. The first record was 80s New Wave.

“The 80s influence came from my parents. They listened a lot to bands like the Talking Heads, New Order, Clash and Devo.

“Our second album is more a journey. The first album is more a collection of singles.”

Nation of Language has already established a solid fanbase in this area.

“We’ve played Philly a few times,” said Devaney. “We opened for the Wombats at Union Transfer and had our own shows at Johnny Brenda’s and Underground Arts.

“In our live shows now, it’s a fairly even split between the two albums – and we also play several of our singles.”

Video link for Nation of Language – https://youtu.be/meRp-CRyV28.

The show at Underground Arts on March 5, which has Dark Tea as the opener, will start at 9 p.m. Tickets are $18.

Other upcoming shows at Underground Arts are Jena Friedman on March 3, Sad and Boujee on March 4, and Gang of Four on March 8.

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