Late Friday night, in the thick of artificial smoke, the buoy of clenched fists, and the cross fire of airborne tee shirts, you’d think The Kalob Griffin Band started their show with cranial beer smashing or pyrotechnics to rally that much enthusiasm from the SOLD OUT crowd at Johnny Brenda’s, but lead singer, Kalob Griffin wasn’t crotch thrusting or diving into drum kits, he was feeding off his four other brothers and simply playing to family.
And that’s just what the “KGB” fan base is, a steadfast community of people led by the notorious “Norristown Boys” who feel a part of an evolution. I’ve been gifted the opportunity to stand side-line to their journey from their inception; I watched them struggle to sprinkle in originals among cover-hungry college crowds, figure out the proper pieces to revolving band dynamics, and find instrumental footing in their folk-rock fusion. Every few months I make time to see a show, and every time they sound tighter, and the crowd gets bigger and possibly more boisterous, a testament to the rich Americana outfit they’ve become.
But one thing remains the same–their appreciation for roots, and not just musically. Each time, I find fresh faces at shows, and I notice months later those same faces are selling merch or loading in gear, and they’ve transitioned from familiar to fans. This was evident throughout the show Friday, especially during anthemic jams like “Whiskey My Love” or “IPA”, an homage to their Western Pennsylvania roots, Kalob could barely reach the microphone before the crowd would start singing the lyrics upon hearing the first few chords.
As the night went on and the whiskey continued to flow, the crowd began to grow more electric and the band readily received those synapses; drummer, Eric Lawry’s big ol’ grin got wider, and him and Kalob would disengage from their poised stage slots with fists in the air, feeding the fan energy like proud ring fighters. Outside of Kalob’s signature twang, and the band’s ability to simultaneously offer up the differing kinetics of acts like Deer Tick and Ryan Adams, the symbiotic relationship that exists between them and their fans is what makes a KGB show so special, and Friday night’s performance was a highlight of that.
Keeping in tune with the pedigree, sing-along suited opener, Driftwood, brought poignant orchestral Americana from the big apple. The quartet quieted the crowd with their instrumental get downs, a fusion of banjo, stand-up bass, guitar and violin. The jovial vibe among the group was frenzied, and contagious, they played each song like they were satisfying a relentless craving–and it wasn’t more cowbell.
Singer songwriter seems too generic a label for show starter, Chelsea Mitchell, but her vocals deserve more spotlight than simply deeming her folk. Instantly, with the help of backing singers Amber Twait, and Vanessa Winters (her sisters in Dirty Dollhouse), the room was gracefully filled with lived in harmonies, a compliment to her earnest a Capella peaks. It’s difficult to catch lyrics for the first time in a small, busy space, but Chelsea’s clarity forced attention, and the crafted melancholy messages were a bittersweet treat.
All three acts made up a cohesive brew, respectively highlighting their strengths, and jumping in to complement one another in true roots fashion. Toward the end of the evening the upstairs entry way would become congested by non-ticketholders attempting to argue their way in, and at one point I overheard the doorman say, “I can usually squeeze one more in, but I’m sorry, tonight there are virtually no no-shows.”