The story of Karmin is one of the most interesting in music the last few years. Engaged pop duo Nick Noonan and Amy Heidemann started out covering hits by other artists in an attempt to show off their talents. They amassed millions of views on YouTube and fulfilled the dreams of every struggling musician by getting signed to a major label. They got backed by Questlove of the Roots here and here. They released an EP called Hello in 2012 that yielded a hit in the form of the inescapably catchy “Brokenhearted.” Everything seemed to be going their way, but then the ride got bumpy. The first full length album, Pulses, has been complete for over a year but in limbo due to disagreements between Karmin and Epic Records. The band is out on the road for their first tour as headliners despite the album not being for sale (it’s scheduled for release 5/25), and gave an impressive show at the Theatre Of Living Arts on Friday night on one of the first dates of their Pulses tour.
Early arrivers were treated to the first Philadelphia appearance by talented new artist Bryce Vine. He performed a short set of his smooth flowing, pop culture-referencing rap accompanied by just a DJ. Vine has a powerful stage presence and he quickly had the crowd giving him their full attention with his rap skills and personality. He did the cliche thing and asked if the crowd was ready for Karmin. When the crowd cheered loudly in response he faked disdain and said “How dare you, I still have more songs to play,” eliciting a huge laugh from the crowd. The highlight of his set was an impressive and amusing song he claimed he had just written called “I Just Wanna Be A Thug.” Over a sample from Green Day’s “Brain Stew,” Vine lyrically and humorously skewered the gangster culture that surrounds rap music. Vine has an album, Lazy Fair, due out later this year.
Karmin hit the stage soon after, backed by a guitarist, bassist and drummer. They opened with their new single “I Want It All” and delivered fourteen more songs in an energetic and crowd pleasing set. Amy was a ball of energy, bounding from one side of the stage to the other while displaying impressive rapping and singing skills. There were a bunch of new songs which showed off more of Nick’s singing than their older material. Besides singing, he played some mean slide trombone and jammed on a bank of keyboards in the middle of the stage. The best new song was title track “Pulses,” an urgent, throbbing number that rocked the crowd and showed some impressive singing by both of the duo.
Amy warned that their new song “Neon Lights” was sad, then delivered a heartbreakingly beautiful version of the ballad. After that song, she talked about their frustration with the record being held up and discussed how touring was a happy escape from those problems. The last two songs of their main set showed the group veering more into rock ‘n’ roll territory with good results. New songs “Puppet” and “Hate to Love You” were louder and more guitar fueled than Karmin’s older songs but were both well received by the Philly crowd.
Karmin left the stage then, eliciting loud stomping and chanting by the crowd until the band returned a few minutes later. The first song of the encore was a cover of Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now” with help from the an audience member identified as Shekar. He and Amy traded verses on the tune, with Shekar impressing Amy and the crowd with his skills.
Next came the inevitable conclusion with their biggest song, “Brokenhearted.” The bouncy, bassline fueled song had the crowd moving, grooving and singing along loudly for four minutes of sweaty pop bliss to close out the night on a perfect note.
Bryce Vine | Photo by Pete Troshak | shak74.com