“Life and death are opposing shores,” sang Josh Marsh to the upstairs crowd at World Cafe Live on Tuesday. “But we walk along till our feet are sore.”
Maybe it was the grey afternoon and licks of ice patching the sidewalk. Maybe it was the reminder of a ridiculously treacherous travel conditions not 36 hours before that had semis plummeting around the highway, claiming the lives of four commuters and injuring dozens more. Maybe it was my friend at the bar, moved by the headlines, talking about the preciousness of life.
In any case, the Tuesday night tour homecoming by Philly’s Rosu Lup struck a tremendous chord in that regard, imbuing tragedy with beauty in an explosive catharsis. The band has re-arranged and become tightly focused since I first heard them live during their Folkadelphia session. Marsh and bassist-singer Jonathan Stewart, the founding duo, were joined by Shane Luckenbaugh on drums, Mark Watter on guitar, Nate MacAdams on keys and guest Rachel Icenogle on cello.
Tough low-key on record, the music was explosive live, particularly “Dust And Days” from 2013’s Currents EP and the vibrant new single “Hem.” Though Marsh’s lyrics – as in “Pine,” that moving song about life and death – do dwell on existential concerns, they channel them into exhilarating music, the best response one can give when the answer is the unknown.
Joining Rosu Lup on this stacked bill were the art-pop ensemble The Chairman Dances, who played a lively set of bookish rosh reminiscent of The Magnetic Fields, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Belle and Sebastian; the ensemble mixed in lively keys, horns and vocal backups to the songs.
Though the band released The Death of Samuel Miller not even six months back, it already had a host of new songs in the mix – including one singer-guitarist Eric Krewson played mostly solo (backed by understated drums and bass) based on an open letter Trayvon Martin’s mother wrote in Time Magazine last August. “I wanted to write from her point of view, using her words,” he said, and the whole room was silent as he sang.
Opening the show was as totally knockout set by Caroline Reese and the Drifting Fifth. Hailing from Reading, her songwriting skews very country – tremendous hooks delivered in Reese’s commanding alto – but the band totally rocks it. Watter, of the current Rosu Lup configuration, also plays guitar with Reese, and the energy he brings to the songs is explosive. “Dakota” was a huge opener, led by Reese’s delivery and lively harmonies; closer “50 Wasted Years” was a Felice Brothers-esque high point delivered by Watter’s husky voice.
Check out photos from the show in the gallery below.
Caroline Reese and the Drifting Fifth, Rosu Lup, The Chairman Dances, World Cafe Live