Like their fictional Philly brother Rocky Balboa, Marah seems to thrive on being the underdog. After last year’s disappointing Float Away With The Friday Night Gods, a subsequent parting from their label, and a sense of disillusionment from some former fans, the band is again out to prove that they will live to fight another day.
Though the absence of their bass player and drummer forced the show to be, as Dave Bielanko called it, “folk music by default and not by design,” Marah still took the stage as a five-piece band, with lap steel player (and fill-in bassist) Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner, percussionist Hoagy Wing, and keyboardist Mark Boyce backing brothers Dave and Serge Bielanko. The sound created by this setup (augmented by a conga player pulled out of the audience) brought out the grit many feared the band had lost on Float Away in a studio in Wales.
Whereas the past year found Marah descending into brief and formulaic live sets, this gig found them back to doing what they do best — sweating, shouting, and making believers of the wary. With a nearly two-and-a-half-hour show featuring several trips into the crowd, the band seemed determined to atone for sins of the recent past.
Whether playing an eerie, reworked version of an older song such as “It’s Only Money, Tyrone” or a brand new number such as the catchy “Freedom Park”, the fire was back in the eyes and voices of the Bielanko boys. And, perhaps more importantly to some die-hard Marah fans, the banjo was back in Dave Bielanko’s hands, if only for one song.
The most symbolic moment of the show came midway through “People Of The Underground”, one of four songs played off the last CD. After realizing he had given Brenner the wrong chords, Dave admitted he couldn’t remember the first line of a verse. And when he asked for help from the Marah fans up front, they were stumped, too. Finally, Bielanko accepted defeat and moved on, hoping to get the momentum back. And now, with the Bielankos’ avowed plans to record three albums by year’s end, so too does Marah.