Modern Baseball – not a divergent of the glitzy American copy of rounders – are an electrically intense and independt rock band from Philadelphia who, on their latest tour in support of their album Holy Ghost, made a touchdown in Bristol (we know it’s the wrong sport – it’s just a reference, okay?). Will their gig be a home run or a foul swing? Luke Unger went along to investigate.
Walking in to the Bierkeller, immediately I could feel the energy surrounding the gig. The room seemed to hum with an atmosphere of anticipation. I can only really compare the excitement I felt to the anticipation one gets when having just lit a firework, watching the fuse slowly sizzle, waiting for the inevitable ascent and explosion.
Thin Lips provided the opening support act, getting the crowd into gear with punchy guitar riffs and the strong female vocal lead of Chrissy Tashjian, followed by Superweaks, a similar styled band with slightly heavier undertones. The crowds weren’t all too lively from the first two acts, whether that was down unfamiliarity within the crowd or simply the bands lacked the unpolished punch that Modern Baseball have so carefully created over time. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how these two bands progress after this tour.
There really seemed to be a strong sense of community between the three bands performing that night. The indie scene in Philadelphia is undeniably very closely knit with a huge number of gigs happening in different houses throughout the city. Recently, before the tour Modern Baseball, Thin Lips and Superweaks released a split 7”, the first music Modern Baseball have produced after their release of the highly-acclaimed album Holy Ghost. At the end of Superweaks set, Ian, bassist from Modern Baseball performed alongside the band playing guitar. Undeniably, all three bands value the rough sound they originally produced music. With an appealingly unpolished finish and garage sound to the support acts, it is unsurprising why the band chose to tour with these two acts.
The newer, more electric sound of their latest album set the bar higher, one of a progressive band, not playing upon previous success but conscious of the progress they made on this record.
Modern Baseball started their set abruptly with the opening iconic riff of ‘Wedding Singer’. The crowd instantly responded with an eclectic mass of tightly packed movement, one which made the conglomerate seem almost sentient at times. I was very much okay with being part of a sentient conglomerate (whether or not I had a choice is a different question).
When one person started jumping, those directly adjacent, in front and behind all started jumping, creating an oscillating affect that would make a physicist giggle. With the release of Holy Ghost last year, it seemed fitting to start the set in such a way. The newer, more electric sound of their latest album set the bar higher, one of a progressive band, not playing upon previous success but conscious of the progress they made on this record.
There has been a discernible development in MOBO’s style over this last record. With Brendan Lukens’ ongoing struggle with bipolar disorder and the recent loss of Jake Ewald’s grandfather, the band deals with these complexities with careful consideration and gut-wrenching sorrow. These emotions were far from absent during the set. Songs like ‘Tears Over Beers’ were positively screamed back at the band. Modern Baseball are a group who look at the intricacies and difficulties of life, closely analysing themselves and those around them, so much so that when listened to are instantly relatable. The band doesn’t pretend to be anything they’re not, doesn’t pretend to sing about anything they haven’t experienced, their lyrics are naked and intimate but also universal which is perhaps what made this performance so compelling.
The elephant in the gig was of course Lukens’ absence, due to illness. Countless cries of the crowd to frontman Ewald “Where’s Lukens?!” perforated pauses between songs in the former half of the set. Ewald explained during his acoustic section the fact “Lukens was taking some time to get better which is what’s important right now”. Whilst he didn’t spell out precisely what is wrong with the frontman for obvious reasons, Lukens has been very open about his ongoing problems with mental health and his substance abuse. We, from Epigram, hope you get better soon!
Modern Baseball still remains a highly accessible band and that was shown quite literally when Ewald asked the crowd “does anyone know the lyrics to ‘The Weekend’?”, bringing up a shell-shocked fan on stage to conduct what was one of the best renditions of the song I have seen to date. It was, perhaps, incredibly fitting that a fan performed the song, as the song itself capitalises the idea of friendship and shared experience, a sense that everyone in the room seemed to exude, both from apparent and past experience.
The band finished with a monumental cover of The Killers’ ‘When You Were Young’, their heavy sound pulsating the crowd to ecstasy. The song itself was dissected midway through to allow bassist, Ian Framer, to “break it down”. Modern Baseball utilise humour constantly within their lyrics and to see a looming, wild haired, sweaty Ian Farmer half rap/half jam to the other members jamming away, it’s nice to see it’s still an integral part to their vibe.
Whilst, disappointingly, there was no encore, Modern Baseball had left with the crowd an energy that made people linger in the venue long after the end of the gig. I think it is this sense of community that Modern Baseball not only value, but create through their empathetical lyrics and genuinely relatable personalities.
Did Modern Baseball win you over at the Bierkeller? Let us know in the comments below or via social media.