Music Feature

Show Review: The White Rabbits at Union Transfer

by Ryan O'Connell
Brooklyn band rocks Philly's newest music venue. Photos by Joshua Pelta-Heller
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Those Tuesday night rock shows just aren’t as easy as they used to be once you cross over into your dirty thirties. But Union Transfer is possibly the best music venue in the city of Philadelphia, parking is manageable and with the White Rabbits in town- you just had to take a chance and go for it. It being a school night be damned, we want a rock show!

Union Transfer, the building formerly known as the Spaghetti Warehouse, looked to be almost full- a crowd comprised mostly of very polite and attractive folks who waited patiently through two openers before the White Rabbits hit the stage. The first band was Daughter- all together not that memorable and probably better suited for a coffee shop than Union Transfer. Next up was Tennis- not the sport, the band. Tennis are led by a husband and wife, joined by a drummer and a multi-instrumentalist, and play mid-western, day dreams and bubblegum dance pop. If I met them for drinks at some point, I would encourage them to employ backing vocals. But they were good and the crowd seemed fairly interested. Through the first two thirds of Tuesday night's show, there just wasn’t much bass playing to be found in Union Transfer. There were lots of bright sounding Fender Telecasters and female vocalists, but no one occupying the basement apartment on bass.

At quarter of eleven, right after I saw some dude who I could have sworn was Vinny Chase from Entourage, the White Rabbits hit the stage and I wanted one thing: angst. After two sets of very pleasant and tinny sounding indie pop I was ready for a little backbone. The White Rabbits came along at just the right time and in came the definitive stomp and thundering drums of their music. There is a well-maintained manic energy to the White Rabbits and I love it. They looked like fierce dance pop scientists led by lead singer and keyboardist Stephen Patterson who bears a striking resemblance to Rickety Cricket from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Every word he sings seems to come ripping through his throat like razor blades and he pounded on the defenseless keys of his keyboard with a merciless vengeance and pent up rage. I just hope the keys don’t have union representation because they were treated unfairly throughout the band’s entire set.

The rest of the White Rabbits were just as serious and just as methodical. There is a seventh member of the White Rabbits and that member is the defacto leader- it’s the beat. Every member is in lock step with it. They’re machines; obedient disciples of the tempo of each song. It’s really impressive to watch. Marching bands wish they had the mutual thumping drive of the White Rabbits.

While no official voting was done and no one was polled- the real star of the show was percussionist Matthew Clark, who would most likely be the end result of a machine built by gorillas if they were able to do so. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him as he thundered across his various floor toms in what seemed like a chaotic flurry, but was actually incredibly planned out and especially well played. His rhythms were amazing, absolutely amazing, and he was the perfect complement to drummer James Levinson. The two of them drove the band through each song with spot on precision. The White Rabbits make a perfect adherence to the beat look way to damn easy.

But where was the crowd throughout the band’s show? I could see them and in a few cases, I could smell them- but it’s like they weren’t there. This left me baffled. For all of the angst and craftsmanship of the White Rabbits, every song they play is apocalypse-ready dance music and barely anyone seemed to realize this. I saw a few heads bobbing and a couple folks swaying back and forth, but the majority of the crowd just stood there. How? How could they do this? Were they all disenfranchised Republicans or recent victims of the Philadelphia Parking Authority? Why so serious? There was a kamikaze pilot ripping out ferocious grooves on massive floor toms and practically no was responding. It was a borderline travesty.

The Union Transfer show was a record release party for the band’s new album, Milk Famous, and the set list was heavy on songs from it. Old dogs were not to be left out though, and songs from the last album, It’s Frightening- “Percussion Gun,” “Rudie Fails” and “They Done Wrong/We Done Wrong” were massive super charges of energy and aggressively-twinged Beatlesesque pop. Some of the new songs the White Rabbits played, “Temporary,” “Heavy Metal” and “The Day You Won the War” translated perfectly to the stage- a question I had going in, given the buttoned up vibe of Milk Famous.

White Rabbits continue on the rest of their tour and we’re left to wonder not something as trivial as the whereabouts of all the spaghetti from the Spaghetti Warehouse, but something much more simple- why wasn’t anyone dancing last night?

Shows like last night’s White Rabbits’ one only come around so often. We need to embrace them when we can, even on a Tuesday.

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