Kongos @ The Electric Factory

WRITTEN BY: ERIN BLEWETT

I’ll admit, dragging myself out of bed on a Sunday night to go to the Electric Factory wasn’t easy, considering Sunday is my only day off. I arrived pretty much still asleep with no clue as to who was even playing.

Max Kerman, the lead singer of the Arkells, steps into the audience to serenade the crowd (Photo: Erin Blewett)
Max Kerman, the lead singer of the Arkells, steps into the audience to serenade the crowd (Photo: Erin Blewett)

My mood quickly changed, as the Electric Factory was the picture of intimacy the night of October 16. There were far more seating options than usual, in the form of randomly placed stools. The threshold of the general admission space was adorned with a thick curtain that acted as a makeshift doorway to a hazy, dimly lit space. It isn’t easy to make an empty warehouse seem cozy, but the crew at the Electric Factory succeeded in this endeavor.

The first act of the night was Arkells. This alt-rock quintet from Ontario “made a Sunday evening feel like a Saturday night,” in the words of frontman Max Kerman. Their set was carried by cutesy indie-rock anthems like “My Heart’s Always Yours,” which Kerman fervently dedicated to his longtime girlfriend. The culmination of their set came when Kerman decided to jump the barrier and sing a portion of a song amongst the crowd (which was pretty small at this point in the night). Fans absolutely love this stunt, which included stopping for hugs and selfies all while continuing to sing.

The breezy ballads put forward by Arkells were followed by something a bit more raw. The minute the Welsh trio The Joy Formidable hit the stage, the swooning teenage girls in the audience were replaced with twenty-somethings head-banging the night away; the epitome of ‘90s alt-rock. Lead singer Ritzy Bryan donned a flowing black dress, black tights and black platform shoes, a perfect portrayal of the turn of the century angst associated with groups like Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine. The petite frontwoman is a dauntingly talented guitarist and spent a lot of the set trailing off into viscous solos with her bandmate and boyfriend, Rhydian Dafydd, joining on the bass.

The Joy Formidable adds a grungier feel to the night (Photo: Erin Blewett)
The Joy Formidable adds a grungier feel to the night (Photo: Erin Blewett)

The Joy Formidable’s set featured a sometimes overwhelming amount of loud distorted guitars, but it was mellowed out by the frequent incorporation of ‘80s-style dream-pop chords and vocals. While I was already awake by the time The Joy Formidable took the stage, their electrifying set made sure that I stayed that way for the rest of the night.

There had been a steady stream of concertgoers arriving throughout the night thus far, but around 9:30, when Kongos was due to play, a surge of tardy attendees flooded through the main entrance. I never quite understand why someone would bother to pay for a ticket only to show up for one set, but as my dad would say – it’s none of my damn business.

My excitement was coming to a boil at this point, as the band behind the hit song “Come With Me Now” got ready to take the stage. Everyone in the room seemed to be just as restless as I was, judging by the constant whistling and cheering, probably in hopes that they could somehow speed up the intermission between sets.

Finally, the four brothers that make up Kongos hit the stage with Johnny on keyboard/accordion, Jesse on the drums, Daniel on the guitar and Dylan on bass guitar. Dylan Kongos chose to remain barefoot for the entirety of the set, staying consistent with the quartet’s casual nature.

Kongos brings the house down with an off-beat style that is inimitable (Photo: Erin Blewett)
Kongos brings the house down with an off-beat style that is inimitable (Photo: Erin Blewett)

I never knew much about Kongos aside from the massive success of their track “Come With Me Now.” Based on the sheer volume of fans belting out the words to every song, it’s safe to say that I was one of the few people in the audience who wasn’t a huge fan of the band. Earlier this year, Kongos released its most recent album, “Egomaniac.” One of the album’s tracks, called “Take it From Me,” has garnered over six million listens on Spotify.

Sunday night’s show was hosted by Philadelphia’s Radio 104.5. Jessie Sabella, one of the station’s most popular hosts, took the stage prior to Kongos’ set, raving about how this four piece is one of the few bands left that still knows how to “jam.” I learned quickly that Sabella sure wasn’t lying. The boys of Kongos don’t assume the persona of rock stars putting on a show. Instead, they choose to be themselves- four brothers playing some funky alt-rock for a few hundred close friends.

I was pleasantly surprised by the three acts that performed on Sunday night. Each offered its own unique brand of music, while still fitting under the umbrella genre of alternative rock. It was a treat to have my first taste of Arkells and The Joy Formidable be a live set. Kongos, however, was the true standout, proving that there is so much more to them than the one hit wonder status that my brain had previously pegged them with after the 2012 release of their sophomore album “Lunatic.” But next time you decide to only show up for the headlining act of a show, keep in mind that you never know what gems you will find in a concert’s opening acts.

Feature Image Courtesy: Electric Factory

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