Picturing Peter Kirk (frontman of Panama Wedding) in a business suit isn’t hard. With light features, no hair dye, piercings, or visible tattoos and a slightly receding hairline, he could walk through a busy street without anyone ever suspecting he performs on huge festival stages in front of crowds of sweaty music fans.
As a banker at Morgan Stanley, Kirk rented out a recording studio in New York where he recorded music every day after work until friends started to take notice. Now signed with Glassnote Records and equipped with a full band, Kirk performs as Panama Wedding, though he has yet to travel to Panama.
On Saturday night, Union Transfer is bustling. The all-ages pit is crowded with fans clustering towards the center of the stage, and 21+ visitors swarm the bar. Panama Wedding takes the stage, washed out in smoke and brightly colored stage lights. Kirk’s outline is barely visible in the smoke and light, and as the percussive synth of “Brand New Life” kicks in it brings nostalgia for long summer days.
Kirk is a polished performer and doesn’t seem to buy in to the embellishments of live performance – there’s no climbing on the speakers or head-banging, and the most audience participation he does is a quick photo op for the band’s social media. It’s a stark contrast to the Griswolds, who take the stage after PW with bright red hair, crowd sing-alongs, and a largely unsuccessful attempt at crowd surfing. Still, Panama Wedding connects with their audience with lyrics likely born out of Kirk’s banker-gone-musician journey (“Let’s start a brand new life, I need a change” ) that are easily relatable. “All of the People”, PW’s first hit, is slotted directly after a decent cover of The Killers’ “When You Were Young” (only decent, because as a friend once said, “covering The Killers is like trying to impersonate Jesus – it just isn’t the same”) and has more power and drive than the recorded version. The electric guitar is turned up, and each chord change is marked with a satisfyingly violent strum on Kirk’s red electric guitar. “Infinite High” finishes the setlist, blending Panama Wedding’s signature summery synths with a sense of yearning (“and it’s never quite enough, just being who we are, and searching for a rush”). They leave the stage without an encore, but no one seems too disappointed, just grateful that Panama Wedding brought us a taste of summer on a cold Philly night.