Black and gold sweep over the stage at the commencement of the second act. The crowd reducing itself to a dull murmur, we wait as all instruments except a digital soundboard and a lone-standing saxophone clear the stage.
Coming back from the bathroom, I notice three elderly individuals occupying a space in the second row, an odd contrast of mundane plainness against a sea of youthful rebellion smothered in matte rouge lipstick. Throwing a questioning glance to my friend, she explains: “The grandparents of the band members.” The fans around us immediately emit a collective “Aw,” thus liberating the three elderly individuals of any malice thrown their way when they firmly forced their ways to the front.
Marian Hill, a title that sounds like the name of a sole artist, is actually a duo comprised of vocalist Samantha Gongol and production artist Jeremy Lloyd. Accompanying them on this tour is jazz musician Steve Davit, a frequent feature on several of their songs. All three natives of Philadelphia, the three friends did not form the group Marian Hill until college. The band name itself is a throwback to the early days of their friendship: In a middle school stage play, Sam and Jeremy portrayed “The Music Man” characters of Marian Peru and Harold Hill; years later, when forming the band, “Marian Hill” appeared the best way to pay homage to their earlier days. An eclectic mix of jazz, high drama bass and intricately sang vocals, Marian Hill’s performance bridged the gap between music and movement as their sounds and actions combined to paint a story for the Union Transfer audience.
The beginning emits 80’s vibes, propelling us back to the past as Sam intentionally moves around the stage in a Grease-esque outfit comprised of liquid black leggings, a cropped black tank and a faux leather black jacket. Seeming to invoke “Badass Sandy” in her aura, Sam and her stage partners, Jeremy and Steve, are quick to juxtapose the simplistic images given off by their attire with the complex and tantalizing sounds of their music. Piano notes reverberate through the spacious warehouse room, informing the audience that the group is opening with “Down,” the first song off their most recent album, Act One.
As Sam’s voice floats around the piano, the crowd is slow to join her, seemingly hesitant to interrupt the airy ambiance crafted by Sam and the piano. This atmosphere, however, quickly shifts as Jeremy adds in a sudden mix of rapid cymbals and synthesized beats. The crowd becomes a bobbing mass of bodies, the fans immersing themselves in the sophisticated mix of manufactured beats with precisely interwoven vocals.
The elaborate attention to detail continues throughout the rest of the set, paying off as the audience remains engaged. During “One Time,” one of their hit songs off their 2015 EP Sway, the lights dim and the silhouette of saxophonist Steve takes center stage. Lifting his saxophone as the beat builds, the crowd jumps as Steve violently swings it back down, opening with his first improvisational solo of the night. During this moment, a strip of lime-green duct tape with the word “SEX” plastered across it in bold sharpie becomes visible, adding to the sensually provocative nature of Marian Hill’s seductive appeal.
Marian Hill’s cover of Whitney Houston’s song, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” is another highlight of the night. Forgoing the upbeat sounds of the original, Marian Hill slows it down. Sam’s voice takes time to caress each lyric, softly crawling through the words as this rendition changes the tune to seemingly speak of a yearning for an unrequited love. The melancholy drips off the bass, accompanying the hauntingly hallow echoes of Sam’s vocals as the sorrow overtakes the crowd. At the song’s conclusion, Sam leaves the stage, signaling to the crowd that Jeremy and Steve will return us to a happier place.
After Sam’s return to the stage, Marian Hill breaks into their song “Same Thing.” Another highlight of their set, this song elicits a multitude of reactions from the crowd as the bass continues to deepen to a deafening roar. This is the moment, I think, that a physical sensation latches onto a higher wave, enabling us to transcend the confines of this small warehouse room as the extreme bass elevates us to a being immersed solely in the waves of the vibrations. However, for some fans, that moment erupts and keeps them rooted in discomfort; near me, a few fans cup their ears, turning to their friends and asking Why?
However, for others, such as the guy next to me, this ethereal moment forces them to close their eyes, relax their faces and allow the bass to wash a sense of serenity over them, the deep vibrations felt through the core of their bodies.
Ending their set with their popular song “Got It,” Marian Hill briefly departs the stage before returning to perform a two song encore. They begin with “Whiskey,” the first song they ever produced together, and they end with “One Time,” thus concluding the night on a lighter note.
Recap by Sarah Figgatt.