It was a sweaty Tuesday night with a orange purple sunset fading in the sky above the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art. Varsity, Jelani Sei, and Boosegumps rocked what was both an intimate and lively concert at a venue in the historic Finney and Sons building, where tombstones used to be showcased for mausoleums. Each act brought a unique vibe to their set, keeping the space creative and alternative, with projections of each performer in a psychedelic tunnel behind them. It felt authentic as well, with performers and the audience going outside between sets to smoke together.
Boosegumps, a guitarist and vocalist, brought their quirky, chill authenticity to their set. They rocked a smooth sounding pink guitar with flames on it for half of the show, which they bought for 50 dollars at a flea market sale. In a surprise move which shocked the crowd, they plugged their phone into the amp, put on a surprise DJ alter ego with some cool shades and proceeded to dance and sing “Reminds Me of You.” Their standout was the atmospheric synth ballad “Meditation” from their album B-Sides, concluding their set.
Changing the pace, Jelani Sei came on next. Their Bandcamp reads, “change your perception one groove at a time,” which makes sense because I’ve never seen a band quite like them, somehow combining future soul with high tempo complex instrumentals and angsty psychedelic vibes. Leading 5-string bassist/vocalist Evan Lawrence started off by saying, “We love America…SIKE, that’s the wrong country!” before transforming the crowd into an uptempo, headbanging craze. Jaylen Petinaud, their drummer, especially brought a calculated and vicious energy to his drumming that was so abrasive that his drum had to be reset several times throughout their act. Lead singer Guity introduced their standout “Message” with a sharply political, “our world is fucked, so listen closely,” before going into an all-out frenzy which ended the set, with drummer Petinaud seemingly almost breaking his kit.
Cooling down the room and filling it with spacey soft earworm synth rock were the evening’s headliners, Varsity. The band came together after guitarist Pat Stanton and lead singer Stef Smith graduated from Indiana University in 2011. Coming off releasing their second studio album, Parallel Person, last week, Varsity began with “Alone in My Principles,” the last song from the LP. Smith, rocking a funky green blazer, closed her eyes, filling the room with her smooth vocals, and light synths, as the complimentary drum kicks and guitar warp permeated the space. Varsity went on to play songs across their discography, before playing “Must Be Nice,” a show standout. The set climaxed with Varsity’s iconic “So Sad, So Sad,” where the room of forty shook their hips and screamed, “I’LL NEVER WALK AWAY, WALK AWAY, I WILL NEVER WALK AWAY, WALK AWAY!” Talking to Stanton about the creative process behind “So Sad, So Sad,” he explained how the tempo change from the low tempo bridge to high tempo chorus was accidental, but they ran with it. They initially weren’t even going to release the song, looking at it like a throwaway, but it became their biggest hit. It was refreshing how approachable each artist was after the show, selling their merchandise directly to members of the audience, capping off an intimate and diverse evening at PhilaMOCA.