Lionized by critics but ignored by record buyers, befriended by Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle but barely recognized outside the streets of Philadelphia, Marah seems forever in flux. But brothers Dave and Serge Bielanko (with a rotating cast of backing players) are most truly at home onstage, doing what they did at Iota on Friday night: turning their kaleidoscopic musical influences into sweat-drenched, cigarette-smoking, beer-swilling rock.
Though Marah (say hurrah) has been the coal that has fired recent think pieces on the state of rock music, it makes simple sense as a gritty -- and overly romantic -- bar band. And Friday night, the Bielanko boys left nothing in the bag. Leaping onto the bar, leaning in to share a microphone, jamming songs to twice their original length and never lifting off the gas. A working stiff (or a stressed-out high-tech drone) still turned on by the Stones and Springsteen could scarcely ask for more in the way of TGIF relief.
"20,000 Streets Under the Sky," Marah's latest disc, is as spotty and fuzzy as the band's three previous records, but "Freedom Park" and "Pizzeria" crackled with new life when stripped to their guitar-bass-drums core. And from "Formula, Cola, Dollar Draft" to "The History of Where Someone Has Been Killed," the quintet stomped through its back catalogue with judicious abandon. And until that career-spanning live album hits (it worked for Kiss), those seeking the true soul of Marah should seek it out in the clubs.
-- Patrick Foster