As I was waiting by the door to get into the venue last Friday night, March 4, an older man approached me and said, “This city isn’t the same as it used to be, just looking down this street all lit up, you could mistake it for Vegas.” He was right. Johnny Brenda’s, located on Girard Avenue in the heart of Fishtown, is a prime example of the renaissance the neighborhood has experienced in the past 15 years.
Masses of young people, artists and musicians have flocked to this neighborhood and revitalized its cultural scene. Weekender, the band which opened for Quilt March 4, consists of just that. The group, founded in Philadelphia in 2013, frequently opens for various better known acts touring throughout the city. Their music has an ethereal quality as waves of muted chords blend together to create a sound the group describes as dream pop.
The upstairs stage at Johnny Brenda’s is very simple. It includes just enough room for a multi-piece band to put their equipment on and a canvas backdrop on which various images can be projected. The group’s choice was to project images directly from an iPhone app. A man at the front of the stage controlled the program, performing subtle motions to create blends of colors and psychedelic imagery on the screen. This low-budget, but effective production speaks to Weekender’s charm. They are able to create a mood of hypnosis, waves and colors drifting throughout the room which can be especially felt on songs like “No Time to Waste” and “Half Awake.”
The venue also has a balcony area above the stage on which you can look down at the band and experience the music from a unique vantage point. At one point, the drummer from Quilt called up to his mom and step-dad to thank them for making it to the show. People filtered back and forth from the railings to chat with friends at a nearby table or buy one of the various local beers offered at the bar. The energy of the music and the movement of people at the small venue speaks to the neighborhood’s embrace of under-recognized artists and emphasis on community. Looking down Girard, groups of people can be seen headed to a bar that’s an old favorite or discovering a new place that just opened up down the street. Add a Caesars and a mock Eiffel Tower on the corner and it really could be Vegas.