The Jaded Lips, David Applas, Hunter Karns and Michael Wertz, are opening for The Clarks at Stage West in State College Saturday. It's a case of local Altoona boys done good!
Just a little over a year ago, I walked into McGarvey's Bar and Grill in Altoona, Pa. McGarvey's is exactly what a good rock-n-roll bar is supposed to be: It's just over the railroad tracks, it's a little grimy and dark inside with a great stage setup and boss-ass house sound. I was watching a twin-bill. The first band was a punk-thrash outfit and they were good, but the second band was The Jaded Lips. The Lips are an original rock & soul trio with real attack and edge. I was impressed. Lead singer and guitarist Michael Wertz, in his jean jacket cool, was first and most noticeable because of his voice. He's got a raspy bari-tenor that is made for rock music made in the shade of the rail-yard. Hunter Karns on bass was some kind of combination of the joy of Tigger with the affect of a 70s hard rock god, bounding around the stage - often shirtless - with a tangle of rock-n-roll hair flying everywhere. David Applas drives it all on drums with sometimes complex and sometimes groovy rhythms, again, hearkening to an arena rock era with an often ferocious force. To this trio, you must listen. While in performance, they are riveting. I approached Wertz after their set and asked about the band's music. "I really liked your set, but I couldn't identify any of your songs," I said. "We mostly play our own music," said Wertz. At which time, I was not impressed. I was blown away. I am an original musician, myself, and I appreciate "live, local and original" so I built a place in Philipsburg, Pa., called The Philipsburg LaunchPad, primarily because nobody would hire my band, Stone Man. "Oh, you play ORIGINALS," was what club owners would say. So, I said, "Fuck it. If nobody will hire us, I'll build a place and hire myself." The LaunchPad is a completely other story, but I asked Wertz if he would consider playing at my place. It was still covid times, and we were just starting out, but these guys, honestly, would play in the back of a pizza delivery van if the pie was good. They were the second rock band, other than my own, to play at "The LP." And the crowd was small, but it did rock, and we became friends. So I'm jazzed that such a great local band, who also can't get into State College, is catching enough fire to open for The Clarks, a national act out of Pittsburgh, Saturday night at Stage West in State College. And I wanted to know how this came about. "I was looking at some of the shows coming to the area," said Karns, "And I saw The Clarks show listing, but didn't see any opening act. So I looked up the venue and I looked up the band's management and I sent some information to both about having us on. The venue promptly said "no" but the band kindly said "yes."
"I don't know if I was lucky or just had enough balls to go ahead and ask," said Karns. "So we're opening for this amazing band, The Clarks. Crazy, huh?" Yes. It is crazy. I wonder if The Lips will have enough cred to get into the State College market now.
The Jaded Lips recently finished work on their first album at The Kaleidoscope, in Lancaster, Pa. The record is due out this year.
I asked The Lips about their first album, due out this year. "Three originals that represent my style?" said Wertz, answering a question with a question. "Lockdown', 'Black Lashes' and a new tune I wrote called 'Gravity.' 'Lockdown' and 'Lashes' are funk-blues numbers that represent events in my life in some weird way. 'Gravity' is kind of Floydian sounding and doesn't represent my life, but maybe the life of someone I personally know?" This is the first time Wertz has fronted a band and it was Karns who put him up to it.
"Hunter and I started this project after the break up of another band we were in," said Wertz, who was recording a scratch track for Karns. "And he said, 'Dude! I think you can sing! We should start another project and you should front it." "I suppose," said Wertz, "When we first started, I was a lot more nervous than I am now prior to playing shows. My struggle has always been trying to juggle and balance out the charismatic, passionate frontman act while also being a lead guitar player. I personally don't think that's an easy thing to do and pull off gracefully, so I applaud any singer/guitar player who does it." Honestly, All Michael Wertz has to do is smile with that guitar in his hand and he effortlessly achieves that balance, he's got that much personality.
Applas went an entirely different way describing three songs on the record that are most representative of his style. "Whiskey Breath," he said. "My endless love for breakbeats is displayed in the breadth of the song followed by a final onslaught of fast-paced rock-n-roll." "On 'Testify,' my love for classic funk drumming is on full display. I also get the opportunity to add a little jazzy-style swing to the tune. It's a great change of pace." "Souls" was his third choice. "I love to be busy with the drums when necessary and this song gives me the opportunity to do just that! It's a rocker from start to finish, with sweet, melodic passages." You can see Applas does everything with passion as a key ingredient. I think that can be said for the entire band. Karns is a kinetic charm and seems to surround himself with others of his tribe. Wertz spends a lot of his time at his business, "Terrafirma79 Designs," where he is an artisanal clock-maker. They ooze creativity.
I asked Applas what drives the band to so much original material. "Originality is crucial for keeping an artistic ecosystem alive!" he said. "Being able to make an audience move with music you created from scratch is fulfilling to me. I also get a natural high from the whole creative process of orchestrating a song. I believe that leaving a legacy behind is important in this human experience, and when it's all said and done I want to have a giant discography of original songs."
There are some bands in these mountains around State College and Altoona that are doing some really good things and, to me, The Jaded Lips is on the front edge of the scene. What I have heard of them is direct, sharp hooks, delivered with a scuzzy sound that took me back to my formative years in the 1970s. So they definitely have the cake mix. They're good looking dudes, and I say this in a purely man way, so they have an authentic look about them. They are who they look like, so they have the icing too. Maybe what sells them the most, if you are an objective observer, is that they are clearly into it. The joy with which they play is infectious, Applas pointing his stick at you like he's gonna send you to the principal's office, Wertz cracking that wry smile as he sings about black lashes. Karns bending over backwards in mid-bass-blizzard. It's a show you need to see. And a band you need to get behind. It's The Jaded Lips, and they're opening for the damn Clarks at Stage West on Saturday. The LaunchPad will see you there!