In the wake of Mark Ronson’s homogenized, omnipresent “Uptown Funk,” it is comforting to know that funk is being kept alive by acts like Philadelphia’s Darla. Since forming in the latter half of 2013, Darla have built up to a talented group of seven musicians with a warm and groovy sound that would fit appropriately as the soundtrack to a sweaty basement party, an early 90’s sitcom, or just a really good day. Focusing on the jazz based elements of funk, their latest EP, Darla Forever, is a short but tantalizing collection of three songs that exemplies their growth in overall composition and production. Driven forward by the steady rhythm section of Mike Morrongiello on bass and Richie Straub on drums, Darla Forever glides through glistening instrumentation of unifying riffs as electric guitar, keys, and sax join in and wander out on solos with all the flair that good funk deserves.
Starting off the EP with a sizzle, “Claudia Jean, Where Are My Keys” sets a smooth, sultry tone in two distinct parts. Climbing a syncopated bassline matched with harmonized saxophone, a winding guitar line leads to a new theme articulated on whirring keys and carried by the rest of the band through the song. Though “Pretty Mess” appeared on the last EP, this new and improved live version showcases the song at its full potential. Its memorability kicks in as soon as that undeniably addicting guitar line sinks in and builds in sunny, mellifluous layers, transitioning through the song with punches of sound. Syncopation is key in the album’s culminating track, “Sooz Clues,” where the duo of saxophones takes center stage, sailing fluently through an impressive solo and harmonizing the most frenetic riffs of the EP.
The Darla Forever EP is a step in a very promising direction for Darla that comes closer to capturing the vibrancy of their live shows.
Perhaps even more pleasing than the recorded version of Darla is their live show. On Saturday night, they played to jam-packed, multi-generational crowd at The Fire with support from a quality line-up of ambient, singer-songwriter Josh Miller, the earthy rock of Second Child, and percussion wizards Square Peg Round Hole. Powering through all of their written material thus far within one set, Darla were (and always are) a joy to watch as they all assume their own stage personas in a mix of shy stoicism and full on enjoyment. It’s hard not to love Kosta Johnson’s little smile as he gently taps the keys, the constant bob of Brendan Monahan and Wil Schade, the way Alex Marino’s glasses slide down his nose (but never off) as he rips through a guitar solo, and Jake Fabian’s eyebrow-raising, head-wiggling sax playing. You could feel the energy radiating from the stage and into the audience as the group hit the high point of crescendos and surged through those triumphant riffs in unison.
As Darla’s repertoire of originals is not yet enough to fill a full set, they are also known for nailing slightly funky renditions of what they refer to as “classics.” By classics, I, of course, mean testosterone-filled power ballads of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Toto’s jazziest hit, and an angsty irish protest staple. Delighting audiences with a chance to sing along, the members swap instruments, break out the tambourine, and let Fabian take the mic to bring each of the “classics” to life with gusto.
No matter how odd their setlist, they always put on a performance that leaves a crowd in a state of blissful desire for more of everything they have to offer. Give Darla a look and a listen for yourself in the video below from Feedback Loop. But first, take a moment to appreciate Mike’s bass face in the thumbnail.
- Rosanna (Toto cover)
- Bed N’ Breakfast
- How You Remind Me (Nickelback cover)
- It (That With Which Will Smith Asks You Get Jiggy)
- Claudia Jean, Where Are My Keys
- It (Part 2)
- With Arms Wide Open (Creed cover)
- Sooz Clues
- Pretty Mess
- ENCORE: Zombie (Cranberries cover)