The last time I saw one of my favorite bands from the ’90s play at 4th & B, it was horrible. The Gin Blossoms’ lackluster performance, coupled with a weird-ass crowd, made for one of the more disappointing shows I’ve been to.
So it was with a certain trepidation that I came back to 4th & B to see one of my other favorite bands from the ’90s. For close to 15 years, Marcy Playground has been making the sort of music that combines nostalgia for childhood, adventure, and an appetite for the psychedelic. Having released only five albums in those 15 years, one can safely assume that the band has seen its share of hard times. Despite those hard times, Marcy Playground is also one of few bands from that decade that still releases new albums and actively tours.
Fortunately, just a few minutes into the first song, it became clear that this band isn’t just riding on the coattails of its past successes. This was a band playing music it still cared about, and they were playing it well. Marcy Playground kicked off its set with “Poppies,” the first track off its debut album. It’s a crunchy and…poppy track, and was a great way to start the set.
The audience, previously hanging back from the stage, now began to crowd closer and move a little more. My excitement grew for an evening of awesome music. About midway through the second song, “Devil Woman,” which is admittedly quite sultry, I noticed a woman in the front row who was making eyes at Marcy Playground’s bassist, and was mouthing words to him! And it wasn’t just her; the man with her was also trying to talk to the bassist. I made a mental note of their presence and directed my attention back to the great music being played up on the stage.
As the night picked up steam and the music started to go to some weirder places, strange people started to materialize all around me. There was a man to my right who was absolutely covered in sweat from head to toe, dancing like it was his last night on earth. A very subdued biker and his lady were to my left, and both seemed barely capable of standing up straight. The more I looked around, the more I realized that the crowd was largely comprised of people who were completely out of it.
The band had a lot of fun throughout the evening. The drummer kept us all entertained with some creative and hilarious antics. The bassist did his thing, and for the most part ignored the weird couple’s advances. And lead singer/guitarist John Wozniak kept the show running seamlessly, with his consistent vocals and sense of humor.
Wozniak walks a very fine line between taking himself too seriously and flat-out making fun of everything that rock and roll stands for. Halfway through the set, this refreshing outlook was summed up nicely with the song “Punk Rock Superstar.” In the song, Wozniak sings “If you love me when I’m a star/with all my money and my fancy cars/I’ll wink at you as I smash my guitars.” (The song was punctuated nicely as the lady stalking the bassist kept trying, and failing, to make some desperate connection with her superstar.)
Even when Marcy Playground played a 13-minute jam version of their otherwise three-minute song “Secret Squirrel,” they did it tongue-in-cheek–like they were making fun of that type of music, while also sounding pretty good at playing it.
As the evening came to a close, Wozniak invited all the ladies to join the band onstage to dance as they played “Sex and Candy.” I don’t know if Wozniak was fully aware of the assortment of female humans that would join him (ladies was a term he used loosely), or if he noticed the terrified look in the eyes of his bassist. But the band made the best of it and played the song extra-slow and cheesy, giving the females plenty of time to “sex it up.” It was like some nightmare version of a strip club where all the girls dance at the same time, each more awful than the next. This unpleasant display was made worthwhile by watching the bassist deal with trying to play the song and not be completely knocked over by his creepy fan girl.
The fun came to a halt and a somber mood settled over the crowd as the band played a cover of Leonard Cohen’s sweet and sad “Hallelujah.” Not the sort of song to be taken lightly, you could tell that Marcy Playground had spent a good amount of time with it. Wozniak closed the set with a solo version of a newer song called “Memphis.” During this song and throughout the entire evening, the strange people around me melted away, and I was taken to a place occupied only by great live music.
I spoke with Wozniak a bit before the show, and he said he was looking forward to having some fun playing for us that night. He delivered on that. Between the humor of the band and the people-watching, I had a whole lot of fun. But I also got a lot more out of the evening that just that. I was reminded why I enjoy Marcy Playground’s music so much, and how great music can make even the weirdest crowd seem normal.