Indie rock fans follow the North Star for bands like Weakerthans

Doug Reed

About 10 minutes away from the Philadelphia Museum of Art in North Philadelphia is another haven for culture and expression: the North Star. This concert hall and bar with its down-to-earth look and urban setting make for an excellent location venue for bands of the indie rock persuasion. This is the alternative to the massive, overwhelming crowds and confusion of the Electric Factory or First Union Center in Philly. The North Star has an intimate and underground rock feel in a two-floor area just smaller than the Belle Air Terrace.

Last Wednesday, in its brick-walled concert room, indie/punk rockers the Weakerthans, Greg MacPherson and Rocking Horse Winner took the stage to a crowd of about 200.

The Weakerthans are based out of Winnipeg, Canada, and formed back in 1997 after John K. Samson (guitar, vocals) left the influential political hardcore outfit Propagandhi. Other members of the Weakerthans are Stephen Carroll (guitar, backing vocals), Jason Tait (drums, saw) and John Sutton (bass, backing vocals). After the show, Carroll jokingly commented that the band encompasses “one grump, one flake, one hard-rocker and one control freak.”

It’s hard to accurately label the band with any particular music genre. Descriptions have ranged from punk, indie and emo, to prairie soul and folk. The band would like to be described as “honesty.” Consequently, its fan following ranges all over different music scenes, from political charged punks to grass-root indie rockers.

The band’s successful debut album “Fallow” was released in 1998 and the more melodic sophomore record “Left and Leaving,” was released just over two years ago, along with their single EP “Watermark” just last year. The progression of the band reflects the development of the Weakerthan’s sound into something unique that breaks the boundaries of present day musical genre stereotypes. Also, portions of the earnings from both the second album and recent EP were donated to a non-profit art school in their hometown of Winnipeg.

Conveniently, following the band on its East Coast tour is not just the usual T-shirts and pins, but also a selection of literature from affiliated AK Press. Selling titles such as “A Cavalier History of Surrealism,” “No Gods, No Masters: An Anthology to Anarchy” and “Addicted to War: Why the U.S. Can’t Kick Militarism.” AK Press is associated with the Weakerthan’s Canadian label G7 Welcoming Committee Records. These political concerns are also located in the band’s lyrical content. Subjects vary from French dining and philosophy, to mining workers, everyday activities and architecture.

Accompanying opening band Rocking Horse Winner, is a four piece emo/indie band from Florida, loosely described as a merging of punk rock and the likes of Lisa Loeb. The female lead vocals includes Jolie Lindholm, noted as the studio backup vocals for recently popular Dashboard Confessional. Rocking Horse Winner originally formed in 1994, with the later addition of Lindholm. The band’s latest album “State of Feeling Concentration” was released last Jan. The connection between the band name and the book of the same name by D.H. Lawrence may be more than just coincidence.

The third accompanying band, Greg MacPherson is also from Canada and on G7 Records with the Weakerthans. His powerful music blends political concerns and emotional sensitivity. The latest albums of the Weakerthans, Rocking Horse Winner, and Gred MacPherson can be found online or in an less-mainstream music store such as Repo Records in Bryn Mawr. Also, Rocking Horse Winner will return to Philadelphia on Sept. 8 at the “Owl’s Cove” on North Broad Street.