Philly Rock Band Just as Good as Philly Cheesesteak
Philly-based band Townhall, known for their distinctive fusion of rock ’n roll and expressive songwriting, played at the ’Sco last night. The band, which for the past five years has undergone significant musical changes, came to Oberlin after a lapse in touring as a result of studio recording time in preparation for the release of their new five-song EP due this spring.
In its progression since formation, Townhall has explored various musical possibilities that have coincided with its emergence from strictly Philly-oriented touring. Extending throughout the East coast and now into Ohio as well, the band is growing in visibility, most notably in this tour and in the national release of their second album, American Dreams.
“We’re on the cusp of breaking into a national audience,” said George Stanford, Townhall’s main songwriter, singer and guitarist. “We’re embracing new songs and a new sound.... We’re on a great path and I’m excited about this new direction.”
Townhall, comprised of Stanford, Tim Sonnefield, Mark Smidt, Kevin Pride and Dave Streim, is a quintet whose core met in Philadelphia while attending jazz school in 2000. While the band does not play with jazz influences any longer, the jazz background has been an important influence for its members.
“The jazz isn’t overt in our rock music, but we approach the rock with the knowledge and understanding of how jazz works,” said Stanford. “It helps to view the music and see where it needs to go.”
The members’ technical training and capabilities help them with experimentation and less traditional goals.
“Our challenge is to show restraint, to play [with a] less is more [approach],” he said. “Instead of soloing all the time, we want to play less. Townhall is just based on good songs and good musicianship.”
These factors have allowed Townhall’s music to travel far since the band’s inception. Formerly featuring horns in many of its songs, the band has moved away from this style and more into a rock-centered one.
“The group has now changed into something different. We don’t use the horns now for the horns’ sake, but more to support a song, when it is necessary for the horn to serve a song instead,” said Stanford.
Though this approach turned some fans off to the band, Townhall feels confident that its new direction is more in line with its greater vision.
“Expressing the essence of a song,” said Stanford, “that’s what gets me going. It gets to a point where it’s bigger than me, bigger than all of us and that idea passes on to the audience. I hope that they’re entertained first, but then can find the deeper meaning in our songs and shows.”
Townhall tried to communicate its essence to Oberlin last evening. Playing
for an outside-Philly audience, the band was able to share its new direction
with new ears.