What the Radio Doesn't Play You!

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Photo credit: Christian Shaw

Marcy Playground - B. B. King Blues Club, NYC - 9/28

"Sex and Candy" is far from being the best song by Marcy Playground, yet it is the only one that most people know. In 1997, when the band released its first album, it was somehow decided that a song with "sex" in the title deserved relentless radio play, which was fine, because it's a good song. However, when the alternative rock trio released its follow-up album, Shapeshifter, despite it being superior to their previous release, there was no love from the radio. Over ten years and four albums later this Minneapolis-based group continues to hover under the airwave radar.

There are three key qualities Marcy Playground has that most bands on the radio today don't:

1. A distinctive sound that is uniquely their own

2. Musicians who know how to use their instruments

3. A soul

All this was on display this past Monday night at B. B. King's in Times Square, as Marcy passed through N.Y.C. on the tour for their latest full-length, Leaving Wonderland... In A Fit of Rage. Playing between the tight structure of their songs and experimental jams that stretched some of those songs out nicely, John Wozniak (lead vocals, guitar) and company rocked, keeping a modest crowd of geeks and spazzes in high and happy spirits.

Wozniak's skills on the guitar far exceed the requirements of his music. His precision on the written parts belies his technical abilities, yet there is enough variation between his recorded playing and what he does for the live show to keep his emotional connection to the notes entirely fresh. Wozniak is also inclined to spread his musical wings and fly into some unscripted material totally alien from anything the band has put on vinyl. During "Secret Squirrel," one of the more popular songs from Shapeshifter, the metered construction of the composition was periodically interrupted by free-form bursts of sound and unfettered jamming, then brought back into the way the song is performed on the CD, giving the sensation of a brief acid trip between moments of pleasant sobriety. Dylan Keefe follows Wozinak's lead on these improvised journeys, providing tight bass lines that maintain a rattling foundation.

The band is now on their third drummer, Shlomi Lavie, who beat the living shit out of his kit during Monday night's performance. One of the toms literally collapsed under the relentless pressure of his animalistic drumming and had to be held in place by a determined techie for the last half of the set. With Lavie on the drums, one can only hope that the band won't ever be in search of their fourth drummer.

Wozniak's lyrics are a strong part of Marcy's appeal, being steeped in fantasy literature, often whimsical, with a heavy does of what feels like imagery pulled from dreams. There is a consistent thread of storytelling in his songs, which is complemented by the folk influences that lie just beneath the overall pop-grunge tone of their sound. Vocals are another strong point for Wozniak who, despite having let his figure go, has managed to preserve the lively, folky voice that was recorded on his first release.

Whether one is a fan of the band or not, it would be hard to argue against the fact that they play a tight set and clearly love what they are doing, despite having been overlooked by the mainstream.

With the movement more and more towards the sale of music through downloads (amusingly, the band's third album is titled MP3), and the practice of buying full albums becoming a thing of the past, it seem like it will become even easier for bands of the future to be pigeonholed into being known for one song. Getting into a band through a hit single is only natural, but stopping the search with that one song is a silly and limiting decision. Since record labels will continue to do whatever sells, it is the responsibility of the listening public to explore for themselves and not just tune their ears to what the radio is programming us to hear.