Before the show started, I had quite the conversation with a regular at The Fire. I won’t get into details, but it ranged from “are you in that band tonight?” to “I wish I could take back the fight I had with my father 40 years ago.” Shit got real. So I left with my beer and headed for the venue side of the bar. I walk through the band sitting around the bar and go into the empty room with a stage. It’s sad how hard it is to draw a good crowd in Philly. Our clock is even five minutes slower than it should be; we’re just a lazy city. Regardless, I was going to enjoy this show. I had been waiting since the debut of Lonely Twin to see Hospital Ships live. I don’t mind personal shows.
Sean Rosner, the opening act and personal friend of the Hospital Ships, steps on stage and kneels down next to what looks like a four-track cassette recorder. He starts messing around with a few settings on the pedals on his board and slowly fades up the audio on his first tape. A reverb-soaked, washed out guitar loop starts to fill the room as he grabs his guitar and steps to the microphone. Playing slightly fuzzed out folky chords and singing in a solemn deep voice, it made me think of a drone-induced Johnny Cash. That’s a good thing (in my book). Then his tape would stop abruptly. “Shit.” Looking at how he had things rigged up, it seemed like the tape recorder kept getting unplugged. So he would just move on to the next tape and start another song. Some of them featured just looped guitar, while others had percussion with baselines and backing vocals. His lo-fi fuzz-folk songs were perfect to lead into what came next.
Hospital Ships take the stage and start to sound check. The drummer, Nate from the Appleseed Cast, knocks over his beer and has to get another. The guitar and vocals start up for “Last Folk Song” from their new album, Destruction in Yr Soul, as Nate jumps back on stage and gets behind the drums. The song was a flawless start to the set. The track starts with soft guitar with vocals and eventually slams into a heavy wash of distorted guitar and harmonized vocals. The setlist that followed was filled with tracks off the new album, except for “Phantom Limb.” Of course, the song was the highlight of the night, being my personal favorite by them. The rest of the setlist was filled with heavy walls of crunching sound and spaced vocal layers. The studio versions of these songs are incredible, but they translated even better live. “Joan of Arc” was another standout. The band extended the end of the song, highlighting the most energetic part of the new album and their live show. Bassist Nate Dixey held tones at times and then hit chords to give choruses a fuller and heavier feel. The band, as a collective, are incredibly dynamic with their instruments. This was a show that unfortunately a lot of people missed and shouldn’t have. Hospital Ships are one of tightest bands I’ve seen in a while.