On Stage: Common Kings push musical boundaries

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Common Kings

When Sublime with Rome brings the tour supporting its brand-new album “Blessings” to the Mann Center (5201 Parkside Avenue, Philadelphia. https://manncenter.org) on July 9, fans would do well to get there early enough to hear the opening act – Common Kings.

Common Kings are a multi-cultural pop/rock band with vocals inspired by soul music and a heavy reggae influence. The four band members have island roots, but none are from Jamaica — or even the Caribbean.

All four have Polynesian roots — guitarist Taumata Grey (Samoa), bassist Ivan Kirimaua (Fiji/Kiribati), drummer Jerome Taito (Tonga) and lead singer Sasualei “JR King” Maliga (Samoa/Hawai‘i). They all live now in Orange County, California.

The band’s discography includes “#Weontour Soundtrack,” EP (2013), “Summer Anthem” EP (2013), “Hits & Mrs.” EP (2015), “Lost in Paradise” (2017), and “One Day” EP (2018).

“We have a lot of new music coming soon,” said Maliga, during a phone interview last week as the band travelled across Wyoming on its way to a show in Chicago.

“We’re putting on the final touches now. We recorded it at our own studio in Orange County. We’re probably going to drop a few singles and get everybody excited and then hit them with the full album.

“On this tour, we’ve already played one of the songs that will be a single and it got a great response. We’ll probably play a few more new ones before the tour is over. We’re still playing a lot from ‘One Day’ and ‘Lost in Paradise.’ And, we also do some older stuff.”

A concert by Common Kings is a South Pacific show – but totally different that the Broadway show “South Pacific.”

“The band started a few years ago,” said Kirimaua. “We met through mutual friends. We all got together at my house in Newport Beach at a barbecue and started jamming. We’re Pacific Islanders and we all stick together.”

Taito said, “We actually started just jamming. After that, we learned a few songs. We got offered a gig at a luau at San Diego State University. From there, we started doing cover gigs.

“About six years ago, we became Common Kings. As Common Kings, we became more committed to our own music. It’s ‘feel good’ music — a true representation of who we are. Everything is all about feeling good and having a good time. We do a lot of songwriting.”

Grey said, “Obviously, our Polynesian families and friends supported us in the beginning. Then, it gradually moved to a wider audience and a wider variety of people — white, black, Asian and Hispanic. And, we’ve picked up a younger audience.”

A major factor that brought younger fans to Common Kings was two of the band’s early two tours — direct support for Justin Timberlake and opening for platinum girl group 5th Harmony. They also played on Meghan Trainor’s Untouchable Tour and Matisyahu’s 2017 Fall Tour. Now, they reach out to a new audience as the opener for Sublime with Rome.

“Sublime with Rome play great music,” said Maliga. “Everybody is coming out and singing their hearts out. It’s been great fun.

“Growing up in Orange County, we hear all the songs they’re playing that were big for them when we were younger – one song after another. For us, it’s nostalgia the whole way. And, their fans are enjoying our performance.”

The current tour for the Grammy Award-nominated band comes hot on the heels of their critically-acclaimed EP “One Day” on Mensch House Records – an EP that features appearances hat includes features from Stephen Marley, ¡Mayday! and Kat Dahlia.

Common Kings’ style and music is a collection of inspirations with rock, reggae, and R&B influences that is orchestrated into an array of rocking beats, feel good vibes, and emotional fever. These influences originate from each band members love for various genres, and widespread knowledge of music.

“For the new album, we’re going a little more hip hop,” said Maliga. “It’s a good mix of hip hop and alternative. Fans will be hearing a couple of them as our tour goes along.”

Video link for Common Kings — https://youtu.be/gH4O5Qrz5gU.

The July 9 show at the Mann Center, which has Sublime with Rome as the headliner and SOJA and Serenation as openers, will start at 5 p.m. Tickets are $43.

Spirits Having Fun

When Spirits Having Fun perform – whether in the recording studio or live onstage – it’s also “humans having fun.”

The band – Katie McShane (guitar, vocals), Jesse Heasly (bass), Andrew Clinkman (guitar, vocals) and Phil Sudderberg (drums) – make music that is fun and challenging at the same time. The four talented musicians will bring their distinctive sound to life in a show at Johnny Brenda’s (1201 North Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, 215-739-9684, www.johnnybrendas.com) on July 9.

“For us, it’s rock music,” said Clinkman, during a phone interview last week from his home in Indianapolis, Indiana. “It’s rock music with strong riffs, pop hooks and room to breathe. A lot of us do improvised free jazz too. We try to keep it elastic as much as we can.”

Coming from such eclectic backgrounds as jazz and composition, ska and punk, folk and synthpop, the members of Spirits Having Fun  are at home with improvisation, but only/especially because of their affinity for each other, musically. They refer to it as “Collaborative magic.”

Spirits Having Fun released its debut album “Auto-Portrait,” in June via Ramp Local.

“Our first record came out last Friday,” said Clinkman. “We re very familiar with the tunes because we’ve been playing them for a long time. The album was recorded in August 2017. We recorded it at a studio in Chicago called Jamdek.

“It’s self-produced and the engineer was Dave Vettraino. We booked one day in the studio. We tracked all the instrumentals in one 12-hour session and then Katie tracked the vocals in New York. We mixed it three months later and then mastered it in spring 2018.”

It’s impressive that the band was tight enough to cut a full album in one day – especially considering the band had been in existence for only eight months with half of the members living in New York and the other half in Chicago.

“I live in Chicago and so does Phil,” said Clinkman. “Jesse and Katie live in New York. Jesse and I lived in Boston for seven years and we had a band there. In 2013, I moved to Chicago and had a band with Phil. Katie moved to Boston and she and Jesse had a band. They moved to New York two years ago.

“In 2016, we came up with the idea for this band. In December 2016, Katie and Jesse came to Chicago for the first time. Since then, we’ve been Chicago/New York band. A lot of times, we’ll develop ideas on our own. Most of the stuff on our current record Katie had conceived as full songs.

“As we’ve developed, we’re working more together. We get together every few months to work things out. Jesse and Katie come to Chicago and we’ll practice for a few days and then play a couple shows. This will be our second time to play Philly. The first time was a house show in May 2018.”

Video link for Spirits Having Fun — https://youtu.be/r87CUSh6ups.

The show at Johnny Brenda’s, which has Likes, JOBS, Spin Off as opening acts, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.

We Were Promised Jetpacks

We Were Promised Jetpacks will return to Philadelphia – and return to the past – when it headlines a show on July 10 at Union Transfer (1026 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, 215-232-2100, www.utphilly.com).

The Scottish rockers – Adam Thompson (vocals, guitar), Sean Smith (bass), and Darren Lackie (drums) — will return to the city where they recorded the most recent album, “The More I Sleep The Less I Dream,” and the city where they recorded a live EP earlier in their career.

We Were Promised Jetpacks’ show will also feature a return to the band’s first album, “These Four Walls,” which was released in June 2009. Long a sought-after collectors’ item, We Were Promised Jetpacks’ debut LP, “These Four Walls,” had a scant U.S. vinyl release that appeared only as imports in 2009.

Now the band’s album, which was known for its explosive energy and knife-edge tension, has been re-released via FatCat. “These Four Walls 10th Anniversary” featuresthe original 11 tracks along with unreleased tracks including demos, acoustic sessions and live tracks from a very early gig at Barfly in Glasgow.

“We decided to revisit the album because it was our first album and helped us along the way of our passage as a band,” said Thompson, during a phone interview Monday afternoon as he travelled from New York to the tour’s opening show in Boston.

“When we thought about it, we also thought about playing it start-to-finish. We wanted to re-package it for our fans. It’s been 10 years.”

We Were Promised Jetpacks’ history goes back longer than 10 years. We Were Promised Jetpacks formed in Edinburgh, in 2003. The band played its first gig at its school’s “Battle of the Bands” competition — which it won.

“The three of us were in the same high school together in Edinburgh,” said Thompson. “Me and Michael have been together since primary school. We put the band together when we were 16.

“The Strokes were a big influence. And, the Scottish band Biffy Clyro were an early influence. We liked fun bands – serious with a slight twist of fun.”

We Were Promised Jetpacks have released four albums in the last decade – “These Four Walls” in 2009, “In the Pit of the Stomach” in 2011, “E Rey Live In Philadelphia” in 2104, “Unraveling” in 2014, and “The More I Sleep The Less I Dream” in 2018. But the band’s focus right now is on “These Four Walls.”

The band’s youthful energy (average age at the time was 21) explodes thunderously as colossal choruses fall into place. Every space is filled, tension bristling achingly in Adam Thompson’s vocal delivery as the rest of the band crashes around him with a perfect balance of force and harmony. The romanticism and accessibility of a pure pop sensibility is never hidden too deep.

The product of Ken Thomas’ (Sigur Ros, Cocteau Twins, David Bowie etc.) studio mastery and Peter Katis’ (Frightened Rabbit, The Twilight Sad, The National etc.) mixing, the recording of “These Four Walls” was almost entirely live with only minimal overdubs.

“We’re rehearsing it now and it seems like simpler times,” said Thompson. “With writing and making songs, the longer you do it, the more you think about it. Our early songs were more natural and simple – going back to a time when it was all fun.

“We didn’t’ remix any of the original tracks from ‘These Four Walls.’ We left them untouched. Then, we added bonus tracks.

“To get ready to play the album live now, we went back and listened to the way we originally played them. There was a glockenspiel used on the original album and we got that back.

“In the live show, we’ll begin by playing the album start-to-finish. Then, we’ll play other songs fans want to hear. We’re going to play songs from all our albums.”

After this tour and looking back, We Were Promised Jet Packs will be looking to the future.

“We’ve started writing some music for the next album,” said Thompson. “We usually have to write a bunch of stuff until we get something good.”

Thompson hails from Edinburgh, the home of two of Scotland’s storied football (soccer) clubs — Heart of Midlothian, founded in 1874, and Hibernian, founded in 1875. When asked – “Hearts of Hibs?,” Thompson replied, “Hearts – they’re the classiest team in Edinburgh.”

The band members moved from Edinburgh to Glasgow a little while ago but still regard Edinburgh as home. In the states, Philadelphia is one of their favorite cities.

“We’ve always enjoyed going to Philly,” said Thompson. “We’ve done recording there and we’ve played a lot of different venues there. Every time we’ve played Philly, we’ve had a great time.”

Video link for We Were Promised Jetpacks – https://youtu.be/277VfNI1Dbg.

The show at Union Transfer, which has Suburban Living as the opener, will start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $20.

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