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Surprise Chef at Johnny Brenda’s 6/15/23


was supposed to be followed by the name of a city as the title of this post. But that was last night. During Surprise Chef’s set at Johnny Brenda’s in Philly. When the packed venue was embracing the Australian funk/jazz band. While I was thinking about my friend Ryan Harrison who has a Ph.D. in music. As I sat up front on the balcony in the best spot to watch them perform. Before I looked at their remaining tour schedule.

Let me add; they have a show tonight (6/16) in Baltimore and one in NYC before taking a break. I’m not trying to steal any thunder from the next two shows or those taking place later this summer. So, I apologize to those in Baltimore and NYC. After the Philly show, I got home at 1:30 and got up at 3:50 for work. So, I did not have time to sit down and write this until Friday night and Saturday morning. However, if you are on the west coast of the United States, look for them starting in August.

Photo from Camélia Hairane

Johnny Brenda’s, Philadelphia 6-15-23

Located in the heart of Fishtown, a trendy section of Philly, Johnny Brenda’s is a bar/restaurant with an upstairs double-decker venue with a capacity of 250. Serving delicious foods, many of which are vegan (I had the Jerk Jackfruit Sandwich. Yum!), they cater to the Fishtown vibe, making it an excellent choice for a dinner and show date; good food and good feels. And a great spot for Surprise Chef’s first time in Philadelphia.

After sitting outside watching the Thursday evening foot traffic and eating food, my photographer and I went in. Still early after the doors opened, the venue was nearly empty. Because I had been there before, I knew if we wanted spots on the balcony, we would have to claim them, be patient, and wait.

Photo from Camélia Hairane

Alanna Royale

First up was a band from Nashville, Tennessee, Alanna Royale. Bringing positive energy and a mixture of soul, R&B, and American Rock, they lovingly welcomed us to their tour. They built momentum and trust through eight songs, including a slowed and funked version of “Somebody to Love.” In between, Alanna addressed the audience with vulnerable truths and vital information, such as song titles. Truly professional and talented, Alanna Royale played to the crowd and set us up for the show that was to come.

Surprise Chef

Hailing from the continent down under, they traveled a long distance, over ten thousand miles, to share their music with a grateful crowd, and it was no great surprise to see how humble this group of musicians was: from the way they walked onto the stage to Stuckey’s words to how they received their applause. Along with the positive vibe from Alanna Royale, Surprise Chef’s demeanor was a great sign as to what was to come.

Photo from Camélia Hairane

As you can see in the photo of their setlist, Surprise Chef shared from their entire catalog. Bouncing around from older to newer material, they built a solid playlist that established mood and flowed from one song into another, each break being a moment when Stuckey took the opportunity to talk directly to the crowd.

Photo from Camélia Hairane

First Movement

Surprise Chef’s opening song was from their first album. Although I do not know All News Is Good News like I know their newer stuff, “Drinking From the Cup of Bob Knob” had their familiar sound. When they entered “Suburban Breeze,” I knew exactly where I was. The transition into “Rosemary Hemphill” made me think of the Mac DeMarco album review I wrote, where I took the reader on a fictional journey in which he and Surprise Chef were forced to play a Panos Cosmatos nightmare tour. That off, minor, dirty seventies sound hitting like a crippling acid trip.

Second Movement

I also do not know the Daylight Savings album as well, so five of the next six songs seemed relatively new to me. However, this was the movement that got my attention the most. In “College Welcomes Carl,” I saw and heard the difficulty of this band’s music. The timing and the skill. This is where I need my friend, Ryan Harrison, to explain in musical terms the technicality of this song. As I said, I recognize that it is there, but the official terminology is beyond my expertise. It was followed by the ease of “Washing Day” and ended with “The Positive and the Negative,” a cover of the 1970 song from Minoru Muraoka. Damn.

Photo from Camélia Hairane

Third Movement

This was the longest continuous portion of the show, and even though it started with some older material, I knew all the songs. The funkiest songs of the night, “Dinner Time” through “Spiky Boi” had me grooving and moving on the balcony. I saw other audience members who also felt the joy of seeing this band as they were easily in their stride. If you need proof, check out the studio versions of “New Ferrari” and “Winter’s Theme.” Oh, yeah, and “Spiky Boi.” Although the studio albums do not do the live music justice, they are still bangers.

Final Movement and “Encore”

The last portion of the show began with “All News Is Good News,” the song that introduced me to Surprise Chef. A classic; it is the only song played at the show that had the little green heart next to it on my Spotify account. (One of the four songs that I have singled out as favorites of mine from the band. [Actually, that is not true. “A1 Bakery Pledge of Allegiance” is also one.]) “Goldie’s Lullaby” was a great way to help us slow down before they ended the show with their pseudo encore “Blyth Street Nocturne,” one you probably know or should.

Final Thought:

Attention Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, San Pedro, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Denver, Salt Lake City, Boise, Seattle, Bellingham, Vancouver, Portland, Sacramento, Felton, and San Francisco. Go see and support this band.

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