[ digi snacks ]
When a pair of former film-school students with shared passions for music and food team up with a former music student and a practicing dentist ... well, that sounds like the beginning of an off-kilter "walked into a bar" joke. And the guys walking into that bar, in this case, are West Philly's The Really Cooks, the city's only self-proclaimed "food rock" band.
The group's grammatically odd name, as keyboardist Josh "Josh Band" Neubauer tells it, was inspired "by the scene in Back to the Future when the band playing at the dance says to Marty McFly, 'Come on, man, let's do something that really cooks.' ... It was like, 'Let's be the band that really cooks!'" Tracing the origins of "food rock" itself, however, is a more difficult task, as I discovered when I sat down to dinner with the band at City Tap House in University City. Since the concept is in its infancy, the band discusses it in overarching, ambiguous terms. What it definitely involves: musicians dressed as chefs, nascent food blogger credentials and snacks distributed to the crowd during live shows.
The seed for the band, which plays The Legendary Dobbs next week, was planted about 10 years ago, when Neubauer and guitarist Pete DiLorenzo, aka Pete Band, started cutting tracks on a home tape recorder as Cheltenham High students. Bassist Alon Hafri, aka King Alon (all the band members are very into their stage names and costumes), knew the duo in high school but didn't start playing with them until 2009.
The whole "food rock" thing didn't come about until early 2011. The band discovered that "about 70 percent" of the potential names they were batting around for their new project were food-related, and all had strong, greatly differing opinions about what they liked to cook and eat. (Neubauer and DiLorenzo work in a bakery and at a Starbucks, respectively.) This realization, for them, was enough common ground to establish a food-focused approach.
In December, The Really Cooks self-released their first album, Dr. Lemonade Stand, named for drummer Lem "Dr. Lemonade" Pidlaoan, the dentist who was absent from our meeting. (The band actively dodged all questions about his whereabouts.)
Instead of a sound, the band attests to having its own way of writing, which a single listen through the album, a stew of multiple genres, confirms. DiLorenzo says they identify more with a past generation of musicians — must be the '60s, given the Zombies-like Brit-pop touches, as well as the shades of Beach Boys-esque California sun and East Coast Simon and Garfunkel storytelling that come and go throughout the tracks.There's a laborious clarity to the recording that stands in contrast to lo-fi indie counterparts; they deal in unorthodox transitions that hit the listener like an absentminded iPod-armed walker banging into a telephone pole. Take "Claude Monet," a song ostensibly inspired by the fine arts — it's got a springy, upbeat pace that changes in time signature out of nowhere, reminiscent of The Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)."
Wait ... an arts-themed song from a food-themed band? Yes — as much as The Really Cooks like to talk up their burgeoning food focus, Dr. Lemonade Stand 's lyrics don't delve explicitly into the edible, aside from the sound of something sizzling in a frying pan and utensils clanging together in a busy kitchen at the start of its intro track, "Dances in High Heels." This is due to the fact that many of the songs were written by Neubauer and DiLorenzo during the tenure of their first group, The Josh and Pete Band, before the advent of The Really Cooks. ("Porter," they say, was inspired by bottles of Yuengling Porter, even though it's not about beer.)
While DiLorenzo vows that the band's next album will be more obviously constructed, listening to The Really Cooks' music is only one food channel through which the band communicates. Take their website, thereallycooks.com, which features a section of recipes submitted via comment, email or Facebook. "The recipes page is the second-most-visited page on our website," says Hafri, a research specialist at Penn. Dishes so far include vegetarian Italian wedding soup, chicken couscous, a smoothie recipe and doctored-up Goldfish crackers.
Local bars and restaurants should also be on the lookout for the crew, as members have started their own food review blog that sees them dressing up as their Really Cooks alter egos — Neubauer and DiLorenzo as chefs, Hafri as a king — and visiting restaurants to review them. "There are a lot of food blogs," says Neubauer, "so we knew starting [one] would be best for us to make it in the food world." The first entry, posted Jan. 15, saw the group stopping at Pietro's Coal Oven Pizzeria in full regalia. They acknowledge that they were treated slightly differently than your average customers — might have been the crown and regal get-up Hafri was wearing — but not in a bad way.
The most direct way The Really Cooks connects with its audience through food, though, is at their live shows. No attendee left their album release show at PhilaMOCA hungry — the group showered the crowd with popcorn and cotton candy, and gave every person who purchased their album free lemonade. They have some ideas for what they'll do at Dobbs — one involves passing various vegetal ingredients through the audience in the hopes of creating a crowd-sourced salad.
Though the band members are still settling into their roles on stage and in the kitchen, they're clear on the product they're preparing.
"Food, music and sex are the top three basic needs of people," says Hafri.
And The Really Cooks?
"We can offer two," promises DiLorenzo. "At least two."
The Really Cooks perform with Mike McMonagle, Stellarscope and Wanderers, Thu., Jan. 26, 8 p.m., $8, The Legendary Dobbs, 304 South St., 215-501-7288, dobbsphilly.com.