Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

October 31–November 7, 1996

stone's soul picnic

Styling Gel

The Gelcaps have swallowed a lot of turmoil over the past year.

By Neil Gladstone

 


In last year's "CP Choice" issue, I gave the Gelcaps an award for being a "Far Out New Local Band." A lot has changed since then. A member of the Gelcaps quit, another died and yet they've remained one of the most distinctive bands in Philadelphia.

The Gelcaps began as a solo project in 1993 with Derelict Hotel alumnus Doug Anson making improvisational music on a cheap guitar, Casio keyboard and effect pedals. In '94 he started working with Vibrolux guitarist John Boothman, a.k.a "the king of noise."

Anson played chunky and repetitive rhythm guitar riffs while Boothman filled out the soundscape with drones and plinks. The band's first EP, Death Star From Budokan, was a remarkable balance of catchy pop-punk and trippy noise rock.

After going through several members, the lineup solidified in the fall of '95 when bassist Mark Nolan and drummer Spencer Sweeney joined the ranks. They kept the bottom end just tight enough to give the arrangements structure and depth. The second Gelcaps release, the single "Cows," was more straight-ahead, but still memorable.

A few months later, they started work on their third release. Songwriting was going so well that by the time July rolled around, the single had turned into a mini-album entitled 24 Hour Pythons.

In late July, everything fell apart. Boothman quit the band over creative differences. On July 27, Nolan died in a drug-related accident.

"When you're faced with that kind of devastation, it's hard to know what to do," recalls Anson, speaking publicly for the first time about the tragic turn of events. The band and album were both put on hold.

Bryan Dilworth, an old friend of Nolan's and the man in charge of the Gelcaps' record label, Compulsiv, ended up being the one to give Anson a "kick in the pants."

"On top of everything else, I felt bad that this great CD was going to come out and no one was ever going to hear it," says Dilworth. Already a big fan of the band, he asked if he could audition for one of the vacant spots. Even though he'd only played bass in the Lilys before, he decided to give a shot at playing guitar.

"The first practice was just great; I felt right away that it was going to work out," he says enthusiastically. He also admits that there were mixed feelings considering the circumstances: "I still find myself getting upset about Mark when we go to practice. I think about him every time."

The new lineup, which includes former Dandelion singer Kevin Morpurgo on bass and vocals, debuted last Saturday at Ulana's Downtown Rock Lounge to an enthusiastic crowd.

Without Boothman, the Gelcaps didn't dole out their usual chaotic onslaught, but emphasized vocals and melody.

"I'm pretty lucky in that I think every new version of this band has developed the project further," considers Anson.

Even though sonic mayhem wasn't the main focus of the band on that evening, there's still a lot of disorder in the works.

"I have a whole collection of 'Hit' instruments [cheap toy instruments] that I plan on bringing out soon, as well as an electric dulcimer," says the Gelcaps' mastermind. He's also toying with the idea of adding an analog synth player to the band.

As for 24 Hour Pythons, it's one of the best local releases this year — recapturing Budokan's distinctive mixture of harmony and distortion in tracks like "Little Coat" and "Swedish Mathematician," and venturing into uncharted territory for "Love Dude." Some of the new material sounds like excerpts from the Exorcist soundtrack, mixing a simmering pot of gurgling tape loops with live percussion. After a lot of turmoil, the Gelcaps are still one of Philly's great "Far Out Bands."

The Gelcaps will be playing with Railroad Jerk on Sat., Nov. 2 and with Chavez on Sun., Nov. 3 at Silk City, Fifth & Spring Garden, 592-8838.

Bryan Dilworth is organizing the Mark Nolan Fund to benefit the Nordoff-Robins music therapy clinic, a program that uses music to help treat autistic children. If you would like to give money, make checks out to "Nordoff-Robins" and send them to him c/o Compulsiv, P.O. Box 43542, Phila., PA, 19106.

As for the upcoming Philadelphia Music Conference, Oct. 31-Nov. 2, the pickins are slim. If you're a fan of Philly hip-hop, definitely stop by the Blue Horizon on Nov. 1 for Redd Bull, DaFat Cat Clique and Ital tha Ruffian. On the new EP, Raindrops (Kixx), Redd Bull plays her tight, fast-paced vocal skills against laid back tracks that give a strong nod to reggae in their use of hypnotic vibraphones and woofer-pumping bass. Ital tha Ruffian is also under the tropical spell in his new single "Well, Well, Well" (Kixx). His toasting style weaves a lot of melody into bouncy rhythms. Da Fat Cat Clique's recent release, Da Cat's Out of the Bag (DFCC), is deservedly garnering a lot of sales and buzz. The tracks are jazzy, trip-hop iced, with curt, edgy rhymes.

New York's Paris Hampton works in a folky, alterna-pop vein, akin to Lisa Loeb and Juliana Hatfield; she plays at the Pontiac Grille on Friday, Nov. 1. If you dig that Seattle/Soundgarden nouveau stadium rock thang, New Haven's Angry Candy does an excellent job of it. They'll be at Sam Adams Brewhouse on Thursday, Oct. 31. New York's NooVoodoo combine Afro-Cuban influences with pop-soul; they'll be at the Middle East, Thursday, Oct. 31. And if you're sick of all the schmoozing and just want to stop by for a first-rate country hootenanny, check out Austin's The Gourds at the Downtown Rock Lounge, Thursday, Oct. 31.

Call 426-4109 for more PMC information.

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