John McGrew has a couple of things on his plate. When he’s not giving nursery school children their first music lessons, or teaching his course, Igniting The Creative Process, or writing songs for any number of theatre and dance company troupes, he somehow finds the time to front the highly motivated rock trio, Apollo Run. The band has been around in its present form for about 2 years now, and is all set to release their white label, 3-song EP this fall, produced by the always eclectic DibS .
All this ambition came to a head Friday night at Rockwood Music Hall’s new Stage 2 at 196 Allen Street. Four times the size of its neighboring Stage 1 but with a sound system to match, Rockwood’s second stage feels much like the famous showcase venues over on Bleecker Street. Just like Lion’s Den Sullivan Hall and The Bitter End, you only play the Rockwood if A&R is already beating a path to your door.
Apollo Run was just the band to help christen this month-old venue. Not content to simply sing and write the majority of this band’s music, John dabbles in a bit of everything. Last Friday night, he bounced around from instrument to instrument. He first started with a piano, then cycled through a trumpet and floortom before finally returning to the piano.
Treating the music venue with the same drama and panache of an off-broadway stage production, John effortlessly broke into falsetto while replacing the usual guitar theatrics with some workmanlike touches on the Rockwood’s beautiful grand piano. It was surprising to me how little I missed the guitar. I guess I was focused too much on bassist Jeff Kerestes’ rockstar faces to care. You could immediately tell he’s wanted to do this his whole life, and I for one, was more than happy to help him feel at home. Equally tight, drummer Graham Fisk approached each fill with his inner athlete, placing his rhythms carefully behind the band, and running it home during the fills.
And I’d be remiss not to mention the incredible horn trio featured on several tracks. Tight and focused, they ran through well-orchestrated lines with ease. My personal fave was the crowd singalong-ready Stars. One of those “had-to-be-there” happenings. Check it out.
The crowd was composed of just the sort of folks who appreciate good, old-fashioned rockstar tendencies. People arrived from Hoboken, the West Village, and midtown east to see Apollo Run reach their LP fantasies. And speaking of which, if you’re a single guy looking to pick up a lady, definitely find out where this band is playing next.
Admittedly, when Apollo Run stands out the most, it is when they are playing time-tested material. Riffs coded genetically as the DNA of arena rock music a la Queen, minus the machismo. Their music takes you through a collage study of rock music’s history: from loose cabaret, to tight Journey-style anthems, to horn lines straight from Cetera-era Chicago, all channeled through fairly intimate lyrics for such a large sound.
What this band lacks in spontaneity, they make up for in genuine zeal. One song in and you can immediately see how hungry they are. They really want it. They are determined to win you over. So much so, they are willing to write a song named for you for the asking price of just $2,500 courtesy of Pledge.com (not a bad deal!).
Whatever your initial impression, they will definitely have you paying attention by the end of the night… and their hooks will be buzzing around your head for weeks.