Posted by Pat Baxter on 07/15 at 10:34 AM
Carol Baney, operations manager for Arts Fest, introduced the Mark DeRose Band on the Friedman Park stage on Saturday evening. She said they were one of her favorite bands playing at Arts Fest and embody what Arts Fest is all about. Though I thought she went a little overboard in her praise, I would agree they were one of the stronger acts at this year’s festival.
The Mark DeRose Band—with a popish sound not unlike the Gin Blossoms, Blues Traveler, or Maroon 5—is based in Lancaster, PA. Mark DeRose (Penn State alum) is the frontman, of course, on lead vocals, guitar, and keyboards. His band-mates include Jay Baab on lead guitar, Ben Eberts on bass and backing vocals, and Dan Brenner on drums and backing vocals.
Lancaster is a town known more for its Amish population than its music scene. So it was a surprise when I saw how the band brought the goods, stage presence-wise. The smaller space at Friedman Park allowed for a more intimate interaction with the audience, and DeRose took full advantage, using some humorous quips and a number of motivational devices to energize the crowd.
They began with a few originals to be featured on their forthcoming album. They then arrived at a rendition of Steve Miller’s “The Joker” to really pull the crowd into their performance. They even convinced listeners to add the appropriate sound effects after the famous line “some people call me Maurice.”
The highlight, for me, was their new song “Just to Say I Still Love You.” It is a 70s Elton John/Supertramp kind of tune that had a nice rhythm and great chordal groove. It’s a bit of a stretch, but think of “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” or “Goodbye Stranger.”
A song I wasn’t much into, though, was “Breathing Life.” It reminded me of Sesame Street or a hot air balloon commercial. Indeed, there were other points when the music tended to become a bit too bubble gum, or not unlike the vanilla chord progressions that Christian rock bands tend to enjoy.
Nevertheless, the musicianship of the band was very solid. DeRose is a talented singer with depth in his voice, and he is skilled on both keyboards and guitar. The bass player (Eberts) and drummer (Brenner) have great chops, too. They tended to show off at times, however, as Eberts occasionally inserted funk slap bass lines that felt out of place, and Brenner sometimes was too busy on the ride and hi-hat. Jay Baab on lead guitar has talent, as well. Although, on the whole I never thought his sound worked. He enhanced his guitar with reverb, delay, and a touch of flanger, but it seemed more suited to an ambient rock setting rather than the pop stage he was playing on. A cleaner lead distortion would have been more appropriate.
The band finished strong with their rendition of “American Girl.” It was a spirited ending that left a positive aura around the stage. As the band said their thank yous and the sun began to set, the audience parted on a happy note.
Author: Pat Baxter
Bio: A native of Pittsburgh, Pat Baxter is now working for WPSU/Penn State Public Broadcasting in video on-demand and multi-media. He enjoys playing guitar and bass, listening to music and watching films. He likes listening to grunge/alternative rock, experimental and prog rock, and jazz/fusion. His favorite rock bands include the Smashing Pumpkins (1990s era), David Bowie, Talking Heads, King Crimson, Buckethead, Frank Zappa, Mars Volta, David Torn, and the Cure.
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