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Published: 2015/12/03
by Matt Nestor

Alex Bleeker & The Freaks, Boot & Saddle, Philadelphia, PA- 11/22

About a week before rolling into Philadelphia for a Sunday night gig, Alex Bleeker & The Freaks’ tour van was broken into – in Toronto of all places. Freaks bassist Nick Lenchner lost his bass to The Great White North, and was forced to borrow one from locals The Extraordinaires for the South Philly show.

Serving as the opening act, The Extraordinaires warmed up the intimate room inside the Boot & Saddle with a set of whimsically arranged folk and rock tunes. By the time The Freaks took the stage, they had to use an introductory Pink Floyd “Breathe” jam to lure the crowd back from the bar. The Freaks seem to fly by the seats of their pants: Bass stolen? Borrow one. No audience in the room? Just start playing.

A couple dozen fans strolled into the room and the band kicked into “California,” a free-wheeling Americana tune off the third Freaks album, Country Agenda. Released in October, Country Agenda accounted for most of the night’s setlist, with tracks like “Sealong Hair,” “The Rest,” and the titular “Country Agenda.” Whereas past albums were rooted solely in Bleeker’s songwriting, complemented by a rotating cast of “Freaks,” this newest offering is the collaborative product of a full-time quintet. The band has developed to the point that Bleeker recently told the Washington Post, “It feels almost funny to continue calling it ‘Alex Bleeker and the Freaks.’”

The comfort between Bleeker, Lenchner, guitarist Alex Steinberg, keyboardist Jacob Wolf and drummer Dylan Shumaker is especially apparent as the band navigates its more open-ended numbers. The first track on The Freaks’ debut album, and penultimate song of the set, “Summer>Epilogue” was the evening’s real jam vehicle. What began as a sluggish rocker containing Bleeker’s first guitar solo of the night, soon transformed into a lush soundscape that built up with mellow aggressions but no fiery peaks.

Despite their name, The Freaks aren’t the wailing type of jamband. To call this a mellow ensemble would be an understatement. They draw from the americana sounds of the Grateful Dead, the blues-rock of The Band, and on songs like “Little Dream I Had,” there’s traces of Meddle -era Pink Floyd. As the name of their latest album suggests, you’ll also find some country twang in a Freaks set. On this brisk night in Philadelphia, the band closed the show with a cover of Gram Parsons’ “In My Hour Of Darkness,” sung by Lenchner.

At one time, Alex Bleeker & The Freaks was simply the solo project of Real Estate bassist Alex Bleeker. Now, both “solo” and “project” would be out of place in describing the band The Freaks have become.

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