"The best rock band in America," Stephen King wrote in Entertainment Weekly, after choosing Marah’s If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry as 2005's best album of the year. "Quite possibly the best rock band in America," said USA Today, after Marah’s triumphant appearance at 2006's Bonnaroo Music Festival. "I can hear everything I ever loved about rock music in their recordings and their live shows," Nick Hornby wrote in The New York Times. Get the idea? Theis band has certainly has its share of true believers... Tons of them (not to mention some of them are famous authors). That's why it makes perfect sense when, at the
opening of their 2006 live DVD, Sooner or Later in Spain, the first music heard is "Amazing Grace" sung by the band in the backstage hallway. Rock and roll as a religious experience is an overused cliché, but watching this concertlive footage of Marah concert, it's easy to see why.
Led by the songwriting brothers Dave and Serge Bielanko, and backed by Adam Garbinski (guitar, vocals), Dave Peterson (drums, vocals), and Kirk Henderson (bass, keys, vocals), Marah formed in 1995 in Philadelphia. By 1998 they stunned listeners with their first release, Let's Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later On Tonight, a ragtag collection of basically perfect songs recorded on a broken seven track in an auto garage. "Marah always wanted to be Townes Van Zandt fronting The Faces," Serge Bielanko says. "Bob Dylan leading AC/DC, Sly Stone fronting The Ramones, or Nick Drake fronting The Dead Milkmen." And it's worth adding that there’s more than a touch of Springsteen in there as well (ignoring the fact he's even a past Marah collaborator - appearing on one track of 2002's Float Away with the Friday Night Gods).
By November 2005, Marah was finishing up a European tour in support of their fifth studio album, 2005's If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry (Yep Roc), which Serge described as "the folk-punk record we always dreamed of making." Unexpectedly, the club owner of Sala Privat in Mataro, Spain, approached the band about filming their show that night, assuring them that they had previously shot other artists there with some luck. The band agreed, and soon a cast of fans, also friendly with the club owner, were filming the goings on. Even if Marah was optimistically hopeful for a decent final product, the footage they finally saw must have astonished them; It turned out better than they even expected. Multiple cameras, great sound, and – no surprise here – an amazing performance generated a concert film that demanded it be shared.
Sooner or Later in Spain is documented proof of what people have been saying for years: Marah puts on one of the best live shows on the planet. Known for legendary performances that, more often than not, stretch for over two hours with multiple
encores, this show was no different. Opening with "It’s Only Money, Tyrone," it quickly becomes apparent that Marah needs no time to warm up. Even the ash on Dave Bielanko's cigarette is long and dangling precariously before they even reach the first chorus. And when he announces that "this is going to be the best gig they've ever played," it sounds like – even though he might say it every night – that he also might believe it every night. It's a scrappy, cocky hyperbole that proves itself true in the way all great rock music does.
Sooner or Later in Spain shows us how a great recording can sound that much better when paired with an image; the triple harmonies on "Night Time" sound even more powerful when you see Dave, Serge, and Adam stepping up to the mic in one unified front. And when Dave launches into an angular, in-your-face guitar solo on the title track, "Sooner or Later," it sounds even more
gritty and visceral when you see the sweat drenching through his patch covered jacket and his band mates simultaneously working their asses off and laughing around him. By the time "Point Breeze" ends and the band members walk off the stage before the first encore, Kirk doesn’t look like he just played an exhausting two hour show – he's laughing! It looks like he's just getting started.
The show is an up-tempo affair, crowned by the intense, rocking and extended versions of "Head On" and "The Closer." It's not all in your face though, as Marah visits some of their doo wop forbears with a great vocal break down in "Pizzeria," replete with tambourine and mic sharing. Covering Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again," Dave announces "this song is the soundtrack to my life," and we know he's right – we're watching its confirmation. When Serge takes over vocal duties on "The Apartment," he shares
a touching and hilarious story about late night calls to his wife from the road, and again the Marah listening experience becomes intensified with a singular live moment.
In addition to the Spanish concert, Sooner or Later in Spain includes bonus live footage, featuring the first ever live performance of
"The Fat Boy" and a wonderful and quiet full band version of "Long Hot Summer," among others. Of special interest is the clip of a joint appearance made with author Hornby – who performed a series of readings shows in 2005 in which he would read an unpublished essays about certain artists that had some influence or impact on him ) and Marah would then perform a song by the artist in questionessay about a particular song (most now included in his 2005 book, Songcatcher), followed by a performance by Marah of the song in question. Here it's a hilarious and touching essay about growing up seeing and listening to The Faces, followed by Marah tearing through a cover of "Debris."
The accompanying live CD includes seven live audio tracks from assorted other Marah performances, many surprising in their representation of Marah's more low dynamic ability to reinterpret their repertoire, including interpretations of such songs as "It’s Only Money, Tyrone."
In a monologue deep into the Spanish show, Dave explains that he had broken his banjo at sound check, and says, "So at least I know I'll remember this night forever." Well, regardless of broken banjos, this night is, for our replay purposes at least, forever memorable as promised – "the best show they ever played." That is, at least, until the next time we see Marah live.