Marah ended its acoustic tour Friday night with a sold-out show at Iota. It was a small setting for a band that has been routinely heralded by novelist Nick Hornby, performed onstage with Bruce Springsteen, and released almost ten albums. But for a night of intimate drunkenness and sloppy rock and roll, it was just the right fit.
The four-piece band came on around 10 and kicked off a 2½-hour set that was anything but acoustic. Led by singer/guitarist Dave Bielanko, who looked like his usual disheveled self dressed in a mechanic’s jumpsuit and his requisite mad-bomber hat, the band performed about 25 songs ranging from restrained ballads (“Formula, Cola, Dollar Draft”) to foot-stomping barn burners (“My Heart Is the Bums on the Streets”).
The high-energy and chain-smoking Bielanko may be the hardest-working man in rock and roll. When he wasn’t dripping sweat over his furiously picked electric banjo or taking celebratory shots of Patrón tequila with his bandmates, he was entertaining the audience with stories about searching for country ham and procuring a goat. Even when Bielanko was busy tuning his guitar, he insisted that keyboardist Christine Smith entertain the audience, which she did with a couple of covers including the theme from Rocky.
Missing was founding member Serge Bielanko, who’s spending time with his newborn daughter, but his absence wasn’t nearly as detrimental as it could’ve been. The steady and occasionally virtuosic play of bassist Johnny Pisano, drummer Martin Lynds, and keyboardist Smith left room for the remaining Bielanko brother to win over the audience with his freewheeling charisma on songs such as “Round-Eye Blues,” “Walt Whitman Bridge,” and the Skip James cover and ode to President Obama, “He’s a Mighty Good Leader.” But that was all in the first three-quarters of the show.
Two hours in, it was hard to tell who was more intoxicated: Bielanko, who fell backward onto his guitars, or members of the audience who were incessantly yelling unintelligible and nonsensical one-liners. But it didn’t matter. We’d already heard plenty.