I have to admit, I was shocked to see the crowd size at World Cafe Live Philadelphia as I entered a room full of hot bodies jumping to the jazzy jams of The Clock Reads. Not because these guys weren’t talented, technical musicians, or because opener Gnarbot didn’t pull a hometown crowd of their own, but because I just wouldn’t expect a band based out of the other side of Pennsylvania to pack venues like the World Cafe, Ardmore Music Hall, or sell out their Thanksgiving show with McLovins at the Milkboy.
The rock fusion group is made up of Michael Berger (bass), John O’Brien (guitar), Jason Greenlaw (guitar), and Steve Ippolito (drums). And although the band formed three hundred odd miles away at University of Pittsburgh, it turns out each of its members grew up in areas throughout the eastern side of the state (complete with one token Jersey member).
O’Brien and Ippolito were laying it down in Pitt’s Jazz band while Berger and Greenlaw were jamming together when these two musical forces first met. They started playing, writing, and exchanging their musical tastes to grow a brand of their own. O’Brien didn’t even listen to jam bands before the boys got together. Now the style is a platform of their own sound and lyrical content inspired by the scene.
We were gathered in their tour bus, taking refuge from the barn blowout that was Boogie in the Bungalow (awesome party atmosphere—not the best interview environment). The first Pennsylvania snow had accumulated on the ground, but that wasn’t stopping the guys from their trek back to the Burgh—O’Brien had obligations to attend his students’ recital. “There are five-year-olds relying on me to be there,” he joked.
It was almost exactly one year prior that I first heard The Clock Reads play at the Unofficial Lotus After Party on New Years, where they provided an ice cream sundae bar for guests. This year, they’re working with Jamburgh to sling grilled cheese. Joe Marino, founder of the startup networking collective, came up with the food kitchen concept as “a way to give back to [their] friends and the jam community that [they’ve] grown in the last couple years.”
“Last year we had a lot of ice cream left over so please eat our grilled cheeses…we took home entire spumoni containers,” Berger added as the others grinned along, noting the nod to their song Spumoni Bomba. Apparently it’s not just sing-song nonsense but a peculiar dessert Berger got stuck in his head in song form while working in an Italian restaurant.
A year that starts with jazzy Grilled Cheese Socials can only render a plethora productivity and creative expansion. I mean, the cheese isn’t a magic wand they’re waving here, but it’s excellent starter pistol on a mammoth 2018. Their new album, “Inner Peaks”, is set to release this spring, followed by a spring tour and “hitting the festival season hard.”
“I think this album will serve as a good representation of where we are as a band because it has a lot of songs that we have already been playing live, a few new ones, and a couple of collaborations that we’re excited to get out there,” O’Brien said.
“We just had a show where we collaborated with a local multi-instrumentalist producer, Chalk Dinosaur where we came together and became ‘Clock Dinosaur’. We’ll have him on the album for a song that we wrote together. We actually played it tonight [at Boogie] for only the second time,” Ippolito said.
Their own success aside, The Clock Reads want to see the arts in their community succeed as a whole. They’re bringing musicians to collaborate in the studio as well as local visual artists to their shows. John Muldoon, a committed Pittsburgh freelancer, was showcased as their featured painter at Boogie in the Bungalow. Also joining the crew that day was Chris Boles, founder of Redfishbowl, a Burgh-based artist collective that the Clock has worked closely with.
Artist-patron projects like Redfishbowl and Jamburgh are working to emphasize the expansion of the arts in their City, and more importantly, getting people to come out and experience it themselves.
“That’s what makes Pittsburgh great: the city has a lot of people that are interested in developing an arts community because it’s such a huge sports town. A lot of musicians these days are not only competing with other shows that weekend, but everyone wants to watch Netflix or the Penguins game,” O’Brien explained.
“There’s little late-night hang [in Pittsburgh], venues are closing, and we’re trying to bring it all back. It’s a great scene (Grey Area Productions has a lot to do with this), but there is always room to improve and create new ideas,” Berger added.
If you’re catching Lotus this New Years Eve I can’t stress enough to catch this eclectic act and help them keep the late night rage alive in the Steel City. The worst that could happen is you get a free grilled cheese, but I can almost guarantee you’ll like the Clocks gooey grooves too.