As I entered the Bootleg Theatre on January 7th, I walked right into a wall of overwhelming body heat and began an apology symphony, alternating between the use of “excuse me” and “I’m sorry” as I stepped on toes and tripped my ever-so-graceful way through the packed room.
Finally making it to the bar, I bought my beer, turned back to face the audience and immediately regretted my decision to have a drink, as getting anywhere in the room required that one play a hipster, adult version of the egg-in-spoon race. PAPA’s draw was so large that the venue quickly hit capacity, which on the first night of a 4-week residency spoke volumes about the band’s hometown following and reach within the community.
With a few strings of backdrop lights and only a lamp or two for decoration, PAPA took the stage and let their instruments and talent provide the entertainment. Listening to the group play songs off their A Good Woman Is Hard To Find EP, new material, and some sweet Springsteen covers, the extreme lack of personal space was soon forgotten.
Ever since my first time listening to “Put Me To Work,” I knew a PAPA show meant a huge dance party, and I was right, though this night’s motion was at least partially based on circumstance. Tight quarters, exhilarating beats, and uplifting vocals meant that if someone in the front row danced, the rest of the crowd moved along in an involuntary, human-ripple effect.
Sandwiched between a couple hundred people, the ability to move came in short bursts between songs and reaching my camera was impossible. Even if I could have pulled the thing out, I stand at 5’6″ and was happy to just be able to barely see the band members’ heads bobbing to the beat. Weiss’ evocative facial expressions and Presant’s grin, which we grew to love in the video for “Aint It So,” were more than enough for me to enjoy, but the possibility of documenting the aesthetics of the night quickly diminished.
Leaving the theatre after PAPA’s outstanding set, I met a handful of friends-of-friends, and each of them spoke about coming back the next week. Others spoke of attending all three remaining shows, and I gladly agreed — we would have to see PAPA again.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, I went back again, not once, but for every night of the entire residency, joined by a faithful crew of friends that grew with each week. I could say it was convenient — I mean, it was a free show, on my way home from work — but the truth is, PAPA’s show are fun and infectious, and Weiss’ charm had audiences involved and captivated each and every week.
Also, to be honest, I don’t think fans will be able to see them in a venue this small again. With each performance date, the Bootleg grew more and more crowded and the line outside grew longer, but fans were determined and the venue accommodated extra standing space, added additional bars, and made sure as many people as possible were able to see PAPA.
The first two weeks boasted similar dance-inspiring tunes with a damn-good cover of Patti Smith & The Boss’ “Because the Night” that rivals my favor for the original. Oh, who am I kidding? I preferred their cover, which isn’t surprising as Weiss has earned several comparisons to Springsteen’s vocal style, though I believe Presant’s bass playing and PAPA’s supporting band provide the group with a uniqueness I’ve yet to hear elsewhere. Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World” also made it onto the second week’s set list and kept the hips swaying, the heads nodding, and the feet stomping.
The finale show was moved into a larger room to fit extra attendees, but word-of-mouth drew an even larger audience and the extra space didn’t go unused. Finally, I had the arm space to snap some photos, and of course, dance.
In our featured artist interview, Weiss had told me to expect some surprise guests, and until this last week, I’d forgotten about the statement. I mentioned in the 14th LAmb podcast that Weiss is the former drummer for the Christopher Owens-led band Girls, an indie sensation that gained national recognition with Father, Son, Holy Ghost.
For those who have been fortunate enough to have seen Girls perform, you know that the band included a trio of gospel backup singers who added a dimension of soul I’d never seen before in a live performance. When I first heard “Aint It So,” I immediately thought back to the soul and ardor of Weiss’ previous band, but my mind quickly moved on to his contrasting, rich vocals, which are much deeper than Owen’s signature sound.
That being said, I was ecstatic to see the gospel trio come out to support the final show of PAPA’s residency. Taking the stage in similar Girls fashion, the ladies proved to be the highlight of the night. With mind-blowing vocal solos and personality for miles, the ladies stayed with the band for the last half of the set, including the encore, and provided a throwback to true musicianship that got the crowd dancing so hard I was sure the raised platform that served as our floor was going to break through.
The future is bright for PAPA, and I’m excited to see what lies ahead for the band. There’s something immensely gratifying about seeing a band that you’ve believed in from the start gain the recognition and appreciation they truly deserve.
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