Philly Showcase ’89 Sounds Like A Winner

Jonathan Takiff, Daily News Staff Writer

Three-band concert “showcases” have become a weekly (or twice-weekly) phenomenon in this town. Such packages are an easy way to fill up a club on a midweek night with friends and fans of the featured acts.

But the Philadelphia Music Foundation’s three nights of Showcase ’89, tonight through Friday at area clubs, are a different beast entirely, restoring meaning to the name “showcase.”

For one thing, the nine bands performing under this bright spotlight have all gotten there the hard way, earning their exposure competitively on musical merit.

Tonight’s show at J.C. Dobbs features the blues-bashing Go to Blazes (recently relocated from D.C.), the well-seasoned reggae-funkers Scram! (my vote for the band most ready and likely to get a recording deal) and the alternate rock of Naked Twister.

Tomorrow night, a lineup of the cheery guitar-strumming Flight of Mavis, a newly toughed up version of the Daves and the mighty corporate rock of the Rivals are on tap at the Chestnut Cabaret.

Friday night, the catchy pop nuggets of Beat Clinic, the U2-ish Second Generation and heavy-metal Washed share the stage at the Arch Street Empire.

These bands were paired down from 200 entry tapes submitted for approval to the Philadelphia Music Foundation. A semi-finalist grouping of 60 tapes was then judged in a “blindfold” test by area music promoters and fans, says PMF showcase committee chairman Steve Mountain.

Showcase ’89 will live up to its name by playing for music industry professionals as well as fans and idle passersby. Representatives of more than 20 record labels will be hovering each night at the clubs, seriously checking out the offerings, looking for the next big thing to break out of Philadelphia.

“The town really has become a music mecca again,” Mountain says. “More than 20 acts have gotten deals getting deals here in the last five years.”

PMF is investing big bucks to make the newest generation of acts look and sound as professional as possible.

Getting New York-based talent scouts from Columbia and Epic, Warner Brothers, Elektra, Atlantic, RCA and MCA, plus an assortment of indie label reps, music publishers and booking agents to come to Philadelphia for a night or two or three hasn’t been easy. Conventionally, the bigwigs demand that a Philadelphia band shlep to Big Apple to play a showcase gig at a dive like the China Club or Cat Club. If they’re lucky, the band gets a 45-minute sound check, then plays before a subdued group of strangers. Still they’re expected to put out a great performance.

To turn things around, to bring Mohammad to the mountain, Mountain’s Cornerstone Management crafted a smart promotional campaign for Showcase ’89.

First, 164 teaser telegrams were sent to carefully targeted power brokers, followed by copies of an 11-minute tape (compiled by WMMR’s Cyndi Drue and Kajem Studio’s Kurt Short) that offered snippets of the participating acts without identifying them. “That was done on purpose,” says Mountain, “to force people to call up and say, ‘Who was that fourth act on the tape?’ We even mislabeled the playing time of the tape – to 9 minutes – on purpose.”

Bright, tight biographies of the participating acts were then sent out, then another round of telegrams to jog the heavy-hitters’ memories.

“We’ve promised these people we won’t try to lure them down here with another showcase until next year,” says Mountain. “We’re taking our best shots this week. And we’re hoping Philly fans will come out to support the efforts, to cheer the groups on.”

Shows will start each night around 9 p.m. and be over by 12:30 a.m., with each band playing a 30-35 minute set of their very best material.

Showcase ’89 admission is $6 each night.