By Charlie Stanier
Photos by Devon Spungin
27 Sep, 2019
The first thing I felt as I walked through the restaurant side of the Chop Shop through the wide open doors into the concert area in the back was confused. Confused about how I’d never been to such an interesting venue with a restaurant that looked so good, confused about how there wasn’t anyone there to make sure I had tickets and wasn’t just eating, but mostly confused about where all the people were. For a concert scheduled to start in less than half an hour with no listed opener, there was only the smallest group of fans already crowding around the stage getting in their last few drinks before the show.
After a few more minutes of awkward standing, a guy in a hoodie — who I’d originally sized up as their sound guy — walked across the stage, plugged his phone into a laptop and started DJing without even greeting the crowd. I do have to give him credit though. As people slowly trickle in filling the space behind and balcony above me, he read his crowd and spun accordingly; building from lo-fi house beats to club bangers that incited twerking as far as the eye could see. “I go by the name of Michael Orrin” were this hero’s only words until he drifted off the stage as mysteriously as he arrived.
As Phony Ppl finally took the stage over an hour past the show start time, the venue was packed and the energy in the air was electric. The crowd greeted the five-piece hip-hop/RnB (though they touch on basically every genre) Brooklyn-based group with cheers and whoops, which they reciprocated with ear to ear smiles, obviously excited for the night ahead.
They led with: “Alright Chicago, we’re taking you to Brooklyn tonight. And if I see a single person not dancing, security will be showing you the door.” What followed can only be described as pure fun. The band was having a blast with each other and through near-constant crowd interaction, everyone around me was singing or dancing to the songs, and I myself was loving every second. Admittedly, even as a superfan of their 2016 album Yesterday’s Tomorrow, I had only given their newest release a few listens before the show, but it didn’t matter. I had just as good of a time grooving to their new songs as I did singing along with their old ones because of the laid-back, bouncy energy the group projected throughout the night.
Another detail that made the show even more enjoyable was the obvious passion and dedication all of the members of the group had for their craft. Every song had some sort of story or anecdote to go with it, whether it be a story about recording in their makeshift studio on the back of their tour bus or an alternate reality where Arnold (from the kids’ show Hey Arnold!) finally gives Helga Pataki a chance at love. The group put their talent on display as well, each taking the spotlight for at least one solo (actually, all of them in one song at one point) and absolutely killing it.
They ended the night with an impressive full band shot of Jameson followed by an even more impressive free-form encore, laughing the whole time and filming each other on a handheld video camera that had to be at least ten years old. For me, what made the show so special was their fearless originality. From their genre bending discography to their eccentric outfits (shirtless with a cape, shower cap hat, etc.) this group is doing something different, and if you get a chance to witness it live, I’d highly recommend it.