Jammin’ Java is a thoroughly unassuming venue, located under spare signage on a strip mall in Vienna, Virginia—as appropriate a place as any for a stripped-down set. Philly-born trio Marah was, by its own admission, exhausted after a racous homecoming set the night before. Frontman David Bielanko, clammy and translucent under the stage lights, looked as though he hadn’t slept in about a week and a half. The band was without a percussion section, save for the tambourine cleverly positioned under the right heel of keyboardist Christine Smith.
Marah put on a hell of a show, considering. Bielanko has a naturally hoarse timbre, as though his esophagus were lined with low-grit sandpaper—think Springsteen, Tweedy, late Dylan, with some Randy Newman-esque vowel-shaping on the odd song—so it’s possible that being on the backslope of a rock bender enhaced his vocal affect. The set ran the gamut: urban country, funk, folk-rock, Boss-rock, even rootsy adaptations of Sinatra standards “Young At Heart” and “New York, New York.”
Minus David Bielanko’s brother Serge, who is on paternity leave in Salt Lake City (where the band dares not tour, David said), Marah was reduced to bare bones—upright bass, guitar, and keys. Still, Bielanko, Smith, and bassist Johnny Pisano delivered a tight, energetic performance that it easily could have mailed in. The highlight of the show was a banjo-and-bagpipe version of “Limb,” a pirate chantey off the band’s very first album. Bielanko said the band’s next album—its tenth—is tentatively scheduled for the fall.