Although it stands to reason that any city that approaches Philadelphia in size will have its fair share of musical talent, lately it's seemed that the City of Brotherly Love has been enjoying an embarrassment of riches. There's the blue-collar soul of Marah, the melodic jangle pop of Dr. Dog (who recently played Club Congress with their originally-from-Philly compatriots the Galactic Federation of Love) and the post-punk Costelloisms of the Bigger Lovers, to name but three.
And then there's the Capitol Years, originally a home-recording project of frontman Shai Halperin. Previously filed under "well-kept secret," the Capitol Years are in the process of emerging as a high-profile, hotly sought It-band, as their recent residency on Carson Daly's late-night NBC show would suggest. "(Show representatives) came out to see us (in Philly); their producers were notified about us, and then they came and checked us out live and decided that they were interested, and they invited us on, and we did it," explains Halperin. "It was a pretty funny experience, rearranging your songs into 10-second spurts (for intros and outros to commercial breaks). It worked out pretty well. The first time we did a lot of joking and bantering with him; the second time, recently, not so much."
Like many straight-up rock bands, the Capitol Years defy easy categorization. Yeah, it's rock, sure, and sure, there's a lot of guitar, and sometimes people bandy about words like "garage" and "Beck vs. the White Stripes in a bout of Olympic situps," but such comparisons are probably meaningless. The real bottom line for the Capitol Years is the Song--artful distillations of ideas into perfect, loud, pop nuggets. This ethos is shared by their tourmates, the High Strung, which explains why the bands are thick as thieves. "They're 'writing songs on the side of the road' kind of guys; so they're really into the Song, and so are we, and so a mutual admiration society developed," says Halperin.
Aside from the Carson Daly exposure (Halperin acknowledges it might be minimal: "On the East Coast, it comes on at 1:30 in the morning, and it's a lower-on-the-totem-pole late-night show."), the Capitol Years also recently shared a stage with a reformed Pixies, a gig for which they were apparently hand-selected by Black Francis, like a pastry in a coffee shop. But rather than bask in individual glory, it seems Halperin would like to parlay any attention his own band might get into recognition for his hometown. "I like to represent and tell people that there're really a lot of other good bands that are doing stuff (in Philadelphia).
"National Eye, they make great records, and this band Mad Action that was signed to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's label, and the Lilys and Mazarin, so, there's a lot of really good music there, and also, it's like the fourth-largest metropolis, but it feels like a really small musical community. It's definitely been comfortable to work out of there, and we like it a lot."
Halperin and the Capitol Years have just released Let Them Drink, which is their most cohesive release to date (a 2003 EP, Jewelry Store, hinted at Drink's potential; two previous releases were essentially Halperin solo records). Recorded by Thom Monahan, perhaps best known for his work with the Pernice Brothers, Let Them Drink is a complete work by a mature band that is a refined expression of what is--essentially, garage rock, in that it's raucous. The Capitol Years, while keeping it simple, manage harmonies that would make the Byrds envious and songwriting that puts the Strokes to shame. Well, perhaps that's hyperbolic. But Let Them Drink is damn good.
As for their live show, expect a good deal of collaboration with their co-conspirators in the High Strung. "We're into each other's new songs, and everybody's challenging each other to write new stuff," says Halperin. "We're sort of existing in a vacuum, as far as the audience tapping into it, but I think soon enough it'll happen, they're so talented. It's just been surreal, a positive love fest. It's really weird; we come into town and sometimes all hop on stage together, or sometimes we switch off songs, sharing equipment." Sounds like just the sort of hootenanny Tucson needs.