It's the unfiltered, seething sound of the city you hear in Kids in Philly, the album that remains Marah's finest hour. It's a sonic and lyric fresco of the cultural chaos, grimy soul and unquenchable desires of modern America. Some found the Springsteen echoes overly vivid, from David Bielanko's urgent, street-stained rasp to the named-and-dated neighborhood mythology. But the E Street Band never used a banjo to rock balls or -- at least not since The Wild, the Innocent, & the E Street Shuffle -- fused boogaloo, soul, funk and punk into an unmitigated rock & roll roar. And no band had ever followed the horror of Vietnam into an ongoing inner-city nightmare as Marah did on "Round Eye Blues": "But late at night I could still hear the cries of three black guys I seen take it in the face," Bielanko sang. "I think about the sweet Motown girls they left behind and the assholes that took their place."
But the sound and mythology it owned became a burden for Marah, which had rather absurdly (one hopes ironically) called itself "the Last Rock Band." After the triumph of Kids in Philly, the Bielanko brothers fled their home for Ireland and the arms of producer Owen Morris, who had helped propel Oasis and the Verve into arenas. The massive sonics of Marah's third album, Float Away with the Friday Night Gods, overwhelmed the songs, sucking away the swing and swagger, fever and soul. The band's live shows flirted with preening cool, and commercial success remained elusive. But all recent reports -- notably from the band's set at Austin's South by Southwest festival -- suggest that Marah has yanked itself out of that tailspin and is once again asserting its exuberant, chaotic claim on the still wide-open territory of the most storied, most convincing rock & roll you've ever heard. This could be the show of the year.