- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

If Philadelphia's music scene was known for anything, it was soul. Solomon Burke in the '60s; the Stylistics, Delfonics and O'Jays in the '70s. Philly Soul would become a common locution.
A stroll these days through the city's tough, eclectic South Street neighborhood, however, wouldn't suggest much in the way of soul music. It has become host to a vibrant indie rock scene, with industrial, fusion and punk bands jostling for record-label attention.
One of Philly's more polished outfits, a pop-rock quartet called the Bigger Lovers, appears Sunday night at the Velvet Lounge. The band's name is drawn from a nickname for one of guitarist Bret Tobias' hefty cats.
Last summer, the group released its sophomore album, "Honey in the Hive," an 11-song collection of graceful harmonies, smart lyrics and clever arrangements. David Fricke, a prominent music writer with Rolling Stone magazine, gave the record a glowing review.
In such write-ups, it seems certain comparisons down to the adjectives are unavoidable: You can hear the "jangly" guitars of the Byrds, the "angelic" harmonies of the Beach Boys, the "power pop" of Big Star.
"There's no sort of conscious effort to fit into this box that we've been forcibly lumped into," Mr. Tobias says by phone. "The term 'power pop' gets bandied about way too often." He shares singing and songwriting duties with bassist Scott Jefferson.
The Bigger Lovers aren't as sweet as they sound; there's a sandpapery edge beneath those angelic harmonies. As Mr. Tobias explains, "There are a lot of not-quite-punk bands that I was always really into the Soft Boys, the Only Ones and XTC and we're all big fans of the Kinks and the Who," the legendary British bands that unknowingly laid the sonic foundations of punk music.
The not-quite-punk emerges when the Lovers perform onstage, dispensing altogether with studio sheen. "We try to raunch it up as much as possible," Mr. Tobias says. "It's not perfect by any stretch; some nights are markedly better than others."
He adds, "I think our songs aren't all sugar; there's a certain amount of bitterness" in the music.
Some of that bitterness might be traced to a topsy-turvy introduction to the record business. Formed in 1998, the Lovers recorded their first album, "How I Learned to Stop Worrying" alluding to "Dr. Strangelove" a year later, only to learn that their label, North Carolina-based Moodfood Records, had lost its distribution deal.
The band was forced to buy back its master tapes.
"It was a monumental struggle," Mr. Tobias says. "We'll never get out of debt."
On a lark, drummer Patrick Berkery, a free-lance music writer based in Philadelphia, sent the record to Black Dog Records, which eventually put out the band's debut album in 2001.
The Lovers' latest effort, "Honey in the Hive," was released in August by the independent Yep Roc Records and distributed by Redeye Distribution.
"After getting so stung by the last deal, we decided we were going to finance the record ourselves and then shop it around," Mr. Tobias says.
Still tethered to day jobs, the band members tour in short spurts, road-tripping the East Coast, the mid-Atlantic region and major Midwestern cities such as Cleveland and Chicago.
"It's a bit labor-intensive," Mr. Tobias says. "I don't think any of us gets nearly as much sleep as we should."

WHAT: The Bigger Lovers, with Flywheel and Sounds of Kaleidoscope
WHERE: Velvet Lounge, 915 U St. NW
WHEN: 8 p.m. Sunday
TICKETS: $7
PHONE: 202/462-3213 for information

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