As Ron Gallo sings, the spotlight at Ortlieb’s trained on him, he seems to knowingly gaze and sing towards a horizon that none of us can see. It’s a good look. He seems poised, philosophical and reflective, as if he’s both deep in thought and transcendently screaming his thoughts and feelings via his gentle, nuanced croon.
It’s Sun., June 29, and Gallo’s playing his monthly night at Ortlieb’s. It’s a short and sweet comedy and music variety show; between comedic sets delivered by his funny friends, Gallo tries out new songs and, without us knowing, steels himself a little more every time for his lone spotlight on stage with a microphone and a guitar. As he essentially retires a phase of his life helming Americana and local roots-rock heroes Toy Soldiers—who will officially announce their disbandment the following day—Gallo’s entering a new one with a solo debut, Ronny, out last Tuesday.
“It’s a stupid artistic thing,” he admits with a baseball snapback sitting atop his tall mane of curls. “I just needed my freedom, but it’s also true—I want to feel that fulfillment of a new start and refresh.” Toy Soldiers had a great run, and it’s certainly been the main vehicle for all of the performance sea legs Gallo has been honing for years as its frontman. But having to always caucus with others started to feel limiting. “That stagnant feeling of I-can-only-do-something-if-five-other-people-can-do-it” is what he wanted to avoid, Gallo admits. “I wanna make a record now and create a project based around my weird stupid characters.” So he did.
Ronny was released on American Diamond Recordings, a label that won’t be fussing with Gallo when he wants to issue new work. Why? ‘Cause it’s his, and he’s alongside his best and creative friends: TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb, the Lawsuits and Levee Drivers. “We’re the four corners of the label right now,” he says, calling them an unconventional collective “grouping together to make something bigger than ourselves.”
As for his music, the 26-year-old Jersey boy, who lived in Kentucky for about seven years as a kid, considers Ronny his self-stylized “weirdo country troll pop” record, a pretty suitable four-word tag. He channels Harry Nilsson, Mac DeMarco, a little Devendra Banhart (mostly just in vocal tones) and Father John Misty. “Fine Diners & Finer Whiners,” the LPs third track, was one Gallo pulled out on Sunday night. On disc, it’s a woozy spaghetti-western number with pedal steel beauty and rollicking, hiccupy percussion from castanets and tambourines. His slight nasal bent cuts through it all as he seamlessly delivers the tongue-twisting and humorous lyrics. Black comedy has always been his thing, and it’s Ronny’s connective tissue.
“I’m all about that dark, satirical comic side of music and songs, and this is all that,” Gallo says. An hour later, he manages to perfectly mimic trumpet sounds with only his lips and lungs for “If You Ever Come Back.” His songs just make you smile, partly because his oddball humor and onstage grace make you smile too.
While Toy Soldiers’ “final hurrah for now”—their words—is set for July 18, when the five-man band bids adieu to their loyal, loving audience on a fat Union Transfer bill with Cheers Elephant and Cheerleader, Gallo’s solo show Thursday night at Boot & Saddle is an American Diamond Recordings extravaganza, a birthday celebration for ADR doyenne Marley McNamara featuring the whole label roster. “It’s gonna be awesome,” he says. “I’m super pumped.”
Of course, he’s casual about it, describing the night as simply “everybody in the same place playin’ and having fun.” And it will be. But these are some of the best musicians in town. Present company included.
Thurs., July 3, 8pm. $10. With Eight Legged Prawn, Levee Drivers, the Lawsuits + TJ Kong and The Atomic Bomb. Boot and Saddle, 1131 S. Broad St. bootandsaddlephilly.com
The Pack A.D. are built for the road
PW's Music Issue 2014