On Tuesday night, the dark and intimate James St. Speakeasy was transformed into an intergalactic dance hall as six funky aliens took the stage for the debut of a new Pittsburgh-based group, Starship Mantis. The set opened with ambient space noise as the group checked its bearings and adjusted to the new atmosphere.
After a moment, an intoxicating bass line growled through the mist. The audience rose from their seats and began to fill in around the stage to catch a glimpse of the group, moving almost uncontrollably to the subtle beat. With a fill from drummer Julz Powell, the band was in a full-fledged groove, led by the wonky sounds of bassist Beni Rossman’s envelope filtered Fender bass and the falsetto crooning of leadman Langston Kelly.
As the group traversed through an hour of original music, it showcased the talents of six of the Pittsburgh music scene’s brightest stars. In addition to Rossman, Powell, and Kelly (who complimented his own vocals with velvety tenor saxophone lines), Ross Antonich employed a variety of textures on a number of auxiliary percussion instruments to back up Powell’s syncopated patterns.
Building upon the rock-solid rhythm section, Spence Greer’s Telecaster went from clean comping to wailing wah-infused psychedelia as it transported the group to new heights during his solos. Filling in for synth and keys man Patrick Whitehead was the inimitable guitarist Glenn Strother, who brought his unique brand of rhythmic comping and soulful solos into the mix.
In addition to a tight array of original tunes, the performance was well coordinated and clearly geared for entertainment, featuring coordinated dance moves, dramatic drum breakdowns and monologues from Kelly. The audience, full of members of the Pittsburgh music scene, walked away satisfied and wanting more.
Starship Mantis was making waves well before they touched down in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. The interstellar funk group has been executing what appears to be a carefully planned social media campaign through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This effort attracted a considerable amount of attention well before the group's debut performance.
The brain child of bassist Beni Rossman, Starship Mantis first appeared on the social media radar in early December of 2016. Several days after the appearance of a Facebook page, the group released a music video of a live rehearsal in the James St. Speakeasy. Not only did the video display excellent audio and visual production, the musicians showcased a confident and entertaining stage presence. In just over a month, the video has gathered over 5,000 views.
The most important part of Starship Mantis’ social media success is the reputation of the members of the group. Rossman, Kelly, Powell, Geer, Antonich, and Whitehead have each earned respect as individuals from the music community in Pittsburgh for their musical proficiency and personality. Through synthesis of talent, Starship Mantis will transport the group of well-known musicians to stratospheric heights.