The modern R&B outfit Phony PPL get no favors from their self-deprecating moniker. Formed in 2009, they have over the years garnered praise from a number of critics but haven’t been able to transmute that into commercial success. Basically a Brooklyn bunch of high school pals, the group eschews hard core hip-hop for the kind of uplifting soul music that crossed over in the mid to late 70s: Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack, that sort of thing.
Lead singer Elbie Three clearly is affected by ten years of neglect from the general public and seemed genuinely surprised that the fairly large Japanese contingent that greeted their Japan debut at the Red Marquee on Sunday afternoon was there to party. After their first song received a huge ovation, he said, “You really like that for real?” The resounding response was unequivocal.
Such enthusiasm only emboldened the front man, who continued with a motormouth MC act that didn’t go over the heads of the assembled if only because they’d probably been here before: most African-American pop acts adhere to a certain pattern of entertainment signifiers.
At one point Elbie asked for all the “fellas” to raise their hands, and then for all the “ladies” to do the same. The crowd knew exactly what to do from practice, though they probably didn’t know why they were being asked to do so. The accompanying song was a smash anyway.
The requisite drum and bass breaks elicited huge ovations on their own, which only prodded the band on to new heights of performative abandon and Ellie to new heights of host-level hyperbole. “Y’all ready to move?” he called, and the crowd knew how to react.
To his credit, Elbie played to the “people in the back,” understanding that they were the ones he had to convert if he was going to sell records, which was probably the main subtext of the whole show. “Don’t forget to check out our new album, ‘Mosaic’,” he said at least 50 times.
If people were paying, I would say they definitely got their money’s worth, but they weren’t in the strictest sense. In terms of promotion, I hope that Phony PPL got what they expected, but in the end all they can really hope for is a really great memory. They faced a sincere audience and I think came away better for it, but not necessarily more materially successful.