Midway through his band’s Wednesday evening set at Union Transfer, Mondo Cozmo frontman Josh Ostrander looked out into the crowd and defiantly stated “This is what not giving up looks like.” The night was more than just a concert. It was a homecoming and a celebration of an artist who was riding an incredible wave of success. Playing to a hometown crowd that he later admitted was inside the largest Philadelphia-area venue that he had ever played in, the Bucks County native led a band that left nothing on the table over an hour-long set that was packed with emotion and energy.
|Mondo Cozmo at Union Transfer, 9/13/17|
Ostrander had a long journey to the top of the charts. After over a decade with two different bands, his single “Shine” was released in late 2016 and took off like wildfire after it began to receive significant radio play. In January, the gospel-tinged number knocked the Kings of Leon’s “Waste A Moment” from the number one spot of the Adult Alternative Chart. Many in the crowd that filled up the lower level of the Union Transfer may have already been familiar with Ostrander’s story and appreciated what his trek to the stage of the Spring Garden Street venue meant. Towards the end of the concert he looked for his brother in the crowd and acknowledged that people in the audience had taught him how to play guitar, smoke cigarettes, and drink the “right” beer.
Even if you didn’t know Mondo Cozmo’s backstory, it was obvious that Ostrander and the other four members of his band were seizing a moment and leaving nothing to chance. Throughout the night Ostrander jumped on to the drum riser and bounced around on stage with his cohorts as they tore through a set that focused on their recent debut record Plastic Soul. They appropriately opened with the slower-paced “Angel,” a song that repeats “If you believe in me, like I believe in you, then you tell yourself that everything is cool.” Mondo Cozmo then built up momentum with the gradual crescendo of “Chemical Dream” and never looked back.
After a run of tracks from Plastic Soul that included “Higher,” “Thunder,” and “Come With Me,” the band owned a cover of The Verve’s 1997 song “Bittersweet Symphony.” The cover blended well with their own material, but as a guitar riff shook the venue there was also something liberating about Ostrander singing a song whose lyrics declare “I let the melody shine, let it cleanse my mind, I feel free now.”
After closing the first set with the single “Automatic,” the band went backstage and returned for a brief encore with opener Illinois. The two bands played a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s classic “Atlantic City” and “Shine.” It was during “Shine” that the emotion of the evening appeared to catch up with Ostrander, who seemed a little choked up as those in attendance sang along to every word of the chorus.
Mondo Cozmo was preceded by Illinois and Flagship. Like Mondo Cozmo’s set, the evening was about more than just the music. I unfortunately missed Flagship, but Bucks County’s Illinois appeared to enjoy sharing the bill with an artist who was also their friend. They played for approximately 45 minutes, and aside from the heavy rocker “Queen Flea,” Illinois stuck mostly to their folk-rock style. Illinois was briefly joined onstage by CSNPhilly writer Reuben Frank, who sat in on keyboards for a song. In a column earlier this year (Point No. 25), Frank described the relationship between Ostrander and fellow Bucks County natives Illinois. According to Frank, Illinois took the younger Ostrander under their wing as he was learning how to play guitar and write songs.
Philadelphia has an incredible music scene that has yielded some great artists over the last decade. Musicians like Kurt Vile, The War On Drugs, and Strand of Oaks have all experienced different paths in their career. On Wednesday night at Union Transfer, it was surreal to watch Josh Ostrander and Mondo Cozmo celebrate their own rock ‘n roll odyssey with friends and fans.