Comedy rock group plays benefit concert
The brothers of Sigma Nu and other student boards host Chester French in Rangos Hall
By Shruti Valjee, The Tartan, April 5, 2010
The fraternity Sigma Nu, along with members of the Activities Board and Student Dormitory Council, sponsored a charity concert Thursday night featuring Chester French. Unlike many other fundraisers, the concert allowed the audience to have direct input as to where the proceeds were donated. This included organizations that focused on fighting poverty, improving health care, and expanding access to education.
From the moment you were greeted by the brothers of Sigma Nu with CDs disguised as super-sized condoms, you knew you were in for quite an experience. The show opened with Pet Leviathan, an experimental band that originated at Carnegie Mellon and includes sophomore BHA student and guitarist Mark Palantoni, sophomore English major and drummer Aaron Bernkopt, and sophomore University of North Carolina student and vocalist Bobby Allan. With inspiration derived from Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Jimi Hendrix, the band expressed their energy. Many members of the audience eventually reached a point where they could no longer withstand all the yelling and decided to take a break.
Following Pet Leviathan was the much-anticipated performance by Chester French, comprising lead vocalist and songwriter David-Andrew “D.A.” Wallach and multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Maxwell Drummey. The group originally formed in 2003 as a five-piece comedy rock group while the two were first-years at Harvard University. A year later, the duo became involved as recording engineers for Harvard’s Quad Studios. It was during that time that Wallach and Drummey wrote, produced, and engineered Love the Future, their first demo, which caught the attention of Kanye West in 2007. With priorities that Carnegie Mellon students understand all too well, Wallach and Drummey felt compelled to take their game theory and social anthropology exams, respectively, before leaving for Los Angeles, where they met with managers, agents, and, of course, West to discuss their musical careers. Chester French has now been signed by Pharrell Williams to Interscope Records, home to U2, Eminem, and Gwen Stefani. Additionally, since the release of their first album, the duo has toured and collaborated on projects with Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, West, Talib Kweli, Blink-182, Weezer, and Asher Roth.
For Carnegie Mellon students to see Chester French in such a personal and informal manner was truly a privilege. After performing on MTV, as well as on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Rangos Hall must not have seemed exceptionally glamorous. So how exactly did Carnegie Mellon elicit such an opportunity, especially considering the fact that Chester French is currently recording their new album and is therefore not performing in any shows?
Saptarshi Ghose, a first-year Sigma Nu brother pursuing an ethics, history, and public policy major, tapped into his resources in order to contribute to both a meaningful philanthropic cause and the reputation of his fraternity. Wallach and Ghose attended the same high school, the University School of Milwaukee. Wallach graduated with Ghose’s brother, one of his best friends, in 2003. Therefore, it was possible for the two to keep in touch, even after they entered college.
“I pitched the idea to D.A. during my senior year in high school, and he was genuinely interested in playing,” Ghose recalled. “I asked him if he and Max would be able to play at a benefit concert at CMU. And, despite being occupied with recording their new album and not being able to tour for several months, D.A. and Max were incredibly kind to come to Pittsburgh and play a one-of-a-kind show.” This held true when Chester French was unable to bring their full band to Pittsburgh, but they performed in a more informal manner, complete with a guitar, tambourine, and Wallach’s impeccable beat-boxing abilities.
The band’s performance included a variety of songs, ranging from “The Jimmy Choos” and “Beneath the Veil” to “She Loves Everybody” and “Two Mans.” Each contained a different message, such as the band’s expression of interest in girls who were down to earth, the description of a sexual experience, and a girl who took the mentality of experimenting freely too far. Moreover, the music had broad appeal. Amid the blend of hip-hop and pop, there was something that everyone could enjoy. Wallach also entertained the audience with tidbits about the band’s creation and musical inspiration, as well as provided pieces of advice that he believed would be applicable to nerds just like him — “C++ is hot in this recession, so don’t be shy!”
Overall, Chester French was tremendously talented and incredibly charismatic, as exhibited by the multiple shrieks of adoration from the females in the audience and after the show when the duo agreed to answer questions, sign autographs, and pose for photographs. Additionally, while the event turned out a small audience, the support of the Carnegie Mellon community greatly contributed to charity.
“Chester French really doesn’t remind me of any other band, and that may be why I think they’re such a fantastic group,” Ghose said. “While it is clear that they are well learned in all types of music, their sound is one and their own. With every one of their releases, I feel like they are stretching the boundaries of the norm in pop music, and doing so remarkably well.”
You can check out the band and download a free mix tape at www.chesterfrench.com.