The orange walls of University City’s Mokas seemed to pulse as the lead singer of Among Criminals, Ryan Gaughan, dipped forward with his guitar, a mess of curls and baby dreadlocks swinging in front of his face.Bean Pitonak, the bassist, was bent at the waist too, his eyes closed, fingers plucking strings. Jarrod Pedone, in a knit cap, swiped sweat from his forehead in between swipes at cymbals and drums. The crowd erupted into hoots and cheers and pumped bottles of Corona into the air as the band dissolved into sound.
Among Criminals’ unique brand of reggae-infused, Latin rock is the sort of music that turns anyone into a dancer. The hookah smokers and bar lurkers at Mokas were all shaking their hips and bopping their heads by the end of the second song.
This is exactly what the band aims for.
“My idea of success has nothing to do with money,” Gaughan said before the show, fingering a pile of large wooden beads around his neck. “I want people singing along, having a good time. We try to bring people together.”
The band itself is a tight-knit one. Gaughan, Pitonak and Pedone spend most of their time together laughing, cracking jokes and engaging in unwittingly witty banter peppered with mock insults and chiding humor.
“There are very few things that make me mad,” Gaughan said at one point.
Pedone shook his head, smirking. “He likes to smile. He likes soy,” he said in a sing-song voice. The only carnivore in the band, Pedone enjoys making fun of Gaughan and Pitonak’s hippie natures.
“After shows, we usually stay up until six o’clock in the morning, drinking red wine, eating guacamole and talking about serious issues,” Pitonak said.
“I would hate us if I read that in an article,” Pedone laughed. “I’d be like, ‘red wine, guacamole, politics? Who are these people?'”
Of course, politics play an important role in Among Criminals’ music, which adopts not only the chords, but also the messages of the Caribbean, Latin and reggae genres.
“Lots of bands in the United States do the whole reggae thing but don’t actually believe in it,” Pitonak said.
“If you’re just singing about getting high and drunk, you’re missing something,” Gaughan added. As the band’s lyricist, he writes politically and socially conscious songs that are a fun listen too.
“We’re very anti-war,” he said.
“Who isn’t?” Pedone shrugged.
Pitonak smiled. “We’re young! We’re in a band! It only makes sense that we’re anti-war,” he said.
“But we’re not anti-soldier,” Gaughan added. In fact, one of their songs, “Cold Soldier,” simultaneously criticizes fighting and violence and sympathizes with troops. A master at the catchy but chilling chorus line, Gaughan’s cries of “Ooh, and you’re never gonna get me alive, you’re never gonna get me again” pierce the heart.
The band performs weekly at various venues with regular appearances at the Black Bull Restaurant and Lounge in Holland, PA and Buddy’s Shamrock in Ewing, NJ. Pitonak is a part-time sophomore studying communications at Temple and Pedone, who graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA with a film scoring degree, lives in Staten Island, NY and records songs for MTV shows.
“I just sold three tracks to ‘Pimp My Ride,'” he said.
“He loves ‘Laguna Beach,'” Pitonak cut in. “So does Ryan.”
Gaughan attended Berklee for a semester and then “lived in Hawaii for a while, sleeping on bar floors and in a legitimate crack house,” he said.
This summer, Among Criminals hopes to go on tour and make a few more music videos. Their first, for the song “Ghost,” will debut soon. Gaughan and Pitonak also look forward to surfing together and hanging out at their favorite Philly restaurant, the vegan-friendly Gianna’s Grille.
“I spend more time with you than I do with my girlfriend,” Gaughan told Pitonak warily. They both attended Council Rock High School North in Newtown, PA, and share memories, favorite hobbies and hairstyles.
“I used to have a fro,” said Pitonak. “And he had dreads. Then my fro turned into dreads, then he cut his dreads and grew a fro, then I cut my dreads, and now we both have fros.”
Anna Hyclak can be reached at email@example.com.