n the basement of keyboardist Jordan Leitner’s home in Newark, two area rugs the color of wheat and roses are dotted by half-consumed bottles of Negra Modelo and Lienenkugel. The aroma of rice and beans wafts from the kitchen upstairs while the Mad Sweet Pangs rehearse.
The players go off on their instruments, eyes closed as if on some cosmic trip. Not one of them—not Leitner, lead guitarist Gordon Lippincott, bassist Dustin Frohlich or drummer Rob Young—knows how or when the songs will end.
Their name is taken from a Whitman poem—“I hear the key’d cornet, it glides quickly in through my ears, it shakes mad-sweet pangs through my belly and breast”—that Frohlich read in an English class at the University of Delaware. The birth of the Pangs is traced to the Thursday night jam sessions he hosted in his East Campus dorm as a sophomore in 2003. Leitner would often play, and the duo soon began writing songs.
Over the years, the Pangs sound has evolved into a wash of blues, jazz, folk, bluegrass and rock ’n’ roll. The songs are English major-clever: “Someone get me some construction paper/I’m tired of all this destructive behavior.” Their concerts, in theaters and clubs from Baltimore to New York, are part come-to-Jesus celebration, part slow, sweet harmony.
All of it is captured on the Pangs’ two CDs, the 12-track “Stumbling Through Blydepoort Canyon” (2006) and “Witness and Wait” (2008), which features the Grateful Dead-infused “Blackwell Rendezvous” and “Insatiable,” a carousel ride of Leitner-Frohlich harmony and Lippincott’s thrashing guitar.
A year ago, the Pangs played six times a week. At the same time a booking agency offered them a touring contract, Leitner was awarded a scholarship for a doctoral program at UD. The other Pangs have jobs, girlfriends, dogs and families here. They decided to stay put.
“It was once all about the momentum, the train moving forward,” Leitner says. “If we had signed that contract, we’d be looking up at cottage cheese motel ceilings. Now the band is at a perpetual crossroads. We have to reinvent our goals, but we can do what we want. The path we’re on is one we all want to be on.”