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Beck was off the hook at Firefly and I can’t believe he’s playing #xpnfest

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Beck at Firefly | Photo by Joe Del Tufo | joedeltufo.com

A month from today, I’ll be at the Susquehanna Bank Center on a (hopefully) crisp and breezy summer evening, and the stage just down the way will be populated by a handful of musicians fronted by the one and only Beck.

I was massively excited when we announced the eclectic modern-rock songwriter as one of the XPoNential Music Festival headliners, but like many of you, I was a bit uncertain. What kind of Beck would we get with this show? His last release was an unrecorded songbook that other musicians were welcome to perform in their own chamber-rock groups. His current release is the introspective and hushed Morning Phase. Would the XPNFest bring Beck backed by a band? Would it be a sad-man band or snappy party crew? He’s a knockout performer no matter the tone of the setlist – a very varied 2006 show at the Tower proved that – but something about an outdoor festival setting seems to beg for the livelier side of the catalog. Is that what we were getting?

Beck at Firefly | Photo by Joe Del Tufo | joedeltufo.com
Beck and his band at Firefly | Photo by Joe Del Tufo | joedeltufo.com

Beck’s performance last weekend at the Firefly Music Festival in Delaware assuaged my fears. The big and bright Saturday night set, played to a crowd of thousands clamored around the Lawn Stage of the festival, was more celebratory than somber. It pulled selections from across the breadth of his catalog – 90s slacker rock intertwined with aughties postmodern funk, hip-hop beats cut into overblown punk. And the quiet side of his catalog wasn’t ignored either – “Blue Moon,” the sublime single from Phase, made an appearance alongside Sea Change‘s shuffling “Lost Cause”; the bluesy harmonica stomp of “One Foot in the Grave” showed up as well.

Those songs were great to hear, but the energy of other selections was staggering. Rousing opener “Devil’s Haircut” got things off to a punchy start, the iconic “Loser” dropped early on in the setlist, “Sexx Laws” was delightful and the off-the-hook energy of “E-Pro” was unreal. Clad in a button down shirt, suit jacket and stylish fedora, Beck leaped gleefully in the air, brandishing a guitar and mugging with his five-piece band while thousands of LED lights twinkled behind them in a psychedelic display.

Elsewhere he crooned, and danced – showed he’s still adept at doing the robot, to be specific – and dropped a sweet cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” By the closing notes of “Where It’s At” and the subsequent bows, I was dazed and collecting pieces my brain from all across this unassuming field in Kent County.

“I can’t believe he’s playing our festival,” I kept repeating to myself. And granted, we may have a completely different Beck. He may be in quiet Sunday night mode, or he might stretch the scope of his set even further given his headliner slot. One thing’s for certain – it’s going to be an outstanding show.

Weekend passes for the XPoNential Music Festival can be picked up here; single-night tix for the Beck performance can be found here. To get a taste of the possible eclecticism in store, listen to our career-spanning Beck Spotify playlist here. And check out some videos and the full Firefly setlist after the jump. Continue reading →

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Unlocked: The past, practice and perception that make Vacationer’s perfect electro-pop

Kenny Vasoli of Vacationer | Photo via facebook.com/vacationermusic
Kenny Vasoli of Vacationer | Photo via facebook.com/vacationermusic

Residents on this quiet street in Horsham probably don’t mind the sounds coming from Kenny Vasoli’s childhood home.

Vasoli is leading practice for his electro-pop band Vacationer inside, down in his parent’s finished garage area that has been converted into a basement. Waters and beers are handed out. Guacamole and chips are set down in the corner of the room. It’s the first time the band coming together to run through their new live show – songs like “Stay,” “Go Anywhere” and “Shining” from their new album, Relief, released this week on Downtown Records.

The new tunes are quite audible from outside the house, but neighbors probably don’t mind chill serenade to their summer evening. Several years earlier there was probably much louder, angrier music coming from this house, as Vasoli started his career in popular pop-punk band The Starting Line, which formed in 1999 and disbanded in 2008, save for sporadic reunion shows and a recent tour.

Those who know Vasoli from those days may not recognize him now. His curly, chin-length hair is tucked beneath a backwards maroon Phillies cap. He’s surrounded by new band mates playing a new variety of instruments, a few of which would never be seen on stage for a punk show. But one instrument has remained through Vasoli’s time spent in both bands – his soothing, very distinct vocals.

Vacationer at SXSW 2013 | Photo by John Vettese
Vacationer at SXSW 2013 | Photo by John Vettese

“My favorite is when [fans] say, “You sound so much like that guy from The Starting Line,’” recalls guitarist Greg Altman of various Vacationer shows since the band started touring more than two years ago.

“It’s happened more times than you would think,” adds Vasoli. “What’s that Val Kilmer movie, The Saint? I’m like The Saint of emo.”

Though Vasoli’s comment definitely was not meant in the context, early 2000 Starting Line fans might have considered him a “saint” of the genre. The music Vasoli was moved to make more than 10 years later couldn’t be more different than what his admirers might have expected from him, but they and other fans have seemed to latch on to Vacationer, no questions asked.

“I’ve really started to embrace the whole emo back story thing, because at this point, I’m confident enough in the music that I make with Vacationer and we’ve sort of cemented some fans in there enough for me to be little more confident in who I was and who I am,” Vasoli says. “It’s nice, I don’t really have to compartmentalize too much anymore, or keep anything a secret anymore, because the people who are into it are into it, and the people that aren’t are just kind of waiting for another one of those records. With anything else in my life, I like not focusing on the past too much, and also not on the future.”

Living in the moment is an idea that Vacationer holds dear, and that comes out on Relief. Continue reading →

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Catch The Ambulars tonight at Boot and Saddle

Photo via facebook.com/The-Ambulars
Photo via facebook.com/The-Ambulars

Local indie rockers The Ambulars have recently started touring and performing songs that will be on their newest full-length. The band consists of Jen Twigg, Michael Cantor and Barrett Lindgren. In 2012, the band released its LP Dreamers, Asleep at the Wheel; soon afterwards, the band did a Pink Couch Session. Earlier in May, Jen Twigg contributed to a great, funny article on Impose Magazine about surviving as the only girl in a band.  

The vocals alternates between male and female as well as duos which makes it an interesting listening experience. The restless, energetic music tackles universal subjects of heartbreak, growing up and love. Though the lyrics certainly have dark overtones, the sweet, catchy melodies somewhat alleviate the tone. Overall, The Ambulars convey a sense of urgency and passion.

Tonight, The Ambulars will be playing Boot and Saddle with Vancouver pop band The Courtneys and Philadelphia pop-punk group Mike Bell and the Movies. Listen to “Asleep at the Wheel” from Dreamers, Asleep at the Wheel below. Get more info about the show here.

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New Philly indie rockers Spelling Reform release their debut single “Together Apart”

spellingref
Photo | https://www.facebook.com/spellingreform

Although new indie rock/pop quartet Spelling Reform only formed less than a month ago, the members of the group are no rookies to the Philly music scene.  It was not until this June that lead singer and songwriter, Dan Wisniewski (formerly of The Quelle Source) decided to gather the group together and immediately start making music. The indie rock group is comprised of members from The Quelle Source, The Chairman Dances, Bird Watcher and Monday Appreciation Society.

This week the band released its debut single, “Together Apart.”  Reminiscent of The Mountain Goats quirky sound, “Together Apart” is a naturally happy tune and shows the quartet’s versatility as a unit.  Stay tuned for an upcoming music video to accompany the single.

“Together Apart” is only a preview for their upcoming debut show tomorrow night, June 27th, at The Rotunda where they will open for Chairman Dances and Vita and Woolf.  Find tickets and info for the show here.

Listen to “Together Apart” below.

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Preview Strand of Oaks’ Free at Noon by listening back to their World Cafe session

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese

Emotional Philly rock four-piece Strand of Oaks have been busy lately. Recently, the band did a session with the World Cafe. In it, lead singer, Tim Showalter discusses growing up in a Mennonite community, his journey to Philly and the production of the album. In particular, the album title is meant to be shouted, Showalter explained, since it’s a command to heal. Furthermore, Showlater declared that he “is proud to say that he’s from Philly because it’s people that only care about the music…none of the frivolous stuff…the bands are real.” Strand of Oaks performed “Goshen ’97”, “Heal” and “Plymouth”.

Their newest album HEAL came out this past Tuesday. Highly praised, the album is a brutally honest memoir of Showalter’s personal tragedies. The anthem nature of HEAL, especially the title track, makes the tone of the album one of resilience and hope. Earlier this week, we ran a great interview where The Key’s Elliot Sharp talked with Showalter about the various and interesting day jobs he’s held over the years. And this morning, Strand of Oaks was added to the lineup of the XPoNential Music Festival.

Strand of Oaks will also be tomorrow’s Free at Noon artist. RSVP and get more info on the show here. Listen to the session below.

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Stream Norah Jones’ sweet “It Was The Last Thing On Your Mind” video

Photo by Frank Ockenfels
Photo by Frank Ockenfels

Today, Norah Jones released the video to her newest original, “It Was The Last Thing On Your Mind”. The video starts off with a few romantic scenes from the summer rom-com They Came Together staring Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd, out June 27th. (The best part comes when the two stars are frolicking in fall leaves next to a dead man.) It then cuts to scenes of Jones recording the album in the studio along with cameos from Adam Scott and John Stamos as sound engineers. Jones’s sultry voice accompanies the video perfectly.

Previously, Jones’s tracks have been featured on soundtracks to My Blueberry Nights and The Princess Diaries 2: A Royal Engagement among others. Earlier this year, Jones’s latest project, Puss N Boots, announced the release of their debut album “No Fools, No Fun” out July 15th by Blue Note Records. The band consists of powerful pop trio Sasha Dobson, Jones and Catherine Popper. Earlier this year, the band played at this years XPN Non-Commvention and released a cover of Neil Young’s “Down By the River”.

Catch the band at the TLA July 18th. Get more details here. Stream the video below.

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Watch Kwesi K’s soulful SoFar Philadelphia session

Kwesi K | photo courtesy of the artist
Kwesi K | photo courtesy of the artist

At a recent installment of SoFar Philadelphia, Poppy singer-songwriter Kwesi K sang his song “Great Goodbye,” and the most striking aspect of the performance is his uplifting voice and its ability to connect to the audience. As he serenades the room full of fans, his delivery is full of passion. He’s hopeful, with lyrics like “I’m in love, it’s all I need” alongside a catchy melody. The listener feels connected to him on a personal level.

The track was off of his debut album Lovely, released early April. In June, Kwesi K sat down for an interview with the Key’s Helen Leicht where he talked about his upcoming shows, the production of “Great Goodbye” and 5 records he’d take to a desert island. Catch him every Thursday in July at The Grape Room or in August at the Philly Folk Festival.

Watch the session below.

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The Eubanks Brothers make hometown return at Chris’ Jazz Cafe this Saturday

The Eubanks brothers | photo by Christopher Dubay
The Eubanks brothers | photo by Christopher Dubay

It’s a rare occasion these days when the Eubanks brothers find themselves in the same place at the same time. Two out of three of the Philly-born jazz siblings will share the stage for one night in their hometown when trombonist Robin and trumpeter Duane co-lead a specially-assembled quintet at Chris’ Jazz Café on Saturday night.

“I’m always excited to play with my brother,” says Duane. “It’s been a while since Robin and I have played together, so this is almost a reunion. And being back at home makes it even more special.”

A glance at the brothers’ activities suffices to show exactly why it’s so difficult for them to synchronize their calendars. Robin apprenticed with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and is currently an active member of the SFJAZZ Collective, the San Francisco-based collective that explores the repertoire of a single composer each season (they’re about to tackle the work of Joe Henderson). He’s on the cusp of releasing a new CD, Klassik Rock Vol. 1, which features electric jazz reimaginings of classic rock staples by Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Sly and the Family Stone, and is planning to record his MassLine Big Band in late July. He’s also a tenured professor at Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

Duane is also set to return to the studio next month, and has recently recorded with drummer Jeff Williams and keyboardist/producer Mark de Clive-Lowe. He’s worked with jazz greats like Illinois Jacquet and Oliver Lake and with R&B and hip-hop stars including Mos Def and The Temptations. Earlier this month he was on stage at Madison Square Garden with Rhonda Ross, opening for the singer’s mother, Diana Ross. He gets back to Philly frequently as part of pianist Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band.

(Middle brother Kevin wrapped up his fifteen-year gig as leader of Jay Leno’s Tonight Show band in 2010, released a pair of well-regarded solo albums, and is currently a member of bass legend Dave Holland’s new quartet Prism.)

Born more than a decade after his two older brothers, at 45 Duane still feels like he has something to prove. Continue reading →

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Our Griffins debut new song “Run Through The Mines” during Cover Club Session

ourgriffins
Photo | https://www.facebook.com/ourgriffins

After their beautiful rendition of the Strand of Oaks song “Last to Swim,” Our Griffins have released a video for a new original song called “Run Through The Mines.”  The song was actually debuted during the same #CoverClub session at Nomad Recording Studio.  The song is simple, focusing on DJ Brown’s raspy vocals and guitar playing.  “Run Through The Mines” will most likely be included on their next full-length album.

Want to see Our Griffins live?  You’re in luck.  They will be at Bourban and Branch tomorrow along with Maitland and Jeremiah Tall.  Find tickets here.  Additionally, they will play #XPNFest at the end of July.  

Watch a performance of “Run Through The Mines” below.

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Folkadelphia Session: Marissa Nadler

Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

In 2014, Marissa Nadler released July, a collection of story songs that only she could have made. By that it is meant that without Nadler, these songs don’t exist, they could not possibly exist in this world. July is both the essence of and the essential Marissa Nadler. On this her sixth full-length album, she gives off the aura of mastery, displaying her growth as both a creative entity and unique voice in the folk world. While all of the musical pieces may not have been in place like they are now, from even her first album, Ballads of Living and Dying (2006), Nadler has had a strong conception of self and style. Her evolution has been subtle and calculated, fully incorporating sounds and ideas into her art – gothic songwriter on Little Hells, shimmering Americana on her self-titled album, and now, atmospheric elegance on July. For this record, Nalder worked with producer Randall Dunn, best known for work with noise and metal bands like Sun O))) and Earth, but also the avant-psych-folk of Six Organs of Admittance for instance. Dunn adds textural embellishment to Nadler’s world; on previous records, Nadler has sung from the deepest subterranian depths and resonant caves or from the empty woods and loamy ground, here Dunn gives her a new stage, the darkened night sky from which to command.

Nadler’s stories often touch on our mortality, existential issues, and time, but it is the strong feelings and the slow burn of emotions that remain with the listener even as the words fade away. When I hear Marissa Nadler’s music, particularly with July, I imagine those large bindered photo albums that exist in everyone’s hallway closet, gathering dust and being largely forgotten. I like to think that Nadler is the champion of these books of small, intimate stories that are spread across time and space, that all of us have within us. She imbues her sound with the silver-tinged, the black and white contrast, the sepia-toned, and the fading colors of these photographic stories. The more I consider it, the more I hold it to be true – Marissa Nadler is the folk singer of our memories.

This Folkadelphia Session has been a long time in the making. We first collaborated with Marissa back in November of 2013 while she was in the Philadelphia area. This was before she had fully conceptualized her live set-up for the songs of July. She told us that she would return, armed with a larger sound. Fast forward to March of 2014, she returned with celloist, songwriter, and vocalist Janel Leppin. For the listener, we present a nearly album-sized collection, pulling mostly from the latter session.