No sports jokes in this one, I promise. And even more surprisingly, on Friday night when the 3rd annual Make the World Better benefit show went down at Union Transfer, none there, either. Put on and hosted by “The Street Eagle,” — the Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker Connor Barwin — the event brought together music nerds and jocks, uniting them in the name of the greater good.
Unlike last year’s spicy, sporty takes from everyone’s favorite sassy Brooklyners Parquet Courts, this year featured very little mention of the love of the game. In fact, unless you had known previously that Connor plays for the team, you might never have learned at the event. And that’s okay. While last year’s event was radical, it seems lessons learned went into action, making the third incarnation of the event the most music-centric one yet, even while featuring fewer bands.
Up until the date of the show, a third band (beyond the initially announced Hop Along and Waxahatchee) was rumored heavily, appearing on posters as “Special guest TBA.” Try hard as I might, for the life of me I couldn’t drum up who the addition would be, until right there as Philly’s own Amos Lee took to the stage to get the night started.
Making for a triple-play of hometown heroes, Lee played a short set of his trademark smooth Americana-influenced soul / blues / rock. Though most of his set was groovy and digable, it ended on the icky, insensitive sex-jam “Caramel,” performed with Mutlu. It seemed more than a bit out-of-step with the strong-as-hell women who were set to headline the night — those whom most of the audience was assembled for.
— Union Transfer (@UnionTransfer) June 3, 2016
Waxahatchee quickly came on after a short set change and carried on like nothing else mattered. Playing only with a bassist, Katie Crutchfield expertly crushed her all-too-short assigned set time. Only briefly stopping early in the set to say “We’re gonna play some old ones,” Crutchfield leant into the task with aplomb, hitting all the highlights, especially rarely-seen numbers from American Weekend.
The old tracks were the jaw-droppers of the evening, with Katie’s Rickenbacker jangling the shit out emotional crushers one after another. The stripped-down format was an excellent and invigorating new way to see a band that I’ve already happily seen in full several times over. While some people back at the bar were chattering on obnoxiously during her set, for the most part things went surprisingly well for a set that didn’t bowl the audience over with sonic power, but — as is the Waxahatchee way — found its strength in subverting the obvious way of things.
Hop Along did not go for the subversive route by any means — even though Frances Quinlan took to the stage sans backing band to soft open with “Happy to See Me,” the band quickly transformed into one of the most powerful incarnations of themselves that I’d seen in a long, long time.
Though Quinlan and co. have (of course) always rocked, on Friday they took it to a whole other level. Standing right in front of him, it quickly became apparent that one of my new favorite things about one of my long-time favorite bands is Joe freaking Reinhart. With all the flourish of a stadium-sized rocker, he deftly commanded the right half of the stage, swinging his guitar as far as it would rotate on the strap, stomping and jumping — all while hitting each note in his massive slide solos.
The jams getting bigger and better than ever, you’d think something would have to give. The emotional appeal? Nope. Still crying at every other song, with Quinlan’s voice rising from ethereal rasp to tremulous tempest at the drop of a hat. She’s like the musical equivalent of “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” Quite simply put: the Greatest.
And the setlist didn’t disappoint in the least bit, as well. In a tight 13 songs, they made room for 4 classic Get Disowned tracks including personal favorite “Laments,” as well as an absolutely brutal cover of Nirvana’s “Sappy” that found a bizzaro version of the band completely instrument-swapped to blast through the deep cut (a bonus track on the No Alterntive compilation). “Someone once asked us ‘Like why don’t you just play that with your regular instruments?'” a breathless and smiling Quinlan quipped after the song was over and the band was regrouping, “I honestly don’t know.”
After absolutely shutting down the main set with Painted Shut bangers “Texas Funeral” into “Sister Cities,” the band waved and exited the stage. From his seat on stage left, Connor Barwin jumped up and danced across the stage, motioning for the audience to get loud and demand an encore. And demand, they did, having the band back on stage in less than two minutes of cheering and clapping. I couldn’t think of a better song for them to end on than “Kids on the Boardwalk.” Even though I’m personally partial to Get Disowned material, everyone in the packed house at Union Transfer on Friday night was jamming out hard to the deep cut.
Leaving the audience with a lyric like “I want to love something simply” is a big statement, truly. And the more I dwell on the night, it seems like Philly might be that very something for Connor Barwin. We know the dude loves Philly deeply, but these shows are always a very tangible reminder of that fact. With the night raising well over $200,000 for a park renovation project at Waterloo Playground (2501 Waterloo Street) in West Kensington, and the Street Eagle taking more of a backseat to the music this year, I’m starting to feel less cynical about sports on the whole. Jocks and nerds, making the world better, together.