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Road trip ranting with Angelo Moore and friends

Angelo Moore
Angelo Moore band | photo courtesy of the artist

This story is so juicy, and zesty, it falls off the bone and melts in your mouth: a conversation with occasional Fishbone-r Angelo Moore, Ween drummer Claude Coleman Jr., Ashish “Hash” Vyas  of Thievery Corporation fame, and the rest of the sampladelic-soulful Brand New Step brain trust – in one car – driving out of New Orleans and into Atlanta. Their mission: to get to Philly by June 15’s Johnny Brenda’s gig in order to play its new hot jazz-funk cut “Pendulum Swings” and other songs from its sophomore album due out before 2018’s end.  Continue reading →

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Listen Harder: U2 continues to challenge itself and its fans at Wells Fargo Center

U2 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Having witnessed every show U2 has put on within Philadelphia’s city limits (including its earliest, Bijou Café, excluding last year’s Joshua Tree anniversary), one had to resist easy comparison between gigs. Favorite-song-filled set lists or tours on the heels of albums preferred have weight, and there’s always a question of youth’s vigor: can the quartet who all but defined passion and consciousness at its start continue the journey with energy and originality? And could they do it without Bono overselling its point with hashtag shout outs, app plugs or societal rants that don’t come through the PA?

The answers regarding Wednesday’s U2 eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour 2018 stop at Wells Fargo Center was, yes, and no. Continue reading →

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Oh, Harry: The multifaceted Harry Connick Jr. talks about jazz, the Big Easy, and all things music

Harry Connick Jr.
Harry Connick Jr. | photo courtesy of the artist

There will always be two Harry Connick Jr.’s. There is the one who, since the 2000s, has made himself well-known and beloved in sit-coms (the first go-round of Will & Grace), children’s film fare (A Dolphin’s Tale), as judge and foil to J-Lo (American Idol), and as a talk show host (Harry).

The other Connick Jr. is a consummate musician, arranger, orchestrator and vocalist whose love and encyclopedic knowledge of Tin Pan Alley standards and the New Orleans music of his past and present make him a treasure still, even if you’ve paying more attention to the mass mediated Harry. The second, better one will play at the Mann Center on June 16 – celebrating New Orleans’ 300th birthday – for his first area live appearance in well over a decade. The second, better one is who The Key spoke with, exclusively, about music. Continue reading →

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TSOPIFA: The Sound of Philadelphia’s International Festival of the Arts

Taylor Mac
Taylor Mac | photo by Teddy Wolff | courtesy of PIFA

Ever since the start of the Kimmel Center-based and curated Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts – or PIFA, as it is best known – innovations in sound and tone have touched its event listings. “Music has always been a crucial part of PIFA, whether it is the locals we book or the international acts we program,” says Jay Wahl, the Kimmel’s Producing Artistic Director and the creator-curator of PIFA which starts May 31 with a groovy gala at the Center.

With the mission statement of 2018’s PIFA being a search for community, empathy, and to “plug into some sort-of current and take the pulse of the city around social questions,” Wahl has allowed a handful of fascinating artists into the festival’s fold. Continue reading →

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Two to Tango: Kate Stables of This Is The Kit and Adam Schatz of Landlady

This Is The Kit | photo by Lucy Sudgen | courtesy of the artist // Landlady | photo courtesy of the artist

Bristol, England’s Kate Stables — the woman behind the alias and floating band membership of This Is The Kit — and Brooklyn’s Adam Schatz  — of the groovy art rocking Landlady — wouldn’t seem likely bedfellows or touring mates from the former’s Moonshine Freeze of 2017 (complex folk signature touches by subtle jazz washes) and the latter’s Upright Behavior of 2014. That’s what will probably make their shared June 26 showcase at Johnny Brenda’s riveting. Continue reading →

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Taking a (Lake Street) Dive

Lake Street Dive
Lake Street Dive | photo by Shervin Lainez

Often tagged as “retro” with a multi-genre emphasis on its folksy soul (or soulful folksiness) to go with its Lambert, Hendricks & Ross-on-Benzedrine-esque harmonies, Boston’s Lake Street Dive has been moving at a rapid fire pace since its independently-released debut with 2006’s In This Episode. Twelve years and several albums later, the quartet has honed its skills into something looser and airier, yet currently focused on a modern R&B tone on its brand new release, Free Yourself Up.

Perhaps we can blame a more-than-usual wealth of compositions and co-compositions from Bridget Kearney (fresh off her debut solo album, 2017’s Won’t Let You Down), or touring keyboardist Akie Bermiss stepping up to the plate as a formidable studio presence, or the band’s taking control of its own production with help from friend and engineer Dan Knobler. Drummer Mike Calabrese and Kearney clue us in before returning to Philly for May 12’s sold-out show at The Fillmore. (UPDATE: Lake Street Dive just announced a free concert at the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg on Tuesday, June 19th; to attend, RSVP here.) Continue reading →

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Running Up that (Marian) Hill: Philly’s Jeremy Lloyd and Samantha Gongol make the “unusual” their usual

Marian Hill
Marian Hill | photo by Shervin Lainez | courtesy of the artist

In the swinging Frank Sinatra hit “Something’s Gotta Give,” Old Blue Eyes sings of “an irresistible force” meeting “an immovable object” in a show of the shield and spear paradox.  This too could describe the hook up of moodily minimalistic producer Jeremy Lloyd and woozily angelic vocalist Samantha Gongol, the songwriting duo of childhood friends who met at Haverford High School, and named their bluesy electronic duo after two characters from “The Music Man” (Marian Paroo and Harold Hill).

On the heels of releasing its newest album, Unusual, a year after its debut, Act One, it is important to note that a massive aspect of their success and brand-notoriety comes from the fact that most of us know Marian Hill and its early single “Down” as the soundtrack to the black-and-white television ad for the then-new Apple iPhone + AirPod.

Tease the duo about how their spare, soulful sound has outlasted the AirPod in fame and usefulness, and both come to the aid of the thin Apple product. “I still have and use mine,” said Gongol, focused on how such corporate salesmanship helped push her duo from bedroom recording ensemble who used to play open mic gigs at World Café Live (“we owe a lot to those Monday nights and WXPN’s support,” she said) to studio mavens on big label tour showcases. Continue reading →

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Todd Rundgren’s Shifting Utopias

Todd Rundgren's Utopia Group | photo by Danny O'connor | courtesy of the artist
Todd Rundgren’s Utopia Group | photo by Danny O’connor | courtesy of the artist

The last time audiences caught a Todd Rundgren (and there are many to choose from), they were treated to a sound more in league with his sumptuous, blue-eyed soul past (such as 1972’s epic Something/Anything), teamed with the often caustic lyricism of, say, 2004’s Liars, the result of which was 2017’s White Knight, and its singularly humorous Trump-bashing “Tin Foil Hat.”

Now, in 2018, Rundgren is returning to an occasionally more peaceful (or existentially humanist) set of lyrics and a Technicolor progressive rock-ist sound with his ensemble Utopia, a box set of collected works and a tour that brings him home to Upper Darby and the Tower Theater on May 5.

“When I first formed Utopia in the 70s, a lot of it had to do with the fact that as a songwriter working primarily at that time on the piano, that I had put aside the guitar,” said the man whose 60s instrumental roots were in the bluesy Woody’s Truck Stop and the psychedelic The Nazz. “I started getting the feeling after Something/Anything, that I was losing my chops. I hadn’t created the opportunity as a songwriter or producer for the sort-of guitar playing I wanted to do.” Continue reading →

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Two To Tango: Kyle Molleson of Makeness and Ruban Nielson of Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Makeness
Makeness | photo by Dexter Lander | courtesy of the artist // Unknown Mortal Orchestra | photo by Neil Krug | courtesy of the artist

When it comes to uneasy experimental electronic pop, Ruban Nielson (the Mint Chicks man currently making dire and dreamy noise by fronting the neo-psychedelic Unknown Mortal Orchestra) and Kyle Molleson (the solo Scot behind the broke-beat Makeness), are masters of the form. For 2018, both artists have expansive, nervous, diverse new albums to tour around – UMO with Sex & Food, Makeness with Loud Patterns – and hit up Union Transfer on April 28 to prove as much. Continue reading →

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Trouble Every Day: 25 years since his passing, Frank Zappa is all over Philadelphia in April

Frank Zappa’s Philly ’76 LP cover | via Amazon

There are so many Frank Zappas to consider that it’s often a struggle to focus on which one to pinpoint. Is he the man who lovingly crafted intricate and tender guitar solos from “Black Napkins” to “Inca Roads”?

Or the silly ribald humorist of “Titties and Beer” or “Bwana Dik”?

Or the high-minded composer behind “Lumpy Gravy” or “Orchestral Favorites”?

Or the psychedelic rocker and jazz-bo of “Freak Out” and “Hot Rats”?

What one can focus on, twenty five years after his death, is that innovative guitarist / composer / socio-political satirist / free expression activist Zappa is more crucial than ever (especially when you consider that the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer will soon get his own hologram treatment) and by, all accounts is having a busy spring by Philadelphia standards. Continue reading →