The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hermetically Sealed: Jeff Lynne’s ELO and Dawes at the Wells Fargo Center

Jeff Lynne’s ELO | photo by Matthew Shaver for WXPN |

In a perfect world…. well, that’s it, isn’t it? A perfect world when it comes to tightly-strung, genius Anglo pop maestro Jeff Lynne and his airless-yet-wildly accessible ELO – itself, a differentiation in name and roll call from what 70s fans knows as Electric Light Orchestra, and the intentions of co-founders Roy Wood (who left after the first album in 1972) and Bev Bevan (who left, rejoined, left, then formed Electric Light Orchestra Part II).

When you entered Wells Fargo Center on Friday for Lynne’s ELO with opening act Dawes, you stepped into a world (literally, as dark universes, epic myth, spinning planets, and spiraling-out-of-control earth drama made metaphorically intimate are crucial to their live landscape) apart from the tonic usual, especially any sound relatable to the present. For Lynne’s songs – despite their lonely boy lost sci-fi-lite touch and future-forward sleekness – is singularly, melodically, rooted in the past: Lennon and McCartney, Mercury and May, Shostakovich and Beethoven, Chuck Berry and George Harrison and Barry Gibb. ELO may have released albums such as ZOOM and Alone in the Universe in the 21st Century, but the glory and grandeur of Friday night’s long-sold-out show was a love affair with the 70s and 80s, his and his audience’s. Continue reading →


Two to Tango: Grandchildren and Balún

Grandchildren and Balún
Grandchildren (l) and Balún (r) | photos courtesy of the artists

When Grandchildren and Balún appear together, on August 23 at PhilaMOCA, the skronky, harmonious Philadelphia ensemble and the rhythmic Puerto Rico dream pop team bring with them arts, smarts and indigenous sounds on its newest albums: Grandchildren with OK, I’m Waiting, and Balún, with Prisma Tropical. We caught up with them right before they hit Philly. Continue reading →


Espers Everywhere Now: Beloved Philly psych-folks reflect on life ahead of their hometown reunion

Espers | photo by Alissa Anderson | courtesy of the artist

Family. Work. Relationships. Relocation. Life.

These are things that closed a chapter on Philadelphia’s Espers in 2010, not long after the release of its final album, III, in 2009. “It might have been 2010, maybe sooner, like toward the release of the album, I’m not certain,” said Meg Baird, the one-time singing Epser(s) of how the band dissolved.

And that is it: Espers gently faded out just as they faded in, on a billowing, beautiful, undoubtedly dark and cumulous cloud of psilocybin-laced folk touched by occasional thunderbolts of electricity. Now, with the looming possibility of reissues of its brief catalog — four woodsy, gauzy, tactile albums and EPs — co-Epsers Baird, Greg Weeks, Brooke Sietinsons, Helena Espvall and Otto Hauser return to their rural, ancient-to-the-future roots tied (and unmoored from) folk’s traditions.

Maybe it’s just for one night (August 24 at Union Transfer), but the pairing with the like-minded Andy Cabic and his band Vetiver is perfect. Cabic’s handcrafted, shapeshifting, urbane folk was introduced to the world in 2004, the same year as Espers initial album, and the two in the birth of the modern folk movement, unified by the (then) further adventures of newbies Devendra Banhart, Ólöf Arnalds, Animal Collective and Faun Fables, as well as the return of alternative folk elders such as Clive Palmer, Bert Jansch and Vashti Bunyan.

Calling from San Francisco, where she’s lived for six years, it is odd speaking with Baird about Espers presently, as we have discussed her solo work (albums such as 2011’s Seasons on Earth and 2015’s Don’t Weigh Down the Light) without ever discussing Espers’ slip into darkness.

“It’s strange talking about Espers now, but not in a negative way,” said Baird, days before leaving for Philadelphia and rehearsals with her old band. “More of it is surprising that we’re here. It has been good, nice, that we’re revisiting the old material, and I’m glad we are able to play music together again.” Continue reading →


Music for Installations: Stealing Brian Eno’s idea for a box set, The Key looks at the sound of Philly galleries

Vinny performs at Neighborhood Time Exchange | photo courtesy of Ellen Tiberino

This May, producer-composer-sound designer Brian Eno released Music For Installations — six albums of new, rare and previously unreleased music made for use in gallery installations and exhibitions from 1985 to the present — and his longtime work in ever-different and changing music became clearer.

“Generative” music, mastered by a system, and made to order for visual experiments with light and video (his own installations), as well as gallery exhibitions for painterly works, go beyond the idea of ambient atmospheres (his usual, when it comes to instrumental work). They move into something proactive, provocative, and at one with the creation it is meant to score or accompany. An active exhibition art-soundscape should dance along with the images at its forefront, move in tandem with each brush stroke, static video image, and color. At least that’s what happens within the spare, yet opulent, confines of Eno-music that appeared within installations during the Venice Biennale and inside the St. Peterberg’s Marble Palace, Beijing’s Ritan Park and the Sydney Opera House.

With that in mind, I became curious as to how (and why) Philadelphia artists, gallery owners and curators teamed site-specific sound and music (or not?!) to the images portrayed along their four walls. Continue reading →


Beyonce and Jay-Z go On the Run, Again, at the Linc

PHILADELPHIA - JULY 30: Beyonce and Jay-Z perform on the 'On The Run II' tour at Lincoln Financial Field on July 30, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Raven Varona/Parkwood/PictureGroup)
Beyonce and Jay-Z | photo by Raven Varona | courtesy of the artist

Within a 2-and-a-half hour, 43 song framework – not counting additional snippets, elements and slips of other tracks, theirs and not theirs, within each tune – of costume changes, flames, good hair, stomping, dueling catwalks, raised moving stages, fireworks literal and figurative, choreographed sideways glances, nose tugs, and oh yeah, dancing, the wife and husband team of Beyoncé and Jay-Z  executed an On the Run II extravaganza at Lincoln Financial Field last night. It was great, and good, and too much, and occasionally not enough – but I’ll get to that.

Actually, let’s get to that now. Having witnessed every show that Beyoncé (Destiny’s Child, too) and Jay-Z (including duet gigs with Kanye West and Justin Timberlake) have performed within a 200 miles radius of Philadelphia, I can safely say that I know what the energy of a given Bey, Hova, and-or On the Run teaming (a la 2014’s first event) looks, sounds and feels like. Continue reading →


Cloaked in darkness, Beach House soars in a sublime Tower Theater set

@beaccchhoussse | 7.26.18 | #soldout | 📷: @ednewton

A post shared by Tower Theater (@towerphilly) on

Starting in a place of darkness has always given Beach House its balance, its symmetry, its heft. Despite the incongruity of a sandy-and-sunny name (unless that house is in grey and rocky Brighton), theirs is a poignant place of musical melancholia mired in thick electronica, noisy bent-string guitars, dense tom-tom rhythms, and a lead vocalist whose affinity for Nico-esque singing and neo-Beat poetry could snatch the air out of any room from its gravity.

No one gets out of here alive when Beach House is around.

And yet, there is/was something joyful, elevated, elegant and celebratory about a clad-in-black and singularly (simply, starkly, dramatically) backlit trio singing “Star death ringing / Brought fear” (“Dark Spring”), and “You want to go / Inside the cold / It’s like a tomb” (“Black Car”) through a pulsing, electro-din reminiscent of Black Celebration-era Depeche Mode and a slower Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft.

Oh, and this happened at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby on Thursday night. Continue reading →


An Open-Air Landscape of Lofty Vision: Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Coda doc screens at PhilaMOCA tonight

Ryuichi Sakamoto
Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Coda | courtesy of the artist

Loving Ryuichi Sakamoto has been a lifetime commitment: the early-days computer game electronica of Yellow Magic Orchestra, the sway of a solo career that’s gone from thumb-plucking Caucasoid funk to windy art pop to somber ambient etudes to glitch neo-jazz and Braziliana, the eclectic compositional éclat of his lustrous and tactile soundtrack’s scores. Continue reading →


Nu-Nu-Nuevofest: Celebrating the Now Sounds of the Latin American Continuum

Dos Santos | photo by Andrea Falcone | courtesy of the artist

Twelve years ago, Philadelphia’s Rahsaan Lucas and Marangeli Mejia-Rabell created the unique and specific curatorial, booking and promotions agency, AfroTaino Productions. Dedicated to both the traditions of the arts-culture of the Latin American continuum, as well as its future-forward movement, Lucas and Mejia-Rabell acted in tandem to offer the local market music beyond the usual commercial Latin fare. You know the drill: J-Lo, Enrique, Pitbull, the top of the charts.

For Afrotaino, it is the alternative to the Latin mainstream that’s fascinating them and their continued audiences; so much so, the pair built up an all-live day long series of events, Nuevofest, that on July 15 at World Café Live with WXPN as its partner (based upon that station’s LatinRootsLive free concert series), marches into its sixth iteration. During the all-day Nuevofest, Afrotaino will present two acts who have never appeared in the U.S. before, let alone Philly: Cuba’s big band neo-traditionalists Orquesta AKOKÁN and Spain’s electronic duo, Delaporte. Also on the Nuevofest Sunday bill is D.C.-based Nicaraguan roots ensemble Elena Y Los Fulanos. San Antonio / Caribbean punks Femina-X, Mexican (by way of Chicago) psychedelic salsa/cumbia band Dos Santos, L.A.-based Colombian beats generators Very Be Careful and progressive Puerto Rican act, ÌFÉ. Along with the WCL event, there are several events at additional venues such as July 17’s La Santa Cecilia show at The Foundry.

“Yes, we start looking for new Latin acts for each Nuevofest the day after the last one is wrapped” said Lucas about finding and preparing his Philly shows. “But we also have artists who can’t fit in one festival that we hold for another.” Continue reading →


Go Cat Go: Dibbs Preston is making wild rockabilly safe for Glenside

Dibbs and the Detonators at Dino’s in Glenside | photo by Ally

It’s a warm and rainy Saturday night in June, and the Deco-stylized confines of Dino’s Backstage and The Celebrity Room in Glenside – from the outside – looks as elegantly comported as it always does when distingues cabaret acts such as Marilyn Maye, Billy Stritch or its co-owner/singer Michael Kelly-Cataldi work the room. On this night, however, the pricey tchotchkes are rattling, and the dreamy B&W Hollywood headshots of yore stare down in disapproval.

That must mean Dibbs Preston and the Detonators are at Dino’s, doing their now once-a-month soiree and disturbing the peace with an all-around swing dance party, and its accompanying rockabilly soundtrack. Here’s where Preston – nattily dressed in a pastel, wide lapel suit, NuNile firm in his short, blonde floppy pompadour – holds court over a group of equally tonsorial and sartorially correct dancers, while drummer Marco Del Destino, stand-up bassist Johnny Lingo and piano player Ralph Miller lay into a slap-and-tickle groove.

“Dino’s is a high end supper club in the best tradition; a very glamorous place where the ladies love to dress up and dance the night away with suitably stylish guys,” said Preston during a quick set break between bites of Eddie Cochran songs and Dibbs’ own cutting, period-appropriate originals. “It’s all about the swing.” Continue reading →


Two to Tango: Algiers’ Franklin James Fisher and Lower Interiors’ Maggie Brannon

Algiers | photo by Joe Dilworth | courtesy of the artist // Lower Interiors | photo by Maggie Brannon | courtesy of the artist

The sonic experimentalists of Algiers and Lower Interiors have different axes to grind when it comes to the music they make, they melodies they parse, and the rhythms that allow each to steer their own individual lyrical ship. For Algiers and its leader/lyricist Franklin James Fisher, there is a sense of holy rolling soul and cranky gospel tones. For Lower Interiors’ Maggie Brannon, there is a steelier, sinister, yet more playful sound to be found in her work.

This Friday June 29th, Algiers and Lower Interiors will come head-to-head (after coming face-to-face for the first time mere days previous) at West Philly’s The SoundHole to test the limits of their Dada-ist sensibilities. We caught up to both Fisher (with the rest of Algiers) and Brannon (all by her lonesome) driving separately into Nashville for the first gig of their co-joined tour dates. Continue reading →