The Key Presents: Radiator Hospital

Sam from Radiator Hospital | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman |

Radiator Hospital is a band with a lot of moving parts. Both physically and metaphorically, putting the band in one place is an intricate operation, to say the least. With songs that range from adorably tender to shout-along tearjerker ballads, the same thing can be said about the music. But it all revolves around one well of gravity: Songwriter and front-person  Sam Cook-Parrot.

In some sense, an easy way to put Radiator Hospital in one room is to just go ahead and put Sam in the room. So we did exactly that. Before the record release show for this year’s new album Play the Songs You Like happened in the basement of the First Unitarian Church, we got Sam to play a few of the new songs in a different light — in the tiny Side Chapel upstairs, the stars aligned and the pieces fell into place in a way that likely won’t happen again. This is The Key Presents: Radiator Hospital. Continue reading →


An Elegant Uproar: The National goes all in at the Kimmel Center

The National | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman |

Seven records and almost two decades in, you can’t even begin to accuse The National of phoning it in. While I initially mistook a lower-intensity set for a band beginning to show its age, an unusually lucid Matt Berninger was just slyly taking his sweet old time to hit a crowded Kimmel Center where it counts — and on a Monday evening, no less. Opening with deep cut “Karen,” from 2006’s Alligator was a surefire way to get the crowd of loyalists interested, but the song lacks the hallmark intensity of the band’s many unintentional anthems. It was only after “Nobody Else Will Be There,” from 2017’s just-released Sleep Well Beast, led into “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness,” that the intensity was ratcheted up a couple of notches. The rest of the evening toed the fine line that the band always has between subtlety and quiet uproar. Continue reading →


The Key Presents: Secret American

Secret American | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman |

Secret American is a project of two coasts. A couple years back, frontman Derek Krzywicki found himself living in Southern California, where he moved with his old band Cheers Elephant. After parting ways with those guys, he began melding a retro-rock songwriting style with his unstoppable charisma onstage and at the microphone. But Krzywicki is a Philadelphia-area native, and some of his favorite folks to record with were located back in Philly. So he grabbed cheap airfares when they popped up and bounced back and forth across the U.S. to record his debut album, due out early next year. The result is pretty nicely aligned with the band’s jovial tagline: “California country landscapes from the seat of an overhead SEPTA train.”

Secret American found itself convened back in Philadelphia on a sunny day in early September of 2017. And so Krzywicki and his bandmates — Kevin Killen on drums; Todd Mecaughey on bass; Rory Geoghegan and Alex Baranowski on guitars, Katie Frank on keys and Tony Unander on percussion — met up at Fergie’s Pub in Center City. It’s an incredibly musician-friendly establishment, between weekly open mics, residencies from Philadelphia vets like John Train, a regular traditional Irish music session, the musicians slinging drinks from behind the bar, and more. So the seven bandmates gathered together on the tiny second floor stage of the pub for an afternoon jam out.

This is The Key Presents: Secret American. Continue reading →


The Key Presents: Hardwork Movement

Hardwork Movement | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman |

Sunday, October 8th, 2017. It’s technically autumn, but the weather is still warm, comfortable — if a little wet, care of a lingering shower from the morning hours. Philadelphians are exploring the nooks and crannies of City Hall, at the nexus of Broad and Market Streets — from the Dilworth Plaza Oktoberfest market to installations of Mural Arts’ Monument Lab project.

In the catacombs of the building’s east passageway, Becca Imani and Dani Gershkoff of Hardwork Movement find a resonant alcove to perform a song a cappella. Normally, they’re part of the instrumental sprawl of local hip-hop collective Hardwork Movement, playing trumpet and flute and contributing vocals to their bandmates’ fierce rhymes. But for one song — the elegant “Don’t Block the Sun” — they take center stage, and them alone. And it always slays. Even as the sounds of the city’s cars and subway trains provide a rumbling accompaniment, Graham and Gershkoff are locked in the serenity zone, singing about (and radiating) inner strength. Continue reading →


The Key Presents: American Trappist

American Trappist | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman |

It was always about coming home. For Joe Michelini, American Trappist is the natural extension of the scenic route into the self.

When we travelled to Asbury Park together last month, the native New Jersey son was clearly in his element, pointing out landmarks to the both personal and professional. As we’re cleaning up after filming in Asbury’s historic Convention Center Hall, Joe looks wildly around and points up into the stands. “That was my seat. I saw my first concert in this room.”

From The Boss to Trappe, the Convention Hall has played home to countless musicians down through the years. And even as the town that Joe fell in love with as a child has begun to change tangibly and more immaterially, it still remains a sort of sanctuary for the road-worn Michelini. River City Extension died here. American Trappist was born here. The road ends, begins, goes on, comes back. That’s what getting even means.

This is The Key Presents: American Trappist.
Continue reading →


Actually Maybe Do Call It A Comeback: LCD Soundsystem at Brooklyn Steel

LCD Soundsystem | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman |

LCD Soundsystem isn’t having a bad year for a band that’s been dead for the better part of a decade. Last night in Brooklyn, they played the 5th show of their 2nd New York residency this year. With a world tour culminating in a 3rd, 10-day stand at new venue Brooklyn Steel, they’re really laying it on thick. All told, that’s 22 shows at the venue that the christened back in April, with the original 5-night run. I have yet to meet a single person in real life who’s mad that LCD is playing so many shows — and why would they be? This is a band that was an absolute standardbearer for the oughties fledgling indie/dance/whatever-core scene that they now reign over as ensconced legends. Continue reading →


The Key Presents: Half Waif

Half Waif | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman |

The weather’s bad, but it holds. Between setting up and short takes while the rain isn’t too hard, Nandi Plunkett throws an industrial trash bag over her keyboard as a makeshift cover, but even the intermittent April showers can’t get her spirits down too much. Resiliency is a big theme of Half Waif‘s music, and in Plunkett’s life, as well. Between passing clouds, Nandi and guitarist Adan Carlo play completely new arrangements of two Half Waif tracks from the recently released form/a EP. In the secluded side yard of the MAAS Building, the intimate strength of Half Waif springs to resounding life. This is The Key Presents: Half Waif. Continue reading →


Future Perfect: Future Islands Break It Down at the Fillmore

Future Islands | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman |

This kinda thing doesn’t happen by accident. A band like Baltimore’s Future Islands doesn’t go from under-the-radar to overnight sensation without putting in the legwork. And while frontman Samuel T. Herring does put in a lot of literal leg-work with his wild dance maneuvers on stage, the band’s path to the huge stage at the Fillmore on Monday evening took more than a fair share of emotional lifting, as well. New release The Far Field (out last month on 4AD) plays out less as a breakup record than a forlorn catalog of Herring’s sins.

With a bombastic legacy of hits and smashing live performances to live up to, a down note might not have been what newcoming and long-lived fans were looking for. But seeing is, as they say, believing. For many, the infamous 2014 Letterman performance remains both introduction and centerpiece of the Future Islands brand. But three years removed, many now know the band — and the bombastic frontman — as something more three-dimensional than simply a great showman. While the dance moves perpetually continue to impress, they seem a little bit less pronounced than the twin sold-out shows I saw at Union Transfer in early 2015. Continue reading →


Play It Right: Sylvan Esso at Union Transfer

Sylvan Esso | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman |


It’s hard to imagine many bands that are more just plain fun than Sylvan Esso. And last weekend during two very sold-out shows at Union Transfer, they both had fun performing and shared their magical sense of passion and humor with an adoring crowd of fans. I had been waiting to see the band again for almost two years, since first encountering them in Wisconsin at Justin Vernon’s inaugural Eaux Claires festival — and getting to see their explosive presence touring behind the just-released What Now did not, of course, disappoint. Continue reading →


NonCOMM Recap: The Growlers make magic happen

The Growlers | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman for WXPN

Among the many things that I love about NonCOMM each year is the tangible sense of magic in the air that’s just everywhere. From the joy of seeing old friends and favorite bands play to the joy of discovering a slamming new act, it’s all there. No band better captured that raw feeling of mystery and cautious optimism than The Growlers. Playing upstairs to an absolutely packed room, the SoCal-based band mixed elements of pulp noir and classic Americana to make NonCOMM magic come true. Continue reading →