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Brit rock icons Ride bring Weather Diaries to the TLA in a dazzling set

Ride | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

It must be some sort of testimony to a band’s draw when a guy with a Sonic Youth t-shirt is standing in the front row at the TLA the same night Thurston Moore is playing a set at another club across town.

Ride would be the first to profess their debt of gratitude to the 1980s’ noise-rockers. Vocalist Mark Gardener has also be the first to shrug off similar genre labels and pigeonholes, especially the “shoegaze” stuff to which they’ve been inextricably tethered since they debuted with genre-defining Nowhere in 1990, at turns proving both blessing and curse. Reportedly mired in conflict over creative direction, the band failed to mend fences, and with the inherent strains of extensive tours Ride ultimately split just six years later. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Joie Kathos

Joie Kathos | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Philly’s Joie Kathos has had a busy year. In June, she performed at Delaware’s Firefly Festival; back in March she was showcased on both the iStandard Beat Battle and in Washington DC’s SheROCKS event. She’s got her hands in several ongoing projects, having released singles for Comin Home With Me (CHWM) on iTunes late last year. And come September, she’ll open up at the Electric Factory for Young M.A.

The Philly native’s star is on the rise, but her head seems to be planted squarely right here at home, in a city that’s imbued her with a deep cultural tradition going back to her parents’ love for arts and music. In this interview, she recalls childhood memories attending local concerts with her father, and all of the music that continues to fuel her own creative energy. She’s inspired and informed by hip hop touchstones like The Roots and KRS-One, and one of her personal heroes, Bahamadia, invited the young rapper to perform at her #KOLLAGE tribute show at Johnny Brenda’s last year. “We sat in the studio and talked and she was droppin’ jewels,” Kathos reminisces about the collaboration. “I’m grateful for her.”

As she describes CHWM, she evokes more cherished memories of ‘90s music media culture. “Remember back in like the ‘90s when they used to release singles on CD, and then there would be like the ‘radio edit,’ and three different house mixes.. I just wanna keep it true to that.” You’ll be quickly laughed off and contradicted, though, should you try to point that she couldn’t possibly “remember the ‘90s” because she’s only 25: “I’ve always been into music. My start in music was way back when, when I was a baby! My mom sang, and she danced, and my uncle sang, and I was just around it. So I’m a little bit ahead of my time, a little bit old-school too.” Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Matt Cappy

Matt Cappy | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Matt Cappy | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Philly brass-man Matt Cappy will be dropping his debut album Church And State from Ropeadope Records on June 16th. It’ll be available everywhere digitally, but you can grab an advance hard copy at his CD release party at 2300 Arena in South Philly on June 8th.

Cappy cut his teeth at Philly’s jazz clubs, but has since blown a trumpet on everything from R&B, neo-soul, indie rock and ska, hip-hop and jazz records. He’ll kick off a tour next month supporting compatriot neo-soul singer Jill Scott, and representing Philly as far west as LA’s Hollywood Bowl. Continue reading →

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Oh My Golly! Pixies bring their A-game at the Electric Factory

Pixies | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

Pixies took the Electric Factory stage Tuesday night to an obscure B-side: The Beatles’ “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number).” Formalities dispensed, without introductions or interim chatter they vaulted into a virtual medley of some 30-odd songs, an exhaustive sampler representing each era of a three-decade career.

Singer Black Francis and company shared the majority of their latest record, last year’s Head Carrier, and juxtaposed many of their more prominent singles with some favorite “deep cuts” as well. “Debaser,” “Monkey Gone To Heaven” and “Wave Of Mutilation” were offered side-by-side with Doolittle counterparts “No. 13 Baby,” “Mr. Grieves” and “Hey.”  Continue reading →

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Mike Watt and Meat Puppets rattle the windows at Underground Arts

Mike Watt | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

Thumping his way through a sonorous solo, Mike Watt makes this pronouncement to a full basement at Underground Arts: “BASSSSSS!!” The delivery of both the declaration and the music is definitive, as if to make one thing clear: if you weren’t sure whether you’d ever heard a bassline before, you can be sure here, tonight. Watt stretches the single word affirmatively over the sounds, and lets it hang there for awhile. It’s not condescending; it’s instructive, as though at the end of a Sesame Street bit, as though we’ve just learned how to sound it out together, right there on the spot, with his guidance. Tonight’s set has been brought to you by the the letter “B.”

If you’re cool, you know of Watt from his heady hardcore days with The Minutemen and Firehose, in the seminal Southern Cali punk scene. But if you’re like me, you first heard about him when he mixed it up with the likes of more widely recognized ‘90s icons. Released in 1995, Watt’s first “solo” record Ball-Hog or Tugboat? was an ensemble effort, a virtual who’s-who of alt-rock featuring the likes of Frank Black, Thurston Moore, Kathleen Hanna, Anna Waronker and Flea, as well as Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl who joined him for the tour and who helped spotlight the bassist for some overdue mainstream attention. Continue reading →

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The New Pornographers bring a wall of indie pop sound to Union Transfer

The New Pornographers | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
The New Pornographers | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

Indie-pop fans filled the Union Transfer to capacity on Thursday night.

Not to be outdone, The New Pornographers filled the stage to capacity too, with their signature small army of musicians. Dispensing with stage banter, for the most part, vocalists Neko Case and AC Newman led their chorus of five additional vocalists — almost everyone on stage save bassist John Collins had a mic — through a career-spanning set of songs cherry-picked from all seven of their records. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Hardwork Movement

Hardwork Movement | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Philly’s newest live-hip-hop collective is working this Spring on perhaps their most ambitious project to date. Historically, where Hardwork Movement’s live shows boast a full band with woodwinds and brass, their albums feature produced beats. But as MC Sterling Duns explains, for the first time, the crew has recently brought their whole band into the studio, determined to document the energy and sound of their shows with their first live recording. As Duns puts it, they wanted to “capture that, bottle that up, so people can take that home with them.”

Packaging the magic of being there into any medium can be challenging, especially when it comes to a crew like this one. The biggest thing about Duns, Jeremy Keys, RB Ricks and Rick Banks — the thing that comes across so immediately and infectiously in person (and, it’s pertinent to note here, what any written interview might also stand to lose, in translation) is their chemistry, the personality of each of the four of them as individuals that informs the rapport and the charm of the group as a whole as well. These longtime friends share history, and the love for music and for their hometown that serves organically to shape their shows, their compositions, their productions and performances, all styled with a wide and eclectic range of artistic influences.

They’ll play World Cafe Live Tuesday night for NPR Music’s sold-out Tiny Desk Philly concert. Later in the month, they’ll return to one of their favorite venues, Johnny Brenda’s, and for the first time will be featured at Firefly Festival in Dover this Summer, among other appearances this year. And in the meantime, they’re working toward a new album, and toward their commitments to supporting and mentoring the students of Play On Philly’s youth orchestra program too. Continue reading →

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From the contemplative to confrontational, Juliana Hatfield and Laura Stevenson played an inspired show at Boot and Saddle

Juliana Hatfield | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Juliana Hatfield | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

New York songwriter Laura Stevenson stood in front of a sold-out Boot and Saddle Monday night, offering up a set of contemplative, upbeat song which, she explained with a smile, were about clinical depression and spending too much time worrying about death. The soul-baring singer has a voice that reminds you at turns of Feist or Jewel. But better than that: her work avoids stumbling into the conventional pitfalls of tropey, trite pop-folk; normally she plays with a loud rock band; she took it solo acoustic tonight, commanding the full attention of a room filling quickly and quietly with Juliana Hatfield fans. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Pissed Jeans

Pissed Jeans | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Pissed Jeans | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Pissed Jeans kicked off their record release show at Boot & Saddle last month waiting on drummer Sean McGuinness, before he finally emerged from the bar, swam his way through the wall-to-wall bodies of the sold-out house, and climbed up onto the stage.

The set is an intractable inferno, furious and urgent, demanding the rapt attention of the hundreds of fans and friends who came happy to give it, as they sweated and moshed, crowd-surfed and stage-dived, in the pious tradition of rock worship of these esteemed ministers of “sludge-punk.”

“I’m not really too concerned [with labels],” remarks frontman Matt Korvette. “That’s fine. Whatever people wanna call you, you’re stuck with.” Adds guitarist Brad Fry, “it seems very generic but yeah, it’s just rock music. But taken from all elements of rock — punk, metal, garage rock.” Fry, bassist Randy Huth, Korvette, McGuinness and I are sitting in a cramped in a “green room” — the venue’s euphemism for a basement storage closet behind the kitchen with a sofa and a lamp — in advance of their show that night. I’d later wish I’d gotten the opportunity to interview them after the show rather than before, just because I wanted to ask about why Korvette would make a demonstration that night of destroying several vinyl copies of some of my favorite Beatles albums on stage.

Why Love Now is the band’s fifth full-length album, and their fourth on Sub Pop. “It was crazy. We were shocked. Totally shocked,” remembers Korvette about being signed to the label, established in Seattle in the mid-eighties and made famous by Nirvana. The label took notice of them “organically,” to hear Korvette tell it, and having originally brought them in just for a single, their deal was broadened to include one LP, before Sub Pop decided to keep them on board for the duration. “But even doing a single was shocking,” Korvette reflects, “because we weren’t, like, looking for labels. That was never part of our thought process.” Adds the singer with a characteristically dryly delivered irony, “they just had good taste.”

On stage and off, the four of them share an obvious and genuine chemistry, the intangible pixie dust that tends to elevate a band to more than a band. They juggle families, day jobs, responsibilities and commitments, and a commute to connect with Fry, too, who doesn’t live in the immediate vicinity. But the arrangement works for them, and they see no reason to change things at this point, after almost a decade-and-a-half. “There’s no reason to really stop. We’re all friends. We’re just playing music with our friends.”

As we talk, McGuinness wanders upstairs and we wait for a few minutes for him to return before we get to the questions, but he never does. I ask if they were ok getting started without him, for now. “Yeah,” Fry replies. “He’s not that important.” Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Kuf Knotz

Kuf Knotz | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Kuf Knotz | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

It’s hard to try to classify the music of Kuf Knotz, to describe or dismiss it with labels. There’s a little bit of everything here, in Kuf’s work, from pop samples and sensibility to hip hop hooks. There’s a little soul, a little jazz and reggae. There’s a little Philly (where he’s from), a little Brooklyn (where he lives), and a little Netherlands, where he spends a lot of his time recording. As soon as you think you know what he’s all about, this former high school athlete and self-proclaimed jock will politely push on that envelope.

The closest he’ll get to a cohesive theme, though, is the pervasive positivity in his messaging, a spirit of transcendence offered up on everything from 2011’s “Sunny Philadelphia,” to the title track of his last LP “Positive Light,” to “Unstoppable,” the anthem he put together with G. Love and Chuck Treece for the 2008 hometown-hero Phillies team.

Kuf just got home from Holland and Jamaica, where he was at work putting the finishing touches on his newest record, expected to be out early this summer. This one’s more of a “throwback,” as he describes it, “very current, with a heavy 90’s feel,” and will come with a supporting tour. Continue reading →