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An illuminating show from James Vincent McMorrow and Aidan Knight at Union Transfer

James Vincent McMorrow | Photo by Laura Jane Brubaker | laurajanebrubaker.tumblr.com
James Vincent McMorrow | Photo by Laura Jane Brubaker | laurajanebrubaker.tumblr.com

As both performers remarked, their previous visits to Philadelphia had been met with little but empty rooms and lackadaisical barkeeps. But to the obvious excitement of both Aidan Knight and headliner James Vincent McMorrow, Union Transfer was filled with humans in eager and rapt attention to the full and rounded waves of synth sound and bittersweet voices they offered up.

Aidan Knight and his band played through a quick set that cruised to the chamber pop vibe. Knight stepped away from the mic and toward the audience for a final plaintive solo guitar piece called “Margaret,” which proved that he could pluck heartstrings with the same delicacy as those of any guitar.

James Vincent McMorrow performed among a field of illuminated pyramids, swathed in light that alternated between warm and cool as the music from his group of skilled multi-instrumentalists did the same. They’d made it to the stage in spite of myriad difficulties (think strep throat, losing a drummer, and taking a U-Haul across the Rockies) but in their performances not a single struggle could be perceived. In melodies ridden by McMorrow’s deft falsetto and driven by a beat at once ethereal and grounded, the music of the evening reverberated among those assembled to leave us all a little fuller than we’d come.

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Tonight: Emerging vocalists from the local jazz scene pay tribute to Billie Holiday at Chris’

Alexa Barchini | Photo courtesy of the artist
Alexa Barchini | Photo courtesy of the artist

New blood is coursing in the veins of Philadelphia’s long-standing jazz scene, and a prime opportunity to experience the rising talents comes tonight at Chris’ Jazz Cafe in a tribute to Billie Holiday curated by vocalists Chelsea Reed (of Chelsea Reed and the Fairweather Five) and Alexa Barchini. The group will perform both classics and rarities from Billie Holiday, with most arrangements taken directly from transcripts of original recordings.

(Hear More – “The Future of Jazz”: Philly’s Alex Cross Quintet revamps standards at Chris’ Jazz Cafe)

Tickets for the show are $10, or $5 with a student ID, and more information can be found here.

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Galactic and Charles Bradley bring a funk / soul feast to the Electric Factory

Galactic | Photo by Laura Jane Brubaker | laurajanebrubaker.tumblr.com
Galactic | Photo by Laura Jane Brubaker | laurajanebrubaker.tumblr.com

Saturday night the Electric Factory shook with a satisfied rumble that only the sublime brew of funk and soul can provide. Headliners Galactic rolled into town to lay down their NOLA-born jams and their fans were out in force, but one would be hard-pressed to say the show hadn’t already been stolen by opener Charles Bradley, the Screaming Eagle of Soul, the Black Rose, the Doctor of Love. With his signature wail and phenomenal moves, sporting not one but two sequins-encrusted outfits, Bradley gave what many would call the performance of a lifetime, but which for him is probably just another night on the town.

(Hear More – Charles Bradley rocked Free at Noon)

Check out photos of both bands’ Electric Factory sets in the gallery below.

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The Key’s Year-End Mania: Laura Jane Brubaker’s Top 5 Essential Mixtape Songs

Image via So I Made You A Mixtape | simyam.tumblr.com

Year End Mania is the Key’s survey of the things below the surface that made 2013 awesome. In this installment, contributor Laura Jane Brubaker shares some essential mixtape tracks.

2k13 has come and [almost] gone, and if there’s one thing I can say I really nailed this year it would be the art of the mixtape. “But LJ,” you may say, “your 2k13 proved overwhelmingly to be a laundry list of failed romantic endeavors.” And right you may be, but rest assured that not a smidge of that was the fault of my meticulously crafted, amatoriously motivated mixtapes – of which there were two For Tom’s (different Toms), one for a crush who promptly came out as gay, and a Mixtape for Horoscope Fulfillment which, needless to say, didn’t fulfill squat. But there were also plenty of platonically-minded mixes and I still have friends, so ha.

Through all this I came up with a few good rules for crafting an excellent mixtape. First: don’t awkward yourself out of a good song. 89% of music alludes to love in some way so if you’re trying to avoid anything that mentions feelings because you’re wicked anxious about creeping someone out, you’re gonna have a crap mixtape. Second: be original, but don’t be afraid to recycle yourself. I got really good at trolling through my expansive Google Play library, which has served as theft/water-proof repository for all my musical holdings since 2010 and is a treasure trove of songs I don’t remember downloading or even hearing ever. New songs make for more interesting listening, I think, and some of my favorite musical discoveries have come while digging for mix material. Keep in mind, it’s also cool to use the same song a bunch if you think it works and you’re making lots of mixtapes anyway for some reason. Heck, that’s how I came up with this list. Finally: if you can pull it off, use a cassette. It’s old school, it’s unique, and while it may prove to be tricky for the recipient to play, the effort that goes in to a legitimate mixtape (versus a CD) makes the whole thing a lot more meaningful for everybody.

Here are the tunes I hold in the highest esteem for mix-craft. You can thank me when you’re married.

1) “One True Love” by Ben Seretan

This one comes out of the box first because, despite what I already said, using a song with the words “true love” in the title may be TOO bold a move depending on your situation. Nevertheless, Ben’s song is a lush and spacious landscape of a track, perhaps abstract enough in its construction to help you get away with the directness of the title. But if that’s what you’re going for then hey, don’t let me stop you. Continue reading →

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A kinetic blitzkreig from King Tuff, Jacuzzi Boys and Wavves at the First Unitarian Church

King Tuff | Photo by Laura Jane Brubaker | laurajanebrubaker.tumblr.com King Tuff | Photo by Laura Jane Brubaker | laurajanebrubaker.tumblr.com

Wednesday night the basement of First Unitarian transformed into a pit of sweat, punks, and straight-up killer rock. The heat was on from the first fuzzed-out notes of Jacuzzi Boys‘ set through the roiling energy of King Tuff, peaking searingly with WAVVES‘ kinetic blitz. As the mercury rose, kids started thrashing and diving off the stage like atoms following the gas laws. And for some reason there was a merch guy dresses as a Telletubby. Thank the Great Spirit for that.

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Today’s Concert Picks: Strapping Fieldhands and Spinning Leaves at Rittenhouse Square; West Philly Orchestra @ Penn Museum

It’s a good day for good music in the City of Brotherly Love, and we’ve got the run-down on two little shows especially worth checking out. First up is the last installment in Philadelphia Weekly’s annual Concerts in the Park series. Local indie rock staples Strapping Fieldhands will take the stage at Rittenhouse Square, joined by Philly folk rockers The Spinning Leaves. The show is free and starts at 7p.m.; more information is available here. Below, stream “The Promontory Wind” from The Spinning Leaves’ album Love.

And the righteous and riotous Balkan-meets-tango-meets-the-world dance tune dudes and ladies in the West Philadelphia Orchestra will be taking to the garden at the Penn Museum for a night of boisterous, jubilant back-in-the-old-country jams. Don’t miss it, and don’t forget your dancing shoes. Admission to the all-ages performance is $5, which includes museum admission. The event runs from 5 p.m. to 8; more information is available here. Continue reading →

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Today’s Concert Picks: Chris Harford, Oh! Pears, Toy Soldiers at JB’s; Kevin Killen at North Star; Gemini Wolf at Silk City

Local orchestral rock favorites Oh! Pears will play their last hometown show before frontman Corey Duncan ships on out to the west coast. His band — along with soul rockers Toy Soldiers — will open for Princeton-based singer, songwriter and visual artist Chris Harford and his Band of Changes (which features members of Ween and Dr. Dog). Doors at Johnny Brenda’s open at 8 and the show starts at 9; tickets to the 21+ event are available for $10 here. Below, stream “The Sounding of the Earth” from Oh! Pears European Tour release.

Philly americana artist Kevin Killen will serenade the night away with a free show at the North Star Bar Victorian Dining Room. He’ll be opening for Elkins Park artist Christopher Michael, who has played for a number of Philly area hard-indie bands but has recently taken the folky road himself. The 21+ show is free and starts at 8pm (more information is available on the Facebook event page). Below, stream Christopher Michael’s “Home.”

Finally, glitchy Philly psych-pop duo Gemini Wolf will rock Silk City tonight with local psych-rock team A Study In Terror. Get your fill of psyched-out vibes presented by BITBY, who are also hosting DJs to round out the set. Admission to the 21+ event is $7; show starts at 9. Below, stream Gemini Wolf’s “Thirst” from their album Infinite Sand Dunes.

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Jam out today at this year’s Philly Naked Bike Ride

As if you needed another reason to attend this year’s highly-anticipated Philly Naked Bike Ride, here’s one: live music. This year, pre-ride entertainment will be provided by the local blues smooth-jammers in the George Urgo Band plus an acoustic set from Philly rockers Music Box Dynamo. Let these fine gents provide the soundtrack to your gearing up and getting out in support of sustainable transportation and bicycle rights. The PNBR will start at 4pm and pre-ride festivities will begin a bit before. To find out where to go, sign up for the Ride’s email newsletter here. Below, listen to “Stay All Night” from the George Urgo Band’s demo.

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Johnny Brenda’s bike corral plan wins community approval

Following Tuesday’s community vote, residents of Fishtown voted in support of a plan to install in-street bike parking at Johnny Brenda’s. This vote follows South Kensington residents’ approval of a similar endeavor at Kung Fu Necktie last week. The Mayor’s office of Transportation and Utilities initially offered installation of these bike corrals (which consist of 6 U-racks in a row) to 10 interested businesses, free of charge. Now that both venues have secured community approval, the project moves under the consideration of City Council president Rep. Darrell Clarke, in whose district the venues reside. According to City Council Communications Director Jane Roh, once City Council receives official word on the votes from the neighborhood civic associations, City Council will move forward with green-lighting the project.

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Watch a video for “Only In My Dreams” from Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti (playing Union Transfer 9/15)

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti has just released the first music video from their latest album, Mature Themes. Directed by Travis Peterson, the VHS-vibe music vid is awash in a heavy suffusion of late-80s SoCal kitsch (it’s a surprise that a young Christian Slater never boards through the frame), paired with the lo-fi Byrdsy sound that makes up the song itself. Pink’s homonymous bangs get heavy screentime, and the song and video together excel as a brief testament to the fleeting eclipses of young love. Below, watch Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti’s video for “Only In My Dreams.” Don’t miss Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti playing Union Transfer on Saturday, September 15th. Tickets are available here starting at $16.