The NSEA Protector has landed, and its shipmates might just be human. Only the spaceship is actually Broken Bells’ set of sci-fi stage adornments and the shipmates happen to be James Mercer and Danger Mouse (Brian Burton), two of the 21st century’s champions of songcraft. It’s no secret that this unlikely duo aspires to an astral cyborg aura, their 2010 video for “The Ghost Inside” featuring Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks as a cash poor humanoid on a space shuttle in search of her dream planet. But try as you may, there’s no keeping these guys from touching down on Earth to put on a stellar dynamic – and notably human – live concert. Continue reading →
If intentionally underachieving, blasé, slacker indie rock is your thing, J Mascis is your guy. I don’t mean to say that the man Spin ranked 5th on their list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time doesn’t care about his art – quite the contrary. His croaky drone of a voice is, in its own weird way, quite expressive, and the dude shreds on 6 strings like no other. But if you expect this god of the indie-est of rock to put on a mind-blowing performance (as I unknowingly did), you are in for a world of disappointment. Continue reading →
It was not long ago that I would find myself spending countless weekends behind my drum set, my father on his guitar, simply jamming it out. There was no forethought, no production, no mission statement, but instead the simple joy of spontaneous creation. Similar in this father-son low key rock philosophy is Tweedy – Jeff, Wilco’s beloved introvert frontman, and his 18 year-old son Spencer. Their double album, Sukierae, drops on September 23 and is currently available for first listen on NPR. It’s the product of candid father-son fragmented composition, and charges 2 sides of music with mellow introspection. It is named for Jeff’s wife, Sue “Sukie” Miller, who battled cancer during the the album’s recording. For obvious reasons, Tweedy’s music hits very close to home, and seeing it live made it feel that much closer. Continue reading →
The Black Keys were born in a basement and have since evolved into one of the 21st century’s defining sounds. Their aesthetic, a unique tone developed with the help of none other than Danger Mouse, is unparalleled. And while you may know them by one of their countless hits from their 3 consecutive top-five albums over the past 5 years, their catalogue is extensive and the quality of songwriting hasn’t dared falter since the group’s inception in 2001. Frontman Dan Auerbach’s voice couldn’t be more soulful, his guitar playing more skilled, and we might as well go ahead and call Patrick Carney the epitome of hard-hitting indie-rock drums. All of this is to say that you’d expect a damn good show from this celebrated rock duo, and that’s just what Philly got. Continue reading →
If you told me that a dude who’s about to turn 64 was capable of drawing 20,000 Philadelphians out to the Wells Fargo center (that’s right, the place that unabashedly charges about $8.00 for a slice of Lorenzo’s pizza that would normally run you $3.00, but I’m not bitter) on a Monday night during an Eagles game no less, I’d crack a smile and say, “good one”. But that joke is a reality and that dude is Tom Petty, a man who is undoubtedly the world’s most offhand rockstar. But Petty wasn’t alone in his blithe glory; his quintessential almost all-American (drummer Steve Ferrone hails from Brighton, England) backing band, The Heartbreakers, was not just equally old, but equally killin’. Continue reading →
It’s been a year since Lorde’s “Royals” topped the musical richter scale, and her streak of teenage stardom has shown no signs of slowing anytime soon. Her show at The Mann Center last night kicked off a second US tour in support of her subsequent Pure Heroine LP, which still has some fans reeling. Continue reading →
There’s probably no indie rock group surrounded by more enigma than Neutral Milk Hotel. Their second record, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, is considered by many to be one of those elusive perfect albums. I’m not quite sure about perfect (maybe it’s just that I have a minor beef with “King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 2”, but not 3), but it’s certainly a record unlike anything else I’ve ever heard. To add to the intrigue, the band’s auteur, Jeff Mangum, played white rabbit in a magic trick and, for all intents and purposes, disappeared from the public eye a year after Aeroplane‘s release. After a decade of near hermitage, Mangum started playing shows, and has just recently reunited the original Aeroplane lineup for a reunion tour. Even though he’s no longer in mysterious hiding, he refuses to give an interview, record a followup record, or even be photographed. I guess it’s a case of wanting the music to speak for itself, but the world may never really know. So just as with any great indie rock show, music geeks, hipsters and fans of beards alike made their way out to The Mann Center on a beautiful midsummer evening to hear the most mystifying act in music. Continue reading →
Epic (adj): heroic or grand in scale or character. It is perhaps one of the most over- and misused words in the English language. Yeah, that grilled cheese may have been tasty, but it wasn’t quite as monumental as Odysseus. But I’ll tell you what was epic: English prog-rock legends Yes’ concert at the Tower Theater. It would have been easy to doubt a group whose 46 years together do not by any means belie them, not to mention that founding singer and frontman Jon Anderson left the group in 2008. I don’t think Yes cared about these things. When you’re the band that played the most attended festival-style show in United States history here in Philly (the “Spirit Of Summer ’76” show at JFK Stadium on June 12, 1976 for 130,000 fans), a few grey hairs (or more precisely, a full head of white ones, but who’s counting?) aren’t going to get in the way of putting on a show of, that’s right, epic proportions.
Yes opened up their extremely sold out Tower Theater show with their 1972 Close To The Edge LP played in reverse. What became immediately clear as they rumbled their way through “Siberian Khatru” was that Yes’ sound is massive, which has a hell of a lot to do with founding bassist Chris Squire’s bold playing (and as it happens, his appearance isn’t much different). And while guitarist Steve Howe may have gained a few wrinkles here and there, his hair is as long as ever, and more importantly, he still knows his way around a guitar like his 5 consecutive “Best Overall Guitarist” victories in Guitar Player magazine would suggest. That, or the 3,000-odd fans bellowing out their love for him during the intricate flamenco guitar solo piece that is “Mood For A Day”. Oh, and Jon Anderson’s replacement, the similarly named Jon Davison, wasn’t half bad. Wait, scratch that. He was, to use appropriately English lexicon, bloody amazing. I can honestly say that I have never seen a frontman gesticulate, prance about and sing more passionately that Davison did. His oriental patterned shirt was pretty cool too.
After playing a couple new songs, both of which were decent enough, Yes made their way through all of the 1971 LP, Fragile. All of it. The thing about that album that I didn’t realize until I saw it live is that each song seems better than the last. Sure, the record’s opener, “Roundabout” was a hit, but “South Side Of The Sky” easily makes my top 10 guitar riffs list, and “The Fish [Schindleria Praematurus]” is probably the second best rock song ever to be written in 7/4 (“Money” by Pink Floyd takes precedence in my book, and so would Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean”, but that song isn’t really in 7/4). They encored with the timeless classic, “I’ve Seen All Good People”, which, come to think of it, includes one of the best 3-part harmonies known to rock & roll. As for the final encore, “Starship Trooper”, I’m going to have to refer you back to the beginning of the review, because no word describes it better than “epic”. Keytar and guitar (or should I say, geetar) solos from Geoff Downes and Steve Howe respectively were unbelievable. I left the room in shock. Yes still rocks.
It’s been said time and again: the Philly jazz scene is dead. Proof? Last year, Chris’ Jazz Cafe, what should probably be known as THE Philadelphia jazz club, equivocated on a name change with the hopes of drawing larger audiences. Even the best home-grown artists have been known to relocate to Brooklyn in the pursuit of a feasible jazz career. But jazz in Philadelphia is not dead. What I saw last night at the Philadelphia Art Alliance convinced me of it. In fact, it’s very much alive.
In an unlikely marriage of the visual and performing arts, French brothers Zach and Axel Mathieu-Mathias (the former a jazz drummer, the latter a painter) curated “Two Arts – One Story”, an evening of jazz and live painting. Zach has been drumming since his toddler years, and moved to Philadelphia in 2012 to form his own jazz combo, the Zach MAMA Motherhood Band. Featuring predominantly original compositions by Zach and trumpeter Dan Nissenbaum, the sextet dug into 90 minutes of jazz that was at once notably diversified in style and distinctly unique in identity. Several songs, including the all-too-familiar “La Vie En Rose” and Zach’s own “Pork Wapa” (a knock on the classic American mispronunciation of “Pourquoi Pas?”), were infused with Franco-American flavor unique to the Mathieu-Mathias brothers. “Lighthouse”, a Nissenbaum original, evolved into an in-the-pocket hip-hop groove of which Philly’s own Questlove would be proud. At one point, I felt like I could have been down in New Orleans listening to the Rebirth Brass Band. But I wasn’t. I was in Philadelphia, listening to great jazz.
Riding on an early career marked by unsurprising hype and a guise of anonymity, UK electro-funk sensation Jungle could certainly be said to be making waves. The release of their debut album is less than a month away, yet somehow, what NME is calling “the UK’s most mysterious act” has been raising eyebrows and questions left and right. What we do know is that the two front men are lifelong friends named T and J (the J stands for Josh; the T can be left to your imagination), and are not in fact Black, as one would presume with Jungle’s music videos and promotional pictures in mind. They aspire to mystery and have crafted a musical experience that in many ways succeeds fellow British white-funk and R&B superstars, Average White Band, without forgoing a discernible sonic identity of their own and most importantly, being fluent in the universal language that is the power to make a crowd dance.
Probably the most common critique of Jungle is the homogeneity of their musical vocabulary, and I’ll admit that they might just chalk up to be a one or two trick pony. At last night’s show at Union Transfer, the second part to “The Heat” borrowed rhythms and chord structures from their previously-released single, “Platoon”, though the latter was infused with expectable encore gusto, and percolated into a contrafact medley of songs played earlier in the evening. In a sense, what is described as homogeneity by many is in fact a deliberate unity that speaks not to a lack of creativity on the part of T and J, but to the presence of a well-groomed harmonic recipe that takes into account with striking clarity the R&B and funk artists of the 1970s that inspired them.
Opening for Jungle was Beat Connection, the Seattle-based combo that fuses the rhythms of Afro-Cuban jazz with the sounds of the dance floor. Though slightly less in-the-pocket than the headliners, the group was a win in my book, and their live sound was an unexpected departure from that of their records. As for Jungle, I was thoroughly impressed. The criticism of their music being rather samey is real. The underlying question of race with regards to their videos and photos is an interesting one, albeit irrelevant for our purposes. But here’s the thing: who cares about all of that when the music is smart, groovy, and makes everybody in the room abandon any inkling of self-consciousness and dance? And dance they did.