It’s quite the contrast when, on a grey, snowy Sunday evening, a golden man with a golden guitar and a golden voice takes the stage (outfitted with touches of gold, of course) to play some of his sunny musical gold.
This man, no wonder, is Mathew Houck, or Phosphorescent (dictionary definition: emitting light without appreciable heat), as you may know him. Despite having broken his guitar just before the show, Houck radiated his way onstage, “Sun, Arise! (An Invocation, An Introduction)” slithering its way between the numerous candles scattered about before anyone picked up any actual instruments. “I’m going for a balance between Buddy Holly and Green Day;” joked Houck, “It’s the first thing they teach you in guitar school.” It seemed to me that Phosphorescent is less the intersection of a rock and roll pioneer and punk rock poster boys, but bare bones alt-country music cloaked in water color ambiance and candle smoke warmth.
The evening prominently featured tracks from Phosphorescent’s 2013 release, Muchacho, including a distilled “The Quotidien Beasts” and an earnest solo rendition of “Muchacho’s Tune.” (Note: the lyrics “I’ve been fucked up, and I’ve been a fool” rather ironically harkened back to an earlier remark, “I’m a broken man with a broken guitar”, regarding his instrument mishap, a nice emotional touch to make the night just that much warmer). Of course, the back-to-back double threat that is “Song for Zula” followed by “Ride On / Right On” were surefire crowd pleasers.
As the wicks of those candles burned on, Houck’s band left the stage, allowing him to show off some of those denuded folk/country songs that lay at the heart of his music. I’m a sucker for “Can I Sleep In Your Arms”, Houck’s cover of Willie Nelson’s cover of Hank Cochran’s country classic, but his extended vocal loop pedal version of “Wolves” was, at the very least, unique, and rocked the crowd into a fluorescent trance.
Joining Phosphorescent were New York alt-rockers Caveman, who took a little while to get the crowd engaged, but once their music finally percolated, fans seemed invested in their percussive, syncopated style. Frontman Matthew Iwanusa did a good job of keeping a shivering audience attentive, though I’ll admit that some of his ventures into more comedic banter were less than amazing.
Muchacho is much more than a very critically venerated record by a guy who writes great songs; Houck and company have clearly mastered the substantiation of their latest album, and Phosphorescent’s live music has a lot more dimension than you get with, say, candles and incense (though candles and incense certainly had their role).
It’s music that shimmers with a golden gleam and wraps you in so much warmth that you practically forget just how cold it is outside.
Rainbows, sunglasses, action! PA natives Dr. Dog took the stage for the second of two nights before a sold-out Electric Factory crowd, touring in support of their 2013 release of B-Room. Dr. Dog is a band of dichotomies: they’re tight, but radiate loose vibes; they rock, but in a delicate kind of way; they’re passionate, but don’t take themselves too seriously. What’s more, bassist Toby Leaman and guitarist Scott McMicken share the role of lead vocalist; Leaman’s soulful, passionate timbre acting as somewhat of an antithesis to McMicken’s idiosyncratic sound.
After opening up their set with a relatively vanilla performance of their latest sweet-like-candy track, “The Truth”, Leaman showed off his classically rock-and-roll voice and rollicking bass line on “These Days”. For fans who came with the intention of dancing and clapping along, the latest and greatest “Broken Heart” featured some boiling hot energy and one of those signature Dr. Dog double guitar solos that we all so adore (for which we have but Steely Dan to thank). The next three tunes were a stylistic trifecta, jumping from Beatles-y rock goodness (“Ain’t It Strange”) to a first-rate soulful blues (“The Beach”) to pure jammed out psychedelia (“Say Ahh”).
Remember that bit about loose vibes? Unfortunately, in what I believe to be an effort to be that feel-good band Dr. Dog aspires to be, certain songs ended up being so loose as to unravel. “Twilight”, whose true identity is a subdued ‘60s psychedelic ballad, simply sounded out of place and poorly rehearsed. “Worst Trip”, which channels the likes of George Harrison on the recording, was, to put it in a word, noisy, and I couldn’t quite appreciate the true greatness of another one of those killer double guitar solos. All that said, Dr. Dog still puts on a hell of a show. “Lonesome” was an all-out party, fans greeting the band with well-syncopated “Hey’s” and Leaman letting out his inner rockstar, leaping into the hands of audience members to crowd surf. They even brought out the much-beloved Philly Phanatic (who was probably a better dancer than most of us) for “Oh No” during the encores.
Joining Dr. Dog was Saint Rich, the up-and-coming New Jersey residents whose rock solid riffs rival those of the great Keith Richards. What these guys lacked in rainbow light shows and colorful getups, they made up for with some the best stage presence in the game, frontman Christian Peslak climbing to the edge of the Electric Factory balcony and mingling with fans. All told, if you’re into rock, blues, prog, psychedelia (or just about anything else that emerged from the 20th century stylistically), and you don’t mind some high-voltage stage antics and rainbow beams of light flooding the air in all directions, I’d say a Dr. Dog show is the best place you could be.
They hail from Brooklyn and they pack a punch. They paid a visit to World Cafe Live in support of their debut album, Wildewoman. They are characterized by synergy in every way: compositionally, instrumentally, sonically, vocally and even visually. They stand out in the mundane world of alternative music. They are Lucius, and they’re destined for greatness.
Lucius is the fusion of singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig backed by multi-instrumentalists Andrew Burri, Peter Lalish and Dan Molad. They each sport their own breed of charisma on top of their matching (and needless to say, fashionable) raiments. The stage is set up in near perfect symmetry: Wolfe and Laessig face each other over keyboards and percussion at center stage with Burri and Molad, each with half of a drum set, to the singers’ left and right respectively, while guitarist Lalish hovers behind the female doppelgängers. The result is striking; percussive and vocal elements arrive in equilibrium from both sides, while guitar textures and electronic sounds remain centered, making for auditory balance unlike anything I’ve ever heard. The visual, of course, is equally as impressive, Wolfe and Laessig donning matching violin-patterened dresses with ‘60s style white collars in addition to their well coordinated hair cuts and black knee socks, while the men of the group wore identical black suits and even seemed to be alike in the facial hair department.
The quintet opened their set with a stripped down cover of The Beatles’ “Free as a Brid”, showcasing in particular the Wolfe and Laessig’s perfect harmonies, which contrasted harshly with Lalish’s near abrasive yet surprisingly appropriate guitar playing. For a second song, fans were treated to “Don’t Just Sit There”, during which Wolfe and Laessig sing in unison rather than in harmony, something they’ve highlighted to be a crucial aspect of their idiosyncratic sound. Alone, they’re excellent singers; together, they’re a voice unlike anything you’ve ever heard, and it’s part of what makes Lucius so special. They then moved into a variation of “Genevieve” from their recent EP which was much more rhythmically intriguing and percussive than what is played on the recording. Wolfe and Laessig trade rhythms on the wood block and floor tom respectively, pounding out patterns in a near violent manner, while drummer Molad and fellow multi-instrumentalist Burri fill in the empty space with off-beat eccentricity.
Lucius then worked their way into “Tempest”, a popper, more synth-heavy tune that came alive mostly thanks to Lalish and Burri’s shimmering guitar playing during its introduction, plus a great deal of beautifully dynamic singing from Wolfe and Laessig. Several songs later, they performed “How Loud Your Heart Gets”, the chorus of which seemed to sound even more distilled and soulful than on the recording, if that is at all possible. “Nothing Ordinary”, another favorite of mine, was the edgy union of distorted guitar, the steady pulse of Molad’s bass drum and passionately shrill vocals that could only work if perfectly executed, and execute perfectly they did. They concluded their set with an energetic rendition of the title track of their debut album, “Wildewoman”.
For encores, Lucius opened up with “Turn it Around”, the two-one handclap tune that harkens back to the ‘60s girl-groups that inspire them. Lucius then did something nobody expected: play unplugged in the middle of the crowd as a part of a little tradition they like to call the “love circle”. They played, rather appropriately, “Two of Us on the Run”, and fans giddy with excitement took to their smartphones to document the experience, turning the crowd into an oscillating night sky full of phone screen stars. They finished the show practically how they’d started it: with a cover of Paul McCartney’s “Goodbye”.
Lucius was joined by the folk-punk group Kingsley Flood, who surprised a then small crowd with their energy and intensity, and for a majority of their tunes, I felt the level of musicianship and composition was top-notch, though certain songs felt to be slightly overkill.
Lucius represents so many things that so many other bands do not. They incorporate layers of percussion, textured sounds and most importantly, two voices acting as one that amount to something special. They’re fun-loving, charismatic people and great musicians, and one thing is for sure: Lucius is going places.
Connecticut based alt-rock group MGMT paid a visit to the Electric Factory as part of their tour supporting their most recent, self-titled record. While many might know MGMT for its quintessentially catchy hits such as “Electric Feel” and “Kids” off their debut album, the band has developed a remarkably diversified sonic lexicon in their mere 3 records. That said, either a poor mix or the generally muddy acoustics of the Electric Factory made the electronic aspect of their music offered by keyboardist Benjamin Goldwasser tend to become lost, which is a real shame; it’s what makes their sound so unique.
MGMT opened up with “Flash Delerium”, a song off their sophomore album. It’s a song that very well recapitulates the group’s style, beginning with an 8-bit synth intro and moving into driving, psychedelic rock. They worked their way into “Time to Pretend”, during which they incorporated a bit more guitar than is present on the album, making the dynamic synth-rock track into a true rock song. During the third song, “Introspection”, a Faine Jade cover off their most recent record, frontman Andrew VanWyngarden doubled as a cameraman, carrying around a small video camera whose feed was projected onto the large backdrop, not without a fair deal of psychedelic effects, of course. While this certainly was a unique and interesting use of performance technology, the video became the focus of the song and some potential gusto was lost.
Moving back into older material, the group played “Of Moons, Birds & Monsters”, which didn’t realize its full potential until its coda; VanWyngarden’s vocals were a bit muddy for my taste, but the masterly composed synth and guitar theme towards its end sounded excellent, especially for the venue’s acoustics. Those very acoustics, however, did not bode well for the next song, “Mystery Disease”, a noise-rock chorale from the new record. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed both “Weekend Wars” and “Siberian Breaks”, which both voyage through the dissonant and elaborate melodies and sounds of the 60s and 70s; both tunes use barely any artificial instrumentation and ended up sounding beautiful.
The best performance of the evening, in my opinion, was “Electric Feel”, a song that is definitive of MGMT’s musical identity. I appreciated their willingness to replace its near hectic electronic coda with a guitar solo, once again lending well to the venue and running in conjunction with the psychedelic rock theme of the show. For encores, they offered “The Handshake” and “Congratulations”, two songs with a slower pace that ended up leaving them somewhat unremarkable.
I cannot say much about MGMT’s opener, Kuroma; their upbeat rock style fell prey to the venue’s sound, though I give them credit for bringing energy and enthusiasm. MGMT’s performance at the Electric Factory could have been better; songs like “Cool Song No. 2” and “Your Life is a Lie” that shine on their most recent record ended up sounding busy and lacked clarity. While there was no lack of energy and spirit, the band could have done a better job engaging the crowd. That said, fans were definitely enjoying themselves, and after all, the point of a concert is to have fun, isn’t it?
Philadelphia native Amos Lee took on Philadelphia’s historic Tower Theater Tuesday night as part of a tour supporting his most recent album, Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song. Lee’s soulful alt-country songwriting, classic voice and stellar backing band pleased a packed crowed and went down as a win in my book.
Lee opened his set with “Johnson Blvd”, the first track off of his latest record, a song that, between its slow build to a beautifully resolving chorus and having been written in a way that truly showcases Lee’s voice, was a very appropriate song with which to open. Continuing with Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song, Lee and his band then played “Stranger”, the second track on the album, during which the combination of warm guitar and piano interaction and a taste of Lee’s falsetto made the crowd feel right at home.
Midway through his set, Lee ditched the band and played a few solo tunes, including “Dresser Drawer”, a song with a surprising backstory about Lee’s San Franciscan friend Johnny whom, after being separated from his wife, Lee visited for a period of time. “Johnny sent me a photograph on the iPhone,” Lee added, “of his wedding ring in a dresser drawer, which is really sweet. And then, 5 minutes later, I got another one, and it was a photo of his wedding ring in a dresser drawer next to some condoms.”
Still solo, Lee played a tune dedicated to his late grandfather, “Jesus”, which actually works better as a solo acoustic song than with a band. It practically goes without saying that, after bringing his band back on stage, “I’m the Man Who Wants You” got people on their feet and dancing to its soulful, groovy tempo.
Amos Lee was joined by fellow Philadelphia native Mutlu who, maybe lacking in a truly original sound, made up for it with playful lyrics and a unique brand of charisma. He got the crowd engaged with the tongue-and-cheek tune, “Board Games”, a song Mutlu describes as what you get when you try to write a sexy song about, you said it, board games. Lee brought Mutlu back on stage late in his own set to perform Mutlu’s on song, “Caramel”, which was at the very least fitting of the Thanksgiving spirit.
Amos Lee and his band have a very polished sound, and at its core is Lee’s songwriting and strikingly unique voice. It made for an excellent hometown performance, making us Philadelphians proud to call Amos Lee our own.
Last night, Philadelphia’s packed TLA became THE place to be. Period. Combine Cheers Elephant’s quirky upbeat pop sounds with the Kopecky Family Band’s beautiful orchestration and incredibly well-written songs, and you’ve got yourself a winning ticket. It would not be hyperbole to say that these two groups truly have it all: charm, stage presence and most importantly, killer music.
While they hail from Nashville, the Kopecky Family Band feels at home in Philly, frontman Gabe Simon making small talk with crowd members as he and the rest of the band prepared the stage. Opening their set with “The Glow” and moving into “Howlin’ at the Moon,” drummer David Krohn kept things driving and locked in, making for an energetic and strong start. They then played one of my personal favorites, “Birds,” which starts with a delightfully airy and ebullient melody on the glockenspiel and, as guitars, bass, vocals and drums are added, only gets edgier. Bassist Corey Oxendine along with the groups bespectacled frontman took up their trombones towards the end of “My Way,” the gradually intensifying tune that concludes with a passionate delivery of lyrics and the crowd’s shouting of “na-na-nas”.
Roughly a third of the way into their set, the group performed their most popular tune, “Heartbeat,” a song to which nearly every person in the room knew the lyrics, or at the very least was dancing. Midway through the performance, the volume and tempo were brought down with “Change,” whose heartwarming harmonies shared by Simon and front-woman Kelsey Kopecky and delicate guitar strumming made emotion accumulate in the audience as a whole. Not two songs later, however, did they elevate the energy once more with “Wandering Eyes,”,a song appropriately prefaced by Simon, “We’re going to take you down south”.
Though Cheers Elephant was billed as the opening band, it’s hard to say that they truly were one. This was their last show as Philadelphia residents, and they plan to move to California this winter. While I can’t say they stole the show, I can say they were deserving of being a headliner, and I’ve never witnessed a band having more fun onstage than Cheers Elephant. They opened their hour-long set with “Peoples,” during the chorus of which the already-packed audience sung along, “I wanna groove when I wanna wanna groove, yeah!” And groove they did. They then paid homage to their hometown with “6th and Girard.” (I’ll admit that I got emotional when frontman Derek Krzywicki sang the lyric, “Under a Philadelphia sun.”)
Despite some guitar trouble, the group pushed through “Doin’ It Right,” and if anything, the technical difficulties added to the grit of it all. I’m a sucker for “Party On Darwin,” and to my surprise, the audience in its entirety was on cue with the opening lyric, “Hey yo! Let me wash your windshield!”. Of course, “Leaves” was a highlight of the set, and proved that a group that writes some of the best indie-pop out there can perform just about as well as anyone. Between Kryzwicki bouncing around and doing the running-man and drummer Robert Kingsly, who had gotten engaged in the green room just before the show, putting on his best Dave Grohl, I don’t think there’s a group that performs with more cheerfully quirky flare than this one. Cheers Elephant, Philly is going to miss you.
Father John Misty, as J Tillman calls himself, is not a person. He’s a persona, a mask, an act – and I love it. That said, Father John Misty with a band behind him is an entirely different story from Father John Misty solo: without a band, you’re getting introspection, sincerity and a guy that’s a whole lot more of Josh Tillman than his normal guise. His new work is beautifully cynical in a justified way; it blatantly criticizes everything he detests in a way unseen in his previous work.
His set began with “I’m Writing a Novel”, one of the more popular tunes off of last year’s Fear Fun. His guitar playing was full of energy and left me questioning if he really needed a backing band in the first place. The rather vocal crowd engaged him on the next song, “Only Son of the Ladiesman”, imploring him to sing “I’m a Phillies fan” rather than a “Dodgers fan”, to which Tillman responded, “I don’t give a fuck about baseball”. He moved on to “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” which, other than Tillman’s vocal embellishments, was basically unremarkable. What was remarkable, however, was a new song titled “Chateau Lobby #9.” Verse by verse, it exemplified Tillman’s distaste for various types of people.
Seldom was Tillman 100% serious during this acoustic evening – he brought out a giant iPhone screen to perform his new songs behind, since “I understand this is how you enjoy watching new music.” But on his cover of Dory Previn’s “Lady With the Braid”, one could sense the reverence he held for this song through his steadfast vocals and uncompromising ballad guitar strumming. Moving from genuine to beautifully ironic, fans then appreciated a new track, “Bored in the USA”. Tillman’s falsetto shone during his 3 encores, most notably on “O I Long to Feel Your Arms Around Me”, after which he gave the audience a heartfelt thank-you and left the stage.
Opening for Father John Misty in an almost surprisingly apt fashion was comedian Kate Berlant, whose stream-of-consciousness humor was welcomed with effusive cathartic laughter.
To be quite honest, I still prefer Father John Misty “the act”; with a band behind him, Tillman becomes much more of a showman. That is not to say, however, that Father John Misty solo isn’t something to which I owe a great deal of high regard. The fact that I was getting a different Tillman made it worthwhile in and of itself.