The Beths get the crowd they deserve at the Church

The Beths | photo by Senia Lopez for WXPN |

At the risk of leading with a humblebrag, I was at the first ever Beths show in Philadelphia. It was June 13, 2018 — just last year — at Ortlieb’s. There were maybe 30 people at that show, and I instagrammed it.

“[T]he days of [The Beths] playing in front of 27 people in a small bar won’t last long,” I wrote in the caption. “These guys will get huge.”

Since then, the band went from playing in front of maybe 30 people at Ortlieb’s to selling out the First Unitarian Church last night. As much as I would love to boast about my apparent prescience, I know that every last indie soul patronizing Ortlieb’s that summer night thought the same thing. It’s like seeing Britney Spears live and watching her lip-sync: it’s glaringly obvious to anybody paying attention. At Ortlieb’s, the band was rocking. They were charismatic, compelling and sonically spectacular. But the energy wasn’t quite there. This was not the band’s fault. Unlike sheer musicianship, energy is a two-way street; a band and its audience must feed off each other to produce a truly great concert. Because Ortlieb’s was mostly empty that night, that box unfortunately went unchecked. Continue reading →


Need A Little Time: Courtney Barnett slays at The Fillmore

Courtney Barnett | photo by Michelle Montgomery for WXPN

When Courtney Barnett first barged into the scene back in 2013 with The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, I was floored. I couldn’t get enough. The Modern Lovers-derived, cheeky lyric-infused catchy songs were addictive. Literally. For, like, two years straight I listened to Barnett’s music multiple times a week. It wasn’t healthy. I’d listen to the songs before I’d go to sleep because they were stuck in my head, but the infectious melodies would energize me to the point of not being able to fall asleep. I was not a morning person.

But it was too much. I got burned out. Too much of the same music can do that to you, and if you really overdo it, it will ruin the music for you permanently. This happened to me with Billy Joel. It’s not that Billy Joel writes bad music, it’s just that I heard it too much. Nowadays, whenever the sound of Billy Joel is emitted from the intercom of a CVS I happen to be shopping in, I have to quell my oncoming apoplexy and refocus my attention on which overpriced toothpaste I’ll buy this time.

I started to feel this condition setting in with Courtney Barnett. As a result, I effectively went on a Courtney Barnett hiatus. When she came to Union Transfer last time around, I didn’t even go. I could sense myself getting worn out.

Fast forward to this year’s NonCOMM. Courtney Barnett was on the bill, and I wasn’t even excited about it. I was stoked to see Starcrawler and Jeff Rosenstock, but Courtney Barnett was an afterthought. I went to Barnett’s performance anyway, figuring I had nothing better to do. The energy in her set was palpable. The new songs were still catchy and witty, but a bit more structured that the stuff from the Split Peas era. Instantly, the hiatus had ended. I was re-obsessed and committed myself to seeing her upcoming show at the Fillmore in October. Continue reading →


For one night, Car Seat Headrest turns Union transfer into an arena

Car Seat Headrest | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN |

I just did the math. I’ve been to 42 shows this year, and I think seeing a sold out Union Transfer crowd belt out the chorus to “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” was my favorite concert moment of the year so far. As Car Seat Headrest singer Will Toledo closed his eyes, sung and danced around the stage in a manner only someone who can’t dance would dance, every single teen/twenty-something/whatever raised their fists in the air and belted out the words “It doesn’t have to be like this / killer whales.” It was that moment when Toledo made the Spring Garden Street rock club feel like an arena and defiantly said “No. We will not be another flash-in-the-pan indie rock band.” Continue reading →


Sheer Mag mixes with metalheads at Union Transfer

Sheer Mag | photo by Tom Beck for WXPN

At first, Sheer Mag looked like an outlier. How would Philly’s coolest punksfare on a four-band lineup with three thrash bands? As it turns out, even metalheads like to dance sometimes. After both openers Red Death and Fury had exited the stage, Sheer Mag graced the stage and the crowd got its first opportunity to take a break from moshing. They seized upon it.

Sheer Mag opened their set with “Meet Me in the Street,” the first track off last year’s release, Need to Feel Your Love. Instantaneously the hometown crew was greeted to a heap of discoing tattooed millennials shaking their asses to the catchy rock tunes Philadelphians have come to love from The Mag. The chaos increased when the band sheared its way into oldie-but-goodie “Hard Lovin’,” a song that reminded the Union Transfer crowd that hard lovin’s the only thing Sheer Mag knows how to do, and baby, they’re hard on you. Also in the mix were tracks from Your Love, included “Turn It Up,” “Expect the Bayonet” and “Can’t Play it Cool,” as well as early cuts “Sit & Cry,” “Nobody’s Baby” and the set-closing “Fan the Flames.” Continue reading →


As the Crow Flies, it lands in Philadelphia

As The Crow Flies | photo by Tom Beck for WXPN

On Wednesday night at the Electric Factory, former Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson took to the stage with five other musicians, including former Crowes keyboardist Adam MacDougall, guitarist Audley Freed and bassist Andy Hess. The other two were 22-year-old guitar phenom Marcus King and drummer Tony Leone, who played drums in Robinson’s post-Crowes band, The Chris Robinson Brotherhood. Together, this band of musicians refer to themselves as As The Crow Flies – a perfect name for a Black Crowes cover band, which is essentially what they are. The band is the brainchild of Robinson, who decided that it was time to start performing Black Crowes songs again for the first time in more than four years. Unfortunately, some bad blood between many of the former Black Crowes members – including Chris Robinson and his brother Rich Robinson – meant that a true Black Crowes reunion was not in the cards. So Robinson did the next best thing, he started a cover band and called it something vaguely similar. Continue reading →


Lucy Dacus works double time at Johnny Brenda’s

Lucy Dacus | photo by Tom Beck for WXPN

It feels like just yesterday when Lucy Dacus burst onto the scene with No Burden, her 2016 debut album, but she’s already released an even better follow up. It’s called Historian, and every track on it was performed by Dacus and her band Friday night at Johnny Brenda’s. In fact, they were played twice. The venue decided to add a second show on the same night just to meet Philly’s demand for the Richmond, VA singer songwriter – confirming a revelation that one of indie rock’s best kept secrets is a secret no longer.

Why? Well, that’s because when you write songs with catchy hooks and melodies as memorable as “Addictions,” which kicked off the setlist, the word will get around. You’ll get played on public radio, profiled on The Ringer and people will show up to your shows – even twice in one night. Spending a tour opening up for Hamilton Leithauser doesn’t hurt either. For the record, I went to the second show. Continue reading →


Pretenders and their fans live in the moment at the Tower

Pretenders | photo by Tom Beck for WXPN

I was a little bit late to the party. I knew the hits – and enjoyed them – but 80s new wave had never been my scene, and I considered myself to be a casual Pretenders fan at best. That changed in 2016 when the band released Alone, which featured a bluesier, more garage-rock incarnation of their music. The album was produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, which I’m sure is no coincidence. This was the Pretenders sound that really grabbed me. And then I listened to “Tattooed Love Boys.” Continue reading →


Post-Oasis, Noel Gallagher proves he hasn’t lost his touch at the Merriam Theater

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds | photo by Tom Beck for WXPN

I’m sure you know the story by now. On the heels of Oasis’s nasty breakup in 2009, the English band’s curmudgeonly fraternal duo of Noel and Liam Gallagher went their separate ways, with Noel angrily referring to Liam as “a man with a fork in a world of soup.” Each brother started his own new band. Liam began Beady Eye and Noel initiated Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. At first it wasn’t clear whether either brother could survive without the other. Noel was – by far – the better songwriter of the pair, but would Oasis ever be capable of reaching their full potential without Liam singing the majority of those songs? Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds are the closest thing to that thought experiment, and Philadelphians got to see it first hand last night at South Broad Street’s Merriam Theater. Continue reading →