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Tacocat sticks it to the man (both literally and figuratively) at Boot and Saddle

Tacocat | photo by Ellen Miller for WXPN | ellencm.com
Tacocat | photo by Ellen Miller for WXPN | ellencm.com

It was fitting that Tacocat’s 2019 tour marched through Philly when it did. Just last week, the governor of Alabama signed into law a near-total ban on abortion, which has the power to put doctors who perform such medical procedures behind bars for 99 years. In case you’re wondering, that’s a harsher punishment than some rapists receive in Alabama. The passing of the law will likely set up an eventual showdown between women’s rights advocates and the United States Supreme Court, and some believe that recently-appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh has the potential to be a deciding vote on overturning Roe v Wade.

Reasons like these are why bands like feminst punk bands like Tacocat exist. Don’t let the whimsy palindromical name fool you; when it comes to women’s rights and sticking it to the man (literally and figuratively), Tacocat doesn’t mess around. Seattle’s favorite riot grrrl resurrectors did their part to help dismantle the patriarchy at South Philly’s Boot & Saddle Saturday night while touring their most recent release, This Mess is a Place. While the Alabama law, to my surprise, didn’t specifically come up in discussion by the band at all during the night, the rage was implicit in the music. When a band writes songs with titles such as “Men Explain Things to Me,” “Hey Girl,” and “Crimson Wave,” the music sort of does the talking for you. Continue reading →

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Wild And Willing: Strand of Oaks brings Eraserland home to Union Transfer

Strand of Oaks | photo by Tom Beck for WXPN

It’s the year 2019 and Tim Showalter is more than a decade into his career as Strand of Oaks. For many modern rock musicians, this is about the time when the creative spark can start to fade. But Showalter’s still just getting started. The Philly-by-way-of-Goshen, Indiana songwriter is known for his emotional, introspective music, but his latest album, Eraserland, just might be his most reflective yet. His latest work touches on themes of depression, love and the perseverance of making it through difficult situations and does so in a no-bullshit kind of way.

Showalter came onstage at Union Transfer Friday night just after 9:30 p.m., stepping through a screen of dry ice and decked out in an enigmatic black jacket and fedora. He and his band opened the show with “Weird Ways,” the same song that kicks off Eraserland. The song, along with the subsequent “Final Fires” was a way for SoA to ease the crowd into a higher energy slew of songs to come, including “Goshen ’97,” “Ruby” and “Plymouth,” the latter of which comes off Showalter’s breakthrough 2015 album, HEAL. Continue reading →

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Stephen Malkmus goes extremely solo at Ardmore Music Hall, with mixed results

Stephen Malkmus | photo by Tom Beck for WXPN

It wasn’t until this year when indie rock progenitor Stephen Malkmus decided to make his first true solo album sans The Jicks since 2001. And when I say “solo,” I really mean solo. On Groove Denied, Malkmus played all the instruments, and even did all the production and engineering himself. On the whole, the record likely won’t be near the top of many year end lists, but scattered throughout the 33-minute album are melodic hooks reminiscent of early 90s Pavement. So while it has its moments, the album’s a far cry from his spectacular 2018 album, Sparkle Hard, which he did make with the Jicks. But there were two main questions any fan probably had going into the show. Number one, with no band members other than Malkmus, how will the material be performed live? Also, will he find a way to work in Pavement covers? Continue reading →

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The blues lives on through Gary Clark Jr. at the Met

Gary Clark Jr. | photo by Avi Warren | aviwarren.com

Since the blues is one of the most recycled genres in music since the early 20th century, it takes a lot to stick out as a blues-based artist. There’s only so much you can do with a guitar, the pentatonic scale, and a few licks. Or so you think. You see, the key is to explore into the world of intangibles. For instance, BB King played with feel and Albert King played with attitude. Son House played with grandiose, and Robert Johnson? He played with the melancholic-yet-passionate grit that only an oppressed, working class young southern black man from the early 20th century would understand.

Gary Clark Jr. took bits and pieces of all the blues legends before him, studied them, mastered them, then peppered them with elements of hip hop and soul to perfect a fresh take on an old recipe. Clark finds a way to pay homage to the blues greats of the 20th century, but he is careful not to rehash the same old blues tropes or re-create cheap imitations of the real thing. Clark is as authentic a songwriter as there ever was, and he proved it at a marathon two-and-a-half-hour concert at The Met Friday night. Continue reading →

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The Beths get the crowd they deserve at the Church

The Beths | photo by Senia Lopez for WXPN | senialopez.photography

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 →

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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 →

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

Car Seat Headrest | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN | racheldelsordophotography.com

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 →

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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 →