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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 →

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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 →

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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 →

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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 →

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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 →

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A banterous night with Angel Olsen (and Paul) at Union Transfer

Angel Olsen | photo by Tom Beck for WXPN

Gazing into the eyes of the audience like a cat who wants attention, Angel Olsen ever so slightly grazed the strings of her ’79 Gibson S-1 as she sung the words “I ain’t hanging up this time / I ain’t giving up tonight.”

The 1,200 people inside the sold-out Union Transfer sang it with Olsen, who was decked out like Lady Stardust, wearing a glammy and metallic one-piece spacesuit-looking outfit. It was the moment the audience had been waiting for, and they didn’t have to wait very long for it. After opening with “Hi-Five,” a track from Olsen’s 2014 record, Burn Your Fire For No Witness, she dove straight into “Shut Up Kiss Me,” the radio-hit that propelled her into the spotlight. Seconds later, the rest of the band, sporting grey-blue pants and blazers and bolo ties, chimed in for the chorus in their ongoing sloppy-cool, not-trying-too-hard musical style.

It was a ballsy move. Playing your hit song so early on in the setlist? it can open the door for a steep drop-off in energy as the night progresses. But Angel Olsen’s a pro. This ain’t her first rodeo. Continue reading →

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Ron Gallo scares me (in a good way) at the First Unitarian Church

Ron Gallo | photo by Tom Beck for WXPN

Did you know that every single time Gene Simmons says that rock is dead, a new great rock and roll album is born? Seriously. It’s an actual fact. Or at least I think. Anway, one of the latest people to disprove Simmons — whose idea of rock and roll is to dress up in gothic clown costumes, blast pyrotechnics and sell action figures to distract from the mediocre-ness of his band’s music — is Philly’s own Ron Gallo.

Gallo, who sadly left us for Nashville about two years ago, came back to the city that loves him most (no offense, Nashville, but it’s true) last night to showcase the latest iteration of his ever-evolving style. No longer was he “Americana Ron” or “Roots Rock Ron.” This time around he was “Rock and Roll Ron,” with some other stuff mixed in as well. Continue reading →

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PHOTOS: Bully at the First Unitarian Church

Bully | photo by Tom Beck for WXPN

Backed by a custom cardboard poster rendering their name in Jello shots (thanks, Paul Vile), Nashville four-piece Bully — the rock and roll trio fronted by singer-guitarist Alicia Bognanno — played the First Unitarian Church basement on Tuesday night. The band is on tour in support of Losing, its second LP and first for Sub Pop. See photos from the show below, and check their U.S. tour dates — which take them all around the country straight through to March.  Continue reading →