Yesterday, The Menzingers released their fourth full-length album, Rented World. (Read our review here.) The band surprised its hometown fans when it was revealed that they were playing a secret CD release show at the Golden Tea House last night with Nona and Holy Mess opening. With less than a day’s notice, fans flocked to this West Philadelphia venue. Punk rock time was thrown to the side as the show was sold out before doors were scheduled to open. The Menzingers threw a crazy party, and you can check out scenes from the show in the gallery below.
As I write this article for WXPN I second guess the need to remind readers that radio is not dead, and despite the over saturation of information that the internet has to give us, there is still much to learn from people who dedicate their lives to music. More than just a Facebook status update or a tweet could ever offer.
So, I rewind to 2010, and one of the finest DJ mixes ever. James Zabiela (lovingly referred to as the British J.Z.) contributed to the fantastic BBC Radio 1 series: The Essential Mix. Early in James’ set, expertly shaped and crafted by a love for the movie Moon, there is a show stopping moment when soft synths, rolling snares, and gentle kicks formed together in to an epic, life changing (for me) breakbeat epic. The song: “Past Is Prologue.” The artist: Tycho.
It’s hard to describe music like that to a lot of people. Harder, sometimes, to describe it live. To express the pure joy at the subtle changes in the beat you thought you knew front to back. To express the difference from hearing the blissful synth waves, guitar licks, and drum kicks go from a cheap pair of headphones, to a solid home theater system, to massive dance floor speakers in a club. To sit with people who really, truly appreciate the sound being crafted live in front of them.
Tycho is just one arm of Scott Hansen’s art collective. The other portion, known as ISO50, also figures prominently in to the live act. As Tycho the band puts out wave after wave of chilled out, melodic breakbeats, washing the crowd over with euphoria (organically or not), ISO50 gives them the visual components to match. It’s hard to say for sure that they played all of the hits, if only because everybody has a different idea of what their favorite style of Tycho song is. For me personally they hit all of the high notes with an epically reworked beginning to “Dive”, the masterful “Hours”, “Past Is Prologue” and it’s scattershot drums, as well as the newest hits in the repertoire: the new classic “Awake,” and the pop-infused gleefulness “Montanta.” On the screen behind the band, the 70’s tinted artwork of ISO50 ebbed and flowed across a massive canvas. It is truly something meant to be experienced rather than attended.
Harrisburg, PA is not exactly what one would call a prime destination when it comes to seeing live music. Often in the midstate, it seems that the state capitol gets passed over by the bigger tours that hit Hershey and the smaller acts which choose longstanding venues in Lancaster. In the face of the status quo, Hellogoodbye & Vacationer played a rousing show at Federal Taphouse in Harrisburg on Saturday night, to mixed success.
After a brisk set from locals Very Americans, Philadelphian chill-masters Vacationer took to the stage, and dove headfirst into a huge set. Bombastic, bassy and sonically sprawling, Vacationer’s sound is something which goes beyond a simple definition to something greater than the sum of its many instrumentated parts. Even though lead singer Kenny Vasoli joked that “this is that chillwave, trip-hop stuff that all the kids are talking about,” both tracks from their debut 2012 LP Gone - and new material from forthcoming Relief – showcase that the group is anything but chill when it comes to standing out from the pack.
As tight-knit as the band came across, Vasoli confessed that he wasn’t exactly feeling it at the start of the set. Halfway through, he came around and acknowledged that he had “got everything worked out”, and the already engaged crowd surrendered fully to the good vibes in the room.
After bouncing through “Warmer” – the b-side from their new single “The Wild Life”– Vasoli laughed and said “Don’t hurt yourself when you put that one on at home. Just let the chill-copter go for a spin, get in and take a ride.” The smattering of new songs in their set couldn’t have come at a better time of year; with temperatures on a rise, these songs are certain to be summer standards suited to both pool partyers and beach bums, alike.
When I caught up with the band before the show, guitarist Ryan Zimmaro noted that Vacationer was excited to be back in Philadelphia (catch them at Underground Arts on Thursday the 24th), and said that the hometown show would be a perfect energizer to help them power through the back half of the tour.
Bounding onto the stage which Vacationer had vacated, Hellogoodbye took the energy of the small-yet-excited crowd, and transformed it from chill to energetic. Fans who had been vibing hard to the downbeat tones of the previous set flowered into bouncing dancers as Forrest Kline and the other members of Hellogoodbye pulled out all the stops and tore into a setlist jam-packed with crowd pleasers. Kline blurred the line between band and audience, often taking advantage of the loosely packed area in front of the low stage to jump down and sing in the crowd, or take selfies with anyone who wanted them. At one point, Kline even stood in the front row and chanted for a certain song, then jumped back on stage and said “alright, alright! This one goes out to that guy with the crazy mustache in the front row.”
Antics aside, Hellogoodbye has their own unique breed of energetic pop down to a science, and their snappy set reflected it. Initially worried about the absence of a horn section (personally my favorite part of Hellgoodbye’s sound), my fears were quelled when the group solidly executed that simply fun feel which they are so known for.
Alongside the summery riffs of 2010’s Would It Kill You? songs from 2013’s more electric Everything Is Debatable surprisingly enough didn’t seem out of place, especially coming on the heels of Vacationer’s similar sound.
Towards the end of the encore, a fan shouted a request, to which Kline replied “We play whatever we want to play!” No one in the crowd could help but smile as the band finished strong with an energetic, crowd-surfing rendition of “Here (In Your Arms)”, the very song that the fan requested.
Even though some might call a show with less than two hundred attendees a total bust, Vacationer & Hellogoodbye proved to be good sports about the whole thing. Taking it in stride, and still giving it one hundred percent, the bands gave Harrisburg an intimate show to be proud of, and certainly one that those in attendance are not soon likely to forget.
The third Annual Center City Jazzfest was held on Saturday afternoon, pleasing a sellout crowd with sixteen genre-spanning jazz performances spread out over four locations in Center City Philadelphia. The four venues were Fergie’s Pub, MilkBoy,Chris’ Jazz Cafe and Time – all within a few blocks of each other and three of them on Samson Street.
The festival offered remarkable value at $15 per ticket if you bought them ahead of time, so you were paying less than a dollar per artist. Your ticket purchase earned you a wristband that allowed you access to any of the four venues whenever you wanted. Events were running at each venue simultaneously, so like any festival, you had to pick and choose what you wanted to see and hear. I kept on the move and was able to catch partial sets and photograph ten artists on the bill, and at times I definitely wished I could clone myself and see more than one set at once. It was an afternoon full of memorable performances that reminded both the attendees and musicians of the togetherness and pure joy that music can create.
The opening act of the fest, vocalist Rhenda Fearrington set the tone for the day. She and her four piece backing band gave a spirited and powerful performance that rocked the tiny upstairs at Fergie’s Pub. Another highlight of the sets at Fergie’s were the Jazz guitar stylings of Mike Kennedy, who was backed by a tight three piece keys, upright bass and drum trio. Of all the locations used for Jazzfest, Fergie’s best recreated the intimate, packed clubs that many Jazz greats cut their teeth in. The small upstairs room got more and more full as the day went along, and many fans seemed to set up shop there for the afternoon.
The events held upstairs at Milkboy also got more and more crowded as the afternoon went on. This venue hosted impressive sets by Giovana Robinson and Justin Faulkner. Panama’s Robinson and her group pleased the mid-afternoon crowd with a set featuring her passionate vocals and distinctive style of music – a mix of pop, world music and Jazz elements.
Late in the day Philadelphia native Faulkner’s thunderous drumming led a trio through an hour of groovy, prog-like space jazz to a packed and rapturous audience that included many of the other musicians from other bands on the bill.
Chris’ Jazz Cafe’s dinner theater-like set up and large stage area were a perfect fit for the musicians who played there on Saturday. Early in the day the Cafe hosted a fourteen piece Jazz orchestra of youths from The Kimmel Center Creative Music Program for Jazz. Despite being young they proved to be old souls with a swinging, powerful ensemble performance that showed that Jazz has a bright future in Philly. Later in the day the stage was owned by Joanna Pascale and her band. Pascale delivered an well received set of torch songs and included a meditative and memorable Jazzy take on Carole King’s classic “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.”
The Time restaurant hosted some of the best shows of the day in it’s large mirror and clock filled bar area. The bar area featured a lot of open standing room space, natural light and two large sliding windows behind the stage area that were usually open. The open windows allowed passersby and fans who couldn’t fit into the frequently packed venue to hear some of the music outside. Early on, trumpeter Charles Washington led a five piece backing band through an excellent set that evoked the spirit of the early Miles Davis combos.
After them brassy Brooklyner Miss Ida Blue drew one of the largest, most enthusiastic crowds of the day. Her look was eye-catching: she aptly described herself as a “vamping dame” in one of her songs. Miss Blue and her clarinet/trombone/banjo and tuba backing band delivered a raucous set of her innuendo-laced Jazz that had the crowd roaring with laughter and appreciation for her singing and the group’s talent.
Next up was Stacy Dillard who had the crowd smiling, bobbing their heads and exchanging “did you hear that” glances as he blasted out complicated runs of notes on his sax while leading his trio through an impressive and powerful hour of music. Last up at Time was Trio Up, composed of virtuoso performers Rick Tate on Sax, Ronnie Burrage on drums and Nimrod Speaks on bass. They showed their mastery of their instruments and their ability to create beautiful music together during a highlight-filled hour of muscular and complex Jazz that thrilled the packed restaurant.
The Black Lips have been a band for 15 years—almost the same amount of time that artists like Lorde have been alive (she’s 17). It’s a formidable tenure for any band, but especially one like The Black Lips, who are seemingly driven by wild antics and good times. The band’s history has been punctuated with stories of outrageous performances—vomiting, urination, on-stage makeout sessions; getting kicked out of India and banned from Canada—which almost seem to garner more attention than their actual tunes. I’m reminded of a feature that ran in Spin Magazine a few years back, in which they explain that performing—in the loaded sense of the term—has always been the crux of their philosophy. “Musicians are the guys who sell us strings,” remarked guitarist Ian Saint Pé. “Entertainers are the ones who are legendary, and we’re entertainers.”
A decade and a half after forming, this still holds true. Friday night at Union Transfer, the band brought energy, enthusiasm, and jangly riffs to life, inciting the already riled crowd with a raucous live performance.
Of course antics alone—even of the most incendiary nature—can only propel a band for so long. After that, one needs musicianship to back it up. The Black Lips’ first record, 2003’s Black Lips!, was a drunken romp through ramshackle garage-punk that teetered charmingly on the brink of dissolution. Since then, they’ve only gotten better. Their most recent, 2014’s Underneath the Rainbow, was produced by the Black Keys’ Pat Carney, and melds their sleazy jangle with cleaner production and hints of rock, blues, and grunge. It’s not as in-your-face as early material, but it’s definitely more listenable. The Black Lips haven’t lost their edge; they’ve simply polished it.
Their set Friday night drew about 50% from Rainbow, juxtaposing the Beatles-y rattle of “Drive By Buddy” and “Justice After All” with the comparatively straightforward raging of “Dirty Hands” and “Bad Kids.” Bluesy single “Boys in the Wood,” featuring singer/guitarist Cole Alexander’s girlfriend Zumi (of K-Holes) on sax, was indulgent, twisted, and thrashing—while “Smiling” (supposedly inspired by bassist Jared Swilley’s stint in jail) matched its rollicking melody with surprisingly on-point vocal harmonies.
All four Lips traded off lead vocals throughout, moving between Alexander’s drunken warble and Swilley’s impassioned crooning. Even drummer Joe Bradley—confined to his set—took a turn spitting out lyrics, while slamming his toms like a Muppet on speed.
Of the four, Alexander proved the most wildly, leaping into the crowd part-way through, and licking his guitar as if it was coated with candy. Saint Pé, the oldest of the group, seemed the most grounded—although on tunes like “Raw Meat” the entire band shredded and bounced.
Over the past 5 years, I’ve seen the Lips three times, and each time I left invigorated. Friday night featured no vomiting, and no urination, but still proved a raucous, indulgent affair. And honestly—I’m a little relieved. The Black Lips are still entertainers, but their live show—like their records—has grown up a little. These days, they sound better than ever.
Underground Arts hosted a packed crowd on Friday night with headlining act Mac DeMarco, who was touring behind his recently released second LP Salad Days. The laid-back, dreamy album caught the ears of many and it certainly showed as Underground Arts was as crowded as I’ve ever seen it. Mac Demarco has a swoonworthy and chill persona – baseball cap on his head and a cigarette in-between his fingers – and he performed a killer set of stoner love songs. With many longtime fans in the audience, folks sang along to the cuts like “Ode to Viceroy” and “Freaking Out in the Neighborhood” from his prior record 2. Opening act Laser Background used a megaphone and dreamy electric melodies to warm up the audience just right. And Juan Wauters had a stellar backdrop of various flags sewn together, incorporated with flickering light bulbs and Christmas lights throughout the entire set. Check out photos from the show in the gallery below.
Last Friday, Michigan punk heavyweights La Dispute headlined Union Transfer in support of their third LP, Rooms of the House. Joining them was screamo outfit Pianos Become the Teeth and gritty poppy Seattle duo Mansions. Check out photos from the show in the gallery below.