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Jose James slides from smooth soul to bona fide rock at World Cafe Live

José James | Photo By Noah Silvestry | silvestography.com
José James | Photo By Noah Silvestry | silvestography.com

José James could best be described as a musical presence, rather than simply an artist. He’s done everything from latin to hip hop, from jazz to soul, and he’s done it extremely well. His voice is nothing short of classic, and his band is one of the tightest in the business. So what happens when the first show of his 2014 tour features music from his forthcoming album, While You Were Sleeping, a bona fide rock project?

After warming up an intimate crowd with a soulful opener, James introduced his project and keyboardist Kris Bowers dished out some sizzling warm keyboard oscillation. “If you ain’t trying to make babies to this song, y’all better leave,” joked James. The title track of James’ new project, “While You Were Sleeping” unabashedly evokes the acoustic rock goodness of Nirvana’s “Oh Me”. It cannot be ignored that José James is the king of making the works of his musical influences his own, be it borrowing Freddy Hubbard’s chef d’oeuvre groove of “Red Clay” for his free-styling backbone, “Park Bench People” (which featured a mind-blowing guitar solo from Brad Williams) or the melody of Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon” for an interlude on “Trouble” (both of which were rock solid live).

In any case, James’ new sound took some getting used to. Maybe it was that James’ trumpeter, Takuya Kuroda, was missing from the mix (Kuroda is on a tour of his own), or that the band just hasn’t had enough time with the new material. Don’t get me wrong; everything James and his band played was musically interesting, sonically rich and generally killer, which is kind of what we’ve come to expect. One song drew from Buddhist philosophies and featured a jazzy twist on a classic blues structure. Another based on Muslim spiritual culture eschewed funkier rhythms and grooves in favor of crisp synth textures and a distorted, rocking chorus.

Opening for José James was, well, his band. Read: this is a good thing. Led by adroit keyboardist Kris Bowers and joined by ebullient singer Julia Easterlin, the group grooved its way through a diversified set featuring some clever covers of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and The Roots’ “A Piece of Light”. Bowers and company filled a near-empty room with luscious sound and proved that the young jazz world has some new tricks up its sleeve.

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Daniel Rossen mixes new and old in rare solo show at Underground Arts

Daniel Rossen | Photo by Michelle Montgomery | michellemontgomeryphotography.com
Daniel Rossen | Photo by Michelle Montgomery | michellemontgomeryphotography.com

Singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Rossen played a solo, seated show at Underground Arts on Monday. Best known for his work with Grizzly Bear and Department of Eagles, this is his first ever solo tour. Rossen released his debut EP Silent Hour/Golden Mile in 2012. Rossen’s intimate performance included a mix of songs off his EP and older, unreleased songs. Jokingly referring to the venue’s set up feeling a bit like an open mic night, Rossen played a cover of Judee Sill’s “Waterfall” requested by someone in the audience. Rossen closed the show playing banjo to his song “Balmy Night,” leaving the stage to a long and loud round of applause and cheering.

Nashville-based guitarist William Tyler opened the show playing a collection of songs off his 2013 LP Impossible Truth. Playing a set of emotionally charged instrumental music, Tyler entranced the crowd with his multi-layered guitar arrangements. Check out a photo recap of the show below.

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Ethereal UK beatmakers London Grammar played a captivating set at Underground Arts

London Grammar | Photo by Michelle Montgomery | michellemontgomeryphotography.com
London Grammar | Photo by Michelle Montgomery | michellemontgomeryphotography.com

UK trip-hop trio London Grammar returned to Underground Arts on Saturday night as part of their North American tour. Playing a sold-out show, lead singer Hannah Reid captivated the crowd with her soaring, yet intimate vocals. Backed by Dot Major on keyboards, djembe, and drums and Dan Rothman on guitar, the band played a mesmerizing 10-song set of sparse and ethereal electronic pop off their debut album If You Wait and Metal & Dust EP. Brooklyn indie pop group Haerts opened the show playing a synth-pop set including songs from their 2013 EP Hemiplegia. Check out the set list and a photo recap of the show below.

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Jukebox the Ghost “have some fun” on April Fools day at World Cafe Live

Jukebox the Ghost | photo by Charlotte Jacobson
Jukebox the Ghost | photo by Charlotte Jacobson

The four-stop “April Fools” mini tour came as a surprise to many when Jukebox the Ghost announced they would be performing not one, but two sets at each of these locations: a set of originals and a set of covers.

Blue lights bathed the stage, and the three-man band took their places on stage downstairs at World Café Live. Poppy instrumentals and the smooth falsetto of Ben Thornewill echoed throughout the venue as they opened with the first single off Safe Travels, “Somebody.”

Jukebox the Ghost is a band that never fails to connect with the audience, make them laugh in between songs and create an overall comfortable and causal environment.

The energy pulsing through each band member is constant. From Jesse Kristin’s constant grin from behind the drum kit, to Tommy Siegel’s constant bobbing to the music and Thornewill’s ever-changing facial expressions interchanged with his ability to toss his body around while still managing to play the keyboard.

The band featured two songs off their newly recorded album (release date TBD), the second of which had yet to be heard by fans.

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The Sounds shock a small but enthused crowd at Union Transfer

The Sounds | photo by Matthew Shaver
The Sounds | photo by Matthew Shaver

Vulgarity.  Sexual innuendo. Bodily fluids on the stage.  Did I mention vulgarity?  Staples of a hardcore show.  Oh yeah, and a no nonsense bunch of Swedes who know how to rock a synth.  The Sounds, new wave’s answer to a question that Quentin Tarantino may have asked, sauntered, slid, slinked, and spit their way across Union Transfer on Tuesday night.  Whipping the small but very loyal crowd in to a frenzy that promised to boil over at any moment, they somehow managed to remain in control.  It was a good time for all from start to finish.  Openers Blondfire and Strange Talk carried the crowd from song to song, never letting anyone believe that they weren’t actually the main events.  Only hitch in the evening was that the acts didn’t even sell enough to get the upstairs bar open. It’s my favorite post-game wind-down spot.

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Photos: Dave Hause caps off tour with hometown show at World Cafe Live

photo by Rachel Del Sordo
photo by Rachel Del Sordo

Philly native Dave Hause ended his North American tour the best way he knows how: with a packed hometown show at World Cafe Live. The venue was filled on Sunday night with fans who sang along to his songs back passionately. Hause’s performance was energetic and powerful, he even hopped into the crowd for the set-closing “The Shine.” For an added surprise, Hause brought Eric Bazilian of Philly-based 80s rock band The Hooters out for the encore to cover their hit “And We Danced.” Opening the show was Canadian singer/songwriter Northcote, whose acoustic performance was stripped down and made for an intimate start to the night. Check out the photo recap of the show below and watch videos of Hause and Bazilian playing together, as well as a performance of “We Could Be Kings.”

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Listen to Matt Nathanson’s Musicians On Call performance

Photo by Joe Del Tufo
Photo by Joe Del Tufo

Singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson performed a sold out benefit for WXPN’s Musicians On Call program on Febraury 20th at World Cafe Live. Since 2004, XPN has partnered with Musicians On Call, working with the national organization as the Philadelphia program that brings musicians to the bedsides of more than 50,000 patients and families throughout the Philadelphia region. The Bedside Performance Program provides weekly performances for patients at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, the Philadelphia VA Medical Center and St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.

MattAaron620x413After an opening set from Philly local artist Chris Kasper – which you can hear broadcast on XPN’s Philly Local show tonight – Nathanson played a set of songs culled mostly from his recent album, Last Of The Great Pretenders, joined by his guitarist Aaron Tap.  He also revisited some of his back catalog, including “Car Crash,” and “Come On Get Higher.” Throughout the evening, Nathanson was charismatic, entertaining, funny, and extremely personable. Live, Nathanon’s fun (and very funny) engagement with the audience is equally compelling as his performances, and the audience, packed mostly with fans, hung on to every word of his between song banter as well as the lyrics of the songs they sang along to. Listen to the show below. Matt returns to town with Gavin DeGraw to the Mann Center on Friday, August 15th. Go here for tickets.