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#XPN5050: 1998

For fifty weeks this year, we’re celebrating the music of a specific year every Saturday on WXPN. We’ll be choosing the years randomly; for this week’s #XPN5050, John Vettese is putting the musical spotlight on the year 1998.

An absolutely, utterly ridiculously number of now-classic albums first made their way into the world in 1998. Neutral Milk Hotel’s in The Aeroplane Over The Sea. Lauryn Hill’s Mis-Education. Tori Amos’ From The Choirgirl Hotel. Billy Bragg and Wilco’s Mermaid Avenue. Air’s Moon Safari. Massive Attack’s Mezzanine. Madonna’s Ray of Light. Belle and Sebastian’s Boy With The Arab Strap. Jay-Z’s Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life. Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.

That’s just a short list — I could go on and on, honestly — and outside the full album zone, think about the hits that year from Fatboy Slim, Pearl Jam, Semisonic, Fastball, Lenny Kravitz, Natalie Merchant, Soul Coughing, New Radicals and so much more.

Suffice it to say, 1998 was a solid year for music through and through, and it was a thing of joy to celebrate it on the #XPN5050 this week.  Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: From Amanda X, Break Free Fest, and Eugene Chadbourne to Nina Simone, Sun Ra, The Trocadero, and Yarrow, we’ve got you covered this May

Break Free Fest | flyer by @goodestboylili

A friend of mine who has been playing in bands for more than two decades recently asked me, only half-joking, where I find the energy to go to as many shows as I do. While I wanted to protest or at the very least get humorously defensive — “I don’t go to that many shows! Whatever!” — I realized it was a good question because, well, I do end up at a lot of shows every month. I mean, duh, I was asked to do this column for a reason.

Truth be told, I didn’t have a great answer for her. I found a home in music when I was 18 and moved to Philadelphia after spending five long, boring, and lonely years in South Florida. My first proper show was a couple weeks after getting here in September of 1997 — Helmet, The Melvins, Today Is The Day, and Hovercraft at The Trocadero — and I haven’t looked back since. It’s just what I do, for better or worse.

But while I didn’t have a good or even clever response to her question, I did have the realization that part of the reason I spend so much time watching live music is because there’s so much going on. Jazz, punk, hip hop, klezmer, chamber music. Eastern European choral bands. Indian classical. Harsh noise, catchy indie rock, techno DJs spinning all night long. If you wanted to, you could see a different type of music just about every night in our city and I think that’s amazing. Continue reading →

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A Philly DJ Roundtable: Exploring the state of the art of party rocking in 2019

DJ Lean Wit It
DJ Lean Wit It | photo by Dvvinci | courtesy of the artist

From the reggae sound systems of Jamaica in the 70s, to England’s illegal pirate radio stations of the 1960s and beyond, the history of global DJ culture is impossibly rich and complex. In music circles around the world, Philadelphia is recognized as a breeding ground for some of the world’s best DJs. Having to bridge the gap between technical skill, taste and a deep knowledge of the music one plays, the art of being a (good) DJ in this city no simple task. Club culture in this city is built upon a foundation of decades of history and tradition.

In the wake of the cultural and economic boom of the disco-era (led by Philadelphia International Records), the essence of modern DJing as we know it began to take shape. Spurred on by a few key technical innovations — most notably, the creation of extended, “remixed” versions of popular R&B / soul cuts, the 12” vinyl single, and the practice of creating a seamless flow of music by mixing two records together on two turntables and a mixer — the disco-era initiated a gradual shift of focus away from bands and concerts, toward DJs and clubs, and effectively changed the way we experience music. Continue reading →

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Cayetana will play its final shows this August in Boston, New York, and Philly

Cayetana | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

Things have been extremely quiet in the world of Philadelphia power trio Cayetana since they wrapped a European tour with The Menzingers over a year ago. Singer-guitarist Augusta Koch founded Gladie, bassist Allegra Anka went back to school, drummer Kelly Olsen co-launched Zimmerman’s Deli with Dan Zimmerman of Restorations. And today, the band re-emerged to share with fans that it would be officially closing the book on this part of their lives. Continue reading →

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Birdie Busch and Rachel Alina tackle time, place, friendship and growth in multimedia project Locals // If You Swim Far Enough

Birdie Busch and Rachel Alina | photos courtesy of the artists

Local songwriter Birdie Busch has teamed up with sound engineer and poet Rachel Alina and illustrator Ashley Smestad Vélez for a collaborative project. Locals // If You Swim Far Enough sees each artist drawing on their respective creative forms to build a work that tackles time, place, friendship and growth.

Alina’s chapbook of poetry, Locals, is accompanied by over 80 of Vélez’s illustrations, and complements Busch’s acoustic album If You Swim Far Enough, which she recorded with Alina several years ago at Scullville Studios in New Jersey, featuring acoustic versions of several previously released songs from her catalog Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: April is for Balkan big bands, hanging guitars, cult movies, so much jazz, and Sheer Mag

Sheer Mag | photo by Yoni Kroll

Wake up, Philadelphia! I know last month was a long one but here we are in April and I have a full plate of shows for you. So full, in fact, that it’s rare there’s a day without two or three can’t miss events. How wild is that? Even if you never even wanted to leave the house once this month – I don’t know, maybe you just broke your leg or something terrible like that – there’s enough new music from Philly bands to keep you occupied for a long time. Don’t worry, we’ll get to that too. Continue reading →

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Farewell, Trocadero: Remembering the famed Philly venue in 20 concerts

Red Fang at The Troc | photo by Matt Shaver

If your social media timeline was anything like mine, last night it was filled with photos of ticket stubs and memories of the fabled Chinatown club The Trocadero, in the wake of reports that the venue is closing this month.

Though The Troc itself has yet to make any kind of official announcement or statement on the matter, it certainly seems as though its tenure in Philadelphia is ending; fewer and fewer concerts have been showing up on the calendar of its 1000-capacity main room, and its schedule since the beginning of 2019 has been filled with cancelled, postponed, or moved-to-other-venue shows. Continue reading →

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Shakermaker: Watch Oasis play the TLA in March of 1995

Oasis | still from video
What a difference a few years makes. When Oasis wrote “Rock and Roll Star,” the opening track to their 1993 debut Definitely Maybe, they were not, in fact, rock stars. That’s what’s the song is about: living their life in the city, trying to find a way out, chasing their dreams even if they seem unattainable. It’s their “Thunder Road,” if you will, with Manchester and its surrounding burgs standing in for Springsteen’s Freehold, New Jersey — and by the time Oasis finally landed a proper U.S. tour that brought them to Philadelphia, the song was no longer a fleeting moment of glory in an otherwise humdrum existence. It was their life. Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: March into spring with gigs galore, from Tuvan throat singers to heavy metal headbangers

Jim Shomo exhibit flyer | courtesy of the artist

Major announcement time, Philadelphia: it’s finally springtime! Go out into that sunshine and enjoy yourself! Don’t give me that look; I know it doesn’t look like it. I know that technically speaking we have two more weeks until the official start of the season. But it doesn’t matter. I am ready for winter to be over and if you are too – not judging! I was grinning ear-to-ear while riding my bike through the snow just a couple days ago – I have a full calendar of things going on.

Get that started tonight with the sweet stylings of Merge Records rock n roll powerhouse Mike Krol (no relation) with TVO and Wildflowers of America at Boot & Saddle. If you haven’t listened to these bands, you owe it to yourself, even if you’re not able to get to the show. I’m bumping the new Mike Krol album while writing this and it’s putting me in the best mood. TVO is great and if you haven’t seen Perry Shall’s Wildflowers of America yet I really don’t know what your problem is.

That band just announced a show in West Philly in April with Big Eyes and Dark Thoughts and at some point in the near future they’ll finally put out their debut album. If it’s even half as fun and catchy as their live set it’s going to blow everyone’s mind. Continue reading →

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Up Up with People: Philly’s LiveConnections adds inclusion to its public service mission statement

Movement artist Shavon Norris and students from Our Lady of Confidence create movements that will accompany the lyrics of LiveConnections’ new, fully accessible choral music | photo by LiveConnections staff

Melinda Steffy, Executive Director of LiveConnections, sounds winded when we speak. Not because she has scaled a thousand steps and is catching her breath. Rather, it is because Steffy is crossing T’s and dotting I’s on every detail going into A Song Everyone Can Sing: a Community Sing,  a grand communal event on Sunday, March 10, at the Temple Performing Arts Center that acts as the centerpiece of LiveConnections’ 10th season.  Along with its usual mission of community building and inspired education through the act of collaborative live music making, the not-for-profit LiveConnections — founded in 2008 by Hal Real from World Café Live, a home to the LiveConnections Presents concert series — brings accessibility and inclusion into its socially responsible mix with A Song Everyone Can Sing. Continue reading →