The Key’s Year-End Mania: Directors’ Cut — The XPN video team picks its favorite performances of the year

Tank and the Bangas | photo by Galea McGregor for WXPN
Tank and the Bangas | photo by Galea McGregor for WXPN

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2017 incredible. Today, we combed through the XPN video archives to find the year’s best performances.

Here at WXPN, our video team — headed up by Galea McGregor and John Groome — keeps incredibly busy. Between weekly World Cafe sessions, Free at Noon concerts, XPoNential Music Festival performances, Key Studio Session and more, they’ve produced over 300 videos in 2017…and there’s still another couple weeks to go. I grabbed some time with Galea and John in between their busy shooting and editing schedule to reflect on their favorite videos from over the past 12 months, and what made them unique. here’s what they had to say. Continue reading →


When Springsteen Came to Haddonfield: New Jersey photographer Frank Stefanko reflects on working with The Boss

Bruce Springsteen in Haddonfield | photo copyright Frank Stefanko | used with permission

Looking at the cover art, you’d probably guess that the iconic photo of Bruce Springsteen on Darkness on the Edge of Town was shot in his native Asbury Park. Or maybe in nearby Homdel, New Jersey, where he bought a farmhouse to write the album in.

That speaks to how well The Boss and South Jersey photographer Frank Stefanko were simpatico. The front and back cover images for Darkness, with a tousle-haired Bruce standing against venetian blinds and floral wallpaper, gazing in the lens with a mix of world-weary ennui and quiet confidence, were actually shot in Stefanko’s home in Haddonfield, New Jersey, a cozy borough just 25 minutes east of Philadelphia. They were two of the first photographs Stefanko took of Springsteen, from a test shoot that would precede their main portrait sessions. And with The Boss presenting an everyman character in his poise – whether intentional or accidental — the image connected hugely with the songs he was crafting at the time.

As Stefanko told Pitchfork in a 2010 interview, “We were trying to recreate these middle America, working class families; guys that were looking for redemption. It could have been done in the 70s or 50s or even the 40s. The idea was that these people transcended time or space. But we were trying to get something to look like an old Kodacolor snapshot. There were a lot of black and white photographs taken in those sessions too which were very striking in their own right. But the idea of this color photograph that could have been a snapshot in somebody’s drawer worked for the album.”

As it turned out, many famous images of Springsteen were also taken in and around Haddonfield, by Stefanko. The artwork for The River. The cover of his memoir, Born to Run. This fall, Stefanko released his own book, a massive new photo collection called Bruce Springsteen: Further Up The Road. The book chronicles the two Jersey boys’ four decades working together, from the sessions for Darkness and The River through the Nebraska years and up to Springsteen’s tours in 2012 and 2016. It features photos, proof sheets, and lots of lore, and to commemorate the year they began working together, is released in a limited edition of 1,978 copies.

“Bruce was looking for a certain feeling, a certain look,” Stefanko said when I caught up with him via phone last month. “And to my great pleasure, the images I created were the ones that he felt represented the characters he was writing about.” Continue reading →


The Key’s Year-End Mania: Five holiday soul classics from the York Street Hustle

York Street Hustle | photo by Seeetpea Shots Photography | courtesy of the artist |

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2017 incredible. But sometimes we get a little seasonal, and as it gears up for its final show of 2017, Philly’s York Street Hustle weighed in on its favorite sounds of the holidays.

Philadelphia ten-piece York Street Hustle always brings the party, whether they’re celebrating R&B, soul and Motown hits from the stage of World Cafe Live and Underground Arts, or they’re celebrating with stringed lights and tinsel at their annual holiday spectacular.

With this year’s show set to take place at Union Transfer tomorrow night, December 8th, we asked York Street’s Imani Roach to share the band’s five favorite holiday jams. Read on below, and get tickets and more information on tomorrow’s show at the XPN Concert Calendar. Continue reading →


The Key’s Year-End Mania: John Vettese’s Top Six Philly Music Discoveries of 2017

Aleana | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Aleana | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2017 incredible. To kick off the series, Key editor John Vettese recaps six of his favorite Philadelphia music discoveries from the past 12 months.

Earlier today, I was listening to a conversation with Johnny Brenda’s talent buyer Chris Ward on the 25 O’Clock podcast, and he made a very interesting point. The bumper crop of musical talent in Philadelphia, or what is often perceived as such, is no sudden phenomenon. It’s not as though, pre-2006, the city was in some dire straits or a lesser creative state, and has subsequently grown and evolved to the present-day bursting of the proverbial seams.

The truth is that amazing music — rap music, rock music, pop music, soul music — has always existed in the 215; in many cases (the Gamble & Huff era), it’s downright thrived. But as Ward pointed out, a more recent confluence of factors and persons and places and institutions over the past decade (like him and JBs, I might add, or like our friends at The Deli and Jump, or like countless others) have helped amplify the scene tremendously.

Every year around this time, as we launch into The Key’s annual year-in-review extravaganza, I begin by sitting down and reflecting on the new artists and new-to-me artists who, over the past twelve months, have knocked me sideways. There have always be artists like this, whether or not the outside world is paying attention. And there always will be; even if, at some point, the zeitgeist declares Philly to be “over,” if you look and listen, you’ll find them continually creating, somehow, somewhere.

Continue reading →


It’s Time I Got Back: Watch Weezer play the Electric Factory in December of 1996

Weezer | still from video

Whether you’re a 90s alt-rock fan in general or a Weezer fanatic in specific, here’s a Philly show you probably wish you’d gone to. December 5th, 1996 — a headlining set from Rivers Cuomo and company at the Electric Factory, featuring an intensely awesome setlist.

Opinion on the quality of Weezer’s musical output in the time since this gig is fiercely divided — personally, I can hang with them through about 2008’s Red Album, which is really only the midway point of their discography. Others think anything post-reunion (2001’s Green Album was technically their “comeback” after a five-year hiatus, remember?) makes for horrendous listening; others still will tell you that 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End and this year’s Pacific Daydream are valiant efforts by artists who don’t want to be pigeonholed by nostalgia for their early work.

But just like I don’t see anybody rushing to the defense of last year’s super creepy single “Thank God For Girls,” I also don’t see many people disputing the take that the band’s self-titled debut (“The Blue Album”) and its followup Pinkerton are the two strongest works in the Weezer canon. And so, back to that setlist for this Electric Factory show — it features every single god-dang song from Pinkerton (even the acoustic “Butterfly,” what the hell?) as well as seven of Blue’s ten songs (absent are “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here,” “Holiday” and “Only in Dreams”) and a soundtrack selection, “You Gave Your Love To Me Softly,” from the high school comedy Angus. Continue reading →


Steady Hands speaks from the heart in newest Shaking Through feature


Steady Hands | photo via Facebook

Steady Hands meets Shaking Through…there’s a fantastic pun in there somewhere. On November 15th, Weathervane Music released the latest installment of their extremely excellent “Shaking Through” documentary series that dives deep into the the makings of a record and the humans behind it. Up this time is Steady Hands, the project of Modern Baseball’s Sean Huber that is rounded out with Andrew Kirnan, George Legatos, William Lindsay, Evan Moorehead, and Richard Straub, all familiar faces from around the Philly scene. It’s Huber’s project, but it’s one he wanted to share with his friends. “From the beginning, I just wanted to be more of a collective than anything. I’ve always wanted the energy of everyone just collaborating, enjoying what they’re doing.”

The episode follows the making of Steady Hands’ track “Magazines” at Miner Street Recordings, where Huber worked as video editor and recorded his first Steady Hands songs when they were just a small side project as a favor from producer Brian McTear. Continue reading →


Inside Urban Styles, a new book exploring the intersections of graffiti and hardcore

Urban Styles: Graffiti in New York Hardcore by Freddy Alva is available now | via Amazon

Arguments about legality and aesthetics aside, the term DIY is never more applicable than when you’re talking about graffiti. How much more Do It Yourself is there than putting your art, whatever it might be, directly on a wall for everyone to see? There’s good reason graffiti has been around for all of recorded history: it’s completely accessible but also quite subversive and potentially dangerous. It’s also just so totally badass to write graffiti. You might be doing something illegal but you’re doing something illegal in the name of art. How cool is that?!

There’s a lot of parallels to be made between graffiti and punk. Both rose to a certain amount of cultural prominence in the 70s and 80s. Both owe a lot to people of color who trailblazed the path in places like New York City and Southern California. Both have occupied that funny place in society where they’re both accepted as a sort of protest but also serve as an example of everything that is morally wrong, oftentimes in the same sentence.

So while graffiti is most-often associated with hip-hop, it’s no wonder that there was crossover between the two, a shared movement starting in the early 80s and really coming to a head in the New York hardcore scene of the late 80s and early 90s. Freddy Alva’s new book, Urban Styles: Graffiti in New York Hardcore, is an incredibly in-depth history of that period, documenting the bands, the graffiti crews, and the style and fashion of this cultural phenomenon. Continue reading →


Festival celebrating DIY publishing in Philadelphia returns to the Rotunda today

A 1982 edition of Savage Pink | via Fanzine Addiction

The Philly Zine Fest has been going strong for 15 years now, an annual gathering of zine makers, zine readers, and just all around zine nerds. They come to The Rotunda every year to share in a community that’s based around a shared love of DIY attitude and ethics and being able to express whatever it is you need to express in printed form. That can range from poetry and art to personal stories to zines about specific topics, like cooking or bike maintenance or politics.

In many ways, the zine, in its most pure photocopied and stapled form, is like a song or album created and recorded by a DIY band. There’s the initial idea that is tweaked and shaped – and tweaked and shaped some more – until a final form is achieved. It’s then ultimately written down or typed out and copied and distributed. Sometimes, if it’s that kind of piece, it can be shared with others in a live setting. Sometimes it’s just between the writer and the reader, a conversation in the hushed tones of mutual experiences and emotions. Seem familiar? Continue reading →


The Philly DIY scene is rallying around some of their own caught up in inauguration arrests

Sheer Mag | photo by Tom Beck for WXPN

At the Sheer Mag record release show at Union Transfer in late August, lead singer Tina Halladay read a statement from the Defend J20 Resistance, a group of activists banded together to support the 230 people arrested in Washington, D.C. on Inauguration Day. This was not just a political band supporting a cause they were passionate about, though Sheer Mag has done plenty of that. Halladay, like many in the Philly punk scene, knows a bunch of those arrested personally. So it was a no-brainer that the organization would table at the show, raising both awareness and much needed funds. Continue reading →


Get Lost in An Sibin: The vinyl lounge at Lancaster’s Tellus360 is a prime space for music discovery

An Síbín | photo by Lauren Rosier for WXPN

Since launching in 2010, Tellus360 has been making a name for itself as an Irish pub and multi-purpose music and arts space in a state of constant growth and evolution.

Located in the heart of Lancaster City on King Street, Tellus360 began as a retail store for owner Joe DeVoy’s reclaimed wood furniture. But, he tells us, after experiencing how strongly the community hungered for a space that hosted daily cultural events, it expanded. Today, Tellus is not only an Irish pub, but also a prominent music venue…and now a record lounge.

Though Tellus360 has been open for several years, the Irish pub recently opened the speakeasy-like An Síbín (pronounced sh’been), a vinyl lounge with drinks, books, record players and occasional intimate performances. I recently had the opportunity to meet with events and marketing manager Bill Speakman, as well as vinyl curator Max Kornhauser to talk about An Síbín and visit the new space. Continue reading →