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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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John Prine’s New Prime Time: Veteran troubadour holds court with Kurt Vile at the Merriam Theater

John Prine | photo by Matthew Shaver for WXPN

There are not many of the old original issue John Prines left; that breed of craggy, earnest-but-dryly humorous storyteller-troubadour with Midwestern roots running as deep as ancient maples and ruminations of lives past that are equally old and pulsing and grainy. As a songwriter who poised his characters in a constant state of distress, distaste, wry sly circumstance, or even love with an historic downhome perspective, Prine was (and is, from the sound and furry of his first album in 13 years, The Tree of Forgiveness) a treasure. Add in his usual mix of rough-hewn country and folk with hints of soul and rockabilly, and you’re cooking with gas. Prine’s gruff and ready expressive voice is but icing on a savory confection. And now, Prine – still a mailman at heart, always a contemporary to elders such as Kris Kristofferson, Steve Goodman and Jackson Browne – has hollowed out a new niche as a godfather to the likes of Sturgill Simpson and Brandi Carlisle, and as a man who outran death (two cancers) and the age’s usual ravages to find himself comfortably humble (and hummable).

In a sold out performance at the Merriam Theater, Prine, his crack musical team (including multi-string man Fats Kaplin), and opening act/occasional on-stage collaborator Kurt Vile, formed a circle around material that was bruised, even busted, but never completely broken down and out for the count. 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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Yo La Tengo brings two sets, a spectrum of tones and a jam with Kurt Vile to Union Transfer

Yo La Tengo with Kurt Vile | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

You have to love a band that’s not so jaded, after being at it for over thirty years, to come out to their own merch table after a two-hour show to meet their fans. Yo La Tengo‘s Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley did just that on Saturday night, mingling with the last of their most devout devotees to finally drag themselves out of Union Transfer close to midnight, earnestly and charmingly thanking those who came out to the sold-out event and signing everything from free copies of a crossword puzzle Kaplan drafted, to fancy limited-edition orange vinyl copies of the new studio album There’s A Riot Goin’ On which they’re touring to support. Continue reading →

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The Academy in Peril and Jocularity: Bill Murray, Jan Vogler and Friends live in Philly

Bill Murray, Jan Vogler & Friends: New Worlds at Kimmel Center | photo by John Vettese

The current theory behind all things “Bill Murray” is to expect the unexpected of the 67-year-old lion of comedy. Murray hangs out with Scandinavian students in Scotland and washes dishes. Murray visits Austin during South by Southwest and hits up house parties. Murray sends wild rice to a Charleston restaurant table filled with women with the caveat, “Don’t gobble it.” Murray crashes an engagement party and gets his photo taken with the betrotheds. Murray pops up at Oscar’s Tavern in Rittenhouse Square on leave from his son’s wedding. How odd then could a chamber-devised album (New Worlds) of recitations of the writings Ernest Hemingway, Walt Whitman and Mark Twain teamed with the compositions of Stephen Foster, George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein be within that framework? Or a live performance art concert of those same musical moments at a damn-near-sold-out Academy of Music with forlorn cellist Jan Vogler, vexing violinist Mira Wang and prancing pianist Vanessa Perez? Continue reading →

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A secret gig at Cousin Danny’s in West Philly shows that Shame is the real deal

Shame | photo by Joe Del Tufo for WXPN | moonloopphoto.com

It was a Monday night in late November at the Arden Gild Hall when I experienced Shame for the first time. They were the middle band between Grace Vonderkuhn and Ought, and they stepped out into the half-full barn and said “OK, we can do this,” and proceeded to burn the place down for 45 minutes. I’d never seen anything like it, a mix of Joy Division and the Sex Pistols.

The London-based band’s debut Songs of Praise was released in January and, while it is the strongest release I’ve heard in 2018, it still does little to catch the ferocity of their live shows. Vocalist Charlie Steen is a revelation — very shy in public and possessed by something both spiritual and visceral on stage. He is not the stereotypical angry punk rock singer, he seems to channel something that transcends emotion, a wake-up call to monotony. Continue reading →

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Less War, More Leisure: Miguel holds court at The Fillmore Philadelphia

Miguel | photo by Lissa Alicia for WXPN

I first saw Miguel Jontel Pimentel at South by Southwest, what feels like a very long six years ago. Back then, he was a promising but relatively conventional second-string R&B hitmaker – though already (unbeknownst to us at the time) in the midst of a metamorphosis that would lead him to the dazzling creative breakthrough of his second album, Kaleidoscope Dream. But even at that early stage, his nascent star power was blinding, and blindingly obvious. Some time later, mostly by happenstance, I caught the livestream of his set at Pitchfork Festival during the summer long hot of 2016 – just about a week after the deaths in Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas – and witnessed the singer, dressed in angelic white, seizing an emotionally fraught historic moment and channeling it into an empowering, healing and utterly captivating performance.

Last night’s show at the Fillmore offered neither the thrill of discovery and sense of limitless possibility of that 2012 showcase set, nor the urgent topicality, coherence and moral force of the Pitchfork performance. But it didn’t need them. Even as nothing wilder than a seasoned working entertainer, punching in for another showbiz night, Miguel is among the best in the business. Throughout a generous twenty-plus-song set that drew from each of his four albums – including almost the entirety of his most recent, last year’s War and Leisure – he held the enthusiastic crowd in the palm of his hand all night long. Continue reading →

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Scenes from the #AmplifyPhilly party at SXSW

Vita and the Woolf | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN | racheldelsordophotography.com

Philly turned up at the annual SXSW festival in a big way this year. Coming soon, we’ll have portraits and perspectives from some of the locals who made a splash in Austin last week. Today, we’ve got a look at an event that’s become a central hub for Philadelphians in Austin — the annual AmplifyPhilly showcase, which brought a full night of artists to 6th Street at the bar/venue Pour Choices last Monday the 12th. Continue reading →

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A niche unto themselves, Judah and the Lion mesmerizes a sold out Fillmore

Judah and the Lion | photo by Tiana Timmerberg for WXPN | spotlightviews.com
This past Friday, Nashville’s Judah & the Lion played to a sold out Fillmore crowd on their Going to Mars tour. Their newest album, Folk Hop N’ Roll, perfectly describes how the band melds acoustic arrangements and alternative rock to bring a high energy, completely mesmerizing set. By blending banjo and mandolin with verses so quick and percussive they often almost turn into raps, they’ve been able to create a niche of their own. They opened with a cover of “Booty Wurk,” immediately gaining my respect and setting the tone for a night full of dancing, hilarious banter and great music. Continue reading →