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Lisa Stansfield brought the Keswick Theater to its feet

Lisa Stansfield | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

By the second song in her set last night, Lisa Stansfield wanted everybody to get up and dance…and it seemed like everybody wanted to, except for one problem. We were at the Keswick Theater. To paraphrase a meme, one does not simply “get up” at the Keswick. The typical audience at the Glenside venue is largely made up of subscribers to its full season of shows; they wish to remain seated as though at a high school assembly, and they vocally express that everyone around them do the same.

Luckily, Stansfield knew the score and sensed that we were kind of sitting against our will.  Mid-way through a set of songs from her second album Real Love, many in the crowd gave her a standing ovation. “Stay standing!” she yelled gleefully and the rebellion began. But honestly, how can one sit through feel-good soul hits like “Change,” “Someday,” and “The Real Thing”? Continue reading →

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Swearin’ brought Fall into the Sun home to Philly for their record release show

Swearin | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

While Swearin’ was playing the basement of the First Unitarian Church last Wednesday night, there was a square dance going on upstairs. Although the separate worlds that so often exist within that same building no longer phase anyone, on this particular occasion it seemed like a timely reminder of how singular the music community in Philadelphia is; how it ebbs and flows as time passes, changes happening so subtly you don’t notice them until suddenly, a once-beloved band is sorely missed. And on Wednesday night, Philly’s music scene got one of its missing pieces back. Continue reading →

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Gorillaz come down to earth at Wells Fargo Center

Gorillaz | photo by Isaiah Spicer for WXPN | iospicer.com

It has been fascinating to witness the evolution of Damon Albarn’s iconic “virtual band” Gorillaz over the better part of two decades, musically, lyrically, conceptually. What began as a commentary on the lack of substance on MTV—I can only imagine what Albarn thinks now—has expanded to explore issues personal, political, and environmental, using both the conceit of a cartoon musical act and the shape-shifting textures of hip-hop and electronic music to lend such heady subjects a deceptively danceable accessibility. This evolution also informs the project’s live translation, which on paper could conceivably present a challenge. And this is all before considering recent release The Now Now’s relative simplicity compared to its predecessors’ complexity and ambition. On Albarn’s visit to the Wells Fargo Center earlier this week, he did his best to not only reconcile the newer Now material with the rest of his repertoire, but his animated avatars with the living breathing people behind them. Continue reading →

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Liz Phair and Speedy Ortiz bring indie rock healing to Union Transfer

Liz Phair | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

Before their last two songs on Friday night, openers Speedy Ortiz’ frontwoman Sadie Dupuis offered some context. “The first one is a love letter to Gritty,” referring to the oddly-lovable-slash-horrifyingly-psychotic-looking new Flyers’ mascot that she’d petitioned to have at the show that night. “I’m officially dating him, and I don’t know where he is.”

“The second one is a love letter to Liz Phair, who told me that she doesn’t care for Gritty because he doesn’t treat me that well. That’s a good friend. That’s a really good friend.” An at-capacity Union Transfer cheered. “We’re so grateful to be on tour with our really good friend Liz Phair. Who’s much better for me than Gritty.”

Speedy offered up a crackling opening set of introspective indie rock curated from the appreciable catalog they’ve amassed over the last six years, thrashing and throttling their instruments and casually stage-bantering, clearly comfortable with the rock stardom they’ve earned themselves. Dupuis was openly angry about current events as well, parlaying her platform into some dutiful political activism, and unflappable as she capably made sure a miserable heckler knew he was at the wrong rock show.

Phair acknowledged the current political landscape too, even if she took a more resigned tone. Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: Doyle Bramhall II delivers a scorching set at World Cafe Live

Doyle Bramhall II | photo by Taylor Johnson for WXPN

Doyle Bramhall II may not be a household name, but a quick look at his past collaborators is credentials enough. Since the 90’s he’s worked with Eric Clapton, Roger Waters, Elton John, Allen Toussaint, and countless others. Spending an hour with him at today’s Free at Noon was enough to understand why he’s in such demand. Bramhall plays the blues with a conviction few can match, and has the stage presence to back it up. Performing selections off his new album Shades, released just today, Bramhall owned the stage with his powerful musicianship. Continue reading →

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Vijay Iyer delivers a beautiful and bombastic solo set at Annenberg Center

Vijay Iyer | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

If you’ve dedicated any portion of your life to obsessively writing about rock and pop, you’ve probably arrived at an eventual point where rock and pop alone become…boring. Uninspired. You begin to explore other sounds, to expand your proverbial horizons. Sometimes the process can be gradual, and sometimes the gates can blow wide open.

For me, a major entry point not only into jazz, but the possibilities of what music can sound like using jazz as a baseline, was a hand-me-down vinyl copy of Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert, a double LP, 66-minute, entirely improvised concert where the famed pianist for Art Blakey and Miles Davis rocked to and fro across 88 keys, punctuating his playing occasionally with moans and cries, finding himself in moments of cathederal-like reverence, and later cascading into dissonant depths.

Watching award-winning jazz band leader, composer, and scholar Vijay Iyer give a rare solo performance at the Annenberg Center’s Harold Prince Theatre on Saturday night, I was very much reminded of Jarrett, and this album in particular. Continue reading →

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Hozier is theatrical, yet intimate at a soul-filled Fillmore set

Hozier | Photo by: Ellen Miller for WXPN | ellencm.com
Hozier | photo by Ellen Miller for WXPN | ellencm.com

Did you know that Andrew Hozier-Byrne – Ireland’s Hozier – is 6.5 inches tall? I didn’t, despite having witnessed him in concert since he started touring the states in 2014 with his fluid, stately baritone voice and his spiritual / sensual lyrical éclat fully intact for a newbie. Hozier’s towering stature was an essential element of his sold out live showcase at The Fillmore on Wednesday night for a first local tour stop after disappearing for three years to woodshed and write songs. As he stood at the lip of the stage, his wild Adam Driver hair and lanky elongated frame seemed to extend its self over the crowd like Ichabod Crane’s spirit attached to a cherry picker crane. Continue reading →

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Rust sleeps as Neil Young plays (mostly) pretty songs at The Tower

Neil Young | photo by Dan Drufovka | courtesy of Live Nation

You know how you have instincts about things, and you’re pushed to trust them above all reason?

I had a feeling about that pump organ of Neil Young’s, the one he brings on stage when he performs as a solo act; that he would save its… hmm…pumping for the second of two sold out Tower Theatre shows. And from what I heard from my many-beer-drinking neighbors seated in my row at the Tower last night — the second of his two-night stand — I was correct In my choosing. “Brother, you got the pump,” the one gentleman yelled.

I did. I did indeed. Continue reading →

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The National warm hearts and inspire action on a chilly fall evening at the Mann Center

The National | photo by Michelle Montgomery for WXPN | michellemontgomeryphotography.com

Indie rock foretellers The National returned to Philadelphia on Thursday night, where they ushered in the beginning of fall with their Sleep Well Beast tour at the Mann Center. With opening sets by Phoebe Bridgers and Cat Power, and a forecast that called for a rain that never really came, the night was a reflective experience brought on by the political undertones of the day and a warming sense of community. Continue reading →

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For one night, Car Seat Headrest turns Union transfer into an arena

Car Seat Headrest | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN | racheldelsordophotography.com

I just did the math. I’ve been to 42 shows this year, and I think seeing a sold out Union Transfer crowd belt out the chorus to “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” was my favorite concert moment of the year so far. As Car Seat Headrest singer Will Toledo closed his eyes, sung and danced around the stage in a manner only someone who can’t dance would dance, every single teen/twenty-something/whatever raised their fists in the air and belted out the words “It doesn’t have to be like this / killer whales.” It was that moment when Toledo made the Spring Garden Street rock club feel like an arena and defiantly said “No. We will not be another flash-in-the-pan indie rock band.” Continue reading →