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The shape-shifting OOIOO plays a transcendent set at Johnny Brenda’s

OOIOO | Photo by Shaun Brady
OOIOO | Photo by Shaun Brady

Hearing OOIOO live is an experience akin to staring at one of those illustrated illusions, where a seemingly simple picture appears to be first one thing, then another – a duck that turns into a rabbit, or an old lady into a young girl. When the Japanese band plays, they lock into long, repetitive grooves that undergo similar transitions – you sway for a while to their tribal grooves when suddenly your focus shifts and they become an eccentric prog band, or you grin at their infectiously skewed take on girl-group pop before you’re suddenly taken aback by their raw punk energy. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Roof Doctor

If you just went by Roof Doctor‘s irreverent personalities, their tongue-deep-in-cheek social media presence (Twitter handle: @roof_deezy), the fact that they once tried to start a beef with Conor Oberst, you’d have no reason to take them seriously. But consider their chops and multi-instrumental prowess. Chet Williams has a knack for juggling sax, keyboard, percussion, bass and vocals; Kevin Paschall delivers intricate rhythmic accompaniment from behind the drumkit (I’m still wrapping my brain around the beat at the beginning of “Bulldog,” which they played in their Key Studio Session); Mark Harper reigns in everything that’s going on and arranges it into ultra catchy tunes. These dudes are so serious. Continue reading →

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The Other Repo Man: A look at the life of Repo Records owner Dan Matherson

Dan Matherson, owner of South Street music institution Repo Records | Photo by Rachel Del Sordo | racheldelsordo.tumblr.com
Dan Matherson, owner of South Street music institution Repo Records | Photo by Rachel Del Sordo | racheldelsordo.tumblr.com

“We’ve been open, what, 26 years now?” His voice goes up at the end as if he’s asking me. Of course, Dan Matherson is aware of how long his store has been open. He’s just being modest, which is impressive given that he owns and operates a record store, selling music in a physical format even as the industry trends digital.

The first Repo Records opened in 1986 in the main line suburb of Wayne. The side street it was located on was the best location Matherson could find given his tight budget. “The rent was so cheap, like, $400 a month,” he says. The slab of real estate wasn’t the best, but Matherson was able to draw in customers by advertising on train stops and fliers posted around the locality. As his business expanded, he relocated to a second site in Bryn Mawr, where business took off. Eventually, he was able to open a second store on the 500 block of South Street in Philadelphia – the main hub for Repo since the Bryn Mawr location closed in the mid-aughts.

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LPs ranging from Iron Maiden to The Front Bottoms line the Repo Records walls | Photo by Rachel Del Sordo | racheldelsordo.tumblr.com

Matherson grew up in Devon, an area in which the few existing record stores were chains, which typically sold whatever was at the top of the charts that week. However, New York was his home away from home, and it was there that he would frequent record stores of a different type. The record stores in New York didn’t care about what was popular. They sold what was good. Knowing there was nothing like this in his Pennsylvania suburb, Matherson found his calling.

He nicked the store’s name from the 1984 movie, Repo Man. Given the movie’s punk rock soundtrack featuring artists like Iggy Pop and Circle Jerks, he figured it would make a good name for his store, which specializes in punk and underground records.

Matherson is a huge fan of punk; he loves bands like Joy Division and The Buzzcocks. In 1981, he traveled to New York to see The Clash play at Bond’s Casino, which he described as “one of the greatest things I’ve ever done.”

As he lists some of his favorite bands, it’s clear he’s quite the rock and roll connoisseur. He gravitates towards lots of new wave bands from the late 70s and early 80s such as Wire, The Teardrop Explodes, and especially The Chameleons. In fact, Matherson helped organize a Chameleons concert at J.C. Dobbs when he found out the band had no Philadelphia dates on its 2006 American tour. Continue reading →

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California punks Ceremony deliver a chaotic, cohesive set of old and new material at The Church

Ceremony | Photo by Megan Kelly | keganmellyphotography.tumblr.com
Ceremony | Photo by Megan Kelly | keganmellyphotography.tumblr.com

Rohnert Park, California five-piece Ceremony have a long and storied history in the Philadelphia punk and hardcore scene, especially at the fan-favorite venue, The First Unitarian Church. On Saturday, July 19th, the band made a triumphant return to “the Church”, a stop on a twenty-five day-long tour with Philadelphia’s own shoegaze phenoms, Nothing, and Seattle’s dark powerviolence duo, Iron Lung.

Much like any Ceremony gig since the release of 2012’s Zoo, this set was a diverse collection of the band’s efforts that span their ten-year history. Ceremony started out in 2004 as Northern California’s premier powerviolence hardcore act. Their first few releases were bitter, aggressive, outbursts that channeled an alienation from societal norms coupled with hateful contempt for government and authority figures. The focus shifted with the group’s last three full-length releases Still Nothing Moves You (2008), Rohnert Park (2010), and Zoo (2012). The songs maintained their dark, and often bleak, lyrics, but the music shifted from aggressive powerviolence hardcore, to a garage influenced post-punk. The atmospheric Zoo was the most abrupt shift, leaving some fans behind.

The remaining Ceremony enthusiasts, much like those in attendance at this sold out show, embraced the shift. Ceremony delivered a chaotic, yet cohesive mix of old and new. The driving post-punk tunes “Hysteria” and “Citizen” sat perfectly in the set-list amongst hardcore classics, and fan-favorites “Kersed” and “He-God-Has Favored Our Undertakings”. While the harder songs may have elicited a bigger crowd response, including a few pile-ons where the microphone was completely lost at the bottle of a pile of screaming fans, the energy remained consistent throughout the stage-dive ridden set. When the show was over, injuries were nursed, fluids were replenished, and surely no Ceremony fan, old or new, left disappointed.

Nothing | Photo by Megan Kelly | keganmellyphotography.tumblr.com
Nothing | Photo by Megan Kelly | keganmellyphotography.tumblr.com

An opening set was provided by hometown boys Nothing. This group has run into phenomenal success on the heels of their latest full-length, Guilty of Everything. The critically-acclaimed album, released in March of 2014, showed the world that Nothing could deliver a well-written, catchy, and darkly haunting record. Touring non-stop since releasing the album, Nothing have also backed-up their promise to be the loudest band you’ve ever seen. They delivered soaring shoegaze melodies over pounding bass that was sure to shock those up front. An emotionally charged set coerced an appropriate response from Nothing’s passionate fan base, including one concertgoer drawing blood from repeatedly slamming his hand on the monitor speaker. True to the pedigree of the members of Nothing (past and current members of hardcore acts such as Horror Show, Beware, Night Sins) the set was as intense and chaos-filled as a hardcore set, stage dives and all. Nothing continues to reinforce their place in Philadelphia’s aggressive music scene.

Filling out the touring lineup, and reinforcing the hardcore roots of the tour were powerviolence act, Iron Lung. Leading the charge of current heavy bands, Iron Lung has consistently been delivering brutal and dark records for over fifteen years, mostly self released through their own label, Iron Lung records. The two-piece band delivers a heavier and more intense performance than most four or five-piece acts. Jumping from joking with the crowd into scathing hardcore songs, filled with blastbeats and chaotic stops, Iron Lung delivered a performance that solidified their reputation as pioneers of newer, and weirder, heavy music.

Rounding out the show was local groups, Bad Side and Anxiety Hammer. If you live in or around Philadelphia and haven’t seen Bad Side yet, make a point of it. These West Philly favorites deliver a chaotic and fun-filled set of gutsy and dirty punk rock, played by some of the scene’s hardest-working DIY contributors. Anxiety Hammer are a relatively new gritty punk band that hail from South Philly. Opening the night with a tight and aggressive set this group set the tone for a night of dark, gritty and progressive forms of punk, played in one the city’s best venues for a punk show.

The infamous multicolored alphabet carpet was the perfect backdrop for a summer classic. Sweaty summer hardcore and punk shows at the Church never get old, and this was one for the ages.

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Queens of the Stone Age stop hearts at the Mann Center’s Skyline Stage

Queens of the Stone Age | Photo by Matthew Shaver | mattshaverphoto.com
Queens of the Stone Age | Photo by Matthew Shaver | mattshaverphoto.com

Few moments make music lovers swoon like the moment when a band goes off book, ditching their planned setlist to play old songs, new songs, and whatever the heck else they want.

The everlasting California desert rock institution Queens of the Stone Age did just that in the middle of their electrifying concert last night at the Mann Center’s Skyline Stage. Opting to skip playing “Kalopsia” from 2013′s …Like Clockwork, frontman Josh Homme announced that the band would instead play 2000′s “In the Fade” to rapturous applause.

Moments like this littered a night permeated by a celebratory atmosphere for many. For the Queens, it’s the last US show for a while on a touring cycle that began last year. Their electrifying performance was preceded by a brutal opening set from thrash metal wunderkinds Unlocking the Truth (those 8th graders who just inked a $1.7 million deal with Sony that you’ve been hearing about) and an equally hard-hitting one from Spinerrette/Distillers frontwoman Brody Dalle (a.k.a Mrs. Josh Homme). The Queens refused to disappoint, though, and the near-capacity crowd at the Mann was ever-grateful.

From the stage, Homme pontificated on whether or not this was the best show of the tour. We’re inclined to say that yes, indeed, it was. Check out the setlist below, as well as a gallery of photos from The Key’s Matthew Shaver.

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English prog-rock heroes Yes put on a properly epic show at The Tower Theater

Yes | Photo By Noah Silvestry | silvestography.com
Yes | Photo By Noah Silvestry | silvestography.com

Epic (adj): heroic or grand in scale or character. It is perhaps one of the most over- and misused words in the English language. Yeah, that grilled cheese may have been tasty, but it wasn’t quite as monumental as Odysseus. But I’ll tell you what was epic: English prog-rock legends Yes’ concert at the Tower Theater. It would have been easy to doubt a group whose 46 years together do not by any means belie them, not to mention that founding singer and frontman Jon Anderson left the group in 2008. I don’t think Yes cared about these things. When you’re the band that played the most attended festival-style show in United States history here in Philly (the “Spirit Of Summer ’76” show at JFK Stadium on June 12, 1976 for 130,000 fans), a few grey hairs (or more precisely, a full head of white ones, but who’s counting?) aren’t going to get in the way of putting on a show of, that’s right, epic proportions.

Yes | Photo By Noah Silvestry | silvestography.com
Yes | Photo By Noah Silvestry | silvestography.com

Yes opened up their extremely sold out Tower Theater show with their 1972 Close To The Edge LP played in reverse. What became immediately clear as they rumbled their way through “Siberian Khatru” was that Yes’ sound is massive, which has a hell of a lot to do with founding bassist Chris Squire’s bold playing (and as it happens, his appearance isn’t much different). And while guitarist Steve Howe may have gained a few wrinkles here and there, his hair is as long as ever, and more importantly, he still knows his way around a guitar like his 5 consecutive “Best Overall Guitarist” victories in Guitar Player magazine would suggest. That, or the 3,000-odd fans bellowing out their love for him during the intricate flamenco guitar solo piece that is “Mood For A Day”. Oh, and Jon Anderson’s replacement, the similarly named Jon Davison, wasn’t half bad. Wait, scratch that. He was, to use appropriately English lexicon, bloody amazing. I can honestly say that I have never seen a frontman gesticulate, prance about and sing more passionately that Davison did. His oriental patterned shirt was pretty cool too.

After playing a couple new songs, both of which were decent enough, Yes made their way through all of the 1971 LP, Fragile. All of it. The thing about that album that I didn’t realize until I saw it live is that each song seems better than the last. Sure, the record’s opener, “Roundabout” was a hit, but “South Side Of The Sky” easily makes my top 10 guitar riffs list, and “The Fish [Schindleria Praematurus]” is probably the second best rock song ever to be written in 7/4 (“Money” by Pink Floyd takes precedence in my book, and so would Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean”, but that song isn’t really in 7/4). They encored with the timeless classic, “I’ve Seen All Good People”, which, come to think of it, includes one of the best 3-part harmonies known to rock & roll. As for the final encore, “Starship Trooper”, I’m going to have to refer you back to the beginning of the review, because no word describes it better than “epic”. Keytar and guitar (or should I say, geetar) solos from Geoff Downes and Steve Howe respectively were unbelievable. I left the room in shock. Yes still rocks.

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Camera Obscura bring sweetness, sentimentality to World Cafe Live

Camera Obscura | Photo by Kate Bracaglia | underwaterexplosions.blogspot.com
Camera Obscura | Photo by Kate Bracaglia | underwaterexplosions.blogspot.com

It was a beautiful night Saturday night: moderate, breezy, low-humidity—and Camera Obscura—the long-running, Scottish twee act—proved the perfect digestif, their similarly breezy melodies closing out a perfect evening. The band regaled fans with an hour-and-a-half-long set at World Café Live, imbued with sweetness, sentimentality, wistful vocals, and warm, candy-coated harmonies.

The past year has been a busy one for the band, due to two, new, Camera Obscura babies [both front woman Tracyanne Campbell and bassist Gavin Dunbar welcomed sons]; as a result, the band is hitting the States just now in support of their 2013 LP, Desire Lines. But if the new material feels stale to them by now, they certainly didn’t show it, running through half the record with energy and workman-like charm: bouncing in place to “Do It Again,” then dialing it down slightly for calypso-tinged slow groove “Cri du Couer.” Normally a five-piece, the band numbered seven Saturday night, with the addition of a trumpeter and a second percussionist.

Camera Obscura | Photo by Kate Bracaglia | underwaterexplosions.blogspot.com
Camera Obscura | Photo by Kate Bracaglia | underwaterexplosions.blogspot.com

And while the whole band was on-point, it was front woman Tracyanne Campbell who really shone, and whose gorgeous, gauzy vocals—which can convey both sadness and euphoria in a single note—are a large part of what makes Camera Obscura so magical. Live, Campbell was just as mesmerizing as on record, her nuanced intonation lending the songs depth and breadth.

When I spoke to keyboardist Carey Lander the other week before the show, she revealed that it’s impossible to fully give in to the pain behind the songs night after night without burning out; instead, she explained, “You have to make it a song you perform for other people to enjoy.” Still, Campbell did such a good job replicating songs’ emotional highs and lows, I felt like I was experiencing everything for the first time, and left feeling strangely cleansed.

With so many earnest, summery tunes, it’s hard to pick faves—but I felt particularly exhilarated during joyous, summer anthem “Honey in the Sun”—and thrilled during swirling, twee standby “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken.”

The band closed its set with a trio of old songs—“Come Back Margaret,” “Books Written for Girls,” and “Razzle Dazzle Rose”—but I swear I could’ve listened to them for another hour easily. Camera Obscura’s reality is warm, inviting, and invigorating; bathed in their tunes, I felt simply invincible.

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Welcome back Cheers Elephant, so long Toy Soldiers, Friday night at Union Transfer

Cheers Elephant | Photo by Matthew Shaver | mattshaverphoto.com
Cheers Elephant | Photo by Matthew Shaver | mattshaverphoto.com

You say goodbye, I say hello. Cheers Elephant, who have traded in the urban landscapes for greener west coast pastures, had a bit of a homecoming Friday night at Union Transfer. Welcoming all manner of friends and family (I think that most of the audience was on the guest list), the indie psych-rockers brought back a bunch of energy and sunshine with them. While L.A. may be kind to them, there is nothing quite like going in to that bar where everybody knows your name. While they may have been absent for a while, the real star of the double bill was another local group: Toy Soldiers.

Saying goodbye (for now, anyhow. Ask The Dismemberment Plan how long any group with strong ties to their hometown can really stay away) Ron Gallo, Dominic Billett, Bill McCloskey, Matt Kelly and Luke Leidy, brought on a slew of special guests to help them celebrate. Local heroes for the better part of a decade, with numerous awards and accolades to back up the claims, the blues/country/alt rockers kicked off the night covering the perennial Semisonic hit “Closing Time” before settling in to their extensive catalogue. Sprinkling in a healthy dose of dry wit, Ron and friends made it clear that they were not leaving Philly behind, but rather focusing on projects that will, hopefully, help expand the local music scene, including launching a record label.

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Modern Baseball played a surprise set at The Fire with Weatherbox, Dikembe and Hightide Hotel

Modern Baseball arrives at The Fire | Photo by Allison Newbold |  allynewbold.com
Modern Baseball arrives at The Fire | Photo by Allison Newbold | allynewbold.com

On Wednesday July 16th, The Fire hosted one of the best emo rock shows of the summer. Hailing from San Diego, California, Weatherbox headlined the sold-out show in support of their new record, Flies in All Directions, released this year via Triple Crown Records. On tour with Weatherbox is Dikembe, from Gainesville, on tour in support of their new record, Mediumship, released this month via Tiny Engines.

The surprise local support for this show was Philly favorites Modern Baseball, who was only announced a day before the show, and Hightide Hotel. This sold out show was easily one of the best line ups of the summer and was a truly incredible night full of stage dives, crowd surfing, sing alongs, and sweat.

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Folkadelphia Session: Charlie Parr

The description of Minnesota based musician Charlie Parr as “one man, one guitar, one foot in the grave” is pretty perfect. Stylistically, Parr plays a type of music that all but resides six feet under the ground; he’s a dying breed of self-taught musician that draws from early American roots, country blues, spirituals, and traditional. I like to think that Charlie hasn’t even heard any music from the last 50-75 years. Listening to Charlie conjures up the image of a long lost John and Alan Lomax field recording, or a hold-over from Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. Even when you see him perform live, the audience may hear phantom clicks-and-pops, the surface noice and scratchiness of an ancient 78, little wheel spin and spin, big wheel turn around and around. That’s just the vibe of Charlie Parr. Over the course of now twelve albums, including last year’s Hollandale, an instrumental record featuring Low‘s Alan Sparhawk, Parr continues to mine the depths, certainly not rob the graves, of authentic and original folk music.

While the style is timeless, the sounds are sepia-toned, and Parr himself is rather quiet and pensive, the songs are not like a specimen under a microscope or a box of records filed away for posterity in the stacks of the Library of Congress. The music is alive and breathing. In fact, Parr’s one foot in the grave may mean he’s trying to get out of that ditch, clawing and kicking, raging against physical and mental anguish and isolation of a wall of dirt (and a wall of dirt of the mind and spirit). You can hear it in the guitar picking, in the throaty dusty singing, and the vibrantly emotional feeling of the songs. This music has a heartbeat and it ain’t dead yet as long as Parr is around.

Charlie Parr recorded this album lengthened session at the WXPN Performance Studio on February 23rd, 2014 while he was in Philadelphia for a Folkadelphia presented show at Hubbub Coffee.

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