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Pearl Jam powers through an epic night at the Wells Fargo Center

Pearl Jam | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | <a href=http://www.hellerhound.com/ target="_blank">hellerhound.com</a>
Pearl Jam | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | hellerhound.com

It could be argued — say if rock critic and punk purist Greil Marcus were your arts and culture professor — that a gaudy spectacle like last night’s Pearl Jam show at Wells Fargo Center wouldn’t hold much genuine value, for all its pomp, its loathsome corporate sponsorship and overpriced domestic beer, in contrast for example with the intimacy and palpable hunger of a younger band playing a smaller space (which, in Philly, would have a much better tap selection too).

Of course, Pearl Jam were that younger band at one point, sweating all over those smaller rooms through loosely hanging, open-fronted plaid, stomping those stages in scuffed black Doc Marten’s boots. In July of 1991, touring in support of their anthemic debut record Ten, they played to a modest audience at South Street’s JC Dobbs, a local premiere that Eddie Vedder likes to frequently evoke with Philly crowds. And less than a year later, the band played The Trocadero, just a few months before setting a new record for album sales with 1992’s Vs.

Pearl Jam | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | <a href=http://www.hellerhound.com/ target="_blank">hellerhound.com</a>
Pearl Jam | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN | hellerhound.com

The next time Pearl Jam would return to the Philly area would be six years later, following a notable battle with Ticketmaster, waged and lost, that saw their noble-minded boycott of Philly venues in favor of Jones Beach in New York and Meriweather Post Pavilion down by DC. By then, the band was a heavyweight festival headliner, playing almost exclusively at blockbuster concert venues.

Still, despite prime Vitalogy-era Pearl Jam having gone MIA at Philly venues, Vedder noted early on in their nearly three-hour set last night that the band’s played Philly a total of some twenty-two times, at a rate that almost works out to once a year since their inception two-and-a-half decades ago. They seem to have a special affinity for the city, an ongoing mutual love-affair highlighted by four consecutive and largely sold-out marathon shows in October 2009 to close down the Spectrum, in celebration of the building’s 40-year lifetime before it was demolished a year later.

The reception last night at Wells Fargo certainly served as testimony to that relationship. Continue reading →

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Gogo Penguin bring electro-jazz to World Cafe Live

gogo penguin
Gogo Penguin | photo by Matthew Shaver | http://www.brightloud.com/

I’m a list fan.  Top 10 lists, bottom 10 lists, doesn’t matter.  When it comes to music, outside of the annual, quarterly, monthly, bi-weekly, and Bey-weekly lists, my favorite is the Mercury Prize shortlist.  It’s a prestigious list that celebrates British and Irish musicians, and it is the place where I discovered a little trio called Gogo Penguin.

When I first saw the name, the immediate thought that popped in to my head was “quirky indie rock band.”  A tried and true formula for success.  I quickly discovered that I was deliciously incorrect.  Gogo Penguin is, at their heart, a jazz band. 

Continue reading →

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Polica reclaims Union Transfer with its new United Crushers

Polica | Photo by Doug Interrante for WXPN
Polica | Photo by Doug Interrante for WXPN

I’ll never forget my first time…the 2012 Non-COMMvention. Non-COMM is the annual gathering of non-commercial triple-A stations, held every may at World Cafe Live.  From the first row, my eyes immediately locked on a seductive, yet graceful Channy Leaneagh.  It was a new sound, a new experience, and I was hooked from the start. 

The band Leaneagh fronts – Minneapolis electronic rock outfit Polica –  took the stage on Monday night to a rolling bass that reverberated throughout Union Transfer.  As the building shook, the mood for their signature interplay between drums and bass began to pull the audience deeper into their sound – much like my first time experiencing them.  In support of their third album, United Crushers, Leaneagh opened the set with the album’s first three tracks in sequential order.  “Summer Please,” “Lime Habit.” and “Someway” all showcase the bands wonderful maturation through richer, more textured sounds – very much a departure from the rawness that was their first album, Give Up the Ghost, in 2012. Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: Boogarins bring psychedelic rock to World Cafe Live

Boogarins | Photo by Breanna Keohane for WXPN
Boogarins | Photo by Breanna Keohane for WXPN

Brazilian rock outfit Boogarins kicked off the Friday afternoon by bringing their psychedelic rock sound into World Cafe Live for this week’s Free at Noon concert. The band made an appearance in Philadelphia not too long ago during their tour with Andrew Bird, and they decided to make one more stop before heading up to Brooklyn. Their tour is in support of their second and most recent album Manual, which was released back in October 2015. Continue reading →

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Beyond the Bars: The Districts, Queen of Jeans and more rip it up for a good cause

The Districts | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | http://jeremy-zim.com/
The Districts | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | http://jeremy-zim.com/

I could sit here and regale you with stories and stats about the Prison-Industrial Complex all day, but is that going to do anything? Even for the most #woke among us, it’s hard to know where to start to deal with something as massively unassailable as a for-profit prison system that funnels young lives straight into jails. But—much like music—it’s best to start with stories. Sunday night at World Cafe Live, Philly organization Beyond the Bars hit home with a massive benefit show incorporating both to strike back.

By going into prisons and teaching music to incarcerated youth, Beyond the Bars staff and volunteers are able to bring hope and respite to members of society that most people have already written off as a loss. “Even though they’re in prison, they’re still people, man. Just people,” said Bars staff member Christopher Thornton. Continue reading →

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“My F’in Night at the Opera”: Iggy Pop channels the spirit of ’77 at the Academy of Music

Iggy Pop | photo by Wendy McCardle for WXPN | wendymccardle.com
Iggy Pop | photo by Wendy McCardle for WXPN | wendymccardle.com

This story begins on March 19, 1977. It’s the day after the release of Iggy Pop‘s solo debut, The Idiot, and he’s performing at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia with his collaborator and producer, David Bowie. Also in attendance is my concert connoisseur / photographer mother, Nancy. She has brought her camera, hoping to catch photos of Bowie but unwittingly bearing witness to a musical partnership that would connect Iggy Pop to another musical brethren decades later.

Fast forward forty years – I’m standing in front of the Academy of Music, waiting for my turn to photograph Iggy Pop. Continue reading →

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Teen Spirit: Alex G’s introspective youth anthems bring out a hometown crowd

Alex G. | Photo by Josh Pelta Heller for WXPN | hellerhound.com
Alex G. | Photo by Josh Pelta Heller for WXPN | hellerhound.com

If you were standing up front, close to the stage last night at Union Transfer, you’d have noticed a disproportionate demographic of 17- to 20-year-olds, holding iPhones instead of beer and waiting bright-faced and wide-eyed for the double-bill of Philly’s own Alex Giannascoli — better known as Alex G — and New York’s Porches.

Concurring that Giannascoli’s fans were largely a younger demographic, the 19-year-old next to me expressed his moderate and considered sartorial disdain for his generation: “They’re all dressed weird too.”

That said, many were wearing band shirts advertising their adoration for the Philly-based, highly prolific DIY bedroom-recording-studio songwriter.

On the contrary, Porches tees were few and far between, and the blank faces on the crowd seemed to suggest that this was largely an introduction to the music of opening band Your Friend. Continue reading →

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They Might Be Giants put on quite a show for a sold-out TLA

They Might Be Giants
They Might Be Giants | photo by Matthew Shaver for WXPN | http://www.brightloud.com/

30 years would be long enough for any band to appeal to a generation of parents and their children, if only because of our old friend time.  It is something wholly unique that perseveres through They Might Be Giants, as they craft music that effortlessly defies generational boundaries, sometimes multiple times in one year.  It is that special quality that calls for the band to put a special disclaimer up that their current series of shows is for adults only.  Well, adults 14 years and older.  Even with that in place, there was a bare minimum of offensive material (really just an f-bomb or two, for a crowd pleaser), and an excess of wit and music.

Continue reading →

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Seriously: Andrew Bird soars at the Electric Factory

Andrew Bird | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | http://jeremy-zim.com/
Andrew Bird | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | http://jeremy-zim.com/

The title to Andrew Bird‘s newest record is as much a challenge to entry as it is a question — Are You Serious omits the question mark when written in order to ask an even larger question: Are you ready to face the whimsical whistler’s most intensive release yet? On Monday night at the Electric Factory, Bird asked the tough questions of both himself and the assembled audience, and perhaps the answers won’t be easily forthcoming.

Playing a setlist primarily composed of Serious material, he wowed fans one slowly swelling song after another through the night. Bird got the night started in the same way that Serious does—the rollicking, guitar-led noir of “Capsized,” a great introduction to the new cuts. As more of a casual fan, it’s been hard to decypher what of Bird’s discography is necessary listening, but after seeing most of Serious performed before me on Monday night, it’s apparent even to me that these are home runs, instant classics amidst a career already filled with those. Continue reading →

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Judah + The Lion bring the energy to World Cafe Live

Judah + the Lion | Photo by Cameron Pollack for WXPN | cameronpollackphotography.com
Judah + the Lion | Photo by Cameron Pollack for WXPN | cameronpollackphotography.com

On Wednesday night, Judah + The Lion turned World Cafe Live into the Electric Factory.

Seriously.

World Café Live, while being the venue I most quickly call home, has become a slight infamous for me; for every high energy show that I’ve seen I’ve seen two with little to none. Prior to seeing Judah + The Lion rip it up at World Café, I hadn’t seen a show comparably high-fenergy since I saw Blackalicious light up that same stage almost three years prior (in one of the first concerts I ever photographed).

I knew I was in for some incredible antics going in; I had heard tell of Judah + The Lion’s stage presence before, but I was not prepared for what I was about to witness. Upon arriving at the lip of the stage, I saw that the roadies put out a setlist, that, at first glance, looked like total nonsense (attached below). I had thought that this was just going to be a normal indie-folk show, to the tune of a Head & The Heart show, but after seeing songs like “Banksy Luther King Jr”, “!!!!!!!!!!!”, and “He Peed Ants” on the setlist, I knew a few more absurdities would have to follow. Continue reading →