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The man who makes the songs, and the songs that make the man: Two nights with The Magnetic Fields at Union Transfer

The Magnetic Fields at Union Transfer, night two | photo by K. Ross Hoffman for WXPN
The Magnetic Fields at Union Transfer, night two | photo by K. Ross Hoffman for WXPN

Stephin Merritt, the ingenious and wholly singular songwriter behind The Magnetic Fields, among other enterprises, calls himself “the least autobiographical person you are likely to meet.”  And yet, he has created his autobiography, of sorts, in 50 Song Memoir: the Fields’ latest, eleventh album as well as a two-part live performance (a concert, but also something slightly other than a concert) that was staged this past Wednesday and Thursday at Union Transfer.  The premise, or gimmick, is winningly simple and perfectly Merrittian: one song for each of the first fifty years of his life – bringing us from 1966 to 2015 – split evenly between the two nights.  The resulting experience was fascinating, complicated, revelatory – for fans, at least – and strangely human. Continue reading →

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All These Sick Scenes: Los Campesinos! at the TLA

Los Campesinos! | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

“Enjoy this night, because I know for a fact that we’re not likely to be invited back.” It seems impossible that it’s been six whole years since hearing those words, the last time Los Campesinos! played in Philadelphia. At one of the first ever shows at the newly inagurated Union Transfer, the Welsh post-twee band celebrated the same thing they always have been — that the present is the only thing we’re ever guaranteed, even as bleak as it may seem. It’s a common theme in the band’s work, and existence as a whole. Even while remaining prominent cult favorites, eleven years into their so-called career, the future band has never been assured. At the TLA on Wednesday night, they approached the end of an impossible US tour and proved that there’s a certain kind of charming nostalgia hidden within bitter nihilism. Continue reading →

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Load-In to Load-Out: Eliza Hardy Jones celebrates her breakout year at Boot & Saddle

Eliza Hardy Jones | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com
Eliza Hardy Jones | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

It’s a dark night in a city that knows how to keep it’s secrets. But on one of the first truly bitter days of December, as the wind howls down South Broad, there’s true warmth to be found inside Boot & Saddle. Hometown hero Eliza Hardy Jones is playing the Boot in a celebration of sorts. As the year ends, she’s commemorating the first year of making and playing music under her own name, a project entirely her own. After years as a crucial member of many other cherished Philly projects — you’re thinking of Buried Beds, Strand of Oaks, and Grace Potter’s band — this is her year. Continue reading →

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In Our Darkness, A Light Shines: mewithoutYou Celebrate 10 Years of Brother, Sister

mewithoutYou | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com
mewithoutYou | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

For a band that does an awful lot of protesting their own existence, mewithoutYou are doing pretty well for themselves, 15 years in. On Thursday night, they celebrated a record that begins and ends with “I do not exist,” turning 10 years old — no small feat when you think about it. This closed tautology of self-denial bookends indie punk classic Brother, Sister — and has become an anthem for those searching for something beyond the easy answers. While all of mewithoutYou’s work deals heavily in symbolism and clever turns of phrase, the album doubles down on philosophical questions and existential probing. Billed as “The Sun & the Moon Band,” mewithoutYou again shrugged off that troublesome self in order to play in secret at Boot & Saddle, a venue several orders of magnitude more humble than their usual digs for the special occasion. Continue reading →

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Yo La Tengo, Dean & Britta celebrated 50 years of the Velvet Underground at the Gershman Y

yo la tengo
Britta & Dean | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

Fifty years after Andy Warhol made Philadelphians uncomfortable with the local debut of his “Exploding Plastic Inevitable” featuring Lou Reed and Velvet Underground, The Gershman Y offered up the very same stage for a commemorative event last Thursday evening. The show was a veritable double-feature, though technically headlined by indie rock vets Yo La Tengo’s full set of Velvets covers, who followed Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips’ live rendition of their score for Warhol’s “screen test” films.

Having been commissioned some seven years ago to compose an original soundtrack for the films, Dean and Britta offered their 13 Most Beautiful — instrumentals and original songs, with some Dylan and Velvets mixed in — all presented against the backdrop of a selection of Warhol’s short black-and-white video portraits of contemporary icons that loomed hauntingly over the stage. Between songs, the two singers narrated with biographical anecdotes of the likes of models Edie Sedgwick and Baby Jane Holzer, Nico and Dennis Hopper, creating four-minute mini-portraits, the ultimate distillation of a prominent ‘60s counterculture. Lou Reed’s own screen test was juxtaposed against a cover of “Not A Young Man Anymore,” — an early Velvets’ song that surfaced only relatively recently — as their frontman Lou Reed’s nursed a glass Coke bottle, his lips curled characteristically, his eyes obscured behind his trademark dark black shades.

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Shearwater highlight Jet Plane and Oxbow during spirited set at Underground Arts

shearwater
Shearwater | photo by Joe del Tufo | www.moonloopphoto.com

“This venue says it’s a place for emerging artists,” Shearwater vocalist Jonathan Meiburg mentioned early in their Underground Arts set last Saturday night. “We’ve been emerging for 15 years.” It was meant as a self-deprecating statement, but the reality is that Meiburg and band have gradually crafted a body of work that at once defies genre and stands as a bold musical statement. The massive guitars over plaintive, shimmering vocals – the mesmerizing journeys from unnamed islands to the shores of a darkening America. It’s all laid out and stripped bare in a lush layered sound that is distinctly Shearwater.

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The High Key Portrait Series: Sadie Dupuis

Sadie Dupuis | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Sadie Dupuis | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Philly, meet your new neighbor Sadie Dupuis. Oh sure, you know her best as the frontwoman of Speedy Ortiz, the now-veteran award-winning attention-getting indie-rock darlings of every music writer from Noisey to Pitchfork, who’ve been around the touring block with the likes of Thurston Moore, Stephen Malkmus, and the sisters Deal. You know. NBD.

But what you might not know is that, as mononymous solo artist Sad13 (and yes, that’s “Sad Thirteen”), Dupuis has moved from the heart of New England right to our backyard. With her debut record Slugger racking up the critical acclaim, she’s already on tour, and you can catch her at Girard Avenue’s Everybody Hits tonight.

As she settles into life in Philly, Dupuis compares and contrasts for us her experiences in Philly and Boston and tips you local vegans off to the best tofu hoagie in town. You’re welcome. Continue reading →

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Strand of Oaks rise with new material, message at Arden Gild Hall

Strand of Oaks | photo by Joe del Tufo | www.moonloopphoto.com
Strand of Oaks | photo by Joe del Tufo | www.moonloopphoto.com

Well Philly, you are in for a treat. But it happened in Delaware first.

The debut of Strand of Oaks‘ new material from the forthcoming Hard Love album happened in a barn in Delaware in front of a crowd that ranged in age from 10 to 70. “This music is for everyone who needs it right now,” frontman Timothy Showalter mentioned before the show. “As much as Heal was pointing inward, Hard Love [points straight out]. It’s an important time for that, we’re not playing around anymore.”

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