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The Key’s Year-End Mania: Koof Ibi Umoren’s favorite non-traditional venues of 2017

Under the Greys Ferry Bridge | photo by Koof Ibi Umoren

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2017 incredible. Today, Key photographer Koof Ibi Umoren (who plays trumpet with West Philadelphia Orchestra, Little Strike and a host of others) shares Philly’s best non-traditional venues to perform at in 2017.

Traditional music venues need musicians and beer in order to successful. This year has proven that musicians need beer, but not necessarily the traditional music venues. A musician can spend a lot of time performing in Philadelphia without setting foot on a traditional stage. If you’re smart and you chose an acoustic instrument in elementary school, and didn’t give it up for a cooler electronic instrument in college, then the world is literally your stage This year I’ve had the pleasure of playing and attending shows at some very interesting Philadelphia “venues,” and here’s a recap of some of my favorites. Continue reading →

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The Key’s Year-End Mania: John Vettese’s Top Six Philly Music Discoveries of 2017

Aleana | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Aleana | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2017 incredible. To kick off the series, Key editor John Vettese recaps six of his favorite Philadelphia music discoveries from the past 12 months.

Earlier today, I was listening to a conversation with Johnny Brenda’s talent buyer Chris Ward on the 25 O’Clock podcast, and he made a very interesting point. The bumper crop of musical talent in Philadelphia, or what is often perceived as such, is no sudden phenomenon. It’s not as though, pre-2006, the city was in some dire straits or a lesser creative state, and has subsequently grown and evolved to the present-day bursting of the proverbial seams.

The truth is that amazing music — rap music, rock music, pop music, soul music — has always existed in the 215; in many cases (the Gamble & Huff era), it’s downright thrived. But as Ward pointed out, a more recent confluence of factors and persons and places and institutions over the past decade (like him and JBs, I might add, or like our friends at The Deli and Jump, or like countless others) have helped amplify the scene tremendously.

Every year around this time, as we launch into The Key’s annual year-in-review extravaganza, I begin by sitting down and reflecting on the new artists and new-to-me artists who, over the past twelve months, have knocked me sideways. There have always been artists like this in Philly, whether or not the outside world is paying attention. And there always will be; even if, at some point, the zeitgeist declares Philly to be “over,” if you look and listen, you’ll find them continually creating, somehow, somewhere.

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Grandchildren and Vessna Scheff benefit shows to support Big Picture Alliance and Aspiring Young Artists

Grandchildren | photo courtesy of the artist
Grandchildren | photo courtesy of the artist

Grandchildren‘s Aleks Martray has teamed up with fellow Philly musician Vessna Scheff to put together a short series of benefit shows. In a fundraising effort for local youth film and music programs, the two artists have assembled a variety of local musicians to perform at Boot & Saddle on November 16. The second show, November 17 at Warehouse on Watts, will feature youth films and musical performances. Continue reading →

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Against Me! at Union Transfer, Dar Williams at Arden Gild Hall, Moses Sumney at First Unitarian Church, and more

Against Me! | photo via facebook.com/AgainstMe

Against Me! released their latest LP Shape Shift With Me a year ago, and tonight their tour makes a stop at Union Transfer with support from Bleached and The Dirty Nil. The gritty folk-punk band are known for emotional, personal tunes penned by frontwoman Laura Jane Grace; their last two albums reflect on her experiences navigating relationships and life as a transgender woman. Listen below, and find tickets and more information on the XPN Concert Calendar. Continue reading →

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Kate Faust at Silk City, Big Thief at Chameleon Club, The Avalanches at The TLA and more…

kate faust
Kate Faust | photo via artist’s Facebook

Bouncing back to Philly after an LA sojourn, Kate Faust will perform at Silk City tonight. The electro R&B / pop musician released a new batch of songs called Capsizing earlier this year; watch “Your Body(Breaking)” from the EP below. Tickets for the 21+ show with Kingsley Ibeneche and Jacqueline Constance can be found here.

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Koof & Vessna debut recording collaboration with music video for “Echoes”

koof & vessna
Koof & Vessna | photo via artist’s Facebook page

Koof & Vessna are two talented local artists who have teamed up for a new collaboration, sharing their debut single and music video “Echoes” this week. Koof Ibi can usually be found behind the camera at the Random Tea Room Sessions or behind the horn in West Philadelphia Orchestra; Vessna Scheff is a singer-songwriter with crystal clear vocals and a trusty ukulele. Together, the pair create an atmosphere of soulful, reflective solitude.

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Kate Faust vibes out uptown in the otherworldly “Your Body (Breaking)” video

Kate Faust | still from video
Kate Faust | still from video

Philly electropop singer and producer Kate Faust has been hanging out a lot at Germantown’s heralded Rigby Mansion lately. Over the past several years, it’s become one of the best music and arts hang spots uptown, hosting gigs ranging from intimate and folky to odd and experimental.

It’s clearly made an impression on Faust, who today released a new music video set entirely on the grounds of Rigby. With psychedelic and surreal direction by Koofreh Umoren (of Random Tea Sessions and West Philly Orchestra fame), the video features dancer Kingsley Ibeneche, who’s appeared onstage and in previous videos with Faust. Here, the two interact indoors and out, sharing moments of stunning sensuality amid plumes of brightly colored smoke.   Continue reading →

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Free At Noon Flashback: Turbo Fruits show off No Control at World Cafe Live

Turbo Fruits | Photo by Rocco Peditto | roccopeditto.com
Turbo Fruits | Photo by Rocco Peditto | roccopeditto.com

Nashville garage rockers Turbo Fruits took the stage today following an electric set from The London Souls. The four-piece showed Philly what they were made of with their catchy rock ballads. Guitarist Kingsley Brock whipped out some fun, distorted riffs while frontman Jonas Stein’s grumbling vocals filled the room. The group played tracks exclusively off of their upcoming LP, No Control, set to be released April 20th. Songs like “The Way I Want You” and “Don’t Let Me Break Your Heart Again” put the group’s solid sound on full display and had the crowd movin’ and groovin’, closing out today’s Free At Noon with finesse. Continue reading →

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Review: The charismatic Lucius joins the World Cafe Live crowd

Lucius | Photo by Noah Silvestry | silvestography.tumblr.com
Lucius | Photo by Noah Silvestry | silvestography.tumblr.com

They hail from Brooklyn and they pack a punch. They paid a visit to World Cafe Live in support of their debut album, Wildewoman. They are characterized by synergy in every way: compositionally, instrumentally, sonically, vocally and even visually. They stand out in the mundane world of alternative music. They are Lucius, and they’re destined for greatness.

Lucius is the fusion of singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig backed by multi-instrumentalists Andrew Burri, Peter Lalish and Dan Molad. They each sport their own breed of charisma on top of their matching (and needless to say, fashionable) raiments. The stage is set up in near perfect symmetry: Wolfe and Laessig face each other over keyboards and percussion at center stage with Burri and Molad, each with half of a drum set, to the singers’ left and right respectively, while guitarist Lalish hovers behind the female doppelgängers. The result is striking; percussive and vocal elements arrive in equilibrium from both sides, while guitar textures and electronic sounds remain centered, making for auditory balance unlike anything I’ve ever heard. The visual, of course, is equally as impressive, Wolfe and Laessig donning matching violin-patterened dresses with ‘60s style white collars in addition to their well coordinated hair cuts and black knee socks, while the men of the group wore identical black suits and even seemed to be alike in the facial hair department.

The quintet opened their set with a stripped down cover of The Beatles’ “Free as a Brid”, showcasing in particular the Wolfe and Laessig’s perfect harmonies, which contrasted harshly with Lalish’s near abrasive yet surprisingly appropriate guitar playing. For a second song, fans were treated to “Don’t Just Sit There”, during which Wolfe and Laessig sing in unison rather than in harmony, something they’ve highlighted to be a crucial aspect of their idiosyncratic sound. Alone, they’re excellent singers; together, they’re a voice unlike anything you’ve ever heard, and it’s part of what makes Lucius so special. They then moved into a variation of “Genevieve” from their recent EP which was much more rhythmically intriguing and percussive than what is played on the recording. Wolfe and Laessig trade rhythms on the wood block and floor tom respectively, pounding out patterns in a near violent manner, while drummer Molad and fellow multi-instrumentalist Burri fill in the empty space with off-beat eccentricity.

Lucius then worked their way into “Tempest”, a popper, more synth-heavy tune that came alive mostly thanks to Lalish and Burri’s shimmering guitar playing during its introduction, plus a great deal of beautifully dynamic singing from Wolfe and Laessig. Several songs later, they performed “How Loud Your Heart Gets”, the chorus of which seemed to sound even more distilled and soulful than on the recording, if that is at all possible. “Nothing Ordinary”, another favorite of mine, was the edgy union of distorted guitar, the steady pulse of Molad’s bass drum and passionately shrill vocals that could only work if perfectly executed, and execute perfectly they did. They concluded their set with an energetic rendition of the title track of their debut album, “Wildewoman”.

For encores, Lucius opened up with “Turn it Around”, the two-one handclap tune that harkens back to the ‘60s girl-groups that inspire them. Lucius then did something nobody expected: play unplugged in the middle of the crowd as a part of a little tradition they like to call the “love circle”. They played, rather appropriately, “Two of Us on the Run”, and fans giddy with excitement took to their smartphones to document the experience, turning the crowd into an oscillating night sky full of phone screen stars. They finished the show practically how they’d started it: with a cover of Paul McCartney’s “Goodbye”.

Lucius was joined by the folk-punk group Kingsley Flood, who surprised a then small crowd with their energy and intensity, and for a majority of their tunes, I felt the level of musicianship and composition was top-notch, though certain songs felt to be slightly overkill.

Lucius represents so many things that so many other bands do not. They incorporate layers of percussion, textured sounds and most importantly, two voices acting as one that amount to something special. They’re fun-loving, charismatic people and great musicians, and one thing is for sure: Lucius is going places.

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