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John Legend brings Yuletide cheer, camp, and stately soul to The Met Philly

John Legend | photo by Senia Lopez | senialopez.photography

John Legend is corrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrny. That’s a compliment when it comes to doing Christmas right. At least in the manner in which he — the one-time University of Pennsylvania student/singer — has this season: giving modern R&B heft, humor and sensuality to a Nat King Cole sense of savoir faire for everything from last week’s NBC TV special, A Legendary Christmas with John and Chrissy (Teigen, his model/actress/author wife), to a holiday album of newly-penned and classic carols with A Legendary Christmas, to this Christmas-themed gig at The Met Philly.

The Tuesday evening concert, in the bitter chill, no less, was part of the opening week of Live Nation and North Broad Street’s newest, most dramatic entrée into the venue scene: an old one, all 110-years and $56 million dollars’ worth of rejuvenated proscenium arches, gold leaf rosettes, mezzanines and large scale stages and sightlines. Continue reading →

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Casual Splendor: The Met Philly makes its debut with Bob Dylan in the driver’s seat

A sold-out crowd awaits Bob Dylan at opening night of The Met Philly | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

A chilly breeze cut up Poplar Street yesterday morning, blowing broken caution tape and discarded Wawa bags above the heads of dignitaries gathered for the ribbon cutting of The Met Philly. Out on the building’s North Broad Street face, a team of carpenters scrambled to reinforce windows and hammer out other down-to-the-wire touch ups.

“Did you bring your checkbook?” developer Eric Blumenfeld asked his colleagues from the podium. “We still have some work to do.”

The crowd chuckled at his quip, but it seems that The Met will be well into its inaugural season before work on the building is completely finished; and not for nothing, either, since renovating a century-old music venue is a delicate task. Not that the casual concertgoer will really notice the ongoing work. The parts of the venue that matter the most — the concert hall, the bars and other hospitality centers — were mostly in full swing last night for the opening concert with Bob Dylan and his band. And from there, the calendar only gets more exciting: John Legend tonight, Lindsey Stirling in a couple weeks, Kurt Vile near year’s end. As Live Nation’s regional president Geoff Gordon said upon taking the mic, “We don’t want to be pigeonholed into one genre, whether it be Tyler Perry or Charlie Wilson, whether it be PnB Rock, Mariah Carey, or Bob Dylan. We’re going to do it all.”

Returning to the venue just ahead of showtime, the disarray of the morning — confetti strewn around the streets, construction gear lining the sidewalks — had all been swept away for the glitz and glamour of a searchlight casting a radiant golden glow on the building’s white brick facade and arched windows. Once inside, though, the mood of the night became remarkably more casual. This didn’t feel weighed down by the formality of, say, seeing a show at the Kimmel Center or Academy of Music, where you’re likely to be surrounded by concertgoers wearing button-up shirt / tie combos or and cocktail dresses, sipping wine out of plastic cups. Some of that was going on at The Met, sure, but for the most part the vibe was a rock show audience in a venue filled with grandeur.  Continue reading →

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Bob Dylan, Kurt Vile and Amos Lee are on the initial lineup for The Met Philly

Bob Dylan | photo by John Vettese for WXPN // Kurt Vile | photo by Noah Silvestry for WXPN // Amos Lee | photo by Wendy McCardle for WXPN

Singer-songwriter icon Bob Dylan will be the first artist to take the stage at the newly renovated venue The Met Philly, which opens on December 3rd. The initial lineup was announced this afternoon in a press conference from promoters Live Nation, and it also features Philly son Kurt Vile playing his hometown album release for his new Bottle It In LP on December 29th, and fellow hometown hero Amos Lee headlining on April 6, 2019.

The initial run of shows also includes Toto tribute band Weezer headlining on December 12th, cerebral Bucks County alt-popsters Ween on December 13th, violinist Lindsey Stirling on December 18th, and Germantown rapper PnB Rock on December 28th. Continue reading →

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Secret Nudist Friends get weird in South Philly in the hip-shaking “Something On Your Mind” video

Secret Nudist Friends | photo by Mike Arrison | mikearrisonphotography.com | via facebook.com/SNFphilly

The bizarre new video from Philly retro rockers Secret Nudist Friends has a wild bit of Jean Luc Goddard going on in this new music video directed by Deb Gilmore, and not just because of the stylish outfits and poppy color schemes.

Amid its visual lightheartedness, there’s an overall surreal undercurrent and constant threat of violence, not unlike Pierrot le Fou. That carries from the tight shots of various bandmates’ hips shaking to the beat, to non-sequiter cuts of singer-guitarist Matty Klauser prowling the streets of South Philly with seemingly nefarious designs on the people he follows — the song, creepily, is called “Something On Your Mind” – to keyboardist Missy Pidgeon stepping from a corner store brandishing a butcher knife and chips, ready to retaliate. Continue reading →

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Kurt Vile brings mesmeric oddities and memorable hits to the majestic Met Philly

Kurt Vile | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

There was something decidedly cosmic about seeing Kurt Vile headline the immense space of The Met Philly last night. Cosmic not only in the interweaving, meditative instrumental passages of his songs like “Bassackwards” from this year’s Bottle It In, but in that a set comprised largely of this far-out fare was able to mostly pack the 3500 capacity room, with only a couple sections of open seats in the upper-upper tiers.

To be fair, Kurt is more complex than just a rock and roll mumblecore meanderer; he’s a loud and proud devotee of Petty and Prine with legit pop songs, like the set-opening “Loading Zones” and the encore “Pretty Pimpin’”, hooky and fun nuggets boasting widespread appeal. When he branded himself “Philly’s constant hitmaker” a decade or so ago, the handle might have been steeped in aughties irony, but the dude has legit hits: the jaunty “Jesus Fever” and the beautiful ballad “Baby’s Arms” from 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo are two others that made appearances last night. Continue reading →

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Weezer takes on the extravagant Met Philly with a nonstop hit-parade

Weezer | photo by Rachel Barrish for WXPN

On Wednesday night, Los Angeles rockers Weezer landed on North Broad Street to perform at the newly opened Met Philly. The four-piece group dropped in on tour in advance of their upcoming album, the black album coming in March 2019.

Weezer has always been the band in the back of your mind that you think of as an eclectic cornucopia of genres — rock ’n roll, surf rock, alternative, pop, but always leaning on the indie rocker vibes. Their songs have resonated with so many since the mid ’90’s self-titled (blue) album came out. Many of those classics were also played in the grand room at The Met. Already a unique venue to see a “legacy alternative rock” band, and having just held its opening night concert with Bob Dylan the week before, it was actually the perfect space for this performance. Because many Weezer fans have been intimately listening to the band since they were teenagers, the large-scale, extravagant venue felt like a better fit than a Frankford Hall or Fillmore. Continue reading →

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Music of Metamorphosis: Inside the Butterfly Pavilion performance from Portland’s Visible Cloaks and Philly’s Chrysalis Ensemble

Visible Cloaks | via facebook.com/bowerbirdPHL

It’s easy to understand the appeal of butterflies. They’re beautiful, delicate, very much elegant in a way. But of course they don’t start out like that. Butterfly eggs look like a pile of small beads balanced precariously on the edge of a leaf. The caterpillars hatched from those eggs are decidedly not elegant, though they can look pretty neat. We talk about the transformative nature of cocoons and but that process is violent and rather gory. So while the end result might be this beautiful creature flying around our gardens, that’s not the whole story, not by a long shot.

This Friday at the Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion and Insectarium in Northeast Philly, a group of musicians will be diving deep into the topic. The Bowerbird-presented event, which will be held in the 7,000 square foot pavilion that’s home to thousands of butterflies, features performances from Portland duo Visible Cloaks, who have been celebrated for their minimal ambient synth-driven songs, and Philadelphia’s The Chrysalis Ensemble. Continue reading →

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Banned In Philly: Watch Metallica’s infamous CoreStates Center parking lot concert from November 11, 1997

Metallica in Philly in 1997 | via metallica.com

“They tried to shut Metallica down,” James Hetfield told a TV camera as his cozy tour van made its way across the Ben Franklin Bridge.

The date was November 11, 1997, and Hetfield and his bandmates — Kirk Hammett, Jason Newsted, and Lars Ulrich — were chatting with MTV’s Matt Pinfield on their way to the sports complex in South Philadelphia, where the American metal overlords were slated to play a free concert.

The gig was hotly anticipated as much as it was embroiled in controversy, and the fan club concert film Banned In Philly (which you can watch a VHS rip of below) gives you a taste of the landscape surrounding it.

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Espers Everywhere Now: Beloved Philly psych-folks reflect on life ahead of their hometown reunion

Espers
Espers | photo by Alissa Anderson | courtesy of the artist

Family. Work. Relationships. Relocation. Life.

These are things that closed a chapter on Philadelphia’s Espers in 2010, not long after the release of its final album, III, in 2009. “It might have been 2010, maybe sooner, like toward the release of the album, I’m not certain,” said Meg Baird, the one-time singing Epser(s) of how the band dissolved.

And that is it: Espers gently faded out just as they faded in, on a billowing, beautiful, undoubtedly dark and cumulous cloud of psilocybin-laced folk touched by occasional thunderbolts of electricity. Now, with the looming possibility of reissues of its brief catalog — four woodsy, gauzy, tactile albums and EPs — co-Epsers Baird, Greg Weeks, Brooke Sietinsons, Helena Espvall and Otto Hauser return to their rural, ancient-to-the-future roots tied (and unmoored from) folk’s traditions.

Maybe it’s just for one night (August 24 at Union Transfer), but the pairing with the like-minded Andy Cabic and his band Vetiver is perfect. Cabic’s handcrafted, shapeshifting, urbane folk was introduced to the world in 2004, the same year as Espers initial album, and the two in the birth of the modern folk movement, unified by the (then) further adventures of newbies Devendra Banhart, Ólöf Arnalds, Animal Collective and Faun Fables, as well as the return of alternative folk elders such as Clive Palmer, Bert Jansch and Vashti Bunyan.

Calling from San Francisco, where she’s lived for six years, it is odd speaking with Baird about Espers presently, as we have discussed her solo work (albums such as 2011’s Seasons on Earth and 2015’s Don’t Weigh Down the Light) without ever discussing Espers’ slip into darkness.

“It’s strange talking about Espers now, but not in a negative way,” said Baird, days before leaving for Philadelphia and rehearsals with her old band. “More of it is surprising that we’re here. It has been good, nice, that we’re revisiting the old material, and I’m glad we are able to play music together again.” Continue reading →