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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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Spraynard makes two triumphant returns in one weekend

Spraynard | photo by Megan Kelly
Spraynard | photo by Megan Kelly

Spraynard are back in action. The boys from West Chester, PA decided to call it quits in late 2012, though the members were still active in other bands including NONA, Adult Braces, and Martin.  This February, Spraynard announced that they would be playing a reunion show at the First Unitarian Church on May 24th. The tickets sold out within a day, even without mentioning any support acts. The band later announced that Timeshares (New York), hometown friends Everyone Everywhere, Virginia indie rockers Sundials and in particular, Armalite would be supporting the show.  Armalite has been a “super group” band for almost ten years – a collaboration of Dan Yemin from Paint it Black, Adam Goren from Atom and his Package, longtime punk scenester Mike McKee and Jeff Ziga of Little Baby’s Ice Cream – but this only their sixth show ever.  It was an awesome and rare opportunity to watch them perform!

Due to the overwhelming demand, Spraynard announced a second show to take place the night before the big reunion. This show was at Grand Slam USA of Malvern, PA—a family entertainment center where Mark Dickinson (bass), Dos Ware (drums), and Pat Graham (guitar) have all worked at during some time in their life. The lineup included hometown friends John Crodian and Lavis Blake, DC pop punks The Max Levine Ensemble, and Bethlehem’s own Slingshot Dakota. Grand Slam is equipped with laser tag, bating cages, and more. A stage and sound setup was on a basketball court, and it was one of the most unique shows I’ve ever attended.

Later in March, after the announcement of the shows, the dudes confirmed that Spraynard is back. The compilation LP, The Mark, Tom, and Patrick Show was released, and they just announced a summer tour in July with Dowsing, Timeshares, and Colossal Wrecks. Check out the photos from Grand Slam with John Crodian, The Max Levine Ensemble, and Slingshot Dakota along with the photos from First Unitarian with Everyone Everywhere, Armalite, and Sundials below.

 

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The Districts celebrate a homecoming of sorts in the First Unitarian Church basement

The Districts at First Unitarian Church | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman
The Districts at First Unitarian Church | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman

“Thanks for always having our back, Philly,” Districts frontman Rob Grote mumbles into the mic. Their set has is about halfway finished, and even though the reception hall of the First Unitarian Church isn’t quite sold out, there’s very little free space in the basement – and it shows. Sweat and cheap beer pool on the floor, causing more than a few slips as the Districts rip into the back half of a set powered by churning guitars and heavy-handed riffs. Even though the bluesy four-piece hails from the pastoral Lancaster County, moving to Philadelphia has solidified their status as adopted hometown boys, and the sweltering crowd welcomed them home with open – and sweaty – arms.

The Districts at First Unitarian Church | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman
The Districts at First Unitarian Church | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman

Just back from a short headlining tour of the UK – and before that a longer tour in support of White Denim – the Districts have been having a busy 2014. With Shaky Knees and NonComm recently marked down in the history books, the band is beginning the summer festival circuit. With appearances scheduled for Sasquatch, Lollapalooza, Boston Calling, and of course our own XPoNential Music Festival, the band’s ferocious touring ethic appears to be paying its dividends.

Back in the Church, the boys tear through a tightly knit set marked by explosive energy. The mic and Grote are a pair of magnets; even though the force of his strumming and stomping may take him far, the kinetic power always reels him back in smoothly. The set is short on crowd interaction and banter but long on riffs, and that’s just the way that everyone likes it. Ripping through standout tracks “Lyla” and “Long Distance” from full-length album Telephone, the Districts had no trouble grabbing the assembly of fans by the collar. Interestingly skewed towards the younger demographic, the packed-in crowd made it evident that being a younger-aged band isn’t doing anything but helping to build a fan base which will last.

As the softer tones of “Funeral Beds” slowly built to the epic climax of the show, the crowd went word-for-word with Grote, revealing that there were very few casual, johnny-come-lately fans among them. Loyalty is a key theme of both the Districts songwriting and their relationship with fans – of both hometowns. Taking that trust literally, Grote followed the lead of the more rowdy fans, and briefly crowdsurfed out into midst of the chaos. Philly will always have The Districts’ backs, and always have them back again, whether the next time is a sweaty, crowded basement, or the larger clubs that they’re obviously headed towards.

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OFF! stay the course with new Wasted Years LP, play First Unitarian Church on 5/16

OFF! | Photo by Steve Appleford
OFF! | Photo by Steve Appleford

The spectacle of watching the members of seminal punk forefathers Black Flag facing off in court over merchandise sales and brand identity would seem to undercut any claims these aging icons have to latter-day cred. Original vocalist Keith Morris went on to also found a second landmark band, the Circle Jerks, and since last year has fronted the band that the reviled Greg Ginn would prefer you think of as the other Black Flag reunion, simply known as FLAG.

But if big-dollar settlements don’t exactly scream “punk rock,” Morris’ other gig certainly does. OFF! was formed in late 2009 with Burning Brides frontman Dimitri Coats, Redd Kross bassist Steven Shane McDonald, and Rocket From The Crypt drummer Mario Rubalcaba, and over the course of three albums have proved that reinventing the wheel is unnecessary as long as that wheel can still roll over anything in its path. The band’s latest, Wasted Years, takes care of business with 16 songs lasting a brief but exhilarating 23 minutes, only one track stumbling over the two-minute mark. The dreadlocked Morris spits his vitriolic lyrics so convincingly that it’s hard to believe that trademarks are the only thing he’s infringing.  Check out the video for “Red White and Black” off of Wasted Years below – OFF! play the First Unitarian Church this Friday, May 16th.  Tickets and information can be found here.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Big Scary at Boot and Saddle, Joseph Arthur at Tin Angel, Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s at First Unitarian Church

Big Scary | Photo by Justin Vague | justinvague.com

Melbourne, Australia alt-pop duo Big Scary bring their electronic infused, moody yet catchy sounds to Boot and Saddle tonight. With vocals reminiscent of Bon Iver, and an blend of keys, electric guitar and synthesized beats, Big Scary create melodic sounds in a swaying atmosphere that touches on both happy and sad emotions in an intricate way. Get tickets for the Boot and Saddle show here. Watch “Luck Now” below.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: M.I.A. at Tower Theater, Gliss at Kung Fu Necktie, Woods at Boot and Saddle, and more

Photo via facebook.com/miauk
Photo via facebook.com/miauk

Tonight, M.I.A. graces the Tower Theater stage and fans (old and new) should, as always, expect a little bit of everything from the singer-songwriter’s genre-bending music. On her latest album Matangi, it’s clear that her sound is still a hybrid of electronic, pop, hip-hop and world music. Best known for her 2007 platinum hit “Paper Planes”, M.I.A. isn’t a traditional singer or rapper; she’s crafted a style that’s somewhere in between and it’s infectious. Watch “Y.A.L.A.” below and get tickets here

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: How to Dress Well at First Unitarian Church and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. at Union Transfer

How to Dress Well | Photo by John Vettese
How to Dress Well | Photo by John Vettese

Tonight, How to Dress Well (aka Tom Krell) brings its catchy, minimalist R&B to the First Unitarian Church stage. Krell released his second album Total Loss back in 2012 which featured the single “And It Was U”. His bare bones approach to the genre is low on frills but high in quality as he transforms melodies with layered harmonies and simple beats. Get tickets here and check out “And It Was U” below.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Arcade Fire at Wells Fargo Center, A Winged Victory for the Sullen at First Unitarian Church, and The Internet at the TLA

Photo courtesy of the artist
Photo courtesy of the artist

Celebrating their fourth album Reflektor, indie rock heavyweights Arcade Fire will light up the Wells Fargo Center stage tonight. With three years separating each of their LP releases, the band hasn’t rushed to maintain momentum due to success and critical acclaim. They take their time when it comes to new material. After releasing Reflektor and scoring Spike Jonze’s Her, the band is bigger now than ever before. Watch them perform “Afterlife” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon below and get tickets here.

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Photos: A hardcore / pop-punk free-for-all with Slingshot Dakota and Iron Chic at the First Unitarian

Slingshot Dakota | Photo by Rachel Barrish | rachelbarrish.com
Slingshot Dakota | Photo by Rachel Barrish | rachelbarrish.com

Last night the regional hardcore and pop-punk scenes collided in the basement of the First Unitarian Church. Keyboard-led Lehigh Valley pop-punkers Slingshot Dakota co-headlined with Long Island hardcore crew Iron Chic, and both bands whipped the capacity crowd into a frenzy. Check out photos from both sets in the gallery below.

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Dig into the aggressive side of Bleeding Rainbow on “Images”

Bleeding Rainbow | photo by Chad Yanagisawa
Bleeding Rainbow | photo by Chad Yanagisawa

So Philly’s Bleeding Rainbow have a great new record coming out called Interrupt. It’s their rawest outing yet, and in his interview with the band yesterday, our writer Brian Wilensky made reference to a song called “Images.” He refereed to it as “a moment of sheer aggression unleashed from Garcia.”

(Read More – The Adaptable Noise-Punks: Bleeding Rainbow releases its rawest record to date)

Today, that song was premiered on Stereogum, which called it “a two-minute rocket-blast” and a “charged-up thumper that should appeal to fans of recent-vintage Cloud Nothings.” Sounds about right, and you can definitely notice the angrier, more intense emotions that Garcia made reference to yesterday. Listen below, and get more information on Bleeding Rainbow’s slot opening for Mission of Burma at The First Unitarian Church this Saturday at the XPN Concert Calendar.

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