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Free at Noon Flashback: Caroline Rose packs a short set full of offbeat energy

Caroline Rose | photo by Ashley Gellman for WXPN | agellmanphotos.com

Caroline Rose has just a few favorite songs — her own songs, that is. During her Free at Noon performance today, the NYC-based songwriter enthusiastically introduced more than one of her tunes as her “favorite” — and with an enthralling performance like Rose’s, it’s hard to disagree.

Rose’s set may have been on the shorter side to allow time for the doubleheader, but she packed it full of infectious energy and her signature offbeat touches — from the fake flowers (and…vegetables?) decorating the stage to her beloved stuff cat Chelsea perched on the keyboard, which was labeled Key Bore-d. But Rose’s set was anything but boring. Rather, the band was so upbeat that you could hardly tell it was their third Philly show in 24 hours — they played Johnny Brenda’s last night and an in-store at Main Street Music before that, and somehow they have to get to their Connecticut show tonight. Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: Nightmares on Wax bring living room jams to their midday set

Nightmares on Wax | photo by Ashley Gellman for WXPN | agellmanphotos.com

Friday afternoon, the downstairs space at World Cafe Live was transformed from its normal stage setup to what appeared to be a halfway cleared out living room. Where a kitchen table may have been before, a massive drum kit took its place. Pioneer CDJ’s and a mixer occupy every square inch of a coffee table placed in front of a leather couch. It’s on the couch we find George Evelyn perched, captaining the CDJ’s, an additional sequencer on his lap, and a MacBook Pro precariously perched atop an amp. With the hard hitting bass, it’s beyond me how the computer didn’t rattle it’s way off the amp.

Evelyn is the man behind the project Nightmares on Wax, originally a duo founded in 1989 in Leeds, England. Nightmares on Wax blends a plethora of genres, sourcing from both sides of the Atlantic and everything in between. With influences ranging from hip-hop, soul, and funk, to dub and reggae, house via Detroit and techno by way of Berlin, the sound that emerges is a beautifully mixed electronic blend, with nods to each element appearing throughout the midday set. Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: L.A. troubadour Jonathan Wilson sets the mood with twists and turns

Jonathan Wilson | photo by Ashley Gellman for WXPN | agellmanphotos.com

Eclectic singer-songwriter and producer Jonathan Wilson‘s new album Rare Birds is an ambitious undertaking. At 13 tracks strong, many of which lie in the six- to eight-minute range, it was impossible for Wilson to bring all of his new tunes to the World Cafe Live stage for Free at Noon this afternoon, but with the way Wilson and his band filled the room with their soaring sound, you almost wouldn’t have known that what we heard today was only a small sampling of the musician’s catalogue. Continue reading →

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Free At Noon Flashback: Caitlyn Smith gives Starfire a solo makeover

Caitlyn Smith | photo by Ashley Gellman for WXPN | agellmanphotos.com

Caitlyn Smith released her debut full-length record Starfire last month, but her songs have already been topping the charts for years – sung by the likes of Dolly Parton, Meghan Trainor, James Bay, Lady Antebellum, and so many more. Smith has refocused her songwriting expertise on her own life, crafting vivid, powerful lyrics from the stories and experiences that she’s collected while living and working in Nashville.

For today’s Free At Noon show, Smith’s already intimate tracks were made even more so during the solo performance. Continue reading →

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Free At Noon Flashback: The James Hunter Six performs from new record, Whatever It Takes

James Hunter Six | photos by Ashley Gellman | agellmanphotos.com

Following jazz-funk trio Hambone Relay’s set, today’s Free At Noon doubleheader continued with blues and soul outfit the James Hunter Six. The afternoon performance kicks off the English group’s US tour in support of their brand new record, Whatever It Takes.

James Hunter’s gritty, soulful voice continuously and effortlessly moved between commanding the crowd’s attention and serving as an instrument itself, thrown around in incredible range and style that was difficult to mimic when he led a call-and-answer bit during the last song. Continue reading →

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Free At Noon Flashback: Philly’s Hambone Relay brings sunshine on a cloudy day

Hambone Relay | photos by Ashley Gellman | agellmanphotos.com

“I was you guys every week,” said Rob Tait, now onstage behind the drums instead of part of the Free At Noon crowd gathered in World Cafe Live. Tait was joined by organist Mark Brown and guitarist Luke Ferracone, who together are Hambone Relay.

The Philadelphia-based trio’s modern, jazz-funk-psychedelic grooves in no way matched the gray skies outside. Their dynamic, up-tempo tracks immediately heightened the energy in the room and never let it drop during the set. The trio performed tracks from their 2013 self-titled debut and their 2016 record Free Hugs all the way to their latest release, American Hi-Fi. Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: Sunflower Bean discovers afternoon rock at World Cafe Live

Sunflower Bean | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

It’s official, the consensus is in: afternoon rock shows are the best. Of course, the Free at Noon crowd has always known that, but it’s great to hear that Sunflower Bean agrees. When the band took the World Cafe Live stage this afternoon ahead of their sold-out show tonight at Everybody Hits, their surprise at the size and enthusiasm of the crowd was palpable. After kicking off their set with “Easier Said,” lead singer and bassist Julia Cumming wondered aloud, “Don’t you guys have anywhere to be?” The audience’s response — that they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else — was all the affirmation Sunflower Bean needed to pour a wild amount of infectious energy into their set. Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: Ben Arnold and the 48 Hour Orchestra break through the clouds with soulful jams

Ben Arnold | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

To kick off 2018 and the 13th year of WXPN’s Free at Noon concert series, long-time friend Ben Arnold, who is no stranger to World Cafe Live’s stage, performed a sleek and soulful set despite the abysmal weather currently inhabiting Philadelphia. Appearing in the Free at Noon series in its first year as a trio, the Philly-native returned with a backing band 10 members deep this time around. Dubbed “The 48 Hour Orchestra,” the band provided a spirited brass section, punchy drums assisted by congas, and heartfelt backing vocals to the set. Continue reading →

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Free At Noon Flashback: Slowey and the Boats says “Mele Kalikimaka” to a festive World Cafe Live crowd

Slowey and the Boats | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Philadelphia-based Hawaiian-inspired combo Slowey and the Boats took the World Cafe Live stage today, bringing seasons’ greetings and Christmas kitsch to the Free at Noon faithful.

Leading the band behind a light-up banner emblazoned with their name, steel guitar player Isaac Stanford smoothly plucked out the vocal melodies to instrumental renditions of holiday favorites like “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas,” “White Christmas” and more. Joining him were Mike Hlatky on bass, Mike Pietrusko on drums, Nate Skiles on guitar and David Streim on Wurlitzer.   Continue reading →

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Free At Noon Flashback: Ted Leo brings The Pharmacists along for a revved up, reflective set

Ted Leo | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Things I was not expecting when arriving at work today: that it would be snowing by mid-day. That Jersey indie rock vet Ted Leo would have his longtime band The Pharmacists in tow for today’s Free at Noon set. That I would be screaming along to “Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone?” while attempting to shoot photos and not bump into the people around me too drastically. (Sorry, everyone.)

It’s true, Leo’s been on the road with this remarkable group of players — multi-instrumentalist James Canty, saxophone player and vocalist Adrienne Berry, drummer Chris Wilson, guitarist and singer Ralph Darden and bassist Marty Violence — since September, in support of his new record The Hanged Man. And the album is his first released under his own name, versus the standard “and the Pharmacists” credit…so the billing I read versus the performance I saw should not have totally caught me unawares. Continue reading →