Most Philadelphians are familiar with Fairmount’s massive landmark Eastern State Penitentiary. The looming structure, which closed in 1971 after 142 years as a prison, reopened in 1994 for guided tours, and has since become a destination for thrill-seekers during Bastille Day and Halloween season. However, beyond the zombie-fied chaos, the space itself offers an amazing backdrop for, well, anything. We decided to look back at a few ways musicians and other visual artists have used ESP over the last few decades. Continue reading →
This year’s Made in America festival kicked off yesterday with an exhilarating lineup of performers along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The day spanned 11 hours and a spectrum of genres, from the discofied openers in Cherub to the hardcore punk / metal of Glassjaw; EDM hitmaker Baauer to funky fresh hiphop vet Big Daddy Kane; sweet soul grooves from Mayer Hawthorne to an explosive set from The National. And of course, the man of the hour was Kanye West, whose closing 90-minute performance was at peak energy throughout. Continue reading →
Year End Mania is the Key’s survey of the things below the surface that made 2013 awesome. In this installment, contributing writer Sameer Rao talks about songs that make you feel.
For those who are true monsters, hardened against moments that expose you for the vulnerable and fragile human that you really are, please stop reading here.
For the rest of us, we occasionally crack at the wail of a guitar, the cry of a love-lorn singer, or the naked clarity of a synthline (or, more often, all of the above). I call these moments “gut-punches” – musical cues that can stop you in your tracks or make you uncontrollably sob in the middle of a friend’s Christmas party, screaming “It’s just so beautiful!” as you wipe your snot-encrusted nose with that ugly sweater you bought just for that occasion.
Moments like this confirm why music in the age of digital reproduction can still be powerful and transcendent, and I masochistically yearn for them with every new record I listen to. Fortunately, we had a bunch of great ones this year. I’ll try not to stain my shirt as I run down the list of 2013’s Top 5 Musical Gut-Punches.
5. Little Big League – “Tokyo Drift” from These are Good People
The exemplary debut full-length from Philly’s own Little Big League is filled with moments that compel you to scream out for jilted love, but this song was a personal stand-out. It’s a song that evolved in texture throughout live performances from the past two years, blending classic shoegaze and 90s melodic rock into a volatile cocktail that threatens to overflow through the song’s delay-heavy bridge. Just when you think you’ll punch a hole in the drywall, squeals of feedback withdraw into singer Michelle Zauner’s haunting and understated soprano before the song gracefully shimmers into thin air. You’re left coming to terms with your own power, or your shattered hand in the drywall – either way, you’re still grateful to be alive.
Hip-hop superstar Kanye West held high concept court at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night. The tour had been postponed, and several dates were cancelled after a truck accident damaged equipment, but it resumed in Philadelphia to seemingly no problems.
The concert was equal parts performance art and a religiously themed experimental noise rap show. For approximately 2 and 1/2 hours, West was incendiary and powerful, rolling out a solid 28-song set list that mixed all the songs from his recent album, Yeezus, with the hits, four mask changes, and a special appearance by Jesus. The rap firebrand, backed by a three piece “band” (who contributed programming, backing vocals, keyboard and guitar playing), came out on stage after twelve women (his “disciples”) covered in white prayer robes walked in syncopation onto the stage as the noisy intro to “On Sight” began.
The stage show was elaborate. A 60 foot high mountain, which towards the end of the show would erupt with fireworks and blasts of fire, looked over a walkway where West performed for most of the evening (save when he climbed the mountain). Hovering over Mount Kanye was a circular screen where closeups of Kanye and the dancers would be projected with pre-recorded scenes of the sky including rushing clouds, a sunset, and snow. It was a breathtaking visual compliment to the new material.
There was a loose narrative to the evening’s program. It was divided into five sections, Fighting, Rising, Falling, Searching and Finding. With each new chapter, a female robotic voice would blast through the soundsystem, introducing each section while her description was projected in words on the circular screen above the stage. The dancers appeared throughout the evening. They alternated their robes with see-through flesh-toned head-to-toe body suits, walked slowly and at times creepily, reminiscent of the women in the classic Hammer Horror Dracula movies. Most of the time, the choreography felt stiff and forced, did little to give lift to the emotional intensity of West’s performance and got in the way of the song transitions (which could have given the show a quicker pace).
Throughout the show, West donned four masks, singing underneath them. Perhaps he was quietly making a point about identity and perception, however he reflected on his own self-perception and the media’s perception of him. At one point he delivered a rant, but also a soliloquy, about slavery. As the religious iconography continued, there came a corny yet climactic point in the show when White Jesus appeared, walked up to Black Jesus, held his head and – in a bit of overacting – Kanye rose from his knees and took the last mask off his head. The crowd loved the moment, and erupted in near deafening excitement.
While the staging and story arc were innovative and creative, West ultimately doesn’t need these elements of theater to provide the drama or the story line. On his own, sans Mount Kanye and his follower souls, under the spotlight, West provides enough of his own theater. His performance of both the new material, especially on “New Slaves,” “Blood On The Leaves,” “Black Skinhead,” and the closing “Bound 2,” proved why he’s one of the greatest rappers of our time. Some of the older material, like “Mercy,” and “Clique” were throwaways for the fans. Most of the “hits” came towards the end of the show and these underscored West’s importance as a rapper and songwriter.
Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar opened the show with an explosive set of songs from his recent album Good Kid: M.A.A.D. City, backed by an exceptional live band. Two summers ago, few music fans knew about Lamar, and since then his stature in the hip-hop world has grown to dizzying, well-deserved heights. On Saturday, he came to impress, and treated the them half-filled audience to classics from his recent album like “Backseat Freestyle,” “Poetic Justice,” and the poignant, “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst.” Continue reading →
This is going to be one amazing hip-hop show: Kendrick Lamar has been added as the opener to the Kanye West show on November 16th at the Wells Fargo Center. Go here for tickets. Last night, Lamar was on the BET hip-hop awards with ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and Isaiah Rashad. Check out the video below (explicit language alert!)
Because the only predictable thing about Kanye is that he is unpredictable, the rapper made a surprise visit to Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last night to perform “Bound 2” off of Yeezus. West was backed by Fallon’s house band The Roots and joined by R&B superstar Charlie Wilson (who appeared on the album track as well). Bouyed by a soulful children’s choir and Wilson’s expert scatting, West’s first-ever performance on Fallon’s show is nothing short of stellar. He’ll bring his Yeezus tour to the Wells Fargo Center on November 16th; ticket on-sale information is still forthcoming but more information will be available here. Watch the video of West performing “Bound 2” below.
The thing about Kanye West: he knows how to make an impression. There was the benefit for Hurricane Sandy relief last year, when West’s set was maybe 20 minutes and jam-packed with a rapid-fire montage of hit after hit; it’s like he rushed the stage and threw down full force (possibly to the chagrin of the staunch rockers who just wanted to see Springsteen and McCartney, but whatever). Then there was the headline-grabbing set at Revel in Atlantic City, where he rapped in a mysterious series of ornate masks. And let’s not forget the series of projections around the globe to promote his lates album Yeezus; it was a bit sensational, but it got your attention.
Point being: Kanye is a top-notch performer, and know’s how to get the masses turning his way. Which makes the announcement of his first solo tour in five years an exciting deal – even if Yeezus was, ultimately, more hype than substance, dude has an incredible back-catalgoue to pull from. The tour comes to Philly on November 16th, and while Philly is not one of the cities slated to get an opening set from Kendrick Lamar, there is some mention of a special guest – which, from Kanye, could mean just about anything. Ticket onsale info is still TBA; below, watch Kanye performing “New Slaves” on SNL earlier this year.