Northern Arms bring gallery tour to Fleisher/Ollman and the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Northern Arms
Northern Arms | photo by Max Gaines |

Resident noir-rockers Northern Arms have been playing their dark and dramatic songs in venues that are a little more used to silent art forms lately.  Beginning with a David Lynch-inspired set at PAFA last week, the ten-piece band continues a tour of art gallery spaces in Brooklyn this week before returning to Philly on Friday, December 5th for a set at Fleisher Art memorial with Drew Nugent and the Midnight Society.  Two sets at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on January 9th bring the tour to a close, though we’ll be hearing from Northern Arms soon after as they complete a new record at Miner Street Recording.  More information for the shows can be found here.  Listen to the demo of “Come To Me” below.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: John the Conqueror at Milkboy, Art Garfunkel at Philadelphia Museum of Art, Black Horse Motel with Song Dogs and Spirit & Dust at Boot & Saddle and more


John the Conqueror | photo by Cinthya Vong
John the Conqueror | photo by Cinthya Vong

John the Conqueror celebrate the release of The Good Life at Milkboy tonight.  Formed in 2010 by Mississippi natives Pierre Moore and Mike Gardner with Philadelphian Ryan Lynn, the trio has spent its short career creating a sound that keeps the true blues of the south alive.  Working in affinities for punk and vivid narratives, John the Conqueror’s new record is a study in traditional music storytelling with an energy that is hard to match.  Tickets and information for the hometown record release show with Blayer Pointdujour & The Rockers Galore and Thee, Idea Men can be found here.  Stream and download “Waking Up to You” from The Good Life below.

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Bakithi Kumalo will lead a South African Dance Party at the Philadelphia Museum of Art tonight

Paul Simon with Bakithi Kumalo | photo via
Paul Simon with Bakithi Kumalo | photo via

The video for Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” famously features the singer-songwriter’s old pal Chevy Chase hamming it up while lip-synching to Simon’s vocals. But Chase isn’t the only one faking it in that clip. ­ Simon appears alongside him, cycling through a number of instruments while wearing a stoic deadpan. Near the end of the video, Simon mimes an elastic bass run and proceeds to play along with the record’s buoyant groove.

The man responsible for the song’s now-iconic bassline is actually Bakithi Kumalo, who will host a South African Dance Party on Friday evening at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A native of Soweto township, Kumalo now lives in the Lehigh Valley and has worked with a wide range of artists, including Cyndi Lauper, Hugh Masekela, Herbie Hancock, and Chaka Khan.

Kumalo’s sound, which graced much of Simon’s landmark 1985 album Graceland, blends the traditions of his native South Africa with the electric fusion sound of bassists like Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke. At the Art Museum, he’ll lead a five-piece band through music from his four solo CDs, a rare opportunity for a musician who spends so much of his time on the road playing other people’s music ­ as he will early next year, as he heads back out on the road for a tour co-headlined by Paul Simon and Sting.


Photos: Lee Ranaldo at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Guitarist Lee Ranaldo, an alum of XPo Fest ’12 and a founding member of Sonic Youth, performed a program of John Cage pieces last night as part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Dancing Around the Bride exhibition. On display since the fall, the interdisciplinary exhibit celebrates the work and interactions of 20th century artists Cage, Marcel Duchamp, Merce Cunningham, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.

Ranaldo has long drawn influence from Cage – read Elliott Sharp’s interview with him here - and last night performed several abstract guitar pieces while dancers from Cunningham’s dance company performed on the stage in front of him. The sound was imaginative and somewhat mystical, mixing in audio from radio and a player piano with Ranaldo’s exhilarating guitar work. He suspended his guitar from the ceiling and played it with a bow, waved it atop his upturned guitar amplifier, swung it like a propeller around the room and allowed the air and motion the shape the sound how it would. Ranaldo performs again today and tomorrow, beginning at 1 p.m.; more information can be found at the museum’s website.


Interview: Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo on John Cage (playing the Philadelphia Museum of Art on 1/4 – 1/6)

Lee Ranaldo is best known as the guitarist and co-founder of Sonic Youth, inarguably one of the most essential American rock bands. But his work outside of that band is just as adventurous, ranging from the singer-songwriter oriented album he released last year on Matador, Between the Times and the Tides, and his more feverish experimental work with critical voices like Mats Gustafsson, Zeena Parkins and William Hooker, and in groups like Text of Light (with Christian Marclay, Alan Licht and Ulrich Krieger ). In addition to his numerous music projects and releases, Ranaldo is also a visual artist and writer.

Ranaldo is performing several times in Philadelphia over the weekend as part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s “Dancing around the Bride,” the massive ongoing exhibit celebrating the work of John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, Merce Cunningham, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. For these performances, Ranaldo will be interpreting several Cage scores, as well as performing some of his own work.

I caught up with Ranaldo a few days ago on the phone from his home in New York City to talk about his personal relationship with Cage’s work and legacy.

The Key: Did you ever meet John Cage?

Lee Ranaldo: I saw him at a few events around New York in the 1980s, but we weren’t really that friendly.

TK: Do you recall your first encounter with his work?

LR: I think it was “Rainforest IV,” with David Tudor. It was definitely mid-70s, when I was just arriving at college and starting to hear a lot of different avant-garde and 20th century composers, from Edgar Varèse to Karlheinz Stockhausen to John Cage.

TK: What was your first impression?

LR: I would liken it to the one I first had when I encountered mid-century avant-garde American film: at first you don’t know what to make of it, and then you realize it’s an entirely new language that you’re trying to understand. In a sense, you have to work your way into a language, or into a new art form; it’s like coming to an understanding of abstract painting. Continue reading →


Beyond Silence digs deeper into the work of John Cage (begins tonight at the Philadelphia Museum of Art)


Despite an incredibly diverse career spanning six decades and uncountable genres, silence is what American avant garde composer John Cage is known for. His 1952 composition 4’33″, in which performers let four minutes and 33 seconds transpire without making a single sound, quickly became the font of Cage’s fame – and infamy.

Nonetheless, Cage continued to compose, perform and conduct a wildly varied repertoire: sometimes piano-driven, sometimes high concept pieces whose “scores” consisted of no written music, only performative instructions to musicians, or multimedia collaborations with performance and video artists like Nam June Paik.

There’s a lot more to John Cage than the absence of sound. And that’s the driving conviction behind Cage: Beyond Silence, a multi-sited celebration of the composer’s life, work and influence that will take place in Philadelphia from October 26 through January 20. Continue reading →