Surrealist singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock takes the Sellersville Theater on a trip through the randomizer

Robyn Hitchcock | Photo by Chris Sikich |
Robyn Hitchcock | Photo by Chris Sikich |

Last Monday at Sellersville Theater one of the most underrated musicians of the last 35 years graced the stage with his songcraft: Robyn Hitchcock. Playing on his 61st birthday, Hitchcock curated a set that spanned from his seminal, yet semi-unknown punk band The Soft Boys to his more recent solo and collaborative work. With only guitar and harmonica, Hitchcock delighted a half-full room with his intricate string work and songs that dig deep into the recesses of love, thought, and oddity.

A performer forever sealed in his own world, Hitchcock rarely allows the audience into his realm of stream-of-consciousness lyrics and stories. So when the crowd belted out “Happy Birthday” when he came on stage he did not bat an eyelash in response. He strummed the opening chords to “The Abyss” and dove right in. There were only a few fleeting moments when he directly engaged a crowd heavily made up of fans (as can be told for calls for songs deep into his catalogue like “The Yip Song”). Before unearthing The Soft Boys’ “Only the Stones Remain” he asked if someone had a harmonica for him, as requested on Twitter (a fan excitingly obliged). And then there was personal embarrassment for this writer when he commented on my camera’s loud shutter, asking if the camera was “eating a carrot” (the vegetable being a reference to an aside about evolution and what could have been).

The set was seemingly on what he termed “randomizer” as it was three nights previously in at Concerts in the Studio at Freehold, NJ. Plopped in the middle of the Sellersville main set was a glorious slow-burn cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.” And there was the unexpected three song sequence from I Often Dream of Trains, directly from the album in order: instrumental “Heart Full of Leaves,” “Autumn is Your Last Chance,” and “I Often Dream of Trains.” (In Freehold he had played an even rarer swatch of three songs from Queen Elvis.) There were the entry points into his imagination as well, from how cheese is stored on the New Jersey Turnpike for his indulgence, leading into “The Cheese Alarm.” Or there was the linking of the realms of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and wheelbarrows to his peculiar masterwork “My Wife and My Dead Wife.”

The set was heavy on the strange corners of love, from “My Wife and My Dead Wife” to “Museum of Sex” to “I’m Only You.” The appearance of the latter is the lyrical highlight of any show for this critic. “I’m a house that burns down/Every night for you” is the crystallization of Hitchcock’s imagination in verse; he unlocks feelings in a unique way every time you hear them. And to conclude with an encore from his “record collection” including his staple inspiration Bob Dylan (“4th Time Around”) and an odd ending in David Bowie’s “Soul Love” demonstrates his reverence for those who have influenced his views on the heart and the world at large.

To experience Robyn Hitchcock live is to witness all the best of rock and roll. May his journeys, which have not brought him to Philly proper in three years, intersect with yours so you too can engage with his majesty in all of its quirks, emotions, and glory.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Hoots and Hellmouth at Johnny Brenda’s, Allen Toussaint at Sellersville, GoGo Morrow at Union Transfer

Hoots and Hellmouth | Photo by Denika Peniston |

Philly’s americana rock group Hoots and Hellmouth play Johnny Brenda’s tonight, before they venture down the east coast and into the midwest. With a back-catalog of three full-lengths, including 2011′s Salt, the four-piece recently released two new songs via Bandcamp. One of these songs, “Repeat Myself,” bounces with energized acoustic guitar as the organ jams and vocalist Sean Hoots belts lines like “I didn’t realize / that I took you by surprise / but I took you anyway!” Get tickets to Hoots and Hellmouth’s upbeat and passionate show here.

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Premiere: Local folk combo HogMaw goes traditional on “Darlin’ Corey” (appearing on Gene Shay’s folk show Sunday 10/27)

Photo by Kody Konrad

Pennsylvania three-piece HogMaw has built a reputation over the past few years as a sting band that breaks down the walls of what a string band can be. For a while, it used the word “thudergrass” to describe its sound – bluegrass informed by rock and roll energy, and yes, a little bit of heavy metal technical dynamics.

The band has frequently performed in the campground of the Philadelphia Folk Festival, and played the mainstage in 2011 for the fest’s 50th anniversary; it also gigs regionally and nationally on the bluegrass circuit, and its latest outing, Ideal Proof, finds HogMaw reeling back its boundary-breaking side to record a set of traditional songs.

The album was produced by Dom Flemons of renowned folk crew Carolina Chocolate Drops, who the band connected with when they performed together at The Strand Capitol Performing Arts Center, and we swapped emails with Colin Reeves of HogMaw to find out about how the project came about.

“We released our debut album Wake last summer,” Reeves writes. “It’s all originals and has more of a ‘newgrass’ feel. We would tour and play some very traditional bluegrass festivals and concerts and some old timers would literally walk out and turn their noses up at our original tunes, which is the price you pay for being an artist.”

But traditional songs are what got these players – Reeves on a variety of instruments, from mando to dobro, Matt Baldwin on guitar and Ryann Lynch on fiddle -  into bluegrass and folk music. It’s the stuff they played around campfires for years.

“So last year we started throwing around the idea of maybe doing a more traditional album of some of our favorite tunes,” Reeves continues. “It was a way to prove to everyone, and more importantly ourselves, that we could play traditional music and more ‘songy’ songs instead of in-your-face shredding bluegrass and newgrass tunes.”

They thought Flemons would be the ideal producer to help them bridge the worlds of the old and the new: some emails and an Amtrack ticket later, and he was sitting in on one of their sets in Lancaster and working with them in the studio for a week.

Reeves says songs that will make the album are a mix of ones we chose and ones Flemons brought to the table.

“I think a couple he had wanted to do with the Drops but never got to,” he continues. “We had a long long list and started playing them and narrowing things down until we got ones we felt really good about. Some we’ve played live a bunch, some we had never ever played before, but we all felt they had life and were worthy of the record.”

Flemons was evidently so happy with the project that he invited HogMaw on the road with him this fall. They’ll play songs off the new record together and performing as his backing band; you can catch them performing locally on The Folk Show with Gene Shay on WXPN on Sunday, October 27th, then at The Strand Capitol on November 3rd and The Sellersville Theater on November 5th. Tickets and information on the concerts can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.

In the liner notes that will appear on Ideal Proof, Flemons writes that both band and producer wanted to find something that would play to traditional bluegrass standards but also display HogMaw’s strengths as a group.

“Whether it be by getting up and jumping to your feet,” Flemons says, “or just sitting and listening to the sounds of the strings, this record is for those who have a strong love for string band music and a strong love for the spontaneity and vitality of truly great bluegrass music!”

Below, listen to HogMaw’s rendition of the traditional number “Darlin’ Corey” from Ideal Proof; for updates on the album and the tour, follow the band’s Facebook page.

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Photos: Hey Marseilles and Lucius played The Sellersville Theater

Hey Marseilles | Photo by Michelle Montgomery |
Hey Marseilles | Photo by Michelle Montgomery |

All photos by Michelle Montgomery |

Seattle chamber-indie outfit Hey Marseilles stopped by The Sellersville Theater last week for a headlining show in the elegant digs of the Bucks County venue; brightly-dressed Brooklyn indie pop group Lucius played an opening set. Check out of photos from the show in the gallery below.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Parquet Courts at PhilaMOCA, Sir Sly at Johnny Brenda’s, Alo Brasil at Underground Arts, Lentil Fest at The Fire and more

parquet courts

Post-punk quartet Parquet Courts headline an eclectic line-up at PhilaMOCA tonight.  Back in Philadelphia for the third time this year, Parquet Courts continue to tour in support of their debut full-length Light Up Gold, which just got a proper label release through indie label What’s Your Rupture.  Tickets and information for tonight’s all-ages show with Scott & Charlene’s Wedding, Amanda X and Household can be found here.  Watch Parquet Courts perform “Master of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time” live on WNYC below.

One of the stand-out bands at March’s SXSW, Sir Sly make their way to Philadelphia tonight for a show at Johnny Brenda’s.  With an EP plus a few more tracks released, the band has quickly made it clear that they will operate in the realm of expansive, catchy pop hooks.  Tickets and information for tonight’s 21+ show with JMSN and The Last Royals can be found here.  Watch a new video for “Found You Out” below and download “Gold” here.

Local Brazilian band Alo Brasil plays Underground Arts tonight.  More than just a performing band, Alo Brasil features an interactive live show influenced by African rhythms like samba, maracatu and more.  Though often accompanied by costumed dancers, for their recurring “Underground Sessions” Alo Brasil has a refreshed line-up of musicians.  Tickets and information for tonight’s 21+ show can be found here, or on the Facebook event page here.  Watch a promo video for Alo Brasil below.

Lentil Fest continues at The Fire tonight, with performances by Kuf Knotz, Nicos Gun, Reef the Lost Cauze, Mike “Slo-Mo’ Brenner, Gedeon Luke and Brady & the Bear.  In support of Lentil the french bulldog (born with a cleft pallate), all proceeds will benefit the French Bulldog Rescue Network, Street Tails Animal Rescue and  Tickets and information can be found here.  Watch Kuf Knotz perform at the 2011 XPoNential Music Festival below.

Also happening: XPN welcomes The Smithereens to The Sellersville Theater; XPN welcomes Free Energy to the North Star Bar.  Tickets and information for both shows can be found on the XPN Concert Calendar.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Light Heat at Johnny Brenda’s, Pat Martino Trio at Sellersville Theater, Hallelujah The Hills at Kennett Flash


Light Heat, the latest project of Quentin Stoltzfus, sounds the way its name suggests. The track “And the Birds,” which streams on the Light Heat website, is warm and delicately ornamented with piano notes.  “The Mirror” has been described by Spin as a “simmering slow-burner.”  A few months ago, we posted Light Heat’s “Elevation” recording for Bands in the Backyard and it was clear, even then, that Stolzfus’ new project was something to keep an eye on.  A Light Heat album isn’t due out until June, but tonight Light Heat will perform at Johnny Brenda’s, offering a few more gorgeous songs than what’s currently available for streaming.  Tickets and information for the 21+ show are available here.  Below, listen to Light Heat’s “The Mirror.”

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Turning Violet Violet at Kung Fu Necktie, Bleeding Rainbow at Johnny Brenda’s, Mary Lattimore at Kung Fu Necktie, Philebrity Valentine’s Day special with Juston Stens at Underground Arts, plus more

Local indie group Turning Violet Violet play Kung Fu Necktie tonight.  The Key Studio Session alums carve out chamber alt-rock songs on the fringe of art-rock that seem bathed in a purple glow, though that might just be residual effects of their band name.  Either way, the songs on Turning Violet Violet’s debut full-length Double Cure are swathe-y, sweeping compositions that strike all the right feelings chords.   Tickets and information for tonight’s 21+ show with TeamMate and Donora can be found here.  Revisit Turning Violet Violet’s Key Session here and watch their video for “Cold Bread” below.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: XPN Welcomes The A’s to Underground Arts, Nightlands at Kung Fu Necktie (downstairs), Catnaps at Kung Fu Necktie (upstairs), Ladyfest Philly Benefit at Kung Fu Necktie (downstairs), XPN Welcomes Garland Jeffery’s to The Sellersville Theater

XPN welcomes new wave outfit The A’s to Underground Arts tonight.  Led by charismatic front-man Richard Bush (currently of The Peace Creeps), the Philadelphia band became a fixture in the east coast club scene with their energetic power pop.  1981′s “A Woman’s Got the Power” gave the band its first hit outside of Philly and though the The A’s never broke through to a national audience, their dedicated hometown following remains intact three decades after they parted ways.  Tickets and information for the 21+ show can be found here.  Watch a video of the band performing “A Woman’s Got the Power” live below.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Passenger at World Cafe Live, Panic Years at Kung Fu Necktie, Sha Na Na at The Sellersville Theater

British troubadour Passenger travels to World Cafe Live tonight.  Mike Rosenberg released his latest album All the Little Lights in July while busking throughout Europe and the UK on a DIY tour.  If being chosen to open for Ed Sheeran isn’t praise enough for Rosenberg’s ability to craft soulful, heartfelt compositions, just take a look at his currently scheduled tour dates – over half of them are already sold out and many were moved to larger venues, including tonight’s (it was moved from upstairs at WCL to downstairs).  Tickets and information for tonight’s all-ages show with Kate Earl can be found here.  Below, watch the video for Passenger’s single “Let Her Go.”

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Tedeschi Trucks Band at The Keswick Theatre, Men Without Hats at The Sellersville Theater

XPN welcomes the Tedeschi Trucks Band to The Keswick Theatre tonight.  Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi and their band of eleven are touring in support of their live album Everybody’s Talkin’, which followed up their 2011 Grammy winning debut Revelator.  The Tedeschi Trucks Band performs tonight with Charlie Mars & Band.  Tickets and more information can be found here.  Watch the video for their cover of “Everybody’s Talkin’” below, written by Fred Neil and originally made famous by Harry Nilsson.

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