Six artists to watch at the 7th Annual Roots Picnic

Photo of Rudimental at Made In America by Dana Distortion via
Photo of Rudimental at Made In America by Dana Distortion via

Stories of old gigs from The Roots are the stuff of legend around Philadelphia. Throw a stone and you’re bound to hit a Gen-X music lover with memories (perhaps false ones) of surprise shows at now-defunct Old City venues and happenstance Questlove sightings at Northern Liberties brunch spots. These stories might be all that is left of a bygone era in which The Roots helped shape the sonic and ideological imprint of left-of-center hip-hop culture, all the while centering it in a series of extinct local hot spots.

Well, not all that’s left. They may have abandoned a rigorous touring regimen for late night glory, but Quest and co. remain committed to creating awesome moments of cross-genre delight and enlightenment for Philadelphians of all stripes. The clearest definition of this mission statement – one which has followed them into numerous genre-bending albums and collaborations – is the annual Roots Picnic, the 7th installment of which goes down at Festival Pier this Saturday. Few festivals pack such an eclectic and kinetic punch in a small, relatively inexpensive experience. While this year’s lineup is one of its strongest yet, we here at The Key have our eye on a few artists (including some lesser-known ones) who have had especially fascinating years and promise tremendous sets on Saturday.

The Roots

At the risk of sounding obvious, we’ll say that any set from The Roots is bound to set the mood for a day of gleeful head-nodding. Their reputation as a live act, honed through nearly two decades of constant touring and five years of sequence-scoring for Jimmy Fallon, is well-established. With the recent release of the excellent …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, the band also promises to deliver some searing live renditions of their epic new material.

Janelle Monáe

The first Made in America festival got a lot of mixed reviews from local concertgoers who were mired in large-scale and largely acceptable skepticism about how a festival of that scale would play out on the Parkway. Unanimous praise was saved, however, for Janelle Monáe’s classic soul-rooted, futuristically-oriented brand of music. After near-unanimous praise for her latest album, 2013’s The Electric Lady, the aptly named Electric Lady promises a solid set of fanciful festivity.

The War on Drugs

At least one prominent Roots Picnic slot is reserved for a buzzworthy indie act who, like The Roots, looks to bridge aesthetic boundaries instead of reinforcing them. Philly’s own The War on Drugs, riding on the success of this year’s acclaimed and dreamscape-y Lost in the Dream, fill big shoes left by genre benders like Vampire Weekend and TV on the Radio. But if their unique take on shoegaze-meets-Americana has a perfect home anywhere, it’s at an open air concert along their hometown’s emblematic waterfront.

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Revisit The War on Drugs’ Free at Noon set, hear them on World Cafe today

photo by Rachel Del Sordo
photo by Rachel Del Sordo

Last month, Philly space rock heroes The War on Drugs played their very first show in support of the acclaimed new album Lost in the Dream at WXPN’s Free at Noon concert. Today, some of those songs will show up in the band’s World Cafe interview with David Dye – which you can tune in to here at 2 p.m. ET. Below, get psyched by listening to the entire Free at Noon set, and perusing an album of photos from the show. The War on Drugs return to Philly on May 31st to play the Roots Picnic; tickets and info on the show can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.


Download The War On Drugs’ cover of John Lennon’s “Mind Games”

Photo by Kate McCann |!/HOME
Photo by Kate McCann |

Philly’s The War On Drugs released their new album, Lost In The Dream, on March 18th and kicked off their tour in Philly at Union Transfer. After their Philly, WOD played three sold out shows in New York at the Bowery Ballroom. Two of the shows were recorded by NYCTaper. You can download them here. The second night of their New York stint, the band did a smoking cover of John Lennon’s “Mind Games,” that you can download below. The War On Drugs return to Philly on Saturday, May 31st for The Roots Picnic.


War On Drugs transcended guitar greatness at Union Transfer (photo recap)

Photo by Kate McCann |!/HOME
Photo by Kate McCann |!/HOME

Tuesday was record release day for one of our very favorite Philly bands, War On Drugs. They released their new album, Lost In The Dream to an 8.8 out of 20 Best New Music rating from Pitchfork. Writer Stuart Berman called the album, War On Drugs’ “most lustrous, intricately detailed, and beautifully rendered record to date.” No disagreement here. The latest album by singer-songwriter and lead guitarist Adam Granduciel and company was on transcendent display last night at Union Transfer when they kicked off their opening night tour in front of a jubilant sold out hometown crowd. You can listen to a stream of the show here, and check out our photo recap of the show below. Photos by Kate McCann.


Lost in the thick haze of glorious rock and roll: stream last night’s War On Drugs Union Transfer show

photo by Rachel Del Sordo
photo by Rachel Del Sordo

Last night at Union Transfer, Philly’s War On Drugs celebrated yesterday’s release of their new album, Lost In The Dream. A sold out hometown crowd welcomed the band with open arms and high spirits to see the band to play for an hour and 45 minutes. Lost In The Dream is War On Drug’s best album yet and live, new material like “Under The Pressure,” “Red Eyes,” and “An Ocean In Between The Waves,” were transcendent. Fueled by Adam Granduciel’s exceptional guitar playing, drummer Charlie Hall’s driving Mick Fleetwood-esque drumming, bassist Dave Hartley’s rock steady bottom, and Robbie Bennett’s colorful keyboard playing, the band were augmented with additional players on guitar and saxophone. Below, via Phila Taper stream the band’s entire show.

Set list (via
Under the Pressure
Red Eyes
I Was There
An Ocean In Between The Waves
Eyes to the Wind
Baby Missiles
Brothers (with Kurt Vile)
Lost In The Dream
In Reverse
Comin’ Through
Black Water Falls


Watch The War on Drugs rip through “The Ties That Bind” by Bruce Springsteen

The War On Drugs | Photo by John Vettese
The War On Drugs | Photo by John Vettese

It’s been a while since The War on Drugs played a hometown show.  A long while.  After the release of 2011′s Slave Ambient and before seeking refuge in the tranquil hills of Asheville, NC and the stimulating streets of New York City last year to work on new material, front man Adam Granduciel led his band through two sell-out nights at Johnny Brenda’s to ring in 2013.

Now with those shows and that album set firmly behind them, The War on Drugs are on the threshold of a new chapter with Lost in the Dream, which comes out next Tuesday.  The release will be accompanied by the band’s largest hometown headlining show to date with XPN welcoming them to Union Transfer that same night, preceeded by an already sold-out Free at Noon concert taking place tomorrow.

Before all of that happens, though, take a look back at videos of their last Philadelphia appearance, including a crowd-rapturing cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ties That Bind,” captured by local concert videographer Pillgrim’s Progress.  Tickets are still available for the all-ages show at Union Transfer on March 18th and can be found here.  Tune into to tomorrow’s Free at Noon live on 88.5 XPN or online.

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Check out The War on Drugs’ new Lost in the Dream via NPR Music First Listen

LostInTheDreamPhiladelphia space rock heroes The War on Drugs release their latest LP, Lost in the Dream, next Tuesday via Secretly Canadian Records, and they’ll join us this Friday March 14th for a Free at Noon performance at World Cafe Live (RSVP here). The album is streaming in its entirety a week out from its release date via NPR Music’s first listen, and while it’s filled with gorgeous soundscaping and atmospheres, Dream has some depth to it, as NPR Music’s Jacob Ganz points out:

This is highly emotional rock that reads as low-stakes at first. It’s evocative and pleasant if you let it float by in the background, but it’s made with hooks that sink in deep if you give yourself over.

Listen to Lost in the Dream here, and stream the single “Red Eyes” below.


What’s it take to win The War on Drugs talent show? Find out in the “Red Eyes” video.

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 11.22.39 AMPhilly space rockers The War on Drugs are often seen as unsmiling, super-serious vibe-wranglers. But they’re actually pretty funny dudes.

When they’re not getting the candid long-form profile treatment in Grantland or crafting records full of dramatic atmospheres (Lost in the Dream, their latest, comes out on Secretly Canadian on the 18th), they let their sense of humor shine through now and again. There was the hysterical and beer-addled “How to End an Argument” interview on Noisey a year and a half ago. There was the band’s basketball banter on ESPN. And now there’s this music video for “Red Eyes.”

Produced by local video crew Woodshop Films, the playful-as-heck video finds WoD-ers Robbie Bennett, Adam Granduciel, Charlie Hall and David Hartley sitting on the judges’ panel of a Gong Show-esque talent competition. The watch, nonplussed, as a magician fumbles cards, a hula-hooper dances, a sad clown stands there all sad, and a few other things before one young competitor steps to the stage and blows them away. Check it out below. War on Drugs headline Union Transfer on their album release day, March 18th. Get tickets and more information at the XPN Concert Calendar.


Snoop Dogg, Janelle Monae, The War on Drugs and Chill Moody top The Roots 7th annual Roots Picnic lineup

Now in its 7th year, The Roots Picinic will bring an eclectic array of music to Festival Pier on May 31, and the band today revealed everything you need to know about this year’s installment.

The year the legendary hip-hop crew will share the stage with Snoop Dogg (backed by The Roots), as well as Janelle Monáe, Action Bronson, A$AP Ferg, araabMUZIK, The War On Drugs, Rudimental, Jhené Aiko, Biz Markie (DJ Set), Bad Rabbits, Electric Wire Hustle, Chill Moody, Emily Wells, Roman GianArthur & more.

Get tickets when they go onsale this Friday at 10 a.m. on Ticketmaster and watch a few of the latest clips from acts on this year’s incredible lineup below.

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The Key’s Year-End Mania: Matthew Shaver’s 5 Reasons Philly makes me less and less homesick

The Walkmen | Photo by Matthew Shaver |
The Walkmen on stage at Union Transfer | Photo by Matthew Shaver |

Year End Mania is the Key’s survey of the things below the surface that made 2013 awesome. In this installment, photographer extraordinaire Matthew Shaver tells us about some welcoming aspects of Philadelphia.

I moved to Philly about 3 years ago from a sleepy DC suburb in Virginia.  Having recently grown tired of the quiet life and having to drive EVERYWHERE, I wanted to live in the city.  I love DC, but that place is expensive and small, so I found an opening for a job up here.  I love Philly, and to everyone who has ever used the term “City of Brotherly Love” sarcastically, you’re doing it wrong.  I was welcomed with open arms, made a ton of friends, and got a nice little gig at an awesome radio station taking pictures of live acts to keep me warm at night.  I do miss home, though, but the longer I’m here, the more this feels like where I was meant to be, and here are 5 of the big reasons why this year was better than the last:

1. New HipCityVeg:  Nicole and the staff are amazing.  As someone that likes their vegetarianism without an ounce of pretentiousness, I couldn’t be happier with the experiences I’ve had there.  The opening of a new spot in University City and a new bar venue coming means that she is tightening her grip on the city, and giving me more and more places to sit and eat comfortably. Continue reading →