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Boyz II Men inspire homecoming hysteria and tease the new Collide at The Tower

Boyz II Men | Photo by John Vettese
Boyz II Men | Photo by John Vettese

When people outside of Philadelphia think of our fair city, the following comes to mind: cheesesteaks, sports teams with middling records, and Boyz II Men.

While the first two items evoke eye-rolls I think we can all agree that we’re proud of being the town that bore one of the most successful groups of the 1990’s. When Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris, and Shawn Stockman took the stage of The Tower Theater on Saturday night, the reaction was rapturous. “On Bended Knee” showed up as only their third song in their set, and to say the crowd went wild would be an understatement. Wanya literally got down on his one knee and held various members of the crowd’s hands, evoking hysteria. I must say when Nathan started his verse, I got a little giddy myself.

Shawn took time out to thank the crowd for the continued support and say how they never forgot where they came from. This led to a trip back to 1991 with a performance of “Please Don’t Go” (complete with boy group dance moves) and was followed quickly by “Uhh Ahh,” which the younger crowd may recognize as the song recently sampled by Beyonce on her single “Countdown.”

The guys then moved on to their covers set: Motown favorites which got the crowd moving and then old-school power ballads. Nathan explained that they were offered the Lonestar track “Amazed” before the country one-hit wonders took it for their own. As he explained, now we hear the song in malls, bathrooms, and elevators all the world over. Needless to say, they felt kind of foolish having rejected the song but determined to record it themselves at some point. Boyz made it their own and as someone who does not care for the Lonestar version, I was floored.

Boyz II Men | Photo by John Vettese
Boyz II Men | Photo by John Vettese

One more surprise awaited us when Shawn and Nathan grabbed a guitar and bass and explained that their new album (Collide, which is being released in September) is going in a slightly different direction. The two songs the trio performed sounded more pop/rock than their previous work, evoking thoughts of “Unpretty,” by TLC or “Stay,” by Rihanna and Mikky Ekko. Most times when a band says “This is a new one,” that’s the cue for the audience to get up and grab a drink or hit the restroom but Boyz fans are loyal and seemed to really enjoy these teasers as much as the more familiar tunes.

This all led up to the big finale: armed with roses, the guys serenaded those who rushed the stage with their mega-hit “I’ll Make Love To You” while handing the flowers out to the excited women. They followed up with a few more of the love ballads that we all know and adore. Of course they couldn’t leave a hometown crowd without performing “Motownphilly,” complete with the group showing off their 90’s hip hop moves. Even after the song was over and they took their bows, Wanya, Nathan, and Shawn stayed to shake hands and say hello to their fans.

Many groups who have been together for 22 years go through the motions, take their pay, and call it a night but Boyz II Men seem to really still enjoy each other and those who support them. Many stuck around after the show, and when I got to the front lobby to leave, there was a huge crowd doing the Cha Cha Slide, waiting for their hometown heroes.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Nickel Creek at Tower Theater, Matt Pond PA at Underground Arts, Nels Cline at Johnny Brenda’s

Photo by Brantley Gutierrez

Acoustic folk trio Nickel Creek are riding high on the success of their new album A Dotted Line, which arrived last month and coincided with their 25th anniversary as a band. Tonight they bring the excitement to the Tower Theater stage. Mostly folk but at times leaning toward bluegrass, their music, which rests on the band’s intricate musicianship and harmonies, has a raw quality that’s soulful at heart. Watch them perform “Rest Of My Life” live on Soundcheck below and get tickets here.

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“A Big House of Many Rooms”: Robert Glasper’s eclectic Black Radio sequel comes to the Tower

Everyone who’s up for an award says that it’s an honor just be nominated, but that sentiment was a bit more believeable for Robert Glasper, a jazz keyboardist who found himself competing against the higher-profile likes of R. Kelly and Tyrese for the Best R&B Album statuette at the 2013 Grammy Awards.

“I’ve walked the red carpet before,” says Glasper, who performed at the 2010 ceremony backing neo-soul singer Maxwell, “but to walk down the red carpet knowing what I was nominated for was a whole different vibe. I loved the fact that I’m a jazz cat and so many people didn’t know who the fuck we were.”

What was even more shocking was that the Robert Glasper Experiment’s Black Radio actually won the award. The album was a fusion of jazz and soul styles that featured guest appearances by a host of R&B and hip-stars including Mos Def, Erykah Badu, and Ledisi – who the RGE will open for at the Tower Theater on May 1.

Glasper fully expected to go home empty-handed, though he felt that if anything the band had a shot at the Best R&B Performance award for which they were also nominated. When Usher beat them out for that honor, Glasper says, “I was like, ‘Ok, I see where this is going. We’re not winning.’ But when they said our name, it was amazing. I feel like we won for so many other people, struggling artists who’ve done great music but because of the way the machine is built right now, real music with integrity doesn’t get any mainstream love. This really opened some doors and gave a lot of artists hope.”

Glasper’s 2013 follow-up, Black Radio 2 (Blue Note), features an even more star-studded line-up than its predecessor, with appearances by Common, Brandy, Snoop Dogg, Jill Scott, and Anthony Hamilton, among others. Live, the band itself takes the spotlight, with multi-instrumentalist Casey Benjamin substituting vocoder for some of the vocal songs from the two Black Radio albums – though it wouldn’t be surprising to see the evening’s headliner joining the band as well.

When I spoke to Glasper in late 2011, just prior to the release of the first Black Radio, he called the album “more of a music record for me” than a specically jazz or R&B album effort. Continue reading →

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: M.I.A. at Tower Theater, Gliss at Kung Fu Necktie, Woods at Boot and Saddle, and more

Photo via facebook.com/miauk
Photo via facebook.com/miauk

Tonight, M.I.A. graces the Tower Theater stage and fans (old and new) should, as always, expect a little bit of everything from the singer-songwriter’s genre-bending music. On her latest album Matangi, it’s clear that her sound is still a hybrid of electronic, pop, hip-hop and world music. Best known for her 2007 platinum hit “Paper Planes”, M.I.A. isn’t a traditional singer or rapper; she’s crafted a style that’s somewhere in between and it’s infectious. Watch “Y.A.L.A.” below and get tickets here

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Groundbreaking folk-pop trio Nickel Creek will headline the Tower Theater on 5/2

Nickel Creek | photo by Brantley Gutierrez
Nickel Creek | photo by Brantley Gutierrez

Grammy Award winning trio Nickel Creek have announced a show at the Tower Theater on May 2nd.  The folk outfit is back with its sixth studio record A Dotted Line, set for release April 1st via Nonesuch Records and falling in line with the band’s 25th anniversary.

Blending bluegrass instrumentation with close harmonies and narrative lyrics, the California natives have been playing and singing together since they were young kids.  Though Nickel Creek went on hiatus after its Farewell (For Now) tour in 2007, bandmates Sara Watkins, Sean Watkins and Chris Thile have stayed active, releasing solo material and collaborating with other artists.  A Dotted Line will mark the trio’s first release in nine years.  Tickets go on sale on Friday, March 7th at 10:00 a.m.  More information will be available here.  Below, listen to “Love of Mine” and “Destination” off of the new record.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Young the Giant at Tower Theater, Evening River Band at The Fire, and Pill Friends at the Trocadero

Young the Giant | photo via www.facebook.com/youngthegiant
Young the Giant | photo via www.facebook.com/youngthegiant

After achieving indie-rock stardom with their 2010 debut, Young the Giant took some time to regroup before readying its follow-up Mind Over Matter which arrived last month. Tonight, they’re in town for a show at the Tower Theater in support of the new release. To channel fans’ creativity, the band recently announced a Mind Over Matter-themed poster design contest. Before drafting your sketches, grab tickets to their show here and check out “It’s About Time” below.

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Review: Amos Lee brings Rivers of Song to the Tower Theater

Amos Lee | Photo by Noah Silvestry | silvestography.tumblr.com
Amos Lee | Photo by Noah Silvestry | silvestography.tumblr.com

Philadelphia native Amos Lee took on Philadelphia’s historic Tower Theater Tuesday night as part of a tour supporting his most recent album, Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song. Lee’s soulful alt-country songwriting, classic voice and stellar backing band pleased a packed crowed and went down as a win in my book.

Lee opened his set with “Johnson Blvd”, the first track off of his latest record, a song that, between its slow build to a beautifully resolving chorus and having been written in a way that truly showcases Lee’s voice, was a very appropriate song with which to open. Continuing with Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song, Lee and his band then played “Stranger”, the second track on the album, during which the combination of warm guitar and piano interaction and a taste of Lee’s falsetto made the crowd feel right at home.

Midway through his set, Lee ditched the band and played a few solo tunes, including “Dresser Drawer”, a song with a surprising backstory about Lee’s San Franciscan friend Johnny whom, after being separated from his wife, Lee visited for a period of time. “Johnny sent me a photograph on the iPhone,” Lee added, “of his wedding ring in a dresser drawer, which is really sweet. And then, 5 minutes later, I got another one, and it was a photo of his wedding ring in a dresser drawer next to some condoms.”

Still solo, Lee played a tune dedicated to his late grandfather, “Jesus”, which actually works better as a solo acoustic song than with a band. It practically goes without saying that, after bringing his band back on stage, “I’m the Man Who Wants You” got people on their feet and dancing to its soulful, groovy tempo.

Amos Lee was joined by fellow Philadelphia native Mutlu who, maybe lacking in a truly original sound, made up for it with playful lyrics and a unique brand of charisma. He got the crowd engaged with the tongue-and-cheek tune, “Board Games”, a song Mutlu describes as what you get when you try to write a sexy song about, you said it, board games. Lee brought Mutlu back on stage late in his own set to perform Mutlu’s on song, “Caramel”, which was at the very least fitting of the Thanksgiving spirit.

Amos Lee and his band have a very polished sound, and at its core is Lee’s songwriting and strikingly unique voice. It made for an excellent hometown performance, making us Philadelphians proud to call Amos Lee our own.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: XPN Welcomes Amos Lee at Tower Theater, Oh! Pears at Ortliebs, Slackwater News at Chameleon Club and more

Amos Lee | Photo by John Vettese
Amos Lee | Photo by John Vettese

Philly’s own Amos Lee will take to the Tower Theater stage for a night of soulful folk tunes. Lee released his fifth album Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song on Blue Note Records last month and treated fans at World Cafe Live to a live set of new material at his Free at Noon concert. Get tickets to tonight’s show here and watch him peform “Chill In The Air” below.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Metric at Sands Bethlehem, Phil Lesh at Tower Theater, The Paper Kites at Johnny Brenda’s

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Photo by Justin Broadbent

Canadian pop / alt-rock quartet Metric will be performing at Sands Bethlehem tonight. The band manages to merge smart, socially conscious lyrics and potent vocals with driving beats and heavy guitar hooks. The result is biting and the show promises to be the same. Metric will be performing with Paramore, and you can find tickets and more information hereWatch the video for “Youth Without Youth” below.

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Listen back to Amos Lee’s Free at Noon concert performance (playing Tower Theater on 11/27)

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese

Two Fridays ago, Philly boy done good Amos Lee visited World Cafe Live to perform a Free at Noon set for a sold-out house. The set drew entirely from his just-released fifth album, Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song, and the show served as a kickoff for Lee’s fall tour, which brings him back home on November 27th at The Tower Theater in Upper Darby. Find tickets and information on that show at the XPN Concert Calendar. Below, listen to Amos’ performance and check out a gallery of photos from the show.

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