The annual Phreak ‘N Queer Arts and Music Festival will be returning July 31st to August 3rd. The festival, now in its fourth year, serves to highlight art, music and culture in the LGBT community. Events range from visual art to burlesque to poetry and, of course, a variety of concerts. In order to get a sense of the show, you can listen to the killer mixtape by Homoground here. Below, get more details about some of the local highlights from the opening night.
First, there’s the impressive duo Vita and the Woolf. Vita recently played a stellar solo show this week, to much praise. The group just released their first single, “Mary” and it’s a thrilling, art-pop anthem. Jennifer Pague’s powerful vocals, similar to Florence Welch, are enchanting. Their EP, Fang Song will be out September 20th. Listen to “Mary” below.
If you’ve ever gone to a concert, you’ve no doubt heard clapping.
I’m not talking about the kind that comes at the end of a song, but the kind that comes during – an audience fervently clapping along to the beat. Happens pretty regularly, right? How about this: when was the last time you heard an audience keep those claps up beyond the first verse? Usually once the beat kicks in or the refrain come around, the hands fall and the crowd just sways or stands there. It makes sense; your fingers start to sting, or your arms start to ache, or you start to feel self-conscious when you realize how many people around you are no longer doing it. Maybe a handful of times a year, at concerts with a really devoted fan base, do I see the clap-percussion continue into the middle of a song, and even then it peters out.
Taking it a step further: have you ever heard an artist get their audience clapping along to a song, and continue clapping for the entire thing – verse / chorus / verse / chorus / bridge / chorus / coda? I’ve been going to concerts for 20 years and had never seen this phenomenon occur prior to last night, when Jennifer Pague of Vita and the Woolf played a solo set at Ortlieb’s.
To give a bit of context: the eclectic art-pop tones of Vita have captured our collective ear over here at WXPN, and for good reason. The band’s first single “Mary” is a rousing anthem that fills a void Florence and the Machine left in my listening habits. Stopping right there, let’s acknowledge that Pague probably gets this comparison all the time, is probably sick of it and possibly not even directly influenced by FloMac – but as a singer, she is undeniably strong and dynamic, a personality that is not timid in the least. Woman knows how to sing out, and sing out she does, whether backed by intricate and imaginative musical layers on the forthcoming Fang Song EP, or solo with a piano, as we saw her last night.
There’s more to Vita and the Woolf than the hyperdramatics that Florence Welch is known for, of course; the album (and her set) have more subdued moments that recall Beirut and Espers. Those songs are sweet, no doubt, but the ones that capture the energy of a room are the anthems. Which brings us to the clapping.
Pague launched into a solo piano of a song called “Mm Chka Mm” last night, and it was a rager. As the title alludes, this is a beat-oriented piece of music, and without her drummer, the song needed something driving it. So she urged the group of fans and friends clustered at the foot of the Ortlieb’s stage to give her a beat. They did. And the kept going. After the first refrain, I could hear that many clappers dropped off, and braced myself for the familiar pattern of trickle-off crowd participation. It didn’t happen. The claps swelled in volume again, dipped up and down but didn’t waver, even at their quietest.
By the time we passed the second refrain, I started thinking “Is this going to continue all the way to the end?” I don’t know how many people watching were conscious of what was happening – maybe this is an uber-nerdy thing of me to notice, and I thank you, dear reader, if you’ve stuck with me this far. But when we neared the home stretch, the thing that gave it that final push and momentum came from the unlikeliest of places: a surly and somewhat inebriated Ortlieb’s regular who had been heckling the entire show thus far, and made his way to the floor in front of the stage – stomping and clapping momentarily as the song concluded. Woah.
Lest the point get lost, I’ll reiterate: this was just Pague and a piano. When Vita plays a full-band show for its album release in September, I can’t even imagine how high the energy will be.
Joining this solo incarnation of Vita and the Woolf was Aphra, the mystical deep soul solo project of Tutlie’s Rebecca Way. She hasn’t performed under this name in over a year, and in that time has re-imagined its sound an evocative electronic outfit anchored by her rich and melodic voice. As a singer, Way is undeniably influenced by R&B. But there’s a dark undercurrent to her sound, a coldness echoed in drum machine beats and electronic textures, in the urgent floor-tom rhythms she hammered out with Tutlie bandmate Asher Brooks. Lorde or The xx might be easy parallels, in that her music definitely pop, but not necessarily happy pop. “I wrote this song when I was depressed,” Way said during one introduction. “Actually, I write most of my songs when I’m depressed.”
Don’t be fooled. Aphra is anything but a downer. Way uses her music as a means of quiet catharsis, but it’s transformative, whether we’re talking about her smiling quizzically as Brooks struts to a trumpet solo, or members of the crowd (including Pague) slow dancing on the floor to a blissful late-set melody. Check out photos from the show in the gallery below.
English singer-songwriter Ben Watt will play tonight at Tin Angel with Bernard Butler, former lead guitarist of the British alternative rock band Suede. Known best for his part in the dance music duo Everything But the Girl, Watt has recently made the switch back to a more folksy sound (which is how EBTG originated) with the release of his newest album, Hendra, in April — his first solo album in 31 years. For more information and tickets, check out the XPN Concert Calendar and listen to the single, “Hendra,” off the new album below.
Indie rock is a diverse field and hard to specify, other than, you know, it’s indie rock. Keeping that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to highlight the variety of indie rock shows playing in Philly through July and August. Included are new local artists, like Vita and the Woolf as well as great classics, like Neutral Milk Hotel. The genres run through American folk, punk, and blues.
Vita, of the talented new duo of Vita and the Woolf is playing at Ortlieb’s July 15th. Featuring the soaring vocals of Jennifer Pague and the beats by Joey Anderson, the band has an EP Fang Song on the way. They recently played at Walla Fest. Their light though somewhat melancholy music draws comparisons to Florence and the Machine as well as Arcade Fire. Let their music sweep you into a great night of music, along with Thunderhank and I Am Love. Listen to “Mary” from Fang Song below. And if you miss this show, Vita & The Woolf will be performing for the EP release party on September 20th at Ortlieb’s.
Irish rock band, The Strypes, have been getting a lot of attention both for their music as well as their youth. Only 15 to 17 years old, they’ve been on tour with the Arctic Monkeys and played in a slew of huge festivals like Glastonbury and SXSW. In March, the group released their first full length, Snapshot. The music is a classic high tempo rock and roll, infused in R & B and the blues. The group makes the classic genre their own, by playing with reckless abandon and high energy. In other words, it’s the perfect show to end summer. Watch the video for “Mystery Man” below.
Sun Kil Moon, the moniker of Mark Kozelek, makes a reflective, moody combination of acoustic guitar and intimate lyrics. Earlier this year, Sun Kil Moon released a beautiful, harrowing album Benji. The album chronicles the life of Benji, a country man, and his many sorrows. In many ways, it’s the most personal and intimate album Sun Kil Moon has released.Recently, he’s pairing up with Volcano Choir (Bon Iver’s side project) for a release for Project Carousel Restoration. The performance should be a welcome respite from the relentless summer energy. Listen to the ballad of “Carissa” below.
Despite having broken nearly 16 years ago, no new music, and imminent retirement, Neutral Milk Hotel continues to tour. In fact, they extended their tour due to the overwhelming public response, including two sold-out shows in Philly last year. Recently, Jeff Mangum was featured in a fun, candid feature about getting signed onto Merge Records. As a bonus, the band also released a free download of “Song Against Sex” from On Avery Island. Grab your tickets while there still available and settle in for a nostalgic, beautiful night. Listen to “King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1″ from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea below.
Vita and the Woolf is an indie pop duo comprised of Joey Anderson on drums and Jennifer Pague on lead vocals, keyboard and guitar. The name of the band refers to the affair between novelists Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf, the inspiration behind Wolf’s great Orlando. The music includes a diverse range of instruments, like the mandolin. The sound on the band’s recent Fang Song EP nods to Florence and the Machine and Arcade Fire.
What really makes the group stand out, though, is Pague’s breath-taking vocals. On the ballad “Mary” she laments with passion that “My dancing days are gone / Even though Mary held my hand”. The background beat, catchy, accompanies the lyrics perfectly. On the more upbeat, pop track “Asha”, Pague gently leads the song forward. Acoustically, Pague’s voice still holds a lot of power as can be seen in their West Chester Red Bench session. Fang Song is a promising start for a new, talented band.
Vita and the Woolf will be a part of this year’s Walla Fest. The group will be playing at Ortleib’s July 15th with Thunderhank and I Am Love. Get more details here. Listen to “Asha” below.