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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Veruca Salt at TLA, Michael Franti and Spearhead at Mann Center, Conjunto Chapptoin y Sus Estrellas at World Cafe Live

Photo Credit: Gary Kordan
Photo by Gary Kordan

Chicago alt-rocke four-piece Veruca Salt will be at TLA tonight.  The band reunited after a fifteen year (too) long hiatus, and have been touring all around the U.S.  About a month ago, they released a new single titled “It’s Holy,” which you can hear below. Find tickets for the all ages show here. Doors open at 7pm.

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Camera Obscura bring sweetness, sentimentality to World Cafe Live

Camera Obscura | Photo by Kate Bracaglia | underwaterexplosions.blogspot.com
Camera Obscura | Photo by Kate Bracaglia | underwaterexplosions.blogspot.com

It was a beautiful night Saturday night: moderate, breezy, low-humidity—and Camera Obscura—the long-running, Scottish twee act—proved the perfect digestif, their similarly breezy melodies closing out a perfect evening. The band regaled fans with an hour-and-a-half-long set at World Café Live, imbued with sweetness, sentimentality, wistful vocals, and warm, candy-coated harmonies.

The past year has been a busy one for the band, due to two, new, Camera Obscura babies [both front woman Tracyanne Campbell and bassist Gavin Dunbar welcomed sons]; as a result, the band is hitting the States just now in support of their 2013 LP, Desire Lines. But if the new material feels stale to them by now, they certainly didn’t show it, running through half the record with energy and workman-like charm: bouncing in place to “Do It Again,” then dialing it down slightly for calypso-tinged slow groove “Cri du Couer.” Normally a five-piece, the band numbered seven Saturday night, with the addition of a trumpeter and a second percussionist.

Camera Obscura | Photo by Kate Bracaglia | underwaterexplosions.blogspot.com
Camera Obscura | Photo by Kate Bracaglia | underwaterexplosions.blogspot.com

And while the whole band was on-point, it was front woman Tracyanne Campbell who really shone, and whose gorgeous, gauzy vocals—which can convey both sadness and euphoria in a single note—are a large part of what makes Camera Obscura so magical. Live, Campbell was just as mesmerizing as on record, her nuanced intonation lending the songs depth and breadth.

When I spoke to keyboardist Carey Lander the other week before the show, she revealed that it’s impossible to fully give in to the pain behind the songs night after night without burning out; instead, she explained, “You have to make it a song you perform for other people to enjoy.” Still, Campbell did such a good job replicating songs’ emotional highs and lows, I felt like I was experiencing everything for the first time, and left feeling strangely cleansed.

With so many earnest, summery tunes, it’s hard to pick faves—but I felt particularly exhilarated during joyous, summer anthem “Honey in the Sun”—and thrilled during swirling, twee standby “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken.”

The band closed its set with a trio of old songs—“Come Back Margaret,” “Books Written for Girls,” and “Razzle Dazzle Rose”—but I swear I could’ve listened to them for another hour easily. Camera Obscura’s reality is warm, inviting, and invigorating; bathed in their tunes, I felt simply invincible.

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Interview: Camera Obscura on family, emotional memory, and how the Glasgow scene has supported and shaped them

Camera Obscura (photo via Facebook)
Camera Obscura (photo via Facebook)

For nearly 20 years now, Scottish rockers Camera Obscura have delighted and enchanted fans with breezy, candy-coated gems that come alive thanks to front woman Tracyanne Campbell’s gorgeous, gauzy vocals, and an undercurrent of unease. The band first made a splash in 2001, with the Stuart Murdoch-produced, John Peel-acclaimed Biggest Bluest Hi Fi—then continued to churn out albums, while at the same time refining their orchestral, summer pop.

2013 saw the release of their fifth LP, Desire Lines, as well as the birth of Campbell’s first child, Gene. Now one year later, they’re headed to the States in support of Desire Lines, and will stop by World Café Live on July 19. In advance of their show, we rung up long-time keyboard player and vocalist Carey Lander—to talk family, emotional memory, and how the Glasgow scene has supported and shaped them.

The Key: I hear that Tracyanne is bringing along baby Gene on tour. What has that been like?

Carey Lander: Well, we’re partially finding out still. We did a weekend in the UK with him, and that went fine, which is reassuring. The baby will be on the bus for the tour though, so that will be interesting. But hopefully it will be ok.

TK: Are you worried you won’t be able to have as much fun with a baby on board? Do you like to go out and party a lot when you’re on tour?

CL: Not really. We are actually very boring. Our ideal night is to stay in, get room service, and watch TV—basically to be as boring as possible. We’re not too wild.

The band
The band

TK: That actually sounds pretty nice! So to me, one of most striking things about Camera Obscura is that you guys write these beautiful pop songs, but with an undercurrent of sadness. The juxtaposition is part of what makes them so great. Is this deliberate?

CL: The misery is in our songs is always hidden because I think we’re a little bit embarrassed to reveal our pain too much. So we try and make something that sounds lovely no matter what is behind the songs. Today we were talking about what a miserable album [2009’s] My Maudlin Career is. You might not realize it if you’re just casually listening, but there’s a lot of pain in those lyrics. It’s not all downhill though. Continue reading →

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Katie Frank & the Pheromones at Bourbon and Branch, Alo Brasil at World Cafe Live, Rose Windows at Milkboy

Katie Frank and the Pheromones | Photo by Allie Wofarth
Katie Frank and the Pheromones | Photo by Allie Wofarth

Local countrified outfit Katie Frank & the Pheromones will be rocking out Bourbon and Branch tonight. The band, whose LP Counting Your Curses was released in March, have steadily been standing out as an artist to watch on the Philly scene, and will appear on the lineup of the Philadelphia Folk Festival later this summer. Information for tonight’s show is available on our concert calendar here, and below you can watch Frank’s smooth cover of Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock’n'Roll.”

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Get to know local musician Jacob Snider

Jacob Snider | photo by Doug Seymour
Jacob Snider | photo by Doug Seymour

Jacob Snider is a singer songwriter from suburban Philadelphia. I saw Jacob when he performed his first show at World Cafe Live in Philly when he was 17 years old – I was really impressed by his performance and stage presence.  He recently graduated from college and has been working on his new music. He has a show this Thursday, July 10th, at World Cafe Live along with Elizabeth & The Catapult. I thought it was a good time to meet Jacob and find out what he’s been up to.

Helen Leicht: I know last May you graduated from college …where did you go to school and what was your major?

Jacob Snider: I went to Columbia University for college. I studied Music and American Studies there. I also played a lot of music in the city with a bunch of different people. Columbia is where I met Armand Hirsch, one of my best friends and collaborators.

HL: How long have you been writing and performing?

JS: I’ve been writing and recording…my whole life! My brother Cary and I have a band not many people know of called The Piggies. We’re a studio band.

HL: You have been in California working and recording your debut album.  Why did you head to California and who have you been working with on your new music?

JS: I left for California on somewhat of a whim. I had one or two meetings scheduled, and at one of them, I learned about a producer named Tony Berg. I met with Tony and he had many instruments in his home studio, was welcoming, and we hit it off. His brother is a biographer, and had just finished a biography of Woodrow Wilson – we talked about that. We talked about what I was listening to. I played him some songs. He told me the trick is finding a “unique sonic palette” to make the music with, and we started putting things together.

HL: Tell me about your songwriting process?

JS: Songwriting process is always hard to talk about. I’m wary about “telling a story” too much, as the stories we tell tend to simplify and make coherent the things of life that are anything but simple or coherent. But I can say that the lyrics of these songs are more clear – at least in my mind – than anything I’ve written up to now. That’s something Tony pushed me on. I would bring a sketch to Tony and he would give helpful feedback.

HL: When will you be releasing your new music?

JS: Almost all of these songs were written over the period of a few months. And they came out of a turbulent stretch of time in my life. I don’t think turbulence ever stops. And I don’t think to “get over it,” whatever it is, is the goal. I think you carry it- many things – with you, and it changes with you as you trudge along.

I’m not sure when the whole record will be released but I hope soon! I have one song from it up on my Soundcloud and I will be posting more soon.

HL: Any cool fact about the new album that you can share with me?

JS: Cool facts… The record features prominently Armand Hirsch, who is playing 70% of the instruments. It wouldn’t have been what it is without him. Drums, bass, guitar, banjo, marxophone, among others. It also features Rob Moose on violin and viola, who was the musical director for Bon Iver, and has recorded strings for Dirty Projectors and Sufjan Stevens. Rob also has his own group called yMusic. Jesca Hoop is an amazing Manchester, England based songwriter who is singing on the final song, “Get It Off My Chest.”

HL: You have a show coming up this Thursday July 10th.  Are you solo or with a band?

JS: On Thursday I will most likely be playing solo, but it’s a co-bill.  Elizabeth and the Catapult is a very interesting artist based in New York. She also made a record with Tony Berg and he put us in touch. I’m excited to share the stage with her.

Tickets and information for Jacob Snider’s show at World Cafe Live can be found here.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Ought at Boot & Saddle, You Do You at Bourbon & Branch, Liam Finn at World Cafe Live and more

Ought | Photo courtesy of the artist
Ought | Photo courtesy of the artist

Montreal’s Ought will perform at Boot & Saddle tonight in support of their debut More Than Any Other Day LP.  A few weeks ago we featured “Habit” as XPN’s Gotta Hear Song of the Week, a song that takes after Talking Heads and Jonathan Richman.  Stream and download the song below.  Tickets and information for the 21+ show with Dub Thompson and The Stammer can be found here.

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An introduction to the groundbreaking psyche of eclectic soul singer Cody ChesnuTT, playing World Cafe Live tomorrow

Cody ChesnuTT | Photo by Matthew Shaver | www.mattshaverphoto.com
Cody ChesnuTT | Photo by Matthew Shaver | www.mattshaverphoto.com

There are not too many musicians, especially in contemporary RnB, like Cody ChesnuTT. The Atlanta-bred, Tallahassee-based singer-songwriter has flirted with both stardom and DIY ethics in a way that places him very much outside of the institutional structures of many musical peers (well, at least, those who could even think to call themselves peers). For this reason, among others, his performance tomorrow night at World Cafe Live is a welcome introduction into his very peculiar and groundbreaking psyche.

After missteps with Hollywood Records in the early 2000s, ChesnuTT retreated from the specter of pop success and recorded his 2002 debut over two years while holed up in his bedroom. The Headphone Masterpiece, a double-disc album, essentially functions as a sort of career manifesto. His lo-fi approach and disregard for RnB convention, played out over a comically-long release filled with short and patchily irreverent songs like “Look Good in Leather” and “Bitch, I’m Broke”, is the sort of artistic move more associated with rock artists like Guided by Voices or Pavement.

His subversion, especially in a genre better known for epic gestures and high production quality, would be rewarded when The Roots picked him up for a remake of his song “The Seed”. The ensuring song, 2003’s “The Seed 2.0”, would go on to become one of the group’s biggest hits; even with this push, ChesnuTT eschewed fame and quietly released two albums before, 10 years later, emerging on Kickstarter and asking fans to contribute to 2012’s full-band Landing on a Hundred. In the interim, the legacy of Masterpiece continues to loom large over his eccentric and intricately brilliant releases.

If his live videos are any indication, tonight’s show at World Cafe Live promises a classic soul spectacle turned on its head, with ChesnuTT’s troubador-like storytelling and performance art theatrics taking center stage and illuminating why he’s always worth watching.

Cody ChesnuTT performs on the World Cafe Live stage tonight at 8 PM with opener Joy Ike. Click here for tickets and information

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The Key Studio Sessions: PhillyBloco

When we were going over the setlist for their Key Studio Session, PhillyBloco leader Michael Stevens pointed out that none of the songs from the set were their own; “We’re strictly a cover band,” he told me, but just looking around the room, I knew that this was a dramatic understatement.

For the past six years, the 20-piece ensemble modeled after the bloco Brazilian-dance tradition has been rallying audiences at venues from the TLA to World Cafe Live, getting a tremendous rep particularly for their annual New Year’s Eve throwdown at the latter venue. The band takes songs originally performed by some familiar names (Galactic, James Brown) along with lesser known artists from around the world (Jorge Ben Jor, Clara Nunes) and spins them in their own arrangements that blend samba, funk and rock sounds. When I say “lesser known,” though, I (unfortunately) mean lesser known to North American ears. But that’s part of the band’s mission, as our Sameer Rao pointed out in his New Year’s profile interview with Stevens and the band:

For the probable majority of their audiences, PhillyBloco might be their first exposure to this rich musical tradition. They needn’t be concerned, since samba’s percussive base sits comfortably alongside the reggae, New Orleans second line, and funk that PhillyBloco also incorporates into their music. They’ll recognize songs from folks like James Brown, and hopefully this unique spin will get them interested in digging further into something unfamiliar.

Call them musical ambassadors. Or just call them an incredibly tight band. As you can see from the photos in the gallery above, their numbers are huge, but they were remarkably efficient. Along with their regular sound engineer Craig Kaufmann, who did a remarkable job mixing this session, the band settled in our studio and plowed through a feisty set with ease and energy. The songs you hear below, in their original format, were done by (in order) Daniela Mercury, Galactic, Nunes, Jor and Skank, and PhillyBloco has more jams just like them in their repertoire. Listen to the set. Turn up your headphones. Dance around your desk if it suits ya. And consider taking in the full-on PhillyBloco experience at one of their upcoming gigs: Ardmore Music Hall this Friday the 13th of June, or over at World Cafe Live on the 9th of August.

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Listen to Philly hip-hop duo Wiggz and Wooten’s “Until Nightfall”, see them at World Cafe Live on 7/6

Photo via Broad Street Music Group

On July 6th, Philadelphia-based rappers Wiggz and Wooten will headline a show titled “Local Love” at World Cafe Live.  The show will double as a release party for their new single “Until Nightfall”, as well as a debut for their new Local Love music campaign.  Wiggz and Wooten are part of a production company called HomeGrownPhilly, whose goal is to expose local artists to the Philly community.  “Local Love” will feature other performances by Scott C, Pike Blvd, Aries, DayDreamGang, Cain Kerner, Pauly Dinero, Jay Levita and Trel Mack.  The show will be a great opportunity to support the Philly hip-hop scene and discover upcoming artists.  Tickets are $10. Watch “Until Nightfall” below”

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Meshell Ndegeocello brings her intimate new album Comet, Come to Me to World Cafe Live tonight

Meshell-Ndegeocello
Photo via http://innocentwords.com

Meshell Ndegeocello’s 11th album Comet, Come to Me is a gentle and beautifully-crafted effort from the influential Grammy-nominated vocalist.  Though the backdrop of many songs on the album are filled with breezy reggae rhythms, Comet, Come to Me also relies on jazz, hip-hop and even some Spanish guitar to keep you on your toes.  After you are drawn in by the soft melodies accompanied by cool drum beats and guitar riffs, you start to focus on what Ndegeocello is actually saying in each song.  She has a straightforward, blunt way about describing relationships that she is able to convey so plainly yet so accurately.  We hear it in songs like “Folie a Deux” when she sings “Call me hateful and cold, I just don’t love you no more” and in “Tom” how she opens with “There’s nothing between us but the feeling of nothing.”  The fact that these songs are not loud exclamatory ballads, but quiet unhurried intimate stories give the album a powerful and emotional quality that delve deep into the processes of human decisions.

Ndegecello is an inspiring artist because you can feel the curiosity she has about the world in all aspects of who she is.  When she was 17, she changed her last name to Ndegecello which means “free like a bird” in Swahili.  Through her music, we learn about her love and respect for all things, even her Twitter bio reads “A world made of love..”

XPN will welcome Ndegecello to World Cafe Live on Friday, June 6th to celebrate the release of Comet, Come to Me. You can find tickets and info for the show here and can listen to “Tom” below.