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The Key Studio Sessions: Cvgebird

For Philly’s Selina Carrera, live music isn’t a one-way thing. A concert can be a form of community, and it’s something the charismatic Philadelphia singer-songwriter and rapper brings to the stage under the banner of her project Cvgebird.

A small example: at every concert, Carrera takes a few minutes to freestyle while her band improvs underneath, and she makes the experience show-specific by asking the audience to start her off with a few words to build her bars around. Sometimes these improv ideas make their way into songs in the Cvgebird repertoire, and sometimes they exist purely in the moment.

When the band visited WXPN Studios this week to record a Key Studio Session, there was no audience to go to for suggestions, so Carrera asked the crew: myself and production assistant Makena Duffy. I went with the word “falafel” (my lunch earlier that day) while Duffy offered “peanut butter” (we were in a food mood, I suppose?) and sit-in bassist Rah M. Sungee rounded it out by suggesting “butterfly” (bouncing into the world of nature). Carrera nodded, pondered, and as the mellow funky groove began to blossom around her, she launched into a story about two people in the early stages of a relationship, trying to get to know one another better over a meal. The words of choice were not shoe-horned in, as I’ve often seen happen with this type of freestyle, but flowed naturally into a dreamlike world, a place in a story that had not existed moments before. Impressive.
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My Wave: Watch Soundgarden perform at Bethlehem’s Stabler Arena in June of 1994

Soundgarden at Stabler Arena | still from video

As with many artists whose roots lie in underground culture and grow to reach the masses, you can essentially divide Soundgarden‘s career into two halves: pre-“Black Hole Sun” and post.

That’s not to say that the Seattle rock icons didn’t have a robust discography and a dedicated fan base prior to the spring 1994 release of their fourth LP, Superunknown. They’d been a band for ten years; they’d been a major label band for half of that time, following the jump to A&M on 1989’s Louder than Love. They had passionate followers and a rep for a killer live show. What they didn’t have was a song, or songs, that cut through the frenzied noise of MTV and alternative radio.

Even though 1991’s Badmotorfinger boasted classics like “Outshined” (which peaked at 45 on the Billboard rock charts) and “Rusty Cage” (re-popularized in a Johnny Cash cover two years later), the album had the misfortune of being released on the same day as Nirvana’s Nevermind and performing not exactly as well. It was embraced by critics, and the industry to a degree, but it didn’t have a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” propelling it, and nobody quite knew how to categorize these four hairy dudes from the Pacific Northwest; the following year at the Grammy awards, they were confusingly nominated for “Best Metal Performance.”

Three years later, Soundgarden finally did connect in that bigger way. MTV and alt-rock were bigger than ever, and the band’s flirtation with heavy psychedelia on Superunknown made their sound incredibly alluring, as well as a bit less intimidating. “Black Hole Sun” dropped as a single in May of that year, and was the third to get the push from the record that had been out since March. Thanks to a dreamy slide guitar lead by Kim Thayil, a hammering hook, and a super weird, apocalyptic music video that was equal parts funny and disturbing, the song was beloved in the alternative world, and pushed the band well beyond it as well, into the collective consciousness of casual listeners and heads alike. “Black Hole Sun” was Soundgarden’s first number one on the Billboard Rock Charts, but was a slow burn over the course of five months.

When Soundgarden played Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Stabler Arena on June 24th, 1994, their wave was just beginning to hit its crest. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Cabana Wear

There’s something of a common thread in all the bands we’ve seen South Jersey’s Brian Mietz play in over the course of the past decade.

Whether you’re talking the mathy pop of It’s A King Thing, or the poppy introspection of The Not Fur Longs, Mietz has a penchant for irresistible hooks and inviting melody, for nerdish wordplay and 90s style fuzz-tones, and for a sensitive outlook that’s presented in a somewhat self-deprecating way.

We see all of that at play in his new outfit, Cabana Wear, which is the summertime alt-rock project of singer-guitarist Mietz, teamed up with Haddon Heights, NJ scene peers: bassist Dan Saraceni (of By Surprise) guitarist Alec McVey (of Aspiga) and drummer Eric McConathey (of Brackish). Drop the needle on the tidal pool blue vinyl of their self-titled debut LP and you’re greeted with crunchy guitars and bright riffs paying homage to their power pop inspirations from Big Star to Nada Surf to Weezer and beyond.  Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: The Warhawks

Maybe it’s their working-class roots in Gloucester City, New Jersey, but the work ethic exhibited by rock and roll four-piece The Warhawks is tough to match.

We first met them at WXPN care of the Jake Rabid-hosted Local Show on our XPN2 webstream, and they were just-out-of-high-school teenagers who had already spent years hustling their music at shows around the Delaware Valley and online. They impressed us with a revved-up proto-Key Sessions set featuring serious Kings of Leon vibes; five knockout songs, blazed through on a Sunday afternoon. A couple years later, I ran into them on the streets of Austin, Texas and saw that work ethic in action again when they literally showed up to an unofficial SXSW showcase I was watching and talked their way onto the bill. Chatting to them afterward, that was pretty much their plan — pile in their van, drive to Austin, get their music of the hands of anyone who would listen, play every street corner that would take them.

They’ve kept me in the know about every piece of music they’ve put out since then — brash garage rock bruisers collected on like 2011’s Thief, or 2012’s Ordinary Time. And after a while, I admittedly almost began to take The Warhawks for granted as part of our local music fabric: four dudes who kicked out reliably asskicking projects now and again.

And then this year’s Never Felt So Good happened. And it was that level-up that we’d all been waiting for.

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Listen to Perry Shall’s Highs in the 70s guest DJ set, get the new Highs in the 70s t-shirt he designed

Perry Shall | photo courtesy of the artist // Highs in the 70s t-shirt | design by Perry Shall

When WXPN’s daily Highs in the 70s show needed a new t-shirt, only one name came to mind. 70s? T-shirts? Perry Shall.

The Philadelphia-based visual artist designs t-shirts, tour posters, and album covers for a variety of bands from hometown friends Hurry and Mannequin Pussy to international names like Kurt Vile and The Black Keys; he famously has an extensive t-shirt collection in his West Philly home.

Perry is also a musician who makes 70s-tinged rock and roll in bands like his revved-up power trio HOUND and the dreamier five-piece Wild Flowers of America.

Even though Perry himself was not born until the 80s, he’s a deep appreciator of 70s sounds an apparel, so he kindly put together the look of XPN’s brand new Highs In The 70s t-shirt, which you can see in the photo above. The shirt is only available as a thank-you gift for XPN members, whether they are new members donating $10 a month or existing members making an additional donation to the station. More on that here.

Yesterday, to ring in the summer and roll out the new design, Shall joined Highs in the 70s host Dan Reed on the air for an hour of hand-picked music that ranged from Emitt Rhodes to Elton John. Take a listen and check out his playlist below.

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The Week Ahead: Perry Farrell, Kikagaku Moyo, Jawbox, Sheer Mag and more

Perry Farrell | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

The big gig this week, of course, is two hours south of Philadelphia in Dover, Delaware. But if you’re not going to Firefly, fear not — there’s no shortage of shows to keep you on your feet and entertained back home. (And if you are going to Firefly, check out our festival guide here.) From 90s American alternative heroes to present day psychedelic mindbenders from Tokyo, local rock and roll on the waterfront and some hip-hop theatre on North Broad Street, here are 15 concerts to see in the next seven days, all around Philadelphia. Continue reading →

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Watch Amos Lee join Dave Matthews Band onstage at BB&T Pavilion to sing “The Maker”

Dave Matthews and Amos Lee | photo by Jeff Coffin | via instagram.com/jeffcoffin

On the second night of Dave Matthews Band‘s two-night stand at BB&T Pavilion in Camden, Philadelphia singer-songwriter Amos Lee joined Charlottesville’s finest for a cover of Daniel Lanois’ “The Maker.” Though it does not appear on any of DMB’s studio albums, the song been in the band’s live repertoire since forming in 1991, and was included on their 2001 release Live in Chicago 12.19.98; according to Jambase, it’s the first time the band has played the song since 2016. Continue reading →

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#XPN5050: 1980

For fifty weeks this year, we’re celebrating the music of a specific year every Saturday on WXPN. We’ll be choosing the years randomly; for this week’s #XPN5050, Kristen Kurtis is putting the musical spotlight on the year 2013.

We’ve been circling relatively modern times a lot in recent weeks on the #XPN5050, so this week we’re seriously throwing it back. 1980 was the year of “Hungry Heart” and Bruce Springsteen’s The River. It was the year of Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks” and one of hip-hop’s first major advances into the mainstream. It was the year of Pretenders and “Brass in Pocket,” and U2’s Boy and “I Will Follow.”  Continue reading →

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Bruce Springsteen and The Meaning of Life: Western Stars is uneven, but unafraid

Bruce Springsteen | photo courtesy of the artist

At this point in history, Bruce Springsteen doesn’t need to try anymore.

If we’re being completely honest, he hasn’t needed to try for a long time. The man wrote, recorded, and released no fewer than three masterpieces in the first ten years of his career – 1975’s Born to Run, 1980’s The River, and 1983’s Nebraska. The albums that surrounded them were all valiant efforts filled with strong, nuanced songwriting and major radio hits. His live shows have been things of legend since he was playing The Stone Pony and The Main Point. On legacy alone, arenas of fans the world around will continue flocking to the man who put Asbury Park on the map, regardless of what he brings to the table – whether it hits or misses.

Springsteen’s newest offering, Western Stars, is out today. It is his nineteenth studio album, and on the surface could be heard as a lackluster late-career move by a 70s rock veteran. But if you consider the road that led to it, it’s not that at all. Continue reading →

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Eight things we loved about the new and improved Roots Picnic (and three things we didn’t)

The Roots | photo by Ben Wong for WXPN | brotherlylost.com

For the twelfth year running, Philly icons and global hip-hop heroes The Roots brought their pre-summer throwdown back to their hometown. The Roots Picnic touched down in its new home at The Mann Center at 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 1st, with rap-soul duo &More opening a day of sun, sounds, and multi-sensory experiences, all the way up to the show-stopping performance of The Roots’ breakout album Things Fall Apart, which turned 20 in February. The Key was on hand from bottom to top, and here is what we saw all day — beginning with the immense amount of stuff there was to love. Continue reading →