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Archive for the ‘Philadelphia, PA’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: GRUFF RHYS–American Interior (2013).

Gruff Rhys was (is?) the singer and composer in Super Furry Animals, a fantastic indie-pop band from Wales.   After several years with SFA and several solo albums, Gruff decided to do something a little different.  Actually, everything he does is a little different, as this quote from The Guardian explains:

“The touring musician can feel like the puppet of consumer forces,” he writes, bemoaning the way that “cities have now been renamed ‘markets’ and entire countries downgraded to ‘territories'”. So, over the last five or so years, he has come up with the idea of “investigative touring”: combining the standard one-show-a‑night ritual with creative fieldwork. In 2009, he went to Patagonia to trace the roots of a disgraced relative called Dafydd Jones, and the Welsh diaspora in South America more generally, and played a series of solo concerts, as well as making a film titled Separado!. Now, Rhys has reprised the same approach to tell another story, and poured the results into four creations: an album, another film, an ambitious app, and this book – all titled American Interior, and based on the brief life of John Evans: another far-flung relative of the singer, who left Wales to travel to North America in the early 1790s.

So yes, there’s a film and a book and this CD.  This album is a delightful blend of acoustic and electronic pop and folk.  Rhys’ voice is wonderfully subdued and with his Welsh accent coming in from time to time, it makes everything he sings somehow feel warm and safe (even when it’s not).   Rhys creates songs that sound like they came from the 1970s (but better), but he also explores all kinds of sonic textures–folk songs, rocking songs, dancing song, even songs in Welsh.

“American Exterior” is a 30 second intro with 8-bit sounds and the repeated “American Interior” until the piano and drum-based (from Kliph Scurlock) “American Interior” begins.  It’s a catchy song with the repeated (and harmonized) titular refrain after each line and it’s a great introduction to the vibe of the record.  It’s followed by the super catchy stomping “100 Unread Messages” which just rocks along with a great chorus.  You can see Gruff “composing” the lyrics to this in the book.

“The Whether (Or Not)” introduces some electronic elements to this song.  It’s basically a great pop song with splashes of keys and some cool stabs of acoustic guitar.  “The Last Conquistador” and “The Lost Tribes” are gentler synthy songs, as many of these are.  “Liberty (Is Where We’ll Be)” returns to the acoustic sound with some really beautiful piano.

“Allweddellau Allweddol” (English translation: Key Keyboards) is the only all-Welsh song on the record and it romps and stomps and is as much fun as that title suggests it would be.  There’s even a children’s choir singing on it (maybe?).

“The Swamp” is a simple electronics and drumming pattern which leaps right into “Iolo” one of the most fun songs on the record.  It’s a nod to the Welsh poet who inspired but backed out of Evans’ expedition at the last-minute but also a rollicking good time with the chanted “yoloyoloyoloyolo” and great tribal drums from Kliph.

The end of the album slows things down with “Walk Into the Wilderness” a slow aching ballad and the final two animal-related songs.  “Year of the Dog” is kind of a mellow opus when it is joined by the instrumental coda “Tiger’s Tale.”  Both songs feature goregous pedal steel guitar from Maggie Bjorklund.

Gruff Rhys is an amazing songwriter.  He could write the history of an obscure Welshman and still get great catchy songs out of it.  And that’s exactly what he’s done here.

[READ: December 2018] American Interior

How to explain this book?

I’ll start by saying that I loved it.  I was delighted by Rhys’ experiences and, by the end, I was genuinely disappointed to read that Evans’ trip didn’t pan out (even though I knew it didn’t).  The only compliant I have about the book is that I wish he had given a pronunciation guide for all of the welsh words in there, because I can’t even imagine how you say things like Ieuan Ab Ifan or Gwredog Uchaf or Dafydd Ddu Eryri (which is helpfully translated as Black David of Snowdonia, but not given a pronunciation guide).  But what about the contents?

The subtitle gives a pretty good explanation but barely covers the half of it.

Here’s a summary from The Guardian to whet one’s appetite for Rhys himself and for what he’s on about here:

[John] Evans was a farmhand and weaver from Waunfawr on the edge of Snowdonia, who was in pursuit of something fantastical: a supposed tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans said to live at the top of the Missouri river, who were reckoned to owe their existence to the mythical Prince Madog, a native of Gwynedd who folklore claimed had successfully sailed to the New World in 1170. In 1580, this story was hyped up by Elizabeth I’s court mathematician and occultist John Dee (born of Welsh parents), in an attempt to contest the Spanish claim to American territory. Two centuries later, with the opening of new frontiers, talk of a tribe called the Madogwys and “forts deemed to be of Welsh origin” began to swirl anew around Wales and North America, and became tangled up in the revolutionary fervour of the time, along with a radical Welsh spirit partly founded in nonconformist Christianity.

All this was moulded into a proposal made by a self-styled druid named Iolo Morganwg (“a genius”, but “also a fraud of the highest order”, says Rhys), who “called for the Americans, in the light of Madog’s legacy, to present the Welsh with their own tract of land in the new country of the free, so that the Welsh could leave their condemned royalist homeland”. Morganwg stayed put in Cowbridge, near Cardiff (the site of his “radical grocery” shop is now occupied by a branch of Costa Coffee), but Evans was inspired by his visions, and eventually set sail.

Rhys goes on a “journey of verification”, following Evans’s route from Baltimore, through such cities as Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and then up the Missouri river to the ancestral home of the Mandan tribe of Native Americans, who had been rumoured to be the Welsh-speakers of myth, and among whom Evans lived, in territory argued over by the British and Spanish. Along the way, he does solo performances built around music and a PowerPoint-assisted talk about Evans’s story, keeps appointments with historians, and also tries to glimpse the America that Evans found through the cracks in a landscape of diners, what some people call “campgrounds”, and Native American reservations.

The Guardian’s review also talks about why the book works: (more…)

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[ATTENDED: March 23, 2019] Dilly Dally

I can’t believe it was actually two and a half years since I last saw Dilly Dally.  I was rather looking forward to seeing them again–their new album is great–an evolution but not a reinvention.

Then our Guster show was cancelled and placed on  this very night.  Coincidentally, in the same building!  Guster was going to play the large venue of the Fillmore while Dilly Dally was scheduled to play upstairs in the Foundry.

The Guster show was great, but since Dilly Dally started an hour later, I thought I’d see if they were still playing as we walked out.  The bouncer guy was rather surprised that I had a ticket for both shows.  But I showed him my ticket and with S’s blessing, I went upstairs to see a song or two (I was bummed and a little surprised they wouldn’t let her up since the show was more or less over).  The bouncer guy said they had the room until 11:15.  It was barely after ten when I went upstairs (S. said she didn’t mind waiting for ten minutes, but understandably, not an hour).

When I walked upstairs I could hear the unmistakable voice and guitar work of Dilly Dally. Dilly Dally are from Toronto and they were described to me as being like the Pixies meets Hole.  I can certainly hear that although they transcend their influences.  They play loud aggressive alternative rock that’s headed by Katie Monks’ snarling singing voice and Liz Bell’s sharp and catchy lead guitar work.  Bassist Jimmy Tony (in a striking silver sparkling short skirt) and drummer Benjamin Reinhartz lay down a low end that keeps the sound grounded. It was a drastic change from Guster.  As was the size of the crowd.  The Guster show was packed uncomfortably tight, but this show was more open and I was able to walk around.

They finished the excellent “Bad Biology” and I wondered how long I could push my luck–how many songs could I make S wait for.  And then Katie Monks told us that the next song was the last song.  Disappointing but very convenient. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: March 23, 2019] Guster

Back in January, Guster postponed their Philadelphia concert because they were going to be on Late Night with Seth Myers.  They rescheduled it for mid-March and decided that it would be a 20th Anniversary celebration of their 1999 album Lost and Gone Forever.  So although the date change sucked at the time, the new show promised to be freakin amazing.

And, as it turned out, this was the best and the worst Guster concert that S. and I have seen together (number 7 for both of us).

Why the worst?  The worst because we arrived later than we intended and wound up further back than we wanted to.  Which is not the end of the world.  But, when you’re in the back in the Fillmore, you are near the bar and all the people talking.  A lot.  Even people who claimed to love the band, even people who commented on how good they sounded (they did), even people who would sing along loudly to parts of songs, all of these people also talked through huge swaths of the show.

One woman shouted to her friends during a quiet part and I had to say something.  It was really dreadful.  I though that during the intermission, people would pile out to get drinks and we could move closer, but nope, it was jam packed.

So aside from the worst crowd I’ve ever experienced, the show was great.  The band was in amazing form, they sounded great–and the venue helped them to sound great.  It was definitely one of the best sounding shows I’ve seen from them. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: March 15, 2019] Teenage Fanclub

I’ve been a fan of Teenage Fanclub since I heard “The Concept” back in 1991.  The band has changed (and mellowed) a lot since then (they had long hair, they had hair, and they could have been teenagers, maybe), but they still write gorgeous harmony-filled, pop-rock songs.  I had never seen them live (I’d heard that in their early days their live shows were tempestuous and insane).

Last year when bassist Gerald Love retired (amicably) from the band, I assumed they were done.  Love wrote a little more than 1/3 of the songs (Norman Blake wrote a lot and Raymond McGinley wrote a bit less) and he wrote some of their catchiest songs.

So I was surprised and delighted that they announced an American tour and they were coming into Philly to Union Transfer.  I knew they wouldn’t play any of Love’s songs, but I also knew that they had a whole bunch of songs that the other two guys wrote that I really loved. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: March 15, 2019] The Love Language

I had not heard of North Carolina’s The Love Language before this show, despite the fact that they’ve been playing together for nine years.

Their drum head had the band’s name written in a big, puffy, hippie, sixties style, so I expected some serious psychedelia.  Which I did not get.  In fact they rocked pretty hard

They are a four piece centered around guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Stuart McLamb (they’ve been a band for about ten years and the Wikipedia page lists 20 former members).  The current lineup (according to their Facebook page) consists of Thomas Simpson, Andy Holmes, Eddie Sanchez, Jordan McLamb and Stuart McLamb.  Clearly one of those guys wasn’t in Philly. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: March 9, 2019] Aurora

I enjoyed the Aurora show in New York so much that I knew I’d want to see her again.  I also knew that I could bring my wife and daughter to the show and they would be equally enthralled even if they didn’t know her music very well.

This was my daughter’s first club show and I thought she’d be pretty excited at the prospect.  But we do go to a lot of different live entertainment, so she wasn’t any more excited than usual.  Although I think she enjoyed the fact that we weren’t in seats, because she liked walking from where we were to up close by the stage.

Aurora’s stage design was minimal but cool–five or six large jellyfish hung from the ceiling.  The lights were a dark blue–feeling very underwater as she sang the beautiful and haunting “Churchyard.”  Her voice is powerful and amazing (even if she was a little under the weather–she told us an amazing story about the color of her snot).  And it’s very funny when she speaks between songs because she is quiet and soft-spoken.  She tells adorable, weird stories (which has garnered her an overly dedicated, slightly annoying, eye-rolling fan base).  The kind of fan base who shouts, “no thank YOU!” every time Aurora says thanks.  On the plus side, this fan base is absolutely respectful while she sings which is wonderful because you can hear everything.

The setlist was very similar to the show in NYC, although I actually didn’t realize it until i looked at them right now.  In NYC, the new songs hadn’t been released yet so they were new and ephemeral.  By now they were well established.

She continued to sound amazing through the uptempo “Warrior” and “Gentle Earthquakes.

I tend to not like dance music or aggressively pop music and Aurora certainly falls within the confines of that style, especially a song like “All is Soft Inside.”  But she has this wonderful off-kilter presentation.  It certainly has something to do with her being from Norway and living what appears to a be a fairly isolated existence.  She just sings differently.  It’s not weird or radically different, it’s just not the same as what everyone else does.  And her sense of melody is also slightly different.  It’s really wonderful.

She slowed things down with the disturbing ballad “Murder Song (5,4,3,2,1)” followed by the other sad song (she apologized for these songs being so sad), “Runaway,” a soaring beautifully sad song.

The stage production was mostly understated.  Some lights, changing occasionally and appropriately.  Mostly it was an opportunity of Aurora to dance and dance–an infectious dance.  But “The Seed” was just utterly intense with the flashing strobe lights in the more intense moments.  And when the strobe ended and the stage when briefly black it was an incredibly moment.

Things really quieted down for “It Happened Quiet” where it was just her and her amazing keyboardist/backing vocalist Silja Sol.  Then she came back with the new single “Animal” which brought everyone back up with some great dance.

The rest of her band is really stellar.  Most of them are from Bergen Norway.  Magnus Åserud Skylstad plays drums and while I’m sure there are a lot of electronics in the kit, the sound was powerful and amazing.  Odd Martin Skålnes is the bassist in her band.  His backing vocals–largely singing low but occasionally going high–are fantastic.  Although nobody’s backing vocals were as amazing as Silja Sol.  She may actually get higher than Aurora.  Throughout the show her voice was just wonderful–perfectly complementing Aurora in whatever was sounded best.  Aurora’s voice is great, but with Silja Sol, she is unbelievable.

I love the new song “Forgotten Love” which she followed with the older song “I Went Too Far.”

The show was nearing its end and my daughter grabbed my hand because she wanted me to come up really close to the stage.  To the left of the stage is an artist’s entrance.  And not many people were there.  So this afforded us an amazing view of her from very close up.  I wouldn’t have wanted to stay there for the whole show as you miss everything else going on stage (the sound was also a little different there but still sounded great).  But it was really cool being a few yards away from Aurora with my daughter while she sang the stunning “Running with the Wolves” one of my favorite of her songs.

Aurora left for an encore break and when she came back it was just her and keyboardist Sean McVerry (the only American playing that night, he also had a solo set earlier in the evening).  They played the lovely “Infections of a Different Kind.”  When the show started people were passing out small paper hearts with instructions to shine out phone light behind them during this song.  Many people did and it looked very cool–she even commented on how lovely it was.

During the encore break, people brought her all manner of creative things including a rather large painting which was, frankly, creepy as all hell.  Aurora was so kind and said she would put it over her bed, but damn, it would give me nightmares.

She ended the show was the wonderful “Queendom.”  It was catchy and dancy and the whole room vibrated with fun.  I especially liked that she said there would be no presidents in her queendom.  She also brought out a rainbow flag to wave around.  And then the spell was over and we were back out in the cold night.

I don’t know if it was the life-enhancing moment that I wanted it to be for my daughter, but my wife has certainly become a fan.  Maybe when my daughter goes to her first concert on her own she’ll remember being that close to someone who is inexplicably not huge.

 

 

Union Transfer 2019 Bowery Ballroom 2018
Chrurchyard Nature Boy
Warrior Warrior
Gentle Earthquakes Gentle Earthquakes
All Is Soft Inside Under Stars *
Murder Song (5, 4, 3, 2, 1) Forgotten Love
Runaway Murder Song (5, 4, 3, 2, 1)
The Seed Runaway
It Happened Quiet Soft Universe ⊗
Animal Queendom
Forgotten Love All is Soft Inside
I Went Too Far Animal
Running with the Wolves I Went Too Far
encore The Seed
Infections of a Different Kind Running with the Wolves
Queendom encore
Through the Eyes of a Child ∀

* early single
∀ All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend
⊗ Infections of a Different Kind Step 1
ℵ new unreleased

 

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[ATTENDED: March 9, 2019] Talos

When I saw that Talos was opening for Aurora. I looked them up online and heard a couple of songs which I thought sounded cool.  They were ethereal and soaring with lead singer Eoin French’s vocals rising to an incredible falsetto.

Turns out Talos are from Cork, Ireland and the band is largely French’s creation.   As I understand it, he created all of the music on his first album (which was more electronic) and now has this massive five-piece backing him.  Although on stage there were five total, so I’m not sure who was actually at our show.

The band made amazing atmospheric music.  Between the synths that the keyboardist/bassist was playing and the guitar/synths that French played, the songs were just full of textures.  Couple that with French’s voice which was really powerful but could also reach staggering heights, and add in the flair and splash of a drummer and a percussionist and you have an amazing symphonic sound that really rocks.

They had a Sigur Rós vibe, but were definitely doping their own thing. (more…)

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