Archive for the ‘WXPN 88.5 FM–Philadelphia, PA’ Category

[ATTENDED: May 30, 2018] Flora Cash

Flora Cash had a pretty thankless task when they came out at the Bowery Ballroom.

Aurora was performing her only area appearance (aside from a show at Governor’s Ball that I knew I wasn’t going to).  And there was no word of an opening band.  It seemed unlikely that she wouldn’t have one, but as late as that evening, there was no word about one.

So when Flora Cash guitarist Cole Randall came out with his hair bleached the color of Aurora’s for a split second many of us thought it was her–until we saw his black beard.

Randall played an acoustic guitar and sang while his partner Shpresa Lleshaj played the laptop–playing beats and backing tracks while she sang lead and backing vocals.

Flora Cash’s backstory was more exciting than their music, I will admit.  They told us about how they met between songs, but here’s the condensed version from their website: (more…)


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[ATTENDED: May 10, 2018] tUnE-yArDs

When I first saw tUnE-yArDs on a Tiny Desk I was really impressed by Merrill Garbus’ set up.  I loved that she looped things so much–she may have been my first real exposure to that much looping.

I also loved that she played a kind of modified ukulele.  And I really liked her voice which was so unexpected for someone who looked like she does.  When I first heard them I assumed she was African American.

I loved the album w h o k i l l, but hadn’t really heard that much from them since.  There’s a new song that WXPN has been playing “Look at Your Hands” which I liked, but I didn’t hear anything else from the album.

So based on the Tiny Desk, tUnE-yArDs had been very high on my list of bands to see.  But that was many years earlier.  I still had high expectations and I found myself not exactly disappointed but like something of an outsider at the show.  Because while I didn’t know that much of her new music, the rest of the crowd knew everything and danced accordingly.

I had hoped to get tickets to see her club show at Boot & Saddle.  I don’t know how different that small show was but this show was simultaneously large and small.

I had heard that there were previously saxophones, background vocalists and percussionists on stage with her.  For this show there was only Hamir Atwal on drums and her musical partner Nate Brenner.

The stage set up was sparse: a big white backdrop and Garbus on a raised platform.  The drums on her right, the bass on her left.

Garbus still loops with abandon.  Indeed, Shara Nova made a comment about Garbus’ feet.  The key to Garbus looping (and there was plenty), is that she does a lot of the work with her feet.  However, there was a monitor in front of her feet so you couldn’t watch what she was doing up there.  That kinda stunk.

But she had a ton of energy.  She played a small drum pad a modified ukulele and those loop pedals.  She danced around on her platform and occasionally, briefly came down to the audience and danced a bit before heading back to her station.

Garbus and crew recreated three songs from the new album.  And everyone around me sang along.

I thought that Nate Brenner’s bass was too loud in the mix, but when he played a high riff it sounded great.

I loved hearing “Look At Your Hands” live where the dynamic was seven more dramatic than on record.

She played only one song from Nicki Nack, the catchy and pointed (like nearly every other songs) “Water Fountain.”

And then it was on to the songs from Who Kill that I was really excited to hear: “Es-So ” and “Powa.”

I had heard a lot about her new album which explores the nature of her relationship to African culture.  I’d always wondered about her voice and her intonations, just how African it sounds.  So in a recent interview in GQ she says:

When I was in college I studied Kiswahili, translating plays from Swahili into English and taking lots of African Studies classes and African American literature classes. I went to Kenya and was just so disgusted by the role of white people in colonial history—and, most importantly, present day postcolonial dynamics—that I just shut down. For years I felt like, “There’s no way I can make the music that I want to, which is all influenced by black music.” Bird-Brains, the first tUnE-yArDs album, was almost called White Guilt. So from the beginning of tUnE-yArDs, I have been grappling really awkwardly with that. The song “Jamaican,” a lot of it was me talking to myself: What’s going on here? Do you have a right [to make this]? Why is this music coming out of me? What will people think?

She grapples with serious issues of white guilt and colonization  (like the song “Colonizer”).  These songs are powerful and thoughtful.  And yet for the most part they are incredibly dancey.

In that interview she said:

I want people to dance. Really. That seems so simplistic an answer, but I really value the ceremony of bringing people together into a specific space and not thinking so much. [laughs] Ironically. I know there’s a lot to think about with this music, but when essentials of music take over… seeing people be literally on the same wavelength? It’s super powerful. I felt like making people dance was the right thing.

The audience enjoyed the show tremendously and there was ample dancing.  and I enjoyed hearing her make the music, but  I never quite felt on the same wavelength as everyone else.  Her appropriations of African culture (even how she danced) made me unconformable.  I knew what she was trying to address, but the music was more in my head than in my body.,

Knowing that she has bona-fides in the area makes things better, but can’t change the way I felt about the show.

Having said that, the encore of “Bizness” was totally killer.

This is a setlist from a few shows earlier, but I think it’s pretty spot on.

  1. Honesty*
  2. Look at Your Hands*
  3. ABC 123*
  4. Water Fountain
  5. Es-So
  6. Powa
  7. Colonizer*
  8. Coast to Coast*
  9. Gangsta
  10. Heart Attack*
  11. Encore
  12. Hammer*
  13. Bizness

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[ATTENDED: March 30, 2018] Darlingside

Sarah and I saw Darlingside just three months ago at SOPAC.  I was surprised that they were coming back to the area just a couple months later (even if by the area I mean two cities which are 90 miles apart).  Even my son, who doesn’t always seem to pay attention to what we do said “Didn’t you just see them?”

The reason I was so intrigued to see them again so soon was three-fold.

  1. Their new album wasn’t out yet when we saw them in December.  Now it was and I assumed they’d play more from it.
  2. SOPAC was a quiet, sit down, well-behaved place and I was curious to see if they performed differently in a bar/club.
  3. They are amazing, so why not?

Really the big question for me was the second one.  What would they be like in a noisy club.  Well, they still sounded amazing and just like Darlingside.  They didn’t really change their game that I noticed.  And in fact, the crowd changed for them.  While there was some chatter, the crowd was there to hear them, and we knew what we’d be getting, so we were quiet when we should be (with some exceptions).

The biggest difference was between songs, when people went pretty wild, and the guys responded appropriately–not getting wild themselves, but ramping up their own outgoingness.

The guys have a stage patter in place.  After a couple of songs, one of them will step up to the mic (they only ever use one mic which is magical because it picks up every breath and utterance) and addresses everyone with a story.

After playing two new songs (including using their Septavox, on “Eschaton” which adds a small element of electronics to their otherwise acoustic set).  In SOPAC they talked about this gadget, here they did not.  It was their first time to address us.

Cellist/guitarist Harris came up and was just so full of smiles and goodwill that it really set the mood for the night.  (He raised him arms and shouted Yes!).  He told us that last night they tried “Philadelphia Vanilla Ice Cream” for the first time. Which he was not even aware of this being a thing before then [nor was I].  He tried to describe it and the crowd responded appropriately (with someone shouting “Phanilla.”

And then they he told us that “Go Back” is based on Back to the Future II, which I did know.

They played some flawless songs from Birds Say (they do actually have quite a number of releases even if they focus on the two newest ones).  The harmonies on “White Horses” (and , honestly every song) are just breathtaking.

David, who plays bass and an underrated kick drum spoke about opening act Twain.  All of the bands whom Twain opens for seem to really like his music or at least him.  So he raved about Twain for a bit and then joked about how much fun it is to substitute the word “twain” for other words in sentences.  I can’t help but wonder if we are missing something.  There was also some talk about toilet paper, with David being shocked that not everyone folds it into a perfect square.

The crowd enjoyed the new songs and showed great appreciation for the old songs.  I was amazed at how great all of the songs sounded, but especially the really soaring ones like “My Gal, My Guy.”  And when the smaller more fun songs like “Harrison Ford” began, there was thunderous applause.

It was also cool when Harris sat at cello for “The Ancestor” but you could still hear his vocal contributions even some three feet from the mic.

Guitarist/banjoist Don told us that he had signed up to donate blood marrow and that we could too (I could not, as the requirements are surprisingly strict).  That wasn’t the usual fun banter, but it was perfectly in line with them as decent human beings.  And I say that unironically.  The four of them seem like the nicest guys in the world.  (And when we met them it all seemed genuine).

The band doesn’t “do a lot on stage.”  They switch positions a bunch depending on who needs to be doing what.  I always enjoy seeing Auyon on the mandolin like on “Whipoorwill.” But mostly they huddle around that amazing microphone and sing like four-part-harmonious angels.  I’m amazed that the bass doesn’t clatter against things–they must all be very well used to playing in small spaces.

Auyon is a crowd favorite.  So when he got up to speak there was thunderous applause and he acknowledged it by saying it was appreciated but over the top.  He often introduces the band and he did so tonight by discussing what was on their rider.

They’ve had a rider for a long time, bu only recently are venues starting to look at them.  He says its difficult to make one because what you want when you are sitting on your couch at home making up a rider is not necessarily what you want the night of a show.

He says they try not to be wasteful.  Don overheard the guys at Union Transfer discussing the requests, saying that tit’s all healthy stuff and very very specific.  The phrases” lack of imagination and daring” were thrown around as was the word “restrained” but not in a positive way.


He told us that Harris does push ups to stay in shape.  But he is worried that he apparently massive chest will ruin his writs making him unable to play, so he doesn’t really do them, after all.

When he introduced Don, and the crowd roared, Don pumped his arms trying to get the crowd louder which made everyone on stage laugh.  Auyon deadpanned that the first time at a Darlingside show that anyone has done that motion–we don’t even pick things up.  Don confesses, “It felt really bad too.  I’m never going to do it again.”

Auyon told us that Don orders half beers.  He’ll ask to split a beer, which is something no bartender respects.

When he introduced himself, the crowd went over the top with applause which led him to say that he believed that we were just messing with him now.  He said, “I usually have the other half of the beer because I only want half, too.”

There is really nothing like hearing them singing the gorgeous “Good For You.”

I was thrilled when they played their new song “The Best of the Best of Times” which Harris introduced by saying they were writing it in England during Brexit and they thought things would be better at home.  And then look what happened.  We are a long way from the best of the best of times, indeed.

I wasn’t sure what to expect for an encore.  I mean they’d played pretty much everything I wanted to hear.  The set list wasn’t too differet from at SOPAC.  It may have even been exactly the same songs, just in a different order.  I don’t know what will happen when they do another new album and start having to remove songs from the set list, I need my 7 songs from Birds Say!

The first encore was “Orion” a new song (someone shouted for their cover of 1979 which I REALLY wanted to hear, too, but they didn’t play it.

They ended with their sorta rocker (and suitable show ender) “Blow the House Down” which has a raging (for them) guitar solo and some wild violin.

They hung out after the show to meet people, but it was time for us to leave, so we didn’t say hi.  We’d chatted with them just a few months ago.

Amazingly, they will be back in the Philly area two more times before the end of the summer.  May 18 at the Kimmel Center opening for  Brandi Carlisle and then July 29 at XPN Festival.

Singularity [EX]
Eschaton [EX]
Go Back [Birds]
White Horses [Birds]
My Gal, My Guy [Birds]
Hold Your Head Up High [EX]
Extralife [EX]
The Ancestor [Birds]
Harrison Ford [Birds]
Whippoorwill [ep]
Futures [EX]
Good For You [Birds]
Best of the Best Times [EX]
The God of Loss [Birds]

Orion [EX]
Blow the House Down [Pilot]

What didn’t they play?
From Birds Say: Clay & Cast Iron; Birds Say; Water Rose; Do You Ever Live; She’s All Around; Volcano Sky
From Extra Life: Old Friend; Lindisfarne; The Rabbit and the Pointed Gun; Indian Orchard Road; Rita Hayworth

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SOUNDTRACK: LO MOON-Tiny Desk Concert #688 (January 5, 2018).

WXPN has been playing “This is It” quite a bit lately and I’ve realized that it sounds way too much like Mr. Mister (I think it’s Mr. Mister, or something else cloyingly 80s) for me to really enjoy.  [Speaking of Mr. Mister, how is it possible that Pat Mastelotto, currently touring with King Crimson, was the drummer for Mr. Mister?  Are they better than “Broken Wings.” There’s hardly any drums in that song at all and Mastelotto is awesome].

Anyhow back to the history of Lo Moon, lead singer and instrumentalist Matt Lowell says he created the song “Loveless” 5 1/2 years ago in a basement studio in New York.

He then moved to Los Angeles and linked up with Crisanta Baker (guitar, bass, keyboards and backing vocals) and multi-instrumentalist and principal guitarist Sam Stewart. They spent months in a backyard shed with gear and guitars everywhere. There they learned to feed off each other, sometimes jamming on two-chord drones for six hours straight without even saying a word. With the lights turned down, it was a comfortable space for the band to catch its artistic wind and create a celestial sound.

No word on when Sterling Laws was added as a drummer.

The show starts with “This is It.”  Lowell is on piano, and the song sounds pretty faithful to the recording. It’s the combination of the four note melody and the synth sound of those four notes at the end of the chorus that really rings Mr. Mister to me.  The addition of the backing vocals (ahhhing) is a nice addition to the song.

For “Real Love” Chrisanta switches to piano, Sam switches to acoustic guitar and Matt goes to electric guitar.  He plays a pretty melody on the guitar, but I can’t help feel that his voice is too soft, too middle of the road.

The same is true for “Loveless.”  They switch back to the original instruments.  Like “Real Love” it’s a pretty song, but ironically, without those Mr. Mister notes, there’s really no hook.  The songs just sound like pretty, generic songs on some kind of soft rock station.

[READ: September 9, 2017] Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Unicorn Training

I enjoyed the first Pip Bartlett book.  It was funny and had a good time with magical creatures.

In the first book we find out that Pip Bartlett is a young girl who can speak to magical creatures–unicorns, silky griffins, fuzzles–but no one believes her (because no one else can).  This is a drag because she loves magical creatures and her Aunt Emma is a veterinarian of magical creatures (people know magical creatures exits, they just don’t think people can talk to them).

Pip loves Unicorns and in the past has assisted Mr Henshaw with a very timid Unicorn–Regent Maximus–who was afraid of his own shadow.

I love the tone of the books.  This one opens: I was shoveling Greater Rainbow Mink poop. This wasn’t as bad as you might think. Greater Rainbow Minks only eat brunt sugar, so their poop literally smells like candy.  (It’s NOT candy, of course, It’s very important to remember that no matter how good its smells, it’s still poop).

And then we see (or actually we don’t see) a Rockshine who can only say the word Hey, but most often says “Heyyyyyyyyyyy!”  Rockshines are dull sheeplike creatures who turn invisible when frightened–which is often. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: December 17, 2017] Darlingside

We saw Darlingside at XPNFest in 2016.  The outdoor setting and our wilty family led to a less than stellar experience despite the amazing sound of the band.  How can four guys with one mic sound so good in an outdoor festival?

Well, when I heard they were coming back around, I was super excited to get tickets at Bethlehem Steel Stacks–the day they went on sale I bought a ticket right in front of the stage.  And then we couldn’t go.  A commitment came up, I got rid of the tickets and then we wound up not even going to the commitment. Ugh.

But it was all fine because they had announced a show at SOPAC and I still got second row seats.

The band sounded amazing in this small venue–which had wonderful acoustics.  And they were charming and funny as well. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: December 17, 2017] Henry Jamison

We had never heard of SOPAC when I got tickets for this show.  We were supposed to go to see Darlingside in Bethlehem, but it was the same night as a Boy Scout event (which, frustratingly we did not go to, anyhow).  But I hoped that they would be playing somewhere else nearby and huzzah, they were playing in South Orange!

Well, the theater is charming and the sound is phenomenal.  I can only hope that other people that we like will play here.

Main Street also had some yummy looking restaurants, but we didn’t have time to check them out.  We did arrive in plenty of time to claim our 2nd row (!) seats for this show.

As the lights dimmed and we were told to power off our phones (three humorous times).  Then Henry Jamsion walked out with his phone on–saying he had to have it on during the show.

He never introduced himself, just started playing. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 5, 2017] Tash Sultana

WXPN starting playing Tash Sultana’s “Jungle” gosh… over a year ago.  I liked the song fine, but it was as I learned more about her–that she plays the entire song–every single sound–herself and she does it live using looping pedals that I became really interested in her.

I was totally blown away when I saw her Tiny Desk Concert and realized that she was an amazing guitarist and so much more.

I decided then that it would be very cool to see her live.  So when I ordered my ticket for her show back in June, I had no idea that anyone else had ever heard of her.  Much less that she would sell out the venue within a week.  Realize at this point she has only released one official EP (and has released dozens of YouTube videos–which is where her fanbase is).

Tash came out and started playing guitar.  She played two songs that she built step by step.  First playing some chords that she looped and then adding some solos which may or may not get looped in.  Then a riff or drums or various other percussive sounds (including beatboxing) and within a couple of minutes she had a complete backing track (usually very danceable) to sing over. (more…)

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