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

[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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SOUNDTRACK: THE NATIONAL-First Listen Live: The National, ‘Sleep Well Beast’ (September 5, 2017).

On August 17, Union Transfer sent out a message that World Café and NPR Music present a First Listen Live with The National on September 5 at that very club.  I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant–was the audience going to sit there and listen to the record together?  Was the band going to be there?  I assumed they would play it live, but who knew.  I also didn’t really love The National enough to find out.  I like them sure, but I don’t know that I would have gone to see them anyhow.

I have since grown to really love “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” and while I probably couldn’t have gone to the show anyway (busy night) and it sold out pretty quickly anyhow, I was pretty glad that NPR has the show available for stream (right here).  The album sounds great and I was really delighted with how lighthearted singer Matt Berninger was and how good the band sounds.

I was also surprised by how piano-based these songs are.  Not that the band doesn’t have pianos in their songs, but I think of them as more guitar driven, while nearly every one of these songs is led by piano.  Since I don’t know all that much about the band, I also didn’t realize that in addition to Berninger, the rest of the band is two sets of brothers: guitar dueling by twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner and brothers Scott and Bryan Devendorf on bass and drums.

Since I wasn’t there, I’ll reply on Bob Boilen’s description of the show:

The concert began with a sharply dressed Matt Berninger comically mixing up his own lyrics as he sang, “You said we’re not so tied together, what did you mean? Meet me in the bathroom in a second, for a glass of gin,” instead of “meet me in the stairwell.”  It foreshadowed Matt’s frenetic performance throughout the night as he cast off that sport coat, rolled up his sleeves and led the band in a fun and inspired performance of these new songs. The show ended with Matt pitching his plastic cup full of clear liquid into the crowd in a frenzy of strobe light mania.

The group was joined throughout the night by Arone Dyer of Buke and Gase (who also sings on the new record), along with Ben Lanz on trombone and keyboard (and everything else), Kyle Resnick on trumpet, keys and backing vocals (and everything else).

Unlike recent record release parties that didn’t really feel like record release parties, this show was what I expected the other ones to be like–a band playing their new album front to back (in fairness the other three shows of this ilk were more indie in nature (and weren’t on the radio) so they could do what they wanted).  So indeed, the band played the album front to back (and went on around 8PM, sop they were done by 9:30, I’d guess).

As the show began, Berninger came out and in his deep voice said, “Hows it going,  hello.”  Someone shouted, “Play ‘Karen.'”  Berninger laughed and said, “it’s pronounced Kuh-RIN, come on.  How many time do I have to…”  (“Karen” is a song on their earlier album Alligator and “Carin at the Liquor Store” is a new song).

The album feels quite spare with minimal instrumentation, but the spaces are full of interesting music.  There’s a lot of piano on “Nobody Else Will Be There.”  At the end, as it says above he says, “I screwed up the first verse.  The first verse was wrong.  [mock angry] Do it again. [Laughs and says in a mock pissy voice] “We’re going to do everything again until it’s right.”

“Day I Die” has squeaky guitars and a funky bass.  Berninger after the song: Oops can I get a towel [pronounced towl].  Thanks a lot.  Next is ‘Walk It Back.’  Is there a towel anywhere?  I kind of walked it back into my drink.  Thanks, Ev.  Evan Middlesworth!  [cheers]  That’s all he does.  [singsong] Evan, you missed a spot.  [chuckles].  The song is spare with piano and a rather complex drum pattern.  The l vocals are almost recited.

Arone Dyer from Buke and Gass helped a lot on this record.  This is the person you hear at the beginning of this song. This is “The System Only Dreams [cheers] Wait!  I’m not done with the title yet [laughs].  This may be one of my favorite songs this year.  It sounds a bit different here–not bad, just live.  But by the end it totally rocks out.

“Born to Beg” is a slow ballad with some lovely backing vocals from Dyer.  After the song Berninger announces “Johnny Brenda’s tonight at 11: Buke and Gass.”  Now that;s a show I would have really liked to see.  Had I gotten tickets to The National, I would have hung around town and gone to Buke and Gass for sure.  Berninger mentions their symbiotic partnership: “punch the glove, touch the glove, you know what that means? hand in glove? Nevermind.”

“Turtleneck” roars out with 2 scorching guitars.  Berninger is practically screaming (as are the backing singers).  he is normally such a sedate singer that this comes across really powerfully.

“Empire Line” returns to that more moody style.  The song kind of smooths along on a rumbling guitar line.”

Berninger introduces the next song: “This is called ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’ … Did somebody boo?  The record’s not even out yet.  Someone went ‘oooo.'”  The song has a cool, complex drum rhythm with some nifty quiet parts and buzzy keys.  But the end gets bigger and louder with really powerful drums.

I love the glitchy opening sounds of “Guilty Party.”  The rest of the song is gentle piano and e-bow but the end builds with different instruments playing different spare sections around each other.  There’s also a cool guitar solo at the end.

One of the other guys in the band says “Thanks to NPR for doing this and thank you guys for coming out.  This is a good way for us to learn these songs… live on the radio.”  Berninger dedicates “Carin at the Liquor Store”:  “This is for Yoko.”  I wonder of that has to do with the chorus: “blame it on me. I really don’t care.  It’s a foregone conclusion.”

After the song he says: “Sorry, Scott, I fucked up your mic.  Hold on I gotta fix Scott’s microphone.  This is called ‘Dark Side of the Gym.’  A gymnasium in America is a multipurpose room where proms take place. In Europe they keep thinking it’s the dark side of the fitness club.  Some corner of the locker room Dark side of Equinox or something.”  This is a slower song with more piano.  “Arone Dyer is back.  Buke and Gass tonight, 11, Johnny Brenda’s.”  He sings the line “Hand in Glove” then says “Uh, never mind I almost told a story.”

The final song is “Sleep Well Beast” with more interesting electronic percussion and wavery synths.

The whole album sounds really good.  Mostly spare, but a few really rocking songs.  I’m now curious to hear if the album sounds like it.

It sounds like there’s an encore break.

When they come back: “Were going to play a few songs that are ten years old.  This is from Boxer.”  Introducing “Green Gloves” whoever is talking says “this is kind of a creepy song.”  Berninger agrees: “Don’t do any of the stuff in this song.”  There’s much more guitar.  It’s quite moody and sounds great.

“Apartment Story” is a bit more upbeat with fuzzy guitars that build and build over staccato drums.

Presumably that same guy from the beginning shouts, “Play Karen, please.”  But no, they play “Fake Empire” instead (I don’t think they heard him).  This is a piano-based song, but it builds and build and builds to a rocking climax.

The final song comes from High Violet.  “Terrible Love” totally rocks with big noisy guitars and drums crashing to an ending.  They practically scream “It takes an ocean not to… BREAK!” and the show ends with a crazy and wonderfully chaotic conclusion.

There audio just ends–no goodbyes or anything.  I assume the band didn’t hang around afterwards–there wer 1200 people there, after all .

On WXPN after the show, they played an interview: World Cafe host Talia Schlanger and I recently talked with Matt Berninger about how he and the band created their new album. Listen to that full interview here.

 

[READ: June 25, 2017] “Beneficence”

I am quite saddened to read that this is the final Lucky Peach issue that will see the light of day.  The magazine is going to retain an online presence, but there will be no more oversized, thick-papered profanely delicious quarterlies.  [Technically not true, there was one more final issue after this].

I am equally disappointed that the final story printed in this final issue is so irritating.

This story seems like it is a take on John Cheever’s “The Swimmer.”  That’s the overall vibe I get from the story.  If you don’t know that terrific story, a man drinks alcohol and swims through neighborhood backyard pools–and learns something along the way.

This had that same backyard neighborhood drinking feel to it.  But it was so overwhelmed by the phrase “A white person” that I was totally lost and distracted from any actually story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAGGIE ROGERS-Tiny Desk Concert #641 (August 7, 2017).

I had been hearing Maggie Rogers’ name on WXPN and have liked “Alaska” which they’ve been playing.  But I didn’t know much else about her.

But reading the blurb reminded me of where I had initially heard of her:

Maggie Rogers became a viral star on the strength of a video in which Pharrell Williams raves about a demo of what’s become her signature song, “Alaska.” Since then, Rogers has signed a label deal, toured extensively and released a sweetly approachable, inventively arranged EP called Now That The Light Is Fading.

For her Tiny Desk debut, Rogers performed all three of the EP’s best-known songs, opening with the recent singles “On + Off” and “Dog Years,” the latter of which she calls “a song for all the pups.” Then, after dismissing her band, she treated us to a few warm words about public radio before introducing “Alaska.”

Maggie has an interesting voice that sounds similar to someone (it’ll come to me), but with a slight country twang.  It seems like she could easily fall into the country umbrella but her songwriting goes in a slightly different direction.  (I’m also astonished that she looks to be about 18).

She plays three songs (there are 5 on her EP),

“On+Off” starts with a piano intro and Maggie singing. When the middle section kicks in and she plays guitar there a much louder sound. It’s quite catchy.  I really like the delivery of the “Ooohs” that she adds.  There’s something about the way she does it that sounds very cool.

“Dog Years” is a slower, slightly more country-sounding song, but again the “ooohs” won me over.  This time the ooohs are harmonized by her band and it sounds even better.  She also demonstrated some wonderful high notes.

Her band leaves for the final song which she starts by telling everyone that “public radio has been a part of her musical discovery–since she used an NPR compilation to DJ her middle school recess.”  She’s very sweet.

Th final song is “Alaska” which she says is a song about coming back into your body.  It has a really pretty chorus–once again, her voice soaring to lovely high notes.  I prefer the recorded version to this solo version, but she sounds great by herself as well.

[READ: June 27, 2017] “Crossing the River No Name”

I was a little concerned about this story because it was set in Khost, Afghanistan and I thought it was going to be an intense war story–and war stories, like sports stories, pretty much end one of two ways.

So it begins on a rainy night in March 2009.  The narrator and his patrol are sent to interrupt a group of Taliban.  They reached a river and Hal, the leader, called on the best swimmers to swim across and set up the guide rope.  They made it across and secured the line.  The rest of the patrol got across but when it was the narrator and Hals’ turn they hit trouble.

Hal was afraid of the water.  He’d joined the Navy to get over that fear and it worked.  Most of the time.  He knew of one other example when Hal had had a brief freak out.  But this was the second one.  The river grew darker and they were pulled under. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: August 3, 2017] Andrew Bird

My experience with Andrew Bird has been frustrating.  I often hear a song or story about him and I think, “I love this guy!”  Whether it’s a feature on his amazing whistling or his adventurous violin playing, I love the songs that they play.

But when I try to listen to more of his songs, I find them…okay.  Never bad, just okay.  Perhaps if I really devoted time to the songs I would learn to appreciate them more, but as it is I find them pleasant.

And this concert was much the same.  I really enjoyed a number of the songs he played (I don’t know the names of most of them), but by the end of the set, I was sort of drifting off a bit.

Before the show we met some friends who were also there.  One of them told me that he often plays solo, looping his violin and such.  He did loop the violin a number of times, but he played every song with his four piece.  And while I can’t compare something I haven’t seen, I feel like the band worked very well and made the show a bit more upbeat. (more…)

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giant-daysSOUNDTRACK: NATHANIEL RATELIFF & THE NIGHT SWEATS-Tiny Desk Concert #488 (November 17, 2015).

nateNathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats get a ton of airplay on WXPN–perhaps a bit too much airplay.  And yet I can’t deny the supreme catchiness of his music which owes a lot to Van Morrison’s brand of soul music.

Rateliff was (and perhaps still is) a folk singer.  But in 2015, he released this album with the band The Night Sweats and has had huge success with this more rocking soulfulness.

“I Need Never Get Old” sounds so much like a Van Morrison song that it’s hard to deny how catchy it is (especially the chorus).  “Look It Here” has a similar vibe with the kind of loudly mumbled vocals that sit nicely with backing vocals and horns.  The middle of the song picks up in intensity and changes the overall tone in a good way that segues nicely back into the main melody.

“I’ve Been Failing You” features more piano up front.  It’s a little more bluesy than soulful so I like it a bit less.  Although the backing vocals in the quiet section (Don’t you weep and don’t you worry) are very cool.

Typically a band does three songs, but Bob walks up and shakes his hand and asks if he wants to do another.  Nathaniel asks, do another or do that one over?  But Bob says, no another song if they want to.

The band agrees they can’t really do “Shake,” so instead they play “Mellow Out.”  Rateliff says, “Same key different song.”  And everyone laughs until he realized, “wait it’s actually a different key.  What do I know?”

“Mellow Out” which opens with some very Van Morrison “do do do dos.”   It sounds very much like the other songs–catchy and swinging with horns in all the right places.  When the song ends Bob says it sounded great and someone comments that they had an extra late night last night before the audio turns off.

I am genuinely surprised that they didn’t play “S.O.B.,” their first single (a song used in a Lipton commercial–although not any part that sings “son of a bitch, I might add).  But since I don’t really like that song, I’m glad they played the other ones.

[READ: June 15, 2016] Giant Days Vol. 1

Giant Days was excerpted in the back of a Lumberjanes book and I loved the excerpt–very funny with a great drawing style. Then as I am wont to do, I forgot all about it.  But in the library the other day, the librarian recommended the book and I was delighted to be reminded about it.

This series is set in a British college.  Susan, Esther, and Daisy are roommates.  Susan is the sensible one–a little angry at men and unwilling to take crap from anyone.  Esther is a goth hottie.  She dresses outlandishly and has a (literal?) forcefield of bad luck around her.  And Daisy was home schooled–she is very sweet and rather naive.

I loved right from the start when the three girls head out to campus.  Susan bets Esther that she can’t go three days without some kind of drama happening around her.  But as soon as they get outside, Susan see McGraw.  And she is furious.  McGraw has floppy hair and a big ol’ mustache.  And they launch into each other with cold pleasantries.

When the girls  force Susan to tell the story, there’s a very funny moment when the other two start chanting Flash-Back Flash-Back but we get a brief, intentionally unsatisfying one. (more…)

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1981 SOUNDTRACK: SON LITTLE-Tiny Desk Concert #495 (December 18, 2015).

sonlittleI know of Son Little, although only vaguely.  WXPN has played his song “The River” quite a lot, although I don’t think I’ve heard anything else.

For this Tiny Desk Concert, he’s really stripped down–just his acoustic guitar, a percussionist (Jabari Exum playing a djembe with accoutrements) and a backing vocalist, his sister Megan Livingston.  His playing is even pretty stripped down–his chords are minimal, almost more like accents for most of the songs (although he does play louder from time to time).

As such, this really celebrates his voice which is strong and almost gospel-like.

He plays three songs. “Lay Down,” is a quiet soulful song with perfectly spare accompaniment.  When it ends, everyone seems adorably shy with Little saying, “just mildly awkward enough.”

“Your Love Will Blow Me Away When My Heart Aches” is a bit bigger–Little sings a bit louder and plays louder chords, but it is still quite minimal.

He ends with “The River” which is certainly stripped down from the radio version.  It opens with some claps and he encourages everyone to clap along although “If you’re like clap challenged then maybe… don’t–you know who you are.”  The song has that bluesy rock feel even in this understated form.  And while I like the original better, this is a great version–that quiet clapping and percussion is really nice.

[READ: July 26, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1981-1982

So far the 1980s see Schulz settling into a few consistent themes in his strips–regular motifs that he mines over and over again.  Although it’s interesting to see how they have morphed over the decades.

Patty is constantly falling asleep in school (and getting D minuses), Snoopy continues to write funny/bad jokes and gets rejection letters about his books (this is usually pretty funny but it’s also surprising as Snoopy is usually the “successful” one); Snoopy also plays a lawyer a lot in these strips.

1981 begins where 1980 left off with Patty loving the story of Hans Brinker.  1981 also has a lengthy section about Valentines Day (a subject that gets more emphasis in some years than others), although this year Sally is the major protagonist (and her Sweet Babboo her object).  1982 also has a Valentine’s Day with Sally–she gets her hand stuck in the Valentine’s Day cards box.

Schulz used to do bible instruction which is why he quotes it so much.  And he occasionally peppers his strips with religious commentary.  There’s a joke about school prayer–Patty has to go up to the board and when her teacher falls ill she shouts “school prayer works, Marcie.”  There’s an amusing joke that Snoopy used to teach Sunday School at the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm.

Although the running jokes are funny, I love when he gets a new idea.  Like the a fun twist on the dog ate my homework joke when Snoopy as the WWI pilot steals Sally’s homework claiming it is the enemy’s secret papers and he eats them.

Sometimes Schulz gives a one-off joke that’s just silly and funny like when Woodstock “poofs” a dandelion and it “poofs” him back. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: July 22-24, 2016] XPN Fest

2016-07-24 15.34.58Even though I go to a lot of shows, I don’t really love Festivals.  I actually enjoy concerts too much to enjoy Festivals.  Which sounds dumb, but I’d rather see a band I like on their own play for a full set than for 30 minutes with a bunch of people who don’t really want to see them.

I’ve been to a few festivals over the years, and I have thought about going to other ones, but since I typically don’t want to spend a few days in the sun (and a few hundred dollars), I don’t go.

But the past two years we have seen some great headlining acts at XPN Fest.  And we thought it would be fun to go for the day, bring the kids and just have a fun day outside with music and vendors.  We bought tickets before the lineup was even announced.

WXPN members get half-priced tickets (which is cheaper than some of the regular shows I’ve been to) and kids’ tickets are $15 for the three days.  Perfect.

In the past, I have loved most of the headliners, but this year I didn’t really like any of them. The three day pass includes lawn seats to the headliners, but we wound up not using them at all. (more…)

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