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

[ATTENDED: November 6, 2019] Steve Page Trio

I saw the Steven Page Trio about a year ago in Philadelphia.  When he announced that he was touring some more and coming to Bethlehem, I grabbed tickets for me and S. right away.

S. doesn’t really know his solo stuff at all, but she is a fan of BNL and has always said how much she liked his voice, so I thought it would be a fun, relaxing, seated event.

We were so close, we were literally right next to the stage.  When you’re standing, its a coveted spot, but when you’re seated, it’s terrible!  Luckily, they moved Dean Friedman’s giant monitor out of my way so I could actually see them all.  But in hindsight, sitting a few seats back would have been far preferable.

The weirdest thing is every time he picked up or put down his water bottle I thought he was going to talk to me (he didn’t).

I love being up close, the angles were just all wrong.  Any pictures I took were going to be of Steven’s crotch (!).   Fortunately, the vocals sounded fine.

I have learned from past experiences that seeing an artist a few months apart often means the same or a similar setlist.  And that’s what happened here.  Although when I look at other recent shows I see that he seems to have a kind of rotating setlist of some of the songs.  I saw that the night a few nights before us was amazing with “Alternative Girlfriend” (the song I really wanted to hear!) and “Someone Who’s Cool” an Odds cover!  They also played “Manchild,” my favorite new song of his and “Break Your Heart” both of which I have heart before but, come on, they are awesome.  Incidentally Odds opened for Steven Page in Canada.  Once again I wish I was above thee border not for political reasons. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE HOOTERS-“All You Zombies” (1985).

WXPN played this song on the day after Halloween and the DJ said she couldn’t believe they hadn’t played it as part of their Halloween show.

It made me laugh about what people consider a Halloween song (and I know I need to let up on this).  Like so many other songs, the simple fact that there’s a monster reference in the title does not make the song a Halloween song.

Indeed, this song is about as far from a Halloween song as you can get.

The song itself is catchy as anything.  A great guitar riff and some tension-building synths support these rather dramatic lyrics:

Holy Moses met the Pharaoh
Yeah, he tried to set him straight
Looked him in the eye,
“Let my people go!”
Holy Moses on the mountain
High above the golden calf
Went to get the Ten Commandments
Yeah, he’s just gonna break ’em in half!
Interestingly, there’s no real chorus to the song.  The “All you zombies” part follows the same musical and vocal pattern.  The third verse is, like the first, Biblical.
No one ever spoke to Noah,
They all laughed at him instead
Workin’ on his ark,
Workin’ all by himself
Only Noah saw it comin’,
Forty days and forty nights,
Took his sons and daughters with him,
Yeah, they were the Israelites!

The Hooters guys say there was no explicit message to the song.  A 1985 interview with the Chicago Tribune, co-writer Eric Bazilian (with Rob Hyman) said

We really weren’t thinking at all when we wrote it. We were working on something else, and, true to the spirit of the song, it just came to us, like a vision. We were sitting there working on another song, and all of a sudden we started singing, ‘All you mmm-hhhmm-mmm.’ Then I heard something about Moses in my head, and I started singing, ‘Holy Moses.’

We just chased it down. We stopped what we were doing to go after this thing, and an hour later, the song was written, start to finish. We’re still trying to really understand the song. People ask us what it’s about, and while there’s a lot of heavy stuff in there, the weird thing is we didn’t consciously put it there. Who knows? Maybe in some bizarre way it came from somewhere else through us.

Interestingly, it got banned on several stations and there were some Christian stations that refused to play it.

So, not Halloween-related at all, but super catchy and lyrically unexpected.

Also interesting is that Hyman and Bazilian went on to work with Joan Osborne on her album Relish, with Eric writing “One Of Us” another religiously themed song.

[READ: September 2, 2019] Dead Weight

I haven’t read a graphic novel by Oni Press in a while.  They were once my go-to comic book publisher.

Then they stopped doing single issues and started publishing only graphic novels.  Nothing wrong with that but I had been collecting single issues back then, not books, so they fell off my radar.  I have to get them back on my radar because I really do enjoy their books.

I didn’t know what this was about, but the title and cover art appealed to me, so I grabbed it.

This story is set at a fat camp–Camp Bloom.  We meet many of the kids who are there for the summer as well as the counselors who are there to help them get through the summer. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: September 29, 2019] Man Man

I saw Man Man open for Gogol Bordello back in 2014.  I really enjoyed them and at that time I wrote:

It was an insane and wild show from start to finish from crowd to band and I would absolutely see them again.

It took five years for Man Man to play anywhere near where I was again and there was no way I was missing this show–seeing them headline in their home town was the icing on the cake.

I had assumed that Man Man would be the wildest act on the bill.  So it was amusing that they followed Sun Ra Arkestra–who has been doing wild for over fifty years.

Like Sun Ra, the guys in Man Man were all wearing decorative ponchos.  But unlike the Arkestra, all of their ponchos matched–indeed, so did all of the clothes under the ponchos, down to the fact that they were all wearing the same shoes. (more…)

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CHERRY GLAZERR-NonComm 2019 (May 15, 2019).

A couple of years ago I had a pass to NonComm, but ultimately i decided not to go.  I had never been to World Cafe Live and, while it sounded like a fun time, it was just so many mid-week nights and lots of leaving early, that it sounded more exhausting than fun.

I have now been to World Cafe Live and I can imagine that the (less divaish) bands are hanging around talking to people (and radio personalities) which is probably pretty cool.

I loved the idea of these sorta personal concerts, too.  But I have since come to see that they are 20-45 minutes tops.  Hardly worth driving 90 minutes for.

But now that the sets are available to stream after the show, there’s no need to go.

The year I was going to go there were a bunch of artists I was excited to see.  This year there weren’t as many.

Although Cherry Glazerr is a band I’d like to check out.

Cherry Glazerr is a Los Angeles trio who formed in high school.  The blurb notes:

They’ve been known to keep a social and political message at the forefront of their songs, confronting the misogyny that’s too prevalent in their scene — and in our culture.   At one point, frontwoman Clementine Creevy turned her back to the microphone, leaned back limbo-style, jumped up and down — and didn’t miss a beat. That’s what frustrated feminist punk looks like in 2019 according to Cherry Glazerr.

They totally rock as well, cramming six songs into 20 minutes.

They open with feedback and drums that settles into “Ohio” –a distorted lumbering catchy song with Creevy’s vocals riding along the top.  I love the unusual riff that accompanies the song after the verses.  The solo is simple but very cool.

“Self-Explained” is slower with a cool vocal line in the verses.  It has a tempo that demands a big build up.  And the guitar solo fills that in really well.   “Wasted Nun” has some more great buzzing guitars and thumping drums over a simple but satisfying punk riff.

“Daddi” changes the dynamic of things with whispered creepy-sounding lyrics and a quiet guitar melody for the verses.  The big pounding chorus changes things up dramatically.

Those three songs come from their new album, while the final two come from their previous album, Apocalipstick.  “Apocalipstick” has a big powerful riff and turns out to be a rocking instrumental–it’s as good as the title of the song.

They end with “Told You I’d Be With The Boys,” a song with a cool riff and some nifty guitar licks as well.  I also like the vocal tricks that Creevy uses on this track.  And the way it ends is a total blast.

It’s a great set and makes me want to see them next time they’re playing more than 20 minutes!

[READ: May 27, 2019] “Ross Perot and China”

The title of this story was just so evocative.  I couldn’t imagine where Lerner would go with this.

And so as I started reading it, I had to wonder, is the main character Ross Perot?  Is that a young Ross Perot on a boat, drinking Southern Comfort in a man-made lake?  It sure could be.  Or maybe the young lady he’s with is Ross Perot’s daughter?

So that when the young lady slips off the boat unnoticed and he can’t find her, I wondered–where is this going?

Well, soon enough it is revealed that Ross Perot is not a character in the story, he is more of an abstract idea. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JEALOUS OF THE BIRDS-NONCOMM 2019 Free at Noon (May 15, 2019).

I heard the band name Jealous of the Birds and I instantly formed an opinion of what they sounded like.

And this recording couldn’t be much further from what I imagined.

I assumed they would be bird-like and they are not at all.  This set rocks, it switches genres, it covers a lot of grown, but nothing at all bird-like.

Many artists live by the philosophy of creating the music that they want to exist in the world, but few do it in such a striking way as Jealous of the Birds. Northern Irish songwriter Naomi Hamilton has been making music under the moniker for a few years now, but each song we hear from Jealous of the Birds feels like a fresh new discovery — and anyone who was hearing the band for the first time today undoubtedly felt like they were experiencing something special.

Folks who attended last year’s NonCOMM music meeting may remember hearing a glimpse of the arresting single “Plastic Skeletons.” The song, which is not quite like anything else and not immediately accessible, is congruous with Hamilton breaking out of her local music scene in Northern Ireland and carving out an indescribable genre of her own. Since then, Jealous of the Birds has gone on to release two new EPs, The Moths of What I Want Will Eat Me in My Sleep and Wisdom Teeth, which show the depth and range of Hamilton’s songwriting ability.

Driven by her love of language, Hamilton’s lyrics are intricate and poetic; musically, you can detect influences from Irish folk to psychedelic rock.

With her slicked back hair and laid-back demeanor, Hamilton makes it look easy, but her songs aren’t necessarily easy to listen to — hearing them once will only make you want to listen again and again to try to understand what the artist is getting at.

The first four songs are from their 2016 album Parma Violets.

Powder Junkie is a stomping, stop and start kind of song.  It’s bluesy but stops abruptly after just 2 and a half minutes.  It’s a great introduction to the band.  As is “Trouble in Bohemia,” a slower song with a folk feel. It showcases the softer side of the band, and is also quite short.

“Russian Doll” introduces a much more poppy sound to the band.  The chords are simple, but the highlight the clever lyrics

I took your compliments
I just struggled to believe
That I was worth loving
And you weren’t lying through your teeth
In truth, I’m a Russian doll
My egos shut inside
I painted them by hand
And I’ll never let them die

“Parma Violets” is slower and more acoustic-sounding.  It’s a ballad and a sad one a that:

Oh please
Don’t you swallow
Pills like parma violets
Again

I had to look up to discover that Parma Violets are a British violet-flavoured tablet confectionery manufactured by the Derbyshire company Swizzels Matlow.

The next two songs come from 2019’s Wisdom Teeth EP.  I like them both.  “Marrow” is a folk song, but “Blue Eyes” is a wonderfully weird rocking song.  It feels off-kilter with some unexpected lead guitar riffs at the end of each verse and some funky bass parts.

The final song, “Plastic Skeletons” comes from 2018’s The Moths of What I Want Will Eat Me in My Sleep.  It’s got a cool bass with some nifty guitar line to start the track.  The chorus is kind of staccato and lurching and quite a lot of fun.

These last two songs were my favorite of the set, and I’m glad to see they are the most recent songs. I like the direction they’re going.

[READ: May 15, 2019] “Peep Hall” 

I have read many many stories by Boyle and I like him quite a lot.  I like that he writes about so many different topics from so many different perspectives.  He is even unafraid to be sympathetic to people who don’t seem to deserve it.

It was somewhat unfortunate that I read this story and the previous one by him (written about 19 years apart) on the same day because they were both rather creepy and voyeuristic and sympathetic to people who necessarily don’t deserve it.

The narrator of this story, Hart Simpson, likes his privacy.  His phone is unlisted and the gate on his driveway locks behinds him.  When he sits on his porch, the neighbors can’t see him.  He works as a bartender at the local pub and is quite a visible person, but when it’s time off, he wants to be alone.  I mean, sure he hooks up once in a while, but otherwise he’s alone.

One afternoon, a woman came up his driveway.  She had been talking to his next-door neighbor (not his favorite person) in some kind of heated argument.  Then she came over to his porch. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JÚNÍUS MEYVANT-NONCOMM 2019 Free at Noon (May 15, 2019).

Júníus Meyvant is the stage name of Icelandic singer Unnar Gísli Sigurmundsson.  His band is a soulful Iceland six-piece with outstanding musicianship.

The set started off strong with “High Alert.”  A cool bassline and organ propel the song forward with accents from trumpet and Sigurmundsson’s soulful voice.

The second song, “Holidays” is much slower as it starts with a wavering keyboard and groovy bassline.  It’s just as soulful though–possibly more so, with nice horn accompaniments.

“Across the Borders” showcased a psychedelic-jam side of Júníus Meyvant, as well as the pianist’s skills.  After some powerful trumpet, the song settles down into a slow groove.  Midway through, the drummer plays a cool little fill and the band launches into a fast keyboard-filled jamming romp.

“Love Child” is a sweet, smooth love song with gentle horns guiding the melody.

“Ain’t Gonna Let You Drown” had a rich, gospel sound to it, it’s his new single. He slowed down the tempo for their last song “Thoughts of My Religion,” a personal ballad with a catchy chorus.

It’s a lovely set which you can listen to here (for some reasons Night Two’s shows are much much quieter on the player).

[READ: May 15, 2019] “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” 

I have read many many stories by Boyle and I like him quite a lot.  I like that he writes about so many different topics from so many different perspectives.  He is even unafraid to be sympathetic to people who don’t seem to deserve it.

It was somewhat unfortunate that I read this story and the next one by him (written about 19 years apart) by him on the same day because they were both rather creepy and voyeuristic and sympathetic to people who really don’t deserve it.

This story is about a woman who chooses to take a three day train ride rather than a three hour plane ride to Dallas.   It wasn’t long after the school shootings.  The shootings had happened at her daughter’s school although the daughter was unharmed.  This had nothing to do with her choice of taking the train, exactly, but she felt it would afford her some down time.

At morning breakfast she was seated across from a young man–Eric–about her daughter’s age.  They had a pleasant light conversation–first about state capitals and “sexy” cities  and the dangers of Splenda “its made from nuclear waste.”  He soon revealed that he went to the same school as her daughter  And just to complicate things.  He knew the shooter. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Y LA BAMBA-NONCOMM 2019 (May 14, 2019).

I have been hearing a lot about Y La Bamba lately and for some reason I didn’t realize that they sang in Spanish (which is why I thought it was an odd name for an English-speaking band).  I know WXPN has been playing some of their songs, perhaps I only heard “My Death” and “Orca” which are in English and which they did not play at NonComm.

But they do sing in Spanish and they bring a wonderfully diverse sound to these Spanish lyrics.  And they are not simply casually Spanish either, as their mission statement explains “BEING A CHICANA, MEXICAN AMERICAN HAS BEEN AND WILL CONTINUE TO BE A STRENGTHENING JOURNEY. I AM LEARNING HOW TO CELEBRATE MY BEAUTY, HISTORY, BE AND HEAL FROM WITHIN IT.”  Nor are they exclusively Spanish. “I WRITE IN SPANISH BECAUSE IT WANTS TO BE SUNG, I WRITE IN ENGLISH BECAUSE IT WANTS TO BE SAID.”

Lead singer, guitarist and songwriter Luz Elena Mendoza is the daughter of immigrants from Michoacán, and she has channeled into her music her Mexican-American heritage and her many frustrations with American culture.

And she demands the audience’s respect.  I would have found this particular set very uncomfortable as Mendoza, called out talkers in the back of the room, demanded silence and respect.  I’m all for silence and respect for bands during shows.  In fact I wish more bands would demand it, but this was really uncomfortable to listen to and I wasn’t even there.

Demanding silence form the drinkers at the bar, she said “I don’t come here to waste my time, […] you hear me?” She waited for the crowd’s attention. “You hear me? […] OK. Because that’s real. I’m not here to be cool, to give you something that you think might be cool. I’m here to give you my parents’ story.”

This is all pretty awesome, but since nearly all of the songs they sang were in Spanish, I’m not sure how much the audience really got out of what she was singing.

The blurb describes their music as a “mix of indie-punk, música mexicana and raw emotional storytelling” while Mendoza sings and raps in Spanish and English, railing against misogyny, patriarchy, and white ignorance.

Y La Bamba were at their most intense last night when Mendoza rapped in unison with keyboardist Julia Mendiolea, including on their fiery opener, “Paloma Negra”(“Black Pigeon”).

There’s some gentle echoing guitars (Ryan Oxford) and some bouncy synths underneath their very fast rapping.

As the raging “Paloma Negra” concluded, drummer Miguel Jimenez-Cruz instantly slid into a sly tresillo groove that marked the introduction to “Boca Llena,”

Later, “Bruja de Brujas” introduced all kinds of cool sounds in the bass (Zack Teran) and the percussion.  It was funky and fun.  The song ended with a

a wash of echoing cymbals and guitars that finally coalesced into the arrival of “Cuatro Crazy,”

This was the first (and only) song sung in English.  It was quiet with the two singers singing in a gentle falsetto over washes of guitar.

A blend of phasers, distortion and delay lines infused the band’s guitar and vocal sounds with an electric energy, and helped Mendiolea’s synth provide a brooding ambient backdrop for the spoken-word “Santa Sal.”  This was spoken in English, but it had some echoing and it was a little hard to follow.

It was during the introduction to “Una Letra” that Mendoza started to get angry with the crowd.

As she introduced the ballad “Una Letra,” Mendoza explained to the crowd, “It’s about domestic violence. It’s about my mom writing a letter to me, wishing […] for me to have the good things that she couldn’t have. And if those don’t want to hear this story, and you’re here to listen, then I don’t know what you’re doing here.”  Mendoza and her bandmates gently repeated, “No se sabe. No se sabe, se comprende.” — “You don’t know. You don’t know and you don’t understand.”

Again, she has every right to be annoyed that she’s telling these personal stories and people are apparently ignoring her.  But again, it’s hard to “hear the story” if you don’t understand the language.

This is when she launched into her “I don’t come here to waste my time, […] you hear me?”  tirade.  But It felt a little better when she sent her anger to someone who should know better.

“I’m very disappointed in Morrissey,” she went on to refer to a 2018 interview that Fiona Dodwell conducted with the former Smiths frontman, for which he has received intense backlash. In the interview, Morrissey aligned himself with a UK political movement known as For Britain and dismissed the many critics who have deemed the movement extremist and racist.  Morrissey performed at NonCOMM just a few hours before Y La Bamba on Tuesday night, before a crowd that presumably included some of the same listeners who attended the Y La Bamba set.  “I’ve been a huge fan of Morrissey and I just heard him talk,” Mendoza continued, “He thinks that ‘racism’ is just a childish word that we use against one another. He’s a white man with so much privilege! I am so disappointed!”

I had wondered if anyone would allude to Morrissey’s recent politics statements and thought no one had.  But Mendoza did not hold back.

I don’t know if Morrissey had anything to do with the next song but “Soñadora” shimmied ans swayed and Mendoza’s voice soared to new heights. “Corazón, corazón,” she and her bandmates chanted.

What is particularly unsettling is that on the recording, people sound respectful, but apparently she is unhappy with the crowd.

Before a gentle solo rendition of “Entre Los Dos,” she said

“I politely ask for everyone’s silence,” she said. But as the bar and the back the room remained noisy, she continued, “Because what are we doing here? … People wanna have their drinks, but I’m really asking — just giving benefit of the doubt — just everyone’s silence. To actually listen to what’s happening….  If you saw, ‘Y La Bamba is playing,’ and you saw what record I put out, and you got to read the story — you got to hear that it’s for women.” This prompted shouts of approval from several voices in the room, but Mendoza seemed intent on getting the attention of even more of the crowd. “You know? Right? Right? Isn’t that what we’re here for? … Let’s remember that, OK? Come on, we’re not children anymore. You know what I’m saying?”

She strummed her guitar softly and continued on with the song, but stopped singing again at one point to remind the room, “I’m not gonna play my song until everyone gets the point … I’m making my point, and I’m gonna make my point everywhere I go. It’s not really about like, you know, hearing me sing, it’s about listening. Like, yeah, if I get to sing, cool. But it’s about listening … and it’s really hard. Like, nobody even knows what I’m talking about back there. No one.” She then addressed those closest to the stage. “But I see you! I see those who are in the front. I see you. I hear you, with your heart.”

Of all of the comment she made, I though this was the most powerful and could be used in any context

After Mendoza completed “Entre Los Dos”, Jimenez-Cruz began a low drum roll and Oxford’s electric guitar shuddered back to life. Before the band began their final two numbers, Mendoza looked to front row of the crowd with resolve. “You guys wanna help me sing this song?”

“When I show up here, it starts right here.  When I ask for silence I really wanna be taken seriously.  When I am out there walking out on the street, I am not going to count on it. “

That’s pretty powerful and reasonable thing to say.  But she seems so pissed when she says it that it’ hard to know how to respond to her request that everyone sing a long to a pretty melody of “dadada da da da”  “Riosueltos” is a great rocking rap-filled song.  It was my favorite of the set, with its cool bass and guitar.

The set ends with “De Lejos”an upbeat dancey number with some great wild guitar work.

Before this show I was curious about Y La Bamba, but I can tell they are not a band I need to see live–I wonder if she’ll demand the same respect at XPNFest, when people are not there just to see them.

[READ: May 3, 2019] “Green Ash Tree”

The July/August issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue.  This year’s issue had three short stories and three poems as special features.

I don’t normally write about poems.  Certainly not ones that appear in magazines (this blog would be all poetry if  did that).  But for a summer reading issue that features three poets, since I wrote about the other two, I figured I should include this one as well.

Of the three, I feel like I “got” this one the least.

A tree never dies
except in our neighborhood.  Green ash,
stripped in old age, all branches
cleanly lopped by saws: a torso standing

Upon being aware of this poor specimen (more…)

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