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

SOUNDTRACK: NATALIE PRASS-Tiny Desk Concert #827 (February 25, 2019).

I know Natalie Prass because “Short Court Style” was absolutely ubiquitous.  WXPN overplayed this song to death this summer.  At first I didn’t think much of it and then it clicked and I loved it.  The bassline is fantastic and the vocals are just amazing.  I was genuinely surprised to find out that Natalie Prass was white, because she sounded so soulful.

I genuinely had no idea who she was, so I was surprised that the accolades were so effusive and people spoke of her as if she were a legend.  Well, this is only her second album, but it really struck a nerve.

Full disclosure: We here at NPR Music have decreed Natalie Prass something of a patron saint for roséwave — our groove-laden, pink drink-soaked soundtrack for the summer. So, when the Richmond, Va. artist arrived at the Tiny Desk, it was a cause for celebration, especially amid the January blues that seemed to permeate the NPR Music office. Decked out in matching, cobalt blue outfits (with a matching keyboard stand to boot), Prass and her backing band, comprised of Eric Slick: drums; Alan Parker: guitar; Jacob Ungerleider: keys; and Brandon Lane: bass, seemed to bring a warm breeze in with them.

“Oh My” opens with a thumping bass.  When the picture appears, everyone is wearing electric blue.  The song is very funky and Natalie does a great job with her little interjections of “No,” “hey,” “oh ho ho ho” and the titular “Oh My.”  There’s a funky bass solo midsong.  And throughout, Natalie is just so cool.

I didn’t really get a sense of the lyrics so I was surprised to read this:

There’s a sly political bent to Prass’ 2018 album, The Future and the Past. Ahead of its release, she said she actually had a different album nearly finished, but scrapped a huge chunk of it after [trump’s] election, which in turn led her to make this album instead. She highlights this mission statement on the album opener — and first song she performed at the desk — “Oh My.” It’s a track that speaks pointedly about the abject feeling of horror and exhaustion that seeps in when you tune into the news cycle, with bleak lyrics set against bright, dance-y music.

For “Short Court Style” (I always assumed it was called “Round and Round”), she brings out her backing singers, Angelica Garcia and Kenneka Cook: vocals.  Everything sounds fantastic here live.  She seems so free and easy singing this song, it’s a delight to watch her.  And those funky bass lines are great.

Before closing with “Hot for the Mountain,” Prass tells the NPR office that “the song’s a little off the beaten path, but, I don’t know, it’s my favorite.” “We’ll take you on / We can take you on,” Prass, Garcia and Cook sing in unison, a refrain that resounds emphatically. Her vision was clear: If you want to overcome the times, find strength in numbers.

I don’t see what’s so odd about it.  It doesn’t have a big hook like the other two songs, but there is a sing along chorus.

[READ: January 31, 2019] Cucumber Quest 3

Book three opens as our heroes arrive at Trebleopolis which is celebrating its birthday (clowns are everywhere).  And no one celebrates louder than Queen Cymbal.  She reveals that Princess Piano is going to perform a concert.  All our heroes want is the Princess’ signature on their sword (she has signed weirder things), but they are told they have to wait until after the show.  (It’s 110 minutes long…that’s like MORE than an hour).

But as the curtain opens, it’s not Princess Piano, but Noisemaker who comes out.  Noisemaster is a hiphop DJ who is not only annoying but quite evil.  For he is one of Nightmare Knight’s Disaster Masters and our heroes’ next conquest.  Nightmare Knight makes an early appearance and is not playin’ with Noisemaster’s shtick: “I cannot believe you are still acting like this…  I am being exceedingly ‘real’ Noisematser.”   He ends, I will allow you this chance to prove yourself  Do not waste it.

Noisemaster’s plan is to destroy the whole city if the noise machine hits 100%.  And with Piano’s loud voice that should be no problem.

We learn that the Melody Kingdom was divided by two kings King Treble and King Bass. They fought and had to be separated by a wall which the Oracle created.   The two sides have not seen each other in decades.  The wall, named Mezzo is very chill and tells them exactly the kind of convoluted quest they need to go on to get the key to open the doors in the wall.  Of course Almond and Carrot are right on that quest and they take off. (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: LILY & MADELEINE-Free at Noon, World Cafe Live (February 22, 2019).

I was pretty happy to be at my desk for this Free at Noon show today.  After seeing Lily & Madeleine Wednesday night, I was keen to hear them live again.

I was also happy that a lot more people showed up for this show than my bad-weather event.

They played a truncated version of the show that I saw–nine of the fourteen songs.  Can their real set only be five more songs?  They focused entirely on new songs, except their encore, and wound up playing all but two of the new songs.(Circles and Bruises).

The sisters aren’t the most dynamic performers.  They are quiet and somewhat subdued–look to guitarist/cellist Shannon Hayden for the action.  But they more than make up for it with their voices.  Once again Lily & Madeleine sounded great and their harmonies were transcendent.

Their new songs are really great live–the addition of the cello really fleshes out their music beautifully.  And their drummer (who goes by one name and which once again I didn’t understand (Coffee?)) was fantastic.

They played the first three songs as my show.  They skipped the older songs and went right to Analog Love.  I was surprised they played “Supernatural Sadness” right after “Analog Love” because they are very different.  Analog is, as the chorus states, “slow and sweet” whereas “Supernatural” has a much more dancey, almost disco attitude,

They ended the set with “Pachinko” and then the band left so the could play “Go” with just the two of them.

After Helen Leicht came out to thank the band for coming, they did one more song, an encore of “Blue Blades.”  This song sounded amazing when I saw them both because of their voices but also because of the awesomely echoed cello.  And she had that same effect on the song here–it just sounds massive and almost otherworldly.  It’s amazing.

Definitely check them out, they are terrific live (this will no doubt be posted soon enough).

  1. Self Care
  2. Just Do It
  3. Canterbury Girls
  4. Analog Love
  5. Supernatural Sadness
  6. Can’t Help the Way I Feel
  7. Pachinko Song
  8. Go
  9. Blue Blades

[READ: February 20, 2019] Kitten Construction Company

I loved Green’s previous book Hippopotamister and I was pretty delighted with the premise of Kitten Construction Company.  But I had no idea how funny it would be.

The city of Mewburg (I only wish it was Mewlinburg) is preparing to build a new mayor’s mansion.  The city planner is looking at excellent design plans for the mansion.  As he talks about how wonderful the designs are, he pulls back the paper to reveal Marmalade, an adorable kitten.  He stops what he is doing to marvel at her cuteness.  Marmalade is upset by this.

Even more so when the city planner says they can’t have a cute kitten as an architect–“you’re just too adorable to be taken seriously.”

Marmalade stomps off (cutely) muttering that she went to school and she has a degree.   While she is trying to drown her sorrows in milk, she meets Sampson. a dishwasher who is actually an electrical engineer.  They are sick of not being taken seriously so they decide to start their own firm.  But first Sampson has to finish his shift (which is adorable and hilarious). (more…)

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[ATTENDED: February 20, 2019] Lily & Madeleine

Lily & Madeleine are sisters from Indianapolis.  I saw Lily & Madeleine on a Tiny Desk Concert a few years ago.  The show was from 2014 when the pair of them were still teenagers (Lily was 16, Madeleine 18).  Their harmonies were just terrific and I made a note to see them when I got a chance.

I saw that they were going to be playing World Cafe Live upstairs in Philly.  I’ve never seen anyone upstairs there before (it’s a smaller space), so I was happy to grab a ticket.  It turns out that they are also doing a Free at Noon before the show.  Then I saw that they were going to be playing at The Saint in Asbury Park on a Wednesday night.  The Philly show was a Friday night (this Friday, 2/22, tickets are still available). It’s quite a hassle for me to drive to that part of Philly on a Friday night so I decided to go to the Asbury show instead.

Then it snowed.  A lot.  We were even given off early from work.   But by 6PM, the snow turned to rain and driving was totally fine.  There was no traffic on the Parkway and I made it to Asbury Park in ample time.  (See the post on The Well Wish for what I did between my arrival and the bands’ show).

Because of the terrible weather the were only about 8 people in the whole place.  In fact, Lily & Madeleine were in the floor dancing during the opening act–I thought it was them but wasn’t sure until they went on stage. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: January 11, 2019] Guster

Guster has a new album coming out this month.  And as part of their tour, they are coming to the Philly Fillmore on S. and my wedding anniversary!  Obviously, we got tickets and plan to have a bizarre Anniversary celebration–no fancy meal, just music–and we hope we are acknowledged from the stage!

[UPDATE: This date, our anniversary show, has been postponed!  Why?  Because the band is going to be on Late Night with Seth Meyers instead.  We love Seth, so if anyone is going to ruin our anniversary plans we’re glad it’s him.  It turns out that the rescheduled date is going to be a 20th anniversary show of Lost and Gone Forever, which means two full sets of Guster.  I think we made out ahead.  Thanks Seth].

I have never been to a Free at Noon show before.  They seem so awesome–a free concert from some amazing bands?  Sign me up!  The problem is that the venue, World Cafe Live, is 75 minutes from my work.  So, an hour show, two and a half hour driving…  that’s about a four-hour lunch.  Well, I had some personal time, so I used it and got myself and S. tickets for Free at Noon.  I didn’t think she’d be able to go and she didn’t think she could either, so I went by myself.

Parking was a lot harder to find during the day and it was very cold.  I never thought if I got there at 11:45 I’d have to wait online, but they were having some kind of technical difficulties and they kept everyone outside.  I specifically took off my sweater in the car figuring the venue wold be roasting, so I was pretty chilly waiting out there.  By five to 12, someone came around and told us that we wouldn’t miss anything.  And indeed, the free at noon started at 12:15 instead of noon. (more…)

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[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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