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Archive for the ‘PhilaMOCA’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: GRUFF RHYS–American Interior (2013).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[READ: December 2018] American Interior

How to explain this book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[ATTENDED: July 18, 2018] Speedy Ortiz

I really enjoyed Speedy Ortiz’ Foil Deer.  Sadie Dupuis has a great sense of melody (in a delightful alt-90s rock package) combined with excellent lyrics.  Check out this great blurb about Dupuis’ lyrics:

It’s very strange (“Or not strange at all! Hi!” says feminism) that most of the music we funnel into little girls’ ears——even music written by former little girls——is about how women are petty, pretty garbage whose only valuable function is to hold perfectly still in men’s boudoirs and wait for intercourse. “I wanted to make songs that were the opposite of ‘Genie in A Bottle’ or ‘The Boy Is Mine,’” Sadie Dupuis says of Slugger, her new solo album under the name Sad13. “Songs that put affirmative consent at the heart of the subject matter and emphasize friendship among women and try to deescalate the toxic jealousy and ownership that are often centered in romantic pop songs.” What!? Songs for women that actually champion women’s autonomy, reflect women’s desires, listen to women when they talk, and let women be funny and normal and cool, like women actually are?   – Lindy West

When Speedy Ortiz released their new album, they did a mini tour of…ice cram parlors.

As The Key noted:

It was a little suspicious, previously, that Speedy Ortiz’s only tour appearance in Philly would be at Little Baby’s Ice Cream in West Philly to scoop a new flavor, “Twerp Verse Dessert Burst Sundae,” and not to perform.

Then they announced a proper tour, which included a headlining spot at PhilaMOCA.  Amazingly, four days after our show, they were going to open for Dinosaur Jr and Foo Fighters at Fenway Park!  I don’t know how many people arrived early enough to see them, but I have to assume thy were seen by more than the 150 capacity crowd at PhilaMOCA.  And yet Sadie said she was more excited about our show than that one.  And it seemed like it.

Before the shows even began, Sadie was hanging out at the merch table.  We chatted, she sold me a copy of Twerp Verse and even signed it for me.  She was super nice.   (more…)

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[ATTENDED: July 18, 2018] Two Inch Astronaut

I had heard Two Inch Astronaut on NPR and loved them.  I put them on my list of bands to check out.  So I was really excited that they were opening for Speedy Ortiz.  I got there early and wound up right in front of the stage where I was able to watch Sam Rosenberg play amazing and complicated riffs right in front of me.

Matt Gatwood was also great on drums–he hit really hard but in sophisticated rhythms that really worked with the jagged and noisy guitar that Rosenberg played.  On my right was Andy Chervenak on bass.  He was all over the fretboard, playing low and high notes to complement and contradict everything else that was going on.  It was a terrific package of music.

Until about four songs in when Rosenberg explained that this was their final tour.  They were breaking up after the next show.  It was an amicable breakup, “Nothing dramatic — still get along and love playing, but we’ve been doing some form of this band for almost ten (!?) years and it’s time to shake things up a bit,”

But still. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: July 18, 2018] Old Maybe

I had never heard of Old Maybe before this show, although I understand that they have been playing together for a while. (Their earliest demos are from 2014).

The band consists of Jazz Adam (guitar and vocals), Ricardo Balmaseda (bass and vocals) and Nina Ryser (drums).

The only person I knew in the band was Nina Ryser whom I had seen on this very stage when she played with Palberta a year or so ago.

But this band belongs to Jazz Adam on vocals and guitar.  She invited anyone of color or non-cis to the front of the audience before the show began.

I didn’t know much about her, so I have learned that

in 2015 Adam began playing solo shows, performing most songs a capella, creating vocal layers with looping and effects pedals.  Adam attributes her lack of stage fright to her background in theater and stand up comedy. “I am able to be myself onstage,” she says. “And I am aggressive.” [Quote from The Spark).

Adam has been pushing that belief in Philadelphia via All Mutable, a booking collective she started with Nicki Duval and Robin Meeker-Cummings. The mission of the collective is to “diversify lineups sonically and racially,” she says. “Our focus is to book lineups that represent and attract those who are under-represented in this music scene, including (but not limited to) POC, queer identified, trans identified, and those who identify as non-binary. We also hope to sonically diversify lineups, and represent genres that are not often recognized in this culturally homogenized city.”

(more…)

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[ATTENDED: March 6, 2018] Spoon

I have been a fan of Spoon for years.  I’ve never seen them before, including when they played at XPN Fest a few years ago.  Since the song “Hot Thoughts” from the new album is so damn catchy, it seemed like a great time to see them live (especially at TLA).

It took the band quite a while to get going after Sneaks went off.  And I gather they were having technical problems throughout the night.  But it sounded fantastic out by us.  Brit Daniel said he’d tell us the story later in the show.

They played a great mix of new songs and old songs.  Daniel’s voice sounded perfect and he was full of energy–interacting with the audience–high fiving, making faces–and jumping all around the stage.

On my side of the stage I was just a few feet from bassist Rob Pope.  I enjoyed the way Pope came really close to the edge of the stage a number of times, practically leaning out above us.   Just behind him was drummer Jim Eno.

The other side of the stage, obscured by fog for the first half of the show was Gerardo Larios on keys and guitar and Alex Fischel on guitar and keys and all manner of sounds.  He opened the show with some interesting noises while shrouded in fog.  As the blue lights zoomed around the rest of the band came out and they started “Do I Have to Talk You Into It.” (more…)

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[ATTENDED: March 6, 2018] Sneaks

I’m fascinated by how opening acts get chosen for shows.  Sneaks was an opener for Palm last summer.  So I have now seen Sneaks more than bands I’ve actually wanted to see.

This Spoon show was not advertised with an opening act, so I was surprised (and a little disappointed) that there was one.  I had enjoyed Sneaks as an opener for Palm. I assume it was because it was a smaller venue (PhilaMOCA fits 250, TLA fits 1,000) and we were more intimate, that the Sneaks vibe worked well.  Spoon is quite a lot bigger than Palm, so I guess that’s a step up, but it brings perils.

About the PhilaMOCA show I wrote:

She has a great raw punk bass sound–it reminds me of the sound of Black Flag… Her riffs were cool, and while repeated a lot, they were certainly interesting enough to keep a song going.

She was also accompanied by a DJ. whose name I didn’t catch.  He kept some good beats and threw in some interesting sound effects.  It gave the show a bit more spontaneity than I was expecting from a drum machine based show.

Sneaks played a whole bunch of songs (most of them are quite short about 2 minutes or so).  Each song had a cool or interesting bass riff, she sang (deadpan) around it for 2 minutes and that was it.  She also did a couple of songs with no bass, just a freestyle rap over the drum machine.  And after 35 or so minutes she was done.

 

(more…)

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[NO SHOWS: December 29, 2017]

December 29, 2017 was a night of many many shows that I was interested in.  I thought it would be fun to end my season of many concerts near the year end (but not on New Year’s Eve, because I have a family, after all–even though Phish beckoned).

So the first option was Phish at Madison Square Garden.  They were playing three nights for New Years.  I tried to get tickets to any of the three, because sure I Would have absolutely gone on New Years Eve, who am I kidding).  But in the band’s lottery I did not get any GA tickets.  I have seen them twice before but I really only wanted to see them up close.  So when no GA were forthcoming, I basically decided I wouldn’t go. Even though I love CashorTrade, I wasn’t willing to fight for them.  Plus, there were other possibilities. (more…)

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