So you want more great bands? Of course you do, and I’m going to give them to you right ….. now:
King Tuff is really the work of just one guy, Kyle Thomas. He is from the Green Mountain State, and focuses on a combination of garage rock, psychedelia, and power pop. Groovy. With that combination, you know that the songs are all over the place stylistically. One song might sound a little like Vampire Weekend (vocals and song structure, not the syncopation crap) and the next like the Plimsouls, and on and on. Regardless, it’s pretty much all damn good listening. He’s in the same orbit as Ty Segall and has played in Ty’s band, the Muggers. Check out this video called “Bad Thing” (it takes a bit for the song to kick in, but hang in there, it’s worth it):
Greedy for more? Oh, hell’s yes you are! And it's my job, or whatever, to bring them to you. So here you go:
A trio from Appleton, Wisconsin, noted hotbed of music. Whatever, I don't care. These guys are great. Driving rock, terrific guitar sound, lots of hooks. Love ‘em! My only caution with this band is to be sure that there are no speed traps around if you're listening in your car. Now, check out this song from their double-album Predatory Highlights, entitled “Afraid of the Unknown.”
One more? What do I look like to you, a rock blogger? OK, but only because I like you. And I don't look like a rock blogger, I look like a lawyer (I even sleep in pinstriped pajamas).
These guys annoy me because their aspirations are so blatantly commercial. I saw them at the TLA in December, and at that time, they only had an EP out with four songs on it (the EP is entitled Have You Heard). I think they played five songs during the show, which lasted about an hour, but it only cost $10. I can’t remember what else happened, but there was a fair amount of silliness, like asking everyone in the crowd to squat down and then leap up when instructed. Yeah, I did it because I bleat like the rest of the sheep, but I wasn’t happy that I did it and no longer respect myself. So why am I recommending them? Because those four songs are all great songs. In the words of Johnny Rotten, I mean it, man. I didn’t know which one to link to, but “Could Have Been Me,” “Kiss This,” “Put Your Money on Me,” and “Where Did She Go” are all instant classics. I personally like “Kiss This” the best, so that’s the link, but spend $5 and get all four.
My God, you are greedy today! OK, ok, one more. I’ve already linked to one video from this band (the famous Memorial Day blog entry embedded deeply in your memory), but I didn’t give much more information about these guys. But that’s it for today because I’m off to see Joywave at Union Transfer in about 15 minutes. I’ve been working my real job like a dog all week [where did that expression come from by the way? The dogs lucky enough to live in my house were the most lazy sacks of you-know-what and never did any work]. Up at 5 am 3 out of 4 days, and still going out tonight to rock out. So quit being so pathetic and come join me. You only live once.
I read a review of another band by some guy on Amazon, and he had his top ten list of 2014. I liked most of the bands that he listed, but had never heard of Blonde Summer. He raved about them in particular, so I took a chance and downloaded an EP. OMG! I love these guys. Very catchy guitar driven pop tunes with enough angst in their lyrics to appeal to the wrist-slashing dark side of my personality. And just so you know, you can get in on the ground floor. Blonde Summer doesn’t appear to have a following at all, proving how hard it is to make it in the music world. Lord the knowledge of this band over your ignorant friends. This song is called "High Times," and no, it's not about high school. Enjoy it and see you at the Joywave review.
I remember a book that was in my household during the Nixon administration called “The Wit and Wisdom of Spiro T. Agnew.” The pages were all blank. That was worth a chuckle. Well, some of the music that is currently popular among the masses in the U.S. is great, some is ok, and much is of the Spiro Agnew variety: vapid, synthetic, or annoying/cloying. Nothing to see here, please move on.
So that begs the question: what is good out there right now? Well, I’m glad I asked on your behalf, because I have some opinions in that regard. This subject requires a lot of posts, and I’ll revisit this subject in future articles. And if I’ve already devoted considerable blog space to a band, such as DIIV, Parquet Courts or Courtney Barnett, I’m not going to include them here (but being a lawyer, I always reserve the right to apply an exception to this rule, so sue me if I write about a band a few times).
Some bands are new, some are simply new to me, and some are probably only liked by idiots who write music blogs in the Philly suburbs. For each band, I’ll try to link to a sample song on youtube that you can listen to at your leisure and see if you agree or disagree. But I do this under one condition: if you know a band that I should check out and that isn’t mentioned here, let me know.
With that, here we go. For now, let’s go with three bands that are burning up my iPod as I write this, and making me go back and listen over and over.
An indie band from Brooklyn with one album out. Great power pop/punk with a female lead singer. They rock, and they have terrific lyrics, too. For instance, in “December is the Longest Month,” they sing “I had so many things I want to say/instead I’ll help myself to more champagne.” We’ve all been there, right? Here’s a link to a song that I can’t get out my playlist, “Hot 97 Summer Jam.”
Low Cut Connie
Get ready to worship: on your knees! This band is out of Philly, but could have been out of Memphis in the late 50s/early 60s with a detour through New Orleans. They have a piano they named Shondra that they drag to every show. That might not sound like much of an effort if you are traveling like the Rolling Stones, but for an indie band trying to make it, they put it in a van, drive from show to show, and then act as their own roadies, too. Anyway, I’m going to see them in Philly at the Trocadero at the end of September and I am psyched. Want to hear them? Of course you do, and here’s the ticket: “Shake it Little Tina”. Sweet!
I’m going to confess that I’m quickly becoming this Detroit band’s number one fan. I don’t expect anyone else to like them, but I keep going back and listening over and over. Their most recent album, The Agent Intellect, is on heavy BillyRocksPhilly rotation. Warning: Joe Casey can’t sing very well. But he writes great songs, and the band behind him plays with passion and the songs pop hooks in just when you’re getting ready to say “nah.” I saw them with Ryan at Underground Arts in March. They aren’t the best live act around, and yet, if I get the chance to see them again, I’m there. I wonder if they need a roadie? A sample song? Sure, here you go: "Why Does It Shake"
See you next time. As always, thanks for reading.
Yes, you reading correctly. This entry is all about one of America’s most enduring and endearing country music stars, Dolly Parton. And yes, I went to see her perform live at the Mann Music Center in Philly.
Now, I’m familiar with some country music, but wouldn’t call myself an aficionado. It did not play in my house while I was growing up, and by the time I hit my teens, there was way too much testosterone in my bloodstream to be attracted to anything other than loud electric rock ‘n roll. But I’ve mellowed somewhat as I age (not too much, don’t worry), and I have found myself listening to more and more country music. Some of it is alt-country, meaning rockers who are influenced by country, and some of it is true country, like Merle Haggard, Chris Stapleton and Travis Tritt.
But Dolly Parton? Truth be told, unlike most shows I see, I wasn’t the primary motivator on this one. But I happily went, and had a heckuva good time. I respect the devil out of Dolly. She came from a dirt poor Smoky Mountain background to emerge as an icon of American popular music. Dolly has certain attributes of which we are all familiar, but beneath all that fake hair, large eyelashes, huge boobs and glitter, there is a superb songwriter and performer. And much more: Dolly is also an accomplished actress, author and businesswoman. But she is best known for her music. Dolly is the most honored female country performer in history, and she has written over 3,000 songs. Wow.
And her fans love it! Let me tell you, there was ADORATION among the faithful last night, and it helped to make the show memorable. Some of her fans are as flamboyant as the main attraction, but all were friendly and enjoyed a wholesome and home-spun evening of American roots music and stories.
The performance is full of the songs you know from Dolly, but she spends time between them bantering with the crowd and telling stories of her upbringing or what motivated her to write a certain song. Her stage chat is fun-loving and self-deprecating. One of the great quotes from Dolly is “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” Hahaha, isn’t that funny? It’s hard not to like her, and it’s also hard to envision her being angry or in a bad mood. Certainly that must happen, but her stagecraft and polish as a performer make you think that it’s impossible.
So what about Dolly herself? She is 70 years old, and looks amazing. Her outfits are full of shimmering rhinestones, and all of her instruments are bedazzled, too. And let me tell you, she plays a lot of rhinestone-studded instruments. Last night, she played acoustic and electric guitars, a banjo, the piano, a flute, a dulcimer, a saxophone, a harmonica and something else I’m forgetting. And she still sings like a bird, with her voice pitch perfect. In fact, she sang a few songs a cappella (both alone and with her band), and they sounded great. There is no doubt that Dolly is an amazing performer. In fact, the only thing missing last night was a drummer. I'm serious, no drummer. Crazy, right?
Dolly hasn’t toured this extensively in 20 years, so this may be the last time to catch her before she goes the way of Tina Turner and hangs up the stilettos forever. If you missed Tina, I feel sorry for you because she was a terrific performer. But you still have the opportunity with Dolly. If you get the chance, go see her before it’s too late. You might think it’s cheesy or uncool, but get over yourself and go have fun: I won’t tell and having fun is what this is all about.
Onward and upward to new things next time here at BillyRocksPhilly. But before I leave, here are some more photos from last night:
The Wayne Music Festival is this Saturday, June 11. It's all free. Helen and I went last year, and had a great time. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band is a national act, and they are decent. I don't know the other bands, but I did mention that it was free, right? Oh, and you can catch the Belmont Stakes at one of the many bars/restaurants, too. My advice is to go and have fun. It's right on N. Wayne Ave - hard to miss. More details below.
Stairway to Heaven or Highway to Hell? Hmmm, I don’t know, which is easier? Haha, I’ve always loved that rock cliché’, but there is basically one rule of rock: to truly appreciate it, you go see it live.
I followed that rockin’ rule again on Saturday night, and ventured to the Mann Music Center in Fairmont Park to see a double-bill of some considerable strength. First, Richard Thompson, a British troubadour who has been making music since the Sixties and has endured as both a prolific songwriter of distinction, and a wonderful guitar maestro. And the main event, a band that takes varied musical roots from across the American spectrum and combines them into songs loaded with catchy riffs and strong lyrics. Yes, I’m talking about Wilco, the Chicago-based alt-country, indie, rock ‘n roll band. Let me tell you, it was one terrific show.
I’ve been a Wilco fan forever (even going back to their predecessor band, Uncle Tupelo), but I had never seen them live. There was always something else going on when they were in town, or else I was traveling. But the stars aligned on Saturday.
And as much as I want to talk about Wilco’s performance, I first need to take a minute to acknowledge Richard Thompson. This fellow is in his late 60s, and was a founding member of Fairport Convention. He has had a very long musical career. I won’t lie to you and say that I know his catalog, but I was excited about seeing him because his reputation as a live act of merit preceded him.
Richard played 40 minutes. That seems kind of long for an opening act, but I didn’t even realize he had played that long until I looked at my watch. I was thinking that when he left, I could have listened to a few more songs, and that we got ripped off because he didn’t play long enough; he was that good. His songs are strong, he has a nice stage presence, and he plays one mean guitar. Richard Thompson is the real deal. Too bad for half of the crowd who thought it was better to play cornhole in the parking area rather than to see this venerable singer/songwriter, but he made a joke on stage about you, and those of us in the audience at the time laughed at your expense. You missed out! But because I’m a nice guy, here are some pictures of the man:
Both before and after Richard took the stage, we wandered around the Mann for a bit. I had never been to the Mann (I know, I know), but it’s a great venue. It’s an outdoor pavilion, but on the smaller side, more like Wolf Trap for those reading in the DC area. It holds 4500 under the pavilion roof and about 10,000 on the grass and uncovered seats, has good acoustics, is on the correct side of the Delaware River, and is easy to get in and out of. The seats are comfortably large, even for Americans, and there was ample room between the rows. You park on grassy fields, which I thought would be problematic after the show, but we got out of there in no time. In short, it’s a terrific place to see a show.
It’s even better when you sit up close. I splurged and bought very, very good tickets, and that helped. I don’t know what it was like for those behind us, but it was damn good for us, and that’s the most important thing don’t you think? Anyway, we had good stage access, and the pictures that I got from the show are some of the better ones to grace this blog. I also took more than usual, so I’m splurging on the photos for your viewing pleasure.
So I’ve already given away the fact that the show was great, and that means the headliner brought it. I do know Wilco’s music well, and knew that a large part of their repertoire included acoustic guitars. But that didn’t stop them from bringing the rock hard. I was surprised by how strong many of the band’s songs are when played live. It was a lot of pure electric energy.
I was also reminded that Jeff Tweedy, the band’s leader, is a really good songwriter. I’m a sucker for a song with three electric guitars and enough hooks to hang your hats on. Tweedy delivers, over and over. And his band is strong, particularly Nels Cline, the lead guitarist. Nels can flat out play, and we had perfect seats to see him jam as we were parked right in front of him on his side of the stage. Following one particularly amazing solo, I thought of Dewey Finn’s line in School of Rock: “Dude, is my face okay? Because I think you melted it off.” He was blazin’ on Saturday night.
Both Tweedy and Cline like their guitars, and they brought an impressive quiver with them. Pretty much every song featured a guitar change for each of them, and sometimes Tweedy used two guitars in the same song. Excessive? You bet. Fun? Check two. My pics below have a bunch of the guitars they used, but nowhere close to all of them.
One of the highlights of the show was that Richard Thompson joined the band on stage for one song, and he and Nels did dueling solos. They were clearly enjoying it, having fun as they pushed each other to outdo the other. It was terrific.
Wilco played for 2 ½ hours, which was great because they have plenty of good songs to fill that much time. There wasn’t a lot of chatter on stage, either – while friendly with the crowd, it was simply a non-stop hit parade of songs, almost like the band was anxious to get out as many as they could before they collapsed from exhaustion. And they did something I had never seen before: during their second encore (groan if you will, but it served a purpose), the roadies brought out a new drum kit in front of the one used all night, and the rest of the band came out with acoustic guitars, a banjo, a dobro, and a melodica-kind of thing, and they played about 20 minutes of acoustic songs. It was an inventive way to end the show, and the audience loved it, singing along to well-known songs like “Misunderstood,” “Jesus, Etc.” “I’m Always in Love,” and “A Shot in the Arm.”
I hadn’t been listening to Wilco lately, but this show has them back prominently on the BRP iPod playlist. If they come to your area, check them out. I think you’ll find it worth your time and money. Oh, and here are the numerous pictures that I promised: Tweedy is the guy in the hat, Nels Cline with the many guitars, and Richard Thompson is on the far right in one of the group shots wearing his beret (see the pictures above for more closeup shots of RT).
As always, thanks for reading. I have a small hiatus in shows, and therefore will bore you next time with other thoughts on rock. I thought I might talk about some of the newer bands that I’ve been grooving on recently. I hope that's ok with you.
What’s a good day at BillyRocksPhilly? How about this: lounging at a lovely South Florida beach during the day, temperatures in the mid-80s, water temp of 79, plenty of sun, people watching and reading. Then up the road to Delray Beach for dinner with friends at Johnnie Brown’s. Finally, concluding with a classic rock concert featuring Bad Company and Joe Walsh. Not bad, huh?
Let’s not linger on the beach except to say that it’s terrific and I’m sorry you weren’t there with us. Here are some pictures that are much more eloquent that me:
If you haven’t been to Delray before, it’s a fun beach town that has a nice strip of bars, restaurants and shops on Atlantic Avenue. Delray has enough of a buzz for the Wall Street Journal to have done a “what to do in 48 hours” story on it. It’s got a healthy crowd, but it’s not overrun like South Beach. And Johnnie Brown’s is an open air, very casual burger and beer kind of place with live music going 7 days a week. We ate Mahi salads/sandwiches and burgers, listened as the two guys pictured below played credible versions of songs by Skynyrd, Mellencamp, and the Eagles, and had a fun and relaxed dinner as the trade winds blew through.
On to the Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach for the main event. Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre, nice name, perfect for Florida. The PVA is like many other indoor/outdoor amphitheatres that have sprung up around the country. There is a large covered pavilion area with permanent (and small) seats, and abutting it to the rear is a lawn area for those that want to lounge around on blankets. It holds 19,000 people. If you’ve ever been to the BBT Center in Camden, this is very similar.
In fact, it’s so similar to Camden that they charge you $12.50 for a large beer, $20 to park, and have two lousy non-high def screens on either side of the stage where most people watch the show. It reminded me of Camden, too, in that there was only one cameraman who shot the show, meaning that you got one view and panned with the cameraman as he went from performer to performer on stage. Given that they charge you about $70 on average or so to get into the pavilion, well, that just smacks me as cheap. I assume that millions flowed through the coffers that night; it’s time that the owners ponied up some money to make the event a better experience for everyone beyond the first 15 or 20 rows.
One very positive thing about the PVA are the acoustics. They are really good, which is not always the case with an outdoor show. You could understand every word that was said and the music was mixed really well. Very good job on that. And another great thing about the PVA is that it is not in Camden. Only the Philly area could take the perfectly good idea of an indoor/outdoor pavilion arena and plop it into a slum.
Let’s talk size now. Haha, I know what you were thinking, but that’s not what I had in mind. I had been to two other shows last week, both in clubs, and the intimacy of those experiences was altogether lacking at the PVA. Not that the PVA was without its charms. Rather than being up close with the performers, we experienced those in the crowd who happened to sit close to us. And this crowd was about what you would expect given the bill: baby boomers, having fun, graying but grooving and dancing, and more than a few putting on lifestyle tie-dye hippie clothes that they keep behind the corporate wardrobes in their closets. You know what I mean, right? Peace, love, and a BMW.
How about the bands? I loved Bad Company in my youth, and saw them at the Capital Centre in Maryland on a double-bill with the Outlaws. Great show, but that was … 39 years ago. Ugh. Anyway, Paul Rodgers still has a great voice, and the band supplemented its musicians with a younger guitarist who handled the more difficult guitar riffs. The band sounded great and rolled through their hits (well, most of them, see below). The crowd was happy. They also used some 70s rock arena tricks like dry-ice smoke, lasers and the like. Those were amusing. I liked Bad Company, but …. they played for a grand total of 70 minutes. Wait, what, really? I guess that they feel like guys in their 60s shouldn’t have to play longer than it takes for them to get into their cars, drive to the bank and cash the paycheck. It would have been more acceptable had they played all of their best songs, but they didn’t play “Good Lovin’ Gone Bad,” “Rock Steady,” “Deal With The Preacher,” “Runnin’ With The Pack,” etc. What they did play, astoundingly, was a cover of the Beatles “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” Hahaha, yup, that’s what I wanted Bad Company to play. How did they know that when I purchased my Bad Company/Joe Walsh ticket that what I was really jonesing for was Beatlemania?
On to Joe Walsh. Let’s get this out there right now: Joe doesn’t have the strongest singing voice out there. But he was smart enough to bring along a sizeable band (two drummers, another guitarist, bassist and two keyboardists) plus 4 backup singers. They formed a really solid band. And Joe played all his hits, from the James Gang (“Funk 49”, “Rocky Mountain Way,” “Walk Away”), to his solo career (“Life’s Been Good”, “In The City”) and songs with the Eagles (“Life in the Fast Lane,” “Take it to the Limit”). The crowd was happy, and the band was tight. Joe played about an hour and a half, which is better than Bad Co, but whoop de damn do. And he used the big movie screen behind him liberally. Sometimes the effect was cool, like during “Take it to the Limit” (which was sung by a backup singer with a great voice) where he used video of a guy in a bird suit flying fast in the Alps, and sometimes the effect was WTF, like video of atomic explosions and all the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.
All in all, the show was enjoyable, the day beautiful, and the company was fun. It was a good South Florida day. Below are some pictures from the show. The one that says “Bad Company” in the background show the relative size of the screen to the performers from our seats – and this was taken with the zoom lense - wow! And check out that dry ice smoke!! The first three pics are of Bad Company and the last two of Joe Walsh.
I hope you enjoyed your Memorial Day weekend. On to Wilco!
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.