When I last saw DIIV, they were playing at the 714 Club on Girard. I had never heard of the 714 Club, but it did have a Vitamin Q angle to it that I kinda liked. I knew the Girard was not the nicest of cross-town streets in Philly. Nonetheless, I loved DIIV’s debut album, Oshin, and Brian and I went for it.
We passed by the club a few times before locating it. It wasn’t marked outside at all. Hmmm, sketchy area, sketchy club? We also didn’t notice the side entrance because it was partway down 7th street and didn’t front Girard. Hmmm, that’s oddly disconcerting, too. Oh well, in we went. The club was divided into a few rooms, and there wasn’t much of a stage - It was about 1 foot above the floor. But the place was packed, and when DIIV got up on stage and started to play, we stayed back as the crowd devolved into one of the most active mosh units I’ve ever witnessed. Bouncers stood on the outside of the pit just to toss people out of it, and the action was furious, but fun to witness.
DIIV was great, playing tons of stuff off of Oshin, but the 714 Club basically sucked. It had lousy sound and you could barely see the band given the limited rise of the stage. We left that night thinking that if we got the chance to see DIIV in a real venue with good acoustics that we would go for it.
Flash forward a few years, and DIIV was playing Underground Arts. Cool! We bought our tix day of the show, and headed to see them. Of course, the show wasn’t very pricey, so the less you pay, the more bands you have on the bill.
Here’s an issue. The first warm up was one dude with an electric guitar playing and singing the same song (not really but it sure sounded that way) for ½ hour. While earnest, he simply wasn’t very good. Ouch, what did we do to deserve this treatment? C’mon, openers should be people that have a shot, not some kind of amateur hour that resembles a bad open mic night.
We struggled through that, and then out came a real rock band named Chastity. Not the band Chastity Belt, which would have been great, but simply Chastity. I didn’t think that they were that good, but compared to guitar boy, they seemed like the Beatles. Or at least Nirvana. Still, after the moment of relief passed that we weren’t going to sit through yet another ½ hour of schlock, we hunkered down to ½ hour of average rock.
Finally, DIIV took the stage. DIIV has a new album out, Deceiver, and, shockingly, it’s about addiction and recovery. That’s a first for a rock band. Unfortunately, I had only heard a couple of tracks off of that new effort, and thought “they’re ok, but they’re not Oshin.” Also unfortunately, DIIV decided to play a lot of songs from Deceiver.
What I like about the DIIV of old is the dreamy, shoe-gaze-meets-jangly-Byrds/REM-guitar-thing with driving, catchy tunes. Like early REM, you can’t understand a word of the lyrics, but also like REM, the tunes are so good you don’t really care. You put this stuff on the car stereo and you simply want to keep on driving. Want a sample? Of course you do, so check this out:
It’s not that DIIV didn’t play stuff from their previous 2 albums, but the new stuff is more grungy with slower tracks building into a heavy drum freakout near the end. They’re good, but the move away from the earlier sound was a bit disappointing to both Brian and me. However, given that the show was at Underground Arts, the sound quality was far superior, the staging was much better, and the crowd (which included many more women) was not moshing at all. That’s perfect stuff for me to move close to the action so that I can get you some good pictures.
Here's something I haven't seen before. Both guitarists (Zachary Cole Smith and Andrew Bailey) were very much into fiddling with their footboards between songs. I noticed that each had a notebook, and they would adjust the various reverbs, etc, for each song that they were about to play. It was cool to see the craft and the thought and effort that went into making the guitar on each song unique to that particular tune.
But while the show had its moments, it was not the musical equivalent of the 714 Club performance. In my opinion, that was an opportunity missed. There is still no better way to take the wind out of a crowd than for the band to announce that they are going to play something from their new album. When they do it about 6 times, it begins to wear on you. Still, the show ended with a bang, and we left satisfied if not fulfilled.
Hey, on the bright side, I found a parking lot about a block away from the club that only charges $6 and you can get out super fast. There is the lot directly across the street from the club, but it has a very clumsy way of processing payments at the end of the show that leads you to think that somehow you ended up in the Linc’s parking lot after an Eagles game. I’ve been able to snatch a street spot only 1 time in this fast-gentrifying neighborhood. There are some other bars around, and maybe their patrons have the skinny on how to get those coveted freebies? I don’t know, but the lot down the block was a bit of a revelation.
Up next, it’s off to sunny and warm Florida to catch Elton John. He announced that the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour would be his swan song so that he could spend more time with his kids. Fair enough, but when that tour started in Allentown on September 8, 2018 and I’m going to see him over a year later (and with two more years of shows still to come), maybe the kids aren’t such a factor after all. Regardless, you’ll soon read about my experience … assuming you come back for more.
I was on a plane, I was listening to tunes, and I jumped around and around with the songs. It’s odd how your mood can change so quickly from song to song. The tracks below were ones that I thought you might enjoy. Isn’t it nice to share?
La Roux, Bulletproof. People criticize me that I’m stuck in time, and not bopping to the relevant beat of today. Hey, I love the Justins (Timberlake and Beiber), Gaga, and many others. Here’s yet another example, La Roux. This is pure synth pop, but it’s a grooving song that gets the Kid up and embarrassing himself on the dance floor.
Brownsville Station, Smoking in the Boys Room and Sweet, Barroom Blitz. Don’t ask me why I think these songs are bookends, but I think they’re bookends. They came out about the same time, they both rock, and they’re both one-hit wonders. I saw a really great cover band at Acme Feed and Seed in Nashville this summer that just completely ripped on Barroom Blitz, and it reminded me of what a marvelous song it is. Remember them using it in Wayne’s World? Smoking in the Boys Room reminds of me of many days in high school when I went into a men’s (boy’s?) room in school only to find it completely filled with cigarette smoke. I guess now they would simply use a vape, but back then it was the real thing.
Gregg Allman, I’m No Angel. I miss Gregg Allman. I saw him a few times right before he died. One time was pretty average, but the other show was phenomenal. He didn’t live an angelic life, but he certainly did entertain us and give us much to discuss. This song reminds me what a great blues voice he had, and how he could carry a tune and give it meaning beyond the mere words of the track.
Graham Parker and the Rumour, Discovering Japan. Wow, what a track. The signature guitar riff that begins the tremendous Squeezing Out Sparks LP just promises great things to follow, and boy, did that album deliver. It’s sad that GP didn’t become a huge star, but in my mind, he’s one of the most influential of the “new wave/angry young men” artists to have arisen in the late 70s and early 80s. This song packs a wallop, both sonically and lyrically, and allows the Rumour to stretch themselves to deliver a pure rocker that is ingrained deep inside of my brain.
Rush, The Spirit of the Radio. Well, that was a quick change, right? I’m not a prog rocker, never was, never will be. That being said, I’m a closet Rush fan. They have enough tracks to fill a nice set that I would enjoy immensely. Last July 14, I put on their song Bastille Day and forgot how long that particular track is – and I loved every minute of it. But I think my all-time favorite Rush song is The Spirit of the Radio. Radio is less important today than it was, but homage’s to the delivery device of my youth is still welcome. How can you not like a lyric about being a rock star that says: “But glittering prizes and endless compromises shatter the illusion of integrity, yeah.” Yup, sure enough.
Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Devil With A Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly. I was just hanging out with a neighbor who is from Detroit. Too bad about his Tigers and Lions (let’s not mention his Red Wings or Pistons), but he was going on a bit about all the bands he had seen in Detroit. Seger, a bunch of the Motowners. He didn’t mention Mitch Ryder, Iggy Pop or the MC5, but hey, Detroit is one of America’s great music towns. Mitch Ryder was completely full of himself, but if you listen to this tandem of songs, you’ll come away saying, well, he had every right to be. Imagine what this would sound like with modern production techniques? Like touching an electric fence? Yeah, something like that.
Rufus, Tell Me Something Good. Funky, funky, funky. I remember about 15 years ago I was hanging out with a dude who could drink more beer than anyone I’ve ever met in my life, and he loved putting this song on the juke. Every time I hear it I think of him and wonder where he is now. I still remember being in a bar with him in some backwoods town in Kentucky, and he told me he was going to be a father. He kept asking me what it was like, and I told him it was great and he would love it. He wasn’t satisfied with that answer and kept pressing as we kept drinking. Finally, I told him it was the biggest damn fool mistake of his life, and he burst out and said “I knew it! I’m screwed!” Hahahahaha. Put on some funk, my man, and remember when you didn’t have no babies.
Haim, Summer Girl. I’m not a very big Haim fan. The sisters have a big buzz, but when I listen to them, I hear boring singer-songwriter stuff. However, I’m nothing if not flexible, and when a good song comes along, I’m into it regardless of who puts it out. I heard this song a few times recently, and it got under my skin. It’s pretty cool.
Fang Fang, I’ve Got A Good Feeling. Philly’s singles machine, Fang Fang is the new “it” band in the Delaware Valley. I’ve only heard a few of their tracks, but I’ve pretty much liked them all. Here’s another one – this is a band to watch, just like Philly’s RFA.
The Menziners, After the Party. This song rocks, and it rocks hard. Can you imagine seeing the Menzingers in a basement? I saw a lot of bands in basements in college – I remember one band was made up of English Department grad students, and they weren’t playing your typical b.s. cover stuff. They were playing songs like Nick Lowe’s Let’s Eat and Devo’s Whip It. Anyway, the Menzingers rock it, their live shows are stuff of legend, and this video is a relationship-in-3-minutes that is pretty well done.
OK, the plane is landing. Why do I want to hear the B-52s now? And maybe a track by the Clash? Or KC and the Sunshine Band? I want to shake my booty for sure. I haven’t been feeling good of late, but am now way on the road to recovery. It’s easy to forget how much we take our good health for granted – take care of yourself, and make sure you eat plenty of processed foods, sit and watch TV on the couch, and avoid fresh fruits and vegetables like the plague. A big slovenly “later” to you!
If you know me, you understand that I’m really an uncouth redneck. I attended a hillbilly school in Appalachia reached by dirt roads in pickup trucks. It’s where I picked up an affinity for cheap beer, bottle rockets, college football, and long road trips to see loud rock bands. I speak only one language (and not very well), and was a delinquent before that word was used to describe scruffy, trouble-making youth. I was a mediocre student who cared more about chemistry outside of the classroom than inside of it.
So what the heck was I doing last weekend at the ballet and the Barnes Foundation?
I have no idea. All I know is that you get stared at a lot if you laugh at Soutine paintings. And men in tights are kind of interesting to watch, but women in tights are a revelation.
Breathe deep and go with me, ok? I’m not good at writing about highbrow culture because it’s such unfamiliar ground. So for your safety, make sure the seat guard is in place and don’t put your hands outside of the car while it’s moving. Ready? Here we go:
The ballet. Years ago, I was invited to see a ballet in DC, and my host had acquired extremely expensive seats – front and center. I fell asleep. That’s a true story. I had to move from DC to Philly because of that one incident. But I’ve mellowed with age, and there I was last weekend watching Don Quixote. And I liked it. And I stayed awake!
Now, let’s qualify that, ok? The Stones didn’t write It’s Only Don Quixote But I Like It. I’m not going back to the ballet every week like I do to rock clubs. But that was one good ballet. The principal male dancers – I don’t know what you call a male ballerina – are great athletes that make it look easy when it’s actually hard as hell. And the ballerinas, doing all kinds of crazy stuff in toe shoes and making it look graceful and elegant, well, that’s incredible!
Plus, as you can see, Don Quixote is a dancing marathon. There aren’t a lot of breaks and it’s nonstop action. Sure, the story is dumb, but so am I, so we make a good pair. Best of all, you get to watch all of this in one of Philly’s architectural treasures, the restored and fabulous Academy of Music. Sure, there are insufferable bores in the seats all around you, but how is that different from being at a Billy Joel concert?
They actually had the temerity to stare at me suspiciously because someone yelled out “I smell Hokie,” but they couldn’t decide if that scent was actually coming from me since I wasn’t dressed fully in camouflage and I had the good sense not to put a pinch of Copenhagen between my cheek and gum this one time. Yes, I was a fish out of water, but didn’t mammals evolve from fish who developed the capacity to obtain oxygen from air? That’s me, Mr. Evolution.
As if that feint toward civilization wasn’t enough for BRP, the next day I found myself at the Barnes Foundation, Philly’s stunning pocket museum of impressionist and modern paintings. I got off to a rocky start because of that damn Soutine. I mean, what was that guy thinking? His portraits are hideous, ugly, dreadful renderings of poor souls who probably thought that they were getting a portrait that they could hang in the hallway of their home, not a poster featuring them as the villain in the next slasher film coming out of Hollywood. Soutine inadvertently outdid Heironymus Bosch.
One painting, probably of a wealthy friend of Soutine, looks like a revolting portrait of Porky Pig, as if you took that pop cartoon icon and deliberately turned him into a monstrous criminal. It’s freakin’ true. You go from room to room at the Barnes, and if you’re an undereducated roughian like me, all you see is another gruesome Soutine painting that makes you laugh, point and then look for a puke bucket. Then red lights begin to flash, uniformed guards start circling, and the universal Hokie Hooligan Alert starts to roar. Hey, officer, I was just laughing at this crap, ok? Take a look and tell me I’m not right. Yup, I thought you might agree!
And then you spy the Cezanne’s, the Modigliani’s and, best of all, the Matisse’s. And when staring at those babies, you decide, then and there, that the redneck life is overrated and taking a shower every day is maybe a nice social touch (but hey, let’s not get carried away with the tooth brushing).
Yes, the Barnes is stuffed with Renoirs, and some of them are even great, but for me, I’ll take the aforementioned trio. I know, I know, there are some fantastic Van Gogh’s in there, and who doesn’t like Vincent (answer: Idiots!). But for me, the highlights of the Barnes are really the massive collection of paintings by Cezanne, Modigliani and Matisse.
Let’s start with Cezanne. I didn’t take a picture of every Cezanne painting in the joint, but here are some excellent examples of his greatness:
What do I like? First, I love the subjects. Cezanne must have been the character study for the Richard Dreyfuss character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. You remember, right? He keeps constructing the same monolith (which turns out to be Devil’s Tower) over and over. Cezanne had the same obsession with Mt. Sainte Victoire just outside of Aix in Provence. He painted that mountain so many times it’s ridiculous. But he also painted the woods and allees of trees in southern France. If you’ve ever been to that part of the world, and you should go if you haven’t, these paintings take you right back there. Moreover, they’re challenging works of art, sort of like Bach or Mahler are for classical music lovers. Well worth the challenge, they show intriguing combinations of light, color, perspective and even precursors of later art movements like cubism. Yet, they still remain pictures of familiar objects that you can look at and immediately grasp what they are. I really love these Cezanne’s.
Then there is Modigliani. When you’re strolling the Barnes, they aren’t all clustered together, but I did you a favor and put a bunch in the same space. Look at them: the elongated necks and heads, stretched out like those fun-house mirrors, but spooky with the mostly gray eyes. The eyes! They always intrigue me and freak me out, too. Eyes say so much in non-verbal human communication. They emote, they sparkle, they fire, they seduce, they weep, they smile. When you see a face that has nothing but gray blank spaces for the eyes, what are you supposed to think? I don’t know, but I realize that I start to put my own interpretations on the various portraits. And then, just when I’m beginning to say, OK Modigliani, show me these crazy humans, he goes and messes with trees. Phew, that’s heavy.
Matisse. Ridiculed in his day like he was Protomartyr, he is one of my very favorite artists ever. I love the color palette he uses, the leap from traditional painting to the modern and interpretive, the introspective subject matters, and the familiar subjects of art turned on their heads. The color palette is fantastic – bright colors that pop jumping out from heavy black outlines around eyes and facial features. They still look fresh to me as though they were just created this year rather than 100 years ago. What’s that? You’re right, I didn’t include the big, attention grabbing Matisse’s for which the Barnes is rightly known for. I wanted you to look at something not as big and splashy but, in my mind, every bit as compelling. I love these paintings.
So there you have it. A hillbilly goes to the big city and actually appreciates it. You know what I want to see next? An opera! Hahaha, that’s b.s., I had you going with that right? Actually, I’ve been to the opera a few times and while I’m supposed to say that the human instrument is the most expressive of all, I’m not gonna say it because I don’t agree. And the stories are Pinhead dumb – and like the Ramones, I don’t wanna be a pinhead no more. But I will say that if you get to see the Pavaroti documentary that it’s worth a couple hours of your life – a very captivating story indeed.
I’ll be back to the rock in sweaty beer-soaked bars soon. Thanks for suffering with me through this one. And I promise: no opera.
For a guy who grew up with 70's punk and rock, it's hard to find a reason not to love Sheer Mag. You want punk ethos? Check. You want hard rockin' power pop tunes? Check. You want a three guitar blitzkrieg wall of sound? Check mate.
Sheer Mag formed in Philly in 2014. Tina Halladay is the presence up front. She has tons of attitude, prancing around the stage with a snarl as she growls out the lyrics. She is a commanding presence.
Like the rest of the band, she went to SUNY Purchase, and rather than move to NYC, she used her education and made a better decision: Philly! The others eventually followed and here they are. Two rough and tumble albums out, and a hard edged sound that reminds me of bands like Thin Lizzy. Did I ever tell you that I love Thin LIzzy? It's true. Anyway, take a look and listen and see if you don't agree.
The band headlined Union Transfer recently. There was a decent crowd there, but not so large that they had to move the stage back. That worked out fine for me as I wanted to be outside the mosh area and ended up on one of the two "wings" above the floor. I was right by the lead guitarist, Matt Palmer, who co-writes the tunes with Tina. Matt is sure to keep his riffs hot and heavy, and I enjoy the heavy guitar licks as much as anything about this band. Lots of guitar, but also lots of hooks and drive. Perfecto.
Tina is the clear stage presence of the band. The others pretty much stay in their allotted spots and jam heavy. Palmer plays the flying V guitar seen in the pictures. While the rest of the band lets Tina dominate, they are tight and professional. I'm always glad to see a band coming home after a nice tour because they have rehearsed and performed enough that they are just kicking it.
Sheer Mag has two albums out. Need to Feel Your Love is awesome, and has many of my favorite tracks, but the new album A Distant Call (which came out in June) is a fine sophomore effort. The band played healthy doses of songs from both and the crowd ate it up. I particularly loved hearing Need to Feel Your Love, Just Can't Get Enough, Expect the Bayonet, and Suffer Me. Need to Feel Your Love was a critical smash, one of the best albums of 2017. Pop it on and it immediately smacks you with high energy tracks that give energy, socially and sexually suggestive lyrics, and the coolness that any great rock band has to have.
Another great track is What You Want off of their pre-album EPs. It has that same hard edged sound, but Tina's bluesy, low-fi vocal styling make it an instant classic. When you combine that with the catchy guitar hooks that power the tune, it just grabs you by the throat and won't let go.
There were a couple of forgettable punk bands that opened up the show. If you google it, you can find out their names, but since they were forgettable, why would you do that? I just saved you some time.
I'm a pretty big proponent of getting to a show early so that you can see the warm up acts, but also so that you can snag a great spot at the venue. Sometimes, the warm up acts are great - Exhibit A is the Weeks - but sometimes they suck. Can I just go on record right now to say that a solo guitarist singing songs that all sound alike is a bad start to a show where the headliner is a hard-rockin' band? I don't like people being rude when someone is performing, but hey, sometimes they deserve rude. Like when they suck. And pretty much every solo guitarist who is the opener for a three band bill is almost guaranteed to suck.
Sheer Mag most definitely did not suck. I"ve seen them a couple of times and would go again in a heartbeat. They're in Europe now, which seems like a good reason to go to the Old World. But I won't be doing that because I have a couple of other shows to see right here in the USA. Yup, I"m still on a roll, and have plenty more to catch you up on.
Next up it's DIIV at Underground Arts, then Elton John (ha! Can you believe it? I can't), And maybe a few others just for kicks and grins. I haven't decided yet on who to see, but the Interruptors and Steely Dan are high probables.
I've gotta split now, but I'll be back very soon. It's hard to find the time to write when I'm going to all these shows, the World Series is on, and college football and the NFL are in the meat of their schedules. Oh, hey, I just read that book about the Replacements called Trouble Boys. I'll write about them, too. I don't consider myself a huge 'Mats fan but compared to most of the world, I probably was (I own 4 of their CDs). Anyway, there's much to do and I'll be back soon with more.
So long, BRP readers!
The death of rock ‘n’ roll is overrated. I don’t know much, but I do realize that the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of most performers is not that of the private jet and suite at the Four Seasons. Nope. It’s long road hours spent crammed into a used van stuffed with equipment and stinky bandmates going from city to city trying to garner a following to pursue performance dreams. Why would anyone do that if they thought rock was dead?
There are bands that get to stay in the Four Seasons, but this article isn’t about those bands. Nope, this is about two bands that spend a lot of time in vans. Let’s go with the first band, who I love: Screaming Females. This trio from New Brunswick, NJ packs a tremendous wallop from just three instruments.
The band's lead guitarist and singer is Marissa Paternoster. That name is a mouthful, right? But can she play guitar? Hey, Marissa was named the 77th greatest guitarist of all time by Spin magazine in 2012! I have no idea how you do rankings of this sort, but as Americans we always feel compelled to rank everything. I have no idea whether or not she is the 77th greatest guitarist of all time (I’m thinking 87th), but I do know that if you made the “top 100” list that you can blister the paint off of the wall when you pick up the axe. All you have to do is listen to Screaming Females recorded output and you’ll know that Marissa can flat out play. Still, seeing her live and doing her thing is a revelation.
Take a look at some of these pictures. Marissa is not selling the usual “woman in rock” stuff. No sexy attire or crazy front-woman stuff. Nope, she shows up in a brown dress and tights, picks up her guitar, and then proceeds to tear the place apart. Not a lot of banter on stage. The music does the talking. Make that, the music SCREAMS.
The rest of the band is tight, too. Jarrett Dougherty is on the drums and Mike "King Mike" Abbate plays bass. I don’t know why Mike is King Mike, but I do know that the dude is every bit the match for Marissa.
Screaming Females torched a modest 45 minute set. They were “co-headliners” with Team Dresch (see below) and played first. What sucks about that is they get a much shorter time in which to play. I was hoping to see more SF than Dresch, but it was not to be. But unlike Dresch, SF wasted no time at all – it was a pure music play by a very hot band, and for that, I thank them. Here’s a nice video of a song that they crushed at Union Transfer: I’ll Make You Sorry.
And here’s a link to the band’s website:
Now let’s talk about Team Dresch. I had never heard of them before this show, and I only went because SF was playing. Here’s what I learned.
As part of the punk genre, there is a subset called Queercore. Team Dresch is apparently a leader in this movement. Donna Dresch is the leader of the band, and they have been around, off and on, since 1993. All of the bands members are openly lesbian, and that is only important because their music is part of the entire LBGT scene and is designed to be such. It’s not just a band, therefore, but part of a movement.
That certainly explains the crowd that attended and why I sort of stood out from the typical patron on this particular evening. It was a good crowd, and they were totally into the music of TD, but it was also clear that there was something else happening besides the music.
And that’s a good thing, too, because the music was, frankly, pretty average punk. And pretty average punk is, well, boring. Whereas Screaming Females had rocked and played engaging music that was indie/punky, TD played the same song about 12 times in a row. Or maybe it just felt that way. You could bop to it and mosh if you were so inclined, but there wasn’t a lot of catchy hooks or crafty musical arrangements that caught your ears. The band was visually appealing in that they moved and grooved, but I found the delivery exceeded the product. Oh, and they took forever to tune their instruments between songs and talked about some pretty silly stuff for far too long before playing the same song again.
Oh well, it was still a good night out. I’m hoping that SF decides to headline on their next stop in Philly so that we can get a nice long set. But I was pretty satisfied with the output and came home feeling pretty good about how things had transpired.
Next up, it’s Sheer Mag. Oh baby, are they ever a handful. And I’ve got a rock ‘n’ roll detour coming up, too. And yet another show! It’s been a good fall thus far here at BRP. I hope you’re enjoying it, too. See ya soon.
It’s a hot Friday night and a band I’ve been hankering to see for a few years is finally in town and ready to rock. Yes, boys and girls, the Weeks are playing Underground Arts and I’m stoked and ready. Yeeeeeaaaaaahhhhh!
The Weeks have been around for a while now. Led by twin brothers Cyle and Cain Barnes, the band formed in Florence, Mississippi when the members were between 14 and 16 years old. That was way back in 2006. Now that they are all grown up, the boys still are together, living in Nashville, and putting out alternative/indie/southern rock that has caught my fancy.
I first saw the Weeks open up for the Revivalists a number of years back, and they tore through a ½ hour set that had me asking “who are these guys?” I tracked them down via Spotify and liked their recorded output very much. Knowing they were good live and on acetate, I was psyched to see them on tour when they were headlining. But I had to first suffer through a few near misses. The worst was earlier this summer when I changed our plans to head to Nashville on a Thursday, opting for Friday instead, while attending a wedding event that took place on Saturday. Of course, after I made that change of plans, the Weeks announced a show in Nashville that Thursday. Properly chastened, I kept an eye out for when they would tour and hit Philly, and that opportunity recently presented itself.
None of my suck friends wanted to see them, but Helen soldiered on even though she isn’t a big fan of UA. As regular readers know (yes, I mean both of you), UA has become one of my favorite venues in Philly. The stage is kind of small (but not so small that the band doesn’t have room to work, i.e., it’s not Boot and Saddle), and the place is a concrete basement, but I’ve seen some great shows there: Marah’s Christmas show (twice), Stiff Little Fingers, the Strypes, the Meat Puppets, a double-bill of the English Beat and Paul Collins Beat, Titus Andronicus, Protomartyr(!), the list goes on and on. Anyway, whoever does the bookings for UA has their finger on the pulse of the BRP hotlist. And lo, they booked the Weeks.
Of course, the cheaper the show, the more bands there are, right? This was a $15 triple bill. And while I usually don’t comment on the openers unless they compel me to, this was a compelling evening. The first band was a Philly local called the Vernes. I had never heard of them, and my first impression wasn’t a good one. It was Area 51 night or something, and they came out in alien garb that was, ahem, revealing. Hey guys, if you’re going to wear something that tight and stretchy, you better stuff some socks. Those were some teeny wieners, haha, and it wasn’t the least bit cold in the room. Nonetheless, the band made up for their limp membership by playing about 7 really catchy pop-rock songs that had me noting them in my phone for further inquiry. Unfortunately, their live act is much stronger than their recorded output, which is overproduced pop jangle. Still, I recommend that you see them live if you can get the opportunity.
Next up was a band from LA called Spendtime Palace. I don’t know why, but the lead singer grated on me from the time he took the stage. He seemed cocky and arrogant or something, and I just didn’t care for him. He was all LA. But his voice was a complete knockoff of Julian Casablancas of the Strokes. I mean as close as you can come – sort of like the ripoff singer from Greta Van Fleet stealing Robert Plant’s Led Zeppelin vocals. You would have sworn that it was the Strokes playing. Except the songs weren’t as good. And they weren’t drunk out of their minds. Still, they played a Strokes cover and it was their strongest output of the evening and had the crowd yelling for more. I like the Strokes. But this guy grated on me.
Let’s talk about the crowd. I used to say that Philly had a great music scene because every show I went to was sold out. It’s been years since I’ve said that. I still think Philly has a good music scene, but when bands like Ted Leo and the Pharmacists are forced to play tiny venues like Boot and Saddle, something is amiss. And I have to tell you, I was disappointed with the size of the crowd for the Weeks (but it did lead to a very interesting story that I’ll tell in a minute). The place was a bit more than half full, which is great for me because I can simply stroll up to the front of the stage and get pictures before I spit at the band (just kidding on the latter), but it’s not good for the bands who are actually trying to make a living. It still galls me that ass-clowns like Billy Joel get to sell out stadiums and make large money while great bands like the Weeks struggle to feed themselves. Life is not fair, I know, but still. And Philly is disappointing in that great bands come to town and venues are half full. Maybe it’s a comment on rock dying, or maybe it’s a comment on the over-saturation of live music (and its commensurate expense), but something is amiss in Rocky’s hood.
Anyway, the Weeks finally took the stage and simply rocked it with a really strong set. I have to tell you that the lead singer Cyle Barnes has a very interesting stage presence. He doesn’t play any instrument, but has a great southern vocal style that is undeniably great. But he has some oddly effeminate mannerisms that are almost distracting, and he rolls his eyes up when he is singing, sort of like a great white shark does right before it clamps down on its prey. It’s somewhat unusual. That being said, I think he’s great. Here’s another unusual thing. His twin brother, Cain, plays the drums. We noticed that the brothers have identical tattoos in the same places on their bodies. I don’t mean one tattoo, either. I mean several visible tats. Does that strike you as strange? Or is it that twins thing?
Regardless, the band just ripped through their best tracks. And the bassist, Damien Bone, is one entertaining dude on the stage. He really feels the music and is constantly moving. He’s also interacting with the crowd, and got them inspired enough so that he did the stage dive thing. Now, remember, this wasn’t a sold out show and the crowd was not packed in before the stage. Still, they caught Damien twice, once while he was still playing his bass and once when he put down his instrument and went for it. It was cool. In fact, it was so cool that some jackass in the crowd decided to emulate him, and jumped up on the stage for his own dive into the crowd. However, the crowd did a Dewey Finn and simply backed away and let the dude plunge onto the concrete floor. Injured? Maybe, but hard to know because the security guy swooped in on his ass and jacked his arm up his back as he run-walked him out of the venue. It was different and, yeah, even a little enjoyable.
Back to the show. The band was red hot, tight and jamming hard. They blasted through great songs like Bottle Rocket, Dear Bo Jackson, Grind Your Teeth, Girls Like You, Talk Like That, Brother In The Night, The House We Grew Up In and Buttons. There were plenty of other tracks, too, thus proving that this band can crank through a full and complete set of tunes that has you hankering for more but massively entertained. I was psyched for the show, and the Weeks didn’t disappoint. Now, I know that I like a lot of shows – I’m like the grommet surfer, more stoked than anyone even though I’ve been to tons of shows – but trust me that if you like hard rockin’ bands, you’ll dig the Weeks.
Remember when you were a kid and had to figure out the moral for each story you read? Here’s the moral for this show. Never stage dive into a crowd that is not packed to the gills.
Thanks for your patience while I catch up on my backlog here at BRP – maybe use my lengthy wait to see the Weeks as a role model for your behavior? Yeah, keep checking to see where I’m at, and if you see that I’ve posted, doggedly pursue it. And with that, I’ll catch you on the flipside.
It was a weird night in Ardmore. I was going away the following day and a buddy of mine knew that I was home alone for one night. He asked if I wanted to go to AMH and catch Steel Pulse, the ancient British reggae band. I jumped on it and bought the typical BRP ticket – the cheapest in the house! Since the concert was mostly standing room, I had as good a chance as anyone of seeing the band up close and personal even though I bought the ticket late.
But my friend had a ticket for the seats, and was going to be joined later by his wife and some neighbors. OK, fine, we can still sort of hang out. In fact, we went to dinner first at that Vietnamese place down the street (good food, and I’m particularly smitten with the beef and black pepper sauce, but for the life of me I can’t remember the name of the restaurant even though I’ve been there 3 or 4 times). We had a good pre-show meal. With full stomachs, we headed to AMH to catch the show and link up with everyone else. It worked perfectly: we entered the venue, and I headed to my spot on the floor while my friend went to the seats. I told him where I was and to join me on the floor when the band came out. That was the last I would see of him until the show was over.
A few weeks later, I told this story to some neighbors, and they said that they were also at the show. I’m like, what? AMH is small, and you bump into people there all the time. A former neighbor is a barmaid there, and I’ve seen many other locals I know there over the years. But at this show, I never saw my neighbors even though they were probably standing about 20 feet away. I was stage right directly in front of the band, and the sold-out crowd overwhelmed the joint and there was simply no moving around.
Such is life. Hey, concerts are loud and I don’t do a lot of talking anyway, so hanging out by myself is fine. Some other people at AMH won’t shut up, or are busy groping whoever they came with (isn’t it true? I see the middle aged grope all the time at AMH. Yeah, I saw that!). But me? Nah, I watch the show, maybe say a word or two, and politely smile and laugh when someone says something to me that I never can hear. You know the situation, right? It’s loud as hell, you have earplugs in, you’re jamming, and then your friend leans over and shouts, “hey, so and so is deathly ill.” Having no clue what they said, I smile and laugh because my hearing sucks and I figure they wouldn’t pick the middle of a show to fill me in on the latest illness or death of their loved ones. It’s what makes me so special – laughing at everything even when it’s utterly inappropriate.
Back to the show. Opening that night for Steel Pulse was a reggae band from another internationally known reggae hotspot, Baltimore, MD. Jah Works is the name of the outfit, and they were quite good if not a bit untraditional. Yeah, a white reggae singer is not usually the drill, but this guy had good chops and could carry it. And since he was leading the opening act for the show, he also had the good sense to come out on stage with his fly down. I noticed it, and sat back for a few songs before someone in the crowd (not me, of course) finally had the decency to let him know. He closed it before Lower Merion’s finest could break the place up for violations of the Main Line’s indecency code. That little distraction taken care of, the band zipped through a set of strong tunes and had the place lubed up for the main attraction.
I don’t know if you’re a Steel Pulse fan or not. I saw them about a decade ago with three dudes who were all struggling in their lives – my kids called it Dad’s Island of Misfit Toys concert. It was a good show, however, and I laughed at all the trials and tribulations that they tried to share with me during the concert. Even though I liked the show, I wouldn’t say that I’m the biggest reggae music fan out there. In fact, I could go the rest of my life without hearing any more Bob Marley songs (well, except maybe Trenchtown Rock) as most of white America seems to believe that Bob Marley is actually the entire reggae music scene in and of itself, and tirelessly plays Marley, and only Marley, songs.
But Steel Pulse has been around a long time, and they have some really good tunes. Not only that, they put on quite an active and entertaining show. And for the second time in a row, AMH had fine-tuned the acoustics perfectly, and the sonics were outstanding. Coming out and immediately blasting into one of their biggest hits, Worth His Weight in Gold (Rally Round), the crowd was instantly pumped up and the reefer began to burn. I’m serious – the vaping crisis had not yet hit the newspapers, so there was a lot of weed going up inside AMH. And for the first time in a long time, a dude next to me lit up a spliff and passed it around. I did not partake as I’m straight edge to the hilt right now. Nor did the guitarist for Steel Pulse who was offered a toke but graciously turned it down.
Anyway, SP kept right on cranking out their big tracks, like Chant a Psalm (something I regularly do), Steppin’ Out, Roller Skates and more. Just pop Steel Pulse’s Greatest Hits into your music machine, and you’ll duplicate the set list. Which is good for me, because I don’t follow the band that much and wasn’t in the mood for any reggae deep tracks.
David Hinds, the lead singer, defies the patent office and is a perpetual motion machine on stage. I’m not kidding you: the dude has to be older than me, and he is still vigorous and energetic. It must be that he takes Geritol or something. Regardless, it’s fun to watch him and see him inspire the rest of the group to get rowdy, too. The bassist was the next biggest presence on stage, and I’ve got a couple shots of him swinging his axe in front of the front row crowd and trying to hit on some of the middle aged women shouting out to him. That made me laugh, too, even though I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Maybe it was “welcome to Gropesville?”
I don’t think the band had any clue where AMH is located. They referred to Ardmore a couple of times, butchering the name of the place and joking about it. Yeah, it may not be on the international concert scene, but to see guys from a craphole like Birmingham, England bust on Ardmore is pretty funny. Oh well, to each his own. I will say that the band gave a strong performance and even had me pumped up enough to listen to them in the car on the way home. Of course, I haven’t been jonesing for it since, and that’s probably the last time I’ll listen to Steel Pulse until the iPod is on shuffle and the algorithm chooses to play one of their tracks.
There it is. International reggae band does Ardmore and everyone leaves happy, even those that weren’t stoned. Next up? Funny you should ask. It’s a band fresh out of Mississippi via Nashville that the Kid has wanted to see for a while now. You’ll have to check back soon to catch the review. As they say in Jamaica, lay-tah!
Don't we all have friends who come in and out of our lives, but when they're in them, it's like they never left? They show up and it's instant camaraderie again. You start laughing, carrying on, and acting as though you had just seen them a day before, but it might have been months or years. Know what I mean?
My man Jeff was in town. He loves live rock 'n' roll, and has an adventurous spirit. Basically, he's up for whatever show is rolling through town, which sort of sounds like yours truly. We don't get to see each other much, but we've been able to catch some great shows in the past. It's what we do. Who have we seen? Well, Low Cut Connie, Queens of the Stone Age, Royal Blood, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, the Heavy Pets. Some of these bands we just went to see without knowing anything about them, while others are BRP legends and the timing was just so choice.
This trip, the choices were not abundant. I hunted and finally decided to go see Davy Knowles after watching a couple of his videos on YouTube. It helped that he was playing at the Ardmore Music Hall, which is just so close, and he only wanted $20 for the performance. What the heck, if it sucks we'll split early and go find something else to do.
Well, he didn't suck. In fact, he was damn good. For those who don't know about him, and that would be many people, Knowles is a blues guitarist from that known blues hotspot, the Isle of Man. He's mainly a self-taught guitarist who was heavily influenced by Dire Straits, Cream and Celtic music. Yeah, that's some stuff right there. He has solo albums and has also been a front man for Back Door Slam. He plays a well worn Fender Stratocaster, and for a guitar slinger, he isn't always changing guitars and messing with his soundboard. It's refreshing.
Jeff and I got there early and grabbed a choice spot right in front of the stage. Davy basically played right in front of us all night, ripping off guitar licks that were eye-popping. He stuck to blues numbers, some of which I knew, many of which I didn't. No worries on that - the blues performed live are fantastic even if you don't know the songs. To me, they are accessible and full of human emotion and struggle. I love that stuff.
I was also impressed with AMH on this night. It wasn't sold out but there was a healthy crowd. There was energy but no bumping and grinding, and I had perfect sight lines, and the mix was spot on. I'm usually not a fan of the venue, but I'll give it credit when it's due.
Here are a couple of tracks from Davy - some of which are old - that give you a feel for how good he is. I forgot to mention that he has a pretty good blues voice, and that is amply demonstrated in the first video. Enjoy:
Davy had a good band, too, in particular this dude on keyboards. I don't know his name, but oh my, he could play. There is a particular solo I have in mind where he had the crowd screaming and Davy simply smiling and shaking his head. Indeed, it was that good.
Davy brought along another treat. The opener was Jamie McLean, a great New Orleans guitarist who has played with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Aaron Neville. He brought along the sound of his city, a great mix of blues, funk, jazz and rock. He ripped through a terrific set, and then came out and played with Davy. The latter was Fun with a capital F. The two savants traded guitar licks, trying at first to mimic, and then ultimately to top the other. Spontaneous stuff like that doesn't happen that much, and it felt like being in someone's basement back in the old days. Except, of course, the musicianship was top notch.
I don't know who that couple was in the foreground of the pictures of McLean, but talk about bringing it - they danced the entire evening and had a blast. I boogied, sure, but didn't bust the patented moves for which I'm famous (infamous?). I admired them for getting right out front and having a blast. We all ought to be like that more often than we are.
There you have it. Jeff comes to town, I search for a show, we attend one by an obscure dude that blows us away, and we leave satisfied and happy. It doesn't always work out that way, but then again, the magic of BRP can envelop everyone and make them feel like partying at 100 mph. Hahaha, if only!
It's magic time at BRP. I have a few more shows to write up - 3 to be exact and another one coming up this week - so there should be plenty of reason for you to swing by. I'm trying to keep up with my own life at this point. Here's a proposal for you: you come on around and let me know you're reading, and I'll keep posting. Deal? Let's shake on it.
I'll catch up with you later.
I love American roots music. I've been watching the Ken Burns series on country music, and it has reminded me of just how much I love Americana music. Here's a few songs, including a new and great one out of Texas, to keep your Sunday buzzin'.
Let's start new with Whiskey Myers out of Tyler, Texas. If you like rock, I don't know how you won't be able to like this, too. It grooves and moves, and makes me want to take my girl out and dance. Here ya go:
I've loved Joe Ely's music forever. He's from West Texas where the sky goes on forever and the land is flat as a pancake. If you want to see for a few miles, stand on a coffee can and the view unfolds. I've seen him a few times, and this is one of my favorite tracks. It's all American in the best way possible.
I like to dance. Here's a great little dance track from Dwight Yoakam. I like honky tonks blasting out great tunes just like this one. Try it out and then go find your person and go dancing. You won't be sorry, trust me.
Perhaps the best country/roots performer out there is a fella named Chris Stapleton. I'm going to give you about 15 minutes why. Take a look and a listen when you have the time. He's so goooooood.
Let's go back-to-back classics: Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. Enough said.
There you go. New to old, but all great. How's that for a beautiful sunny Sunday?
You know I'm thinking of you and enjoying immensely the fact that you decided to hang out with me for a few minutes. Swing by soon as I've got three concert reviews to post, and I'm adding to that list this week. Phew, I'm tuckered out just thinking about it!
See you soon.
I've been stuck on Smokey Robinson lately, particularly this song. I love it. I want to share it. It's sweet, sad, and yet hopeful too. And it has a bouncy sound that you can dance to. Here you go:
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.