Check out another Philly music blog, The Swollen Fox, for a comprehensive list of shows in the city, and don’t forget r5 Productions. Just because it’s not on here, doesn’t mean it’s not an awesome show. A few of the shows are already sold out, as I noted. It’s always possible to find tickets to sold out shows without spending an exorbitant amount as long as you’re willing to take your chances and wait until the day of the show. There’s almost always a few people who end up selling extra tickets for face value. All these bands are worth your time and attention. From the Reel Big Fish and Streetlight Manifesto show, which should prove to be fun at the very least, to the mysterious brooding of Brand New’s performance (what can we expect from them this time? new material? a set list of fan favorites? hints of a follow-up to 2009’s Daisy?) at the same venue, these shows are all worth looking into.
I sat down with Johnny Mick (given name: John Coyle), a veteran member of the South Jersey and Philly punk scene, to talk about his take on local music and his experiences as a musician in South Jersey. At the age of 22, Johnny has spent the better part of the last ten years playing in various punk bands, most recently the pop punk band Suit Up, who played at the North Star Bar a few weeks ago. Johnny talks about his newest musical endeavor, The High Five, an indie influenced rock and roll band, who are currently finishing up recording on their debut album. The album is slated for a December release, and The High Five will start playing shows shortly thereafter. Johnny also speaks about his experiences playing in the area with a former punk band, The Quaran Teens, and his excitement about the blossoming music scene in Philadelphia.
As I sit here typing this, my ears are still ringing a constant high-pitched buzz, but I don’t mind. Any discomfort is well worth it after the mind-blowing night I just had. I saw Kevin Devine for the fourth time, this time at the North Star Bar, and was again blown away. It’s not just his consistently top-notch performances that left me in awe–the crowd presence was phenomenal. I’ve seen Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band before, but never headlining, and never at a small venue. When I saw them open for Thrice and Brand New on previous occasions, I was really into the performance, but not everyone was. This was different. In this tiny room that can’t hold more than a couple hundred people, every single person was there for the same reason–to see Kevin and his band play.
If you don’t know anything about Kevin Devine, he started out as more or less a solo act. Just a guy and his acoustic guitar, but over the course of six full length albums his music has evolved into a full band endeavor. His most recent album, released last month, Between the Concrete and Clouds, is the first album that features the band on every song. For the first time in his career, there’s not a single song with just Kevin and his acoustic guitar. In my opinion, Kevin Devine is one of today’s most underrated songwriters. His musical catalog spans genres from the acoustic folk that dominated his 2006 album, Put Your Ghost to Rest, to the full band catchy indie rock of his latest release. His introspective, sometimes political, and richly poetic lyrics are really what made me fall in love with his music. The literary qualities his lyrics have are hard to come by, and as a lover of literature and words, I was hooked after the first song I heard, “No Time Flat,” which he opened his set with last night. Generally ignored by the mainstream music media, Kevin has built his fan base without much help besides his relentless touring schedule and opening for much bigger acts like Brand New, Thrice, Nada Surf, and Manchester Orchestra. Although it’s relatively small, Kevin has an extremely dedicated fan base, as I saw first hand last night. Continue reading
Last week I got to attend an exclusive soundcheck and meet and greet with one of my favorite bands, Thrice, by donating to the charity Invisible Children. Thrice have worked with Invisible Children for years, and I was already very familiar with the charity when I won entry to the soundcheck. Before I get into the connection between Invisible Children and bands like Thrice, it’s important to know what Invisible Children’s mission is. The Invisible Children website explains, “The war in northern Uganda has been called the most neglected humanitarian emergency in the world today. For the past 23 years, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Government of Uganda (GoU) have been waging a war that has left nearly two million innocent civilians caught in the middle. The GoU’s attempt to protect its citizens from this rebel militia has largely failed, resulting in an entire generation of youth that has never known peace.” The longest running war in Africa, the LRA conflict is fought primarily by children who are kidnapped and forced to fight by the leader of the LRA, Joseph Kony.
Me with Thrice. From Left to Right: Ed Breckenridge, Dustin Kensrue, Me, Teppei Teranishi, and Riley Breckenridge
Film has always been a huge part of the Invisible Children effort, but the nonprofit also has a new initiative, The Musician Coalition. I asked Eugene Kim, an Invisible Children volunteer who is currently touring with Thrice what exactly the band is raising money for. Kim says, “Thrice are raising money for radio towers in the Congo. The coolest part about them is we’re having kids that have escaped the LRA send messages to their friends that are still abducted. They’re telling them it’s safe to come back home since they’ve been brainwashed to believe they’re hated by their communities.” The radio towers also serve to warn civilians of possible attacks. Watch the video below for more information.
Kim goes on to say, “The Musician Coalition is our newest initiative where we’re partnering artists with fundraising for those radio towers. It’s a cool way of linking musicians with radio, something they obviously share a connection with. Each artist has a page where fans can join their fundraising teams and win cool things from them for donating. We have bands as big as Thrice, All Time Low, Frightened Rabbit, August Burns Red, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, as well as smaller artists like Spirit Family Reunion.” Thrice’s meet and greet, as well as the solo acoustic set performed by the band’s singer, Dustin Kensrue, were held to raise money for the Musician Coalition cause and their personal goal of $5,000.
Kim remarked about his experiences on tour as well and said, “Touring with Thrice, La Dispute, Moving Mountains, and O’Brother is a dream come true. All the dudes and crew for every band are some of the most fun and down to earth people I’ve ever met. It’s been the biggest privilege ever being on the road with all of them, and they all have helped our cause a ton. We’ve gotten a great response from a lot of fans too, which is phenomenal. You have to understand that some people aren’t coming to shows to hear about an issue involving kidnapped children, but lots of people have been super willing to support the cause.”
I first learned about Invisible Children through music, and if it wasn’t for the dedication of bands like Thrice, I probably would never have learned about the charity. Musicians raise money for causes all the time, but personally I’ve never seen the same dedication to a cause as I see with Invisible Children. I’ve never seen another charity literally go on tour with a band. Unlike some nonprofits, Invisible Children also clearly tells you where your money is going. When I made my donation to Thrice’s fund, a team member explained exactly what that donation would go towards. The intense connection that Invisible Children makes with musicians and their fans has surely helped the cause immensely.
In addition to the Musician Coalition, Invisible Children has a host of other programs and fundraisers that you can learn about on their website, such as the Bracelet Campaign and Mend.
On October 13, I had the privilege of seeing Thrice live for the 8th time. The lineup featured Moving Mountains, O’Brother–whom I’ve written about before–and La Dispute opening. All four bands put on incredible shows, but O’Brother and Thrice stood out in my opinion. Not only did I get to attend the mind-blowing show, but I also was lucky enough to get to see Thrice soundcheck before the concert and meet the members of the band, courtesy of Invisible Children, a charity that I’ll discuss in greater detail in my next post.
The following pictures were mostly taken from the balcony at the Electric Factory where the concert was held.
After the show, Dustin Kensrue, vocalist and guitarist for Thrice, played an acoustic set outside the Electric Factory to raise money for Invisible Children. Here’s a video from that performance of Dustin playing “Disarmed,” a new song from Thrice’s latest record, Major/Minor. Video taken by Matt Hovern.
Going to a show and falling in love with the opening band, and I mean the very first opening band, is a pretty rare thing. I can only recall it happening to me once, when I saw O‘Brother open for Manchester Orchestra in April 2010. I had heard of O’Brother and had listened to their The Death of Day EP, but seeing a band live can often make or break your opinion of them. Despite being a relatively new band with little touring experience, O’Brother thoroughly impressed me. I understood why Manchester Orchestra signed O’Brother to their record label, Favorite Gentlemen, and why they took them on the road. A year later, I saw O’Brother open for Manchester Orchestra again. The year of relentless touring that had passed had certainly made its mark. You simply couldn’t dismiss O’Brother this time, you couldn’t ignore them as they filled the venue with an enormous wall of sound. After that performance I realized that the Atlanta, Georgia experimental rock band had evolved into something far greater than just an opening band with a 20 minute set. Their first full-length album is slated for a November 2011 release on Triple Crown Records, and it’s shaping up to be one of my favorite releases of the year. O’Brother are currently on the road opening for Thrice along with Moving Mountains and La Dispute. You can catch them at the Electric Factory in Philly this Thursday, October 13, and at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ on Friday, October 14. Be sure to get there early though–O’Brother and Moving Mountains are alternating for who plays first each night.
O'Brother. Photo by: Christy Parry Photography
I got the amazing opportunity to talk to Michael Martens, O’Brother’s drummer about the band and their new album.
Question: Your debut full length album, Garden Window, will be released on Triple Crown Records next month. The song you’ve released from it, “Machines Part I” has a truly epic sound. Does the rest of the album have the same huge feel to it?
Answer: The album is pretty diverse. There are a lot of huge moments, but there are also a lot of really quiet, intimate moments (and then everything in between). We wanted to get louder and softer on this record, if this makes sense.
Q: Tell me about the new album. It seems like, although O’Brother still has a relatively small fan base, there is a considerable amount of hype concerning the record. You’ve got to work with some amazing people on it. I got really excited when I found out that Mike Sapone was going to be mixing it because Brand New’s “The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me” is one of my favorite records of all time and he worked on that, and I’m just a big fan of his work in general.
A: Working with Sapone was great. He really was one of the only people we could think of that would be perfect to mix this record. The tracking process was great. Robert McDowell [of Manchester Orchestra and Gobotron] did the majority of the record and I worked on things like overdubs, auxiliary percussion, and extra ear candy. Also, I was able to track the entire last song, “Last Breath.” It was a huge learning process for all of us.
Michael Martens, drummer of O'Brother. Credit: O'Brother's Facebook
Q: I’ve seen you perform twice with Manchester Orchestra in April of 2010 and again in May 2011, and I noticed a big difference between those two performances. Partially, I’m sure, because you had a lot more experience and gained more confidence by the time you came around this year, but I also felt like you guys have found your sound. Would you agree with that?
A: Completely. You have no choice but to learn a ton when you tour as much as we have been. We try to take everything that our peers have to say to heart. There are a lot of people that help us learn from their past mistakes, coupled with us learning from the mistakes that we make on our own. The past few years have been exciting for us and we are all in a better place because of them.
Q: At least in terms of where you’re playing in Philadelphia (The Electric Factory vs. the TLA or Trocadero), the tour you’re on now with Thrice is the biggest you’ve done yet. How does it feel to be playing at these large venues?
A: Sometimes it’s overwhelming. However, we have learned to find some level of comfort on these stages. It was a learning process at first but it’s sick to look out from a stage the size of the ones we have been playing and see so many people hopefully enjoying their evening.
Q: What are some of your favorite bands to tour with?
Q: Do you have any favorite releases of 2011 so far?
A: Touche Amore‘s Parting The Sea Between Brightness and Me, Thrice’s Major/Minor, La Dispute’s Wildlife, and TV On The Radio‘s Nine Types of Light.
Q: I was wondering if dream catchers have any particular meaning to you guys. You make them and sell them, and they’re also present on some of your other merch. Is there a deeper meaning behind the association with them?
A: Really it started off as a joke. Anton and Johnny [members of the band] are Vietnamese and they kept on getting mistaken for Native American. One day Aaron [another band member] bought Anton a dream catcher from a gas station and it just sort of evolved in to what it is for us today. We usually tell people we put them on our amps to filter out the bad notes.
Listen to “Providence” by O’Brother from The Death of Day here:
Jeff Mangum, lead singer and song writer for lo-fi indie gods Neutral Milk Hotel made an impromptu appearance at NYC’s Occupy Wall Street protests last night. He played several songs form Neutral Milk Hotel’s discography and a cover. You can watch a livestream and read more about the event on Pitchfork. Here is a quick clip of Mangum playing “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.” The crowd gladly sings along and provides the missing instrumentation.
Also worth noting is the upcoming release of the Neutral Milk Hotel boxed set. The massive set includes vinyl copies of both NMH albums along with all the EPs, a few singles, and some unreleased tracks. It’s a bit pricey at $88 plus shipping, but considering the amount of material you get, I think it’s well worth the cost. If you’re not a vinyl collector, you can also acquire the album via “pay-as-you-wish” mp3 downloads starting November 22.
I really didn’t know what to expect as I slowly drove down a little back road in Williamstown, NJ looking for some sign of activity that would lead me into this perfect stranger’s home. Hunched over the wheel, I inched down the road frantically searching. Then I saw it, a modest little house set far back on the property and cars jockeying for parking spots between the many trees and dense shrubbery. This had to be the place. This was my first living room show.
Bazan Living Room Show Stage
A Living Room show is pretty self explanatory. It’s a concert in someone’s living room. The band, or artist, asks for volunteers to host incredibly intimate performances. If you have enough space for 40 or so people and a guy with an acoustic guitar, you’re an eligible host. This particular show featured a performance by David Bazan, the mastermind behind the indie band Pedro the Lion that broke up in 2005. I saw Bazan play with his band in the summer at on of my favorite small venues, Johnny Brenda’s, but I knew this was going to be entirely different. There was no opening band. There was no backing band for Bazan. It’s just Bazan, a balding 35-year-old father with an acoustic guitar. No amps, no microphone, just the man and his guitar and the 40 audience members sitting in tiny plastic chairs designed for preschool kids. Bazan’s lyrics tackle incredibly difficult topics ranging from religion and politics to his own struggles with alcoholism. His songs are deeply personal and his voice, perfectly imperfect filled the room with raw emotion.
David Bazan at Johnny Brenda's, June 2011
The thing that struck me the most as I sat in that musty and dimly lit living room was the absolute silence and the respect of the crowd. At every show I’ve ever been too, there is always the murmur of voices, the snapping and clicking of pictures being taken, glasses clanking at the bar, coughing, and all the human noises that are inescapable even among the most devoted fan bases. Here, there was nothing. There was no glow of cellphone light on anyone’s face as they checked the time, snapped a picture, or texted. Matthew Hovern, who was at the show with me said the sheer respect of the audience was shocking to him, “It’s strange, really. I usually like going to shows where everyone knows the words and sings along, but here, no one sang or even talked. Usually, at shows, you have idle chit chat and people who don’t pay attention, but here, in this guy’s living room, it was dead silent. You could hear a pin drop.”
Bazan didn’t play song after song for the 90 minutes he was “on stage.” He sprinkled the time with questions and answer periods, stopping every so often to ask, “Does anyone have any questions or concerns at this point in the show?” He did this when I saw him at Johnny Brenda’s as well, but here it was different. People weren’t shouting out random questions like, “What’s your favorite pasta?” they were asking serious questions with the utmost respect. Audience members tentatively raised hands to ask questions. Bazan talked candidly about his inspirations, his songwriting process, his family, and his feeling towards his work.
It wasn’t just this particular living room show that was filled with silent and rapt listeners. Sibyl Kemp, a 19-year-old Bazan fan who attended a living room show in North Carolina shared her similar experiences. “No eyes weren’t on David the whole time…as the night went on, David loosened up, got more comfortable, told jokes, and had small back-and-forths with audience members. I’ve seen David Bazan specifically in both types of settings [small clubs and living room shows] and it’s an amazing difference,” Kemp said when I asked her about her experience. If given the choice, Kemp prefers living room shows, saying, “Small shows are great, but I don’t think there’s anything more intimate than a living room show. Mostly because David Bazan walks into the room, all alone, and probably as last-minute as he can manage to avoid standing there awkwardly before he’s supposed to start playing. It seems like a very vulnerable situation…that closeness that you feel to the music and the artist [in a living room show] doesn’t feel quite the same, even in a tiny club.”
After attending my first living room show, I tend to agree. The most intimate shows I’ve been to have never achieved a connection as deep as this one. There was something truly beautiful happening in that dingy little living room, a feeling of love and respect and oneness that simply can’t survive in any other environment worked its way into each and every person there.