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Photos / Live Review: Shearwater, Wye Oak, Hospital Ships @ Johnny Brenda’s (2010.03.28)

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Despite a horrendously rainy evening, I made the trek up to Philadelphia to see two of my absolute favorite extant artists (Wye Oak and Shearwater) play impressive sets at Johnny Brenda’s. Though a bit oddly shaped, and accordingly awkward for sound, the venue is an absolute charmer. It feels like a back-room, private cabaret with some insane lighting rigs and luxuriously appointed design elements such as buttoned red velvet cushions on the walls. The venue shoots upwards two stories, but is shallow and intimate, making sure you are never more than 10 rows from the stage (which is well-elevated for a venue this size, giving everyone good sightlines).

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Live Review: Philly Serves Tan Dun’s Tea, Curtis Recitals Shine

Intrepid music lovers should head North on 95, cut over onto 76 and head into Center City Philly for action. First gem: Opera Company of Philadelphia. This is the only East Coast company, so far as I know, with the balls and the budget to invite Chinese composer Tan Dun to conduct his own opera, Tea: A Mirror of Soul.

I was lucky enough to be gifted a front row seat for the Feb. 21 performance by a very awesome sister. Dun does not so much conduct as conjure from a well within; I couldn’t stop watching him the entire performance. What makes an operatic success? Not the story, but the spectacle; not the characters, but the voices. Tea’s vocal lines are almost at home in Italian opera, although the words are disappointingly English. Haijing Fu’s unwavering baritone grounded the proceedings well, but Dun’s instrumental abandon is what makes the opera glisten and resound.

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Live Review: The Finns Take Philadelphia – Vänskä Conducts Sibelius and Aho’s Minea (2010.03.13)

Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center (home to the Philadelphia Orchestra) puts the Kennedy Center to shame. This 2001 building gives off an intergalactic glass air from the outside. But once you cross the orchestra doors into Verizon Hall, sweeping elliptical balconies in warm wood welcome you and provide an intimate surprise once the orchestra strikes up.

Such a hall was very kind to the East Coast premiere of Kalevi Aho’s Minea. This concertante for orchestra gets its feminine nickname from the commissioning orchestra (Minnesota) where Vänskä conducts. Ever the champion of his fellow Finn, Vänskä gave Aho’s overture a powerful push. He was jumping, bending deep in the knees, twisting from the hips before delivering an openhanded punch or swipe to call up a section to glory.

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Live Review / Photos: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists @ First Unitarian Church Basement (2009.12.02)

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists @ First Unitarian Church

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MP3: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – Even Heroes Have To Die from the upcoming album The Brutalist Bricks (2010)

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists have been a staple food in my musical diet for a long time.  His shows are always uplifting, riotously fun affairs jam-packed with killer guitar, resonant lyrics, and an air-tight band.  Whenever he comes into DC (his one-time residence, and essentially second home), he always packs the 9:30 Club or the Black Cat (as he did this past Thursday) to capacity.  I decided to change things up a bit for his recent string of East Coast dates, and made the drive to Philly to catch him last Wednesday at First Unitarian. I’ve been to shows at First Unitarian Church’s Sanctuary before, and was curious to see Ted in a different setting than a standard rock venue.

Odd fate struck when I walked down Chestnut, as I was diverted to the basement for the true DIY cred of a church basement show. Much like the VFW hall centered scenes that dot the suburbs of this country, church basements are a furnace of activity for the underaged showgoer that are blackballed by 18+ and 21+ traditional venues.

As it turns out, this choice of venue over the sanctuary was an inspired one. The crowded, modestly appointed interior perfectly channeled Ted Leo’s exacting DIY ethos and the energy of his effervescent pop punk. Instead of that blockbuster, celebrity rockstar vibe you can get when Ted plays one of the aforementioned venues, you get an altogether different experience, something truer to his spirit and roots.  What’s more, for those of us who still remember youthful adventures in such spaces, Leo’s more sage and introspective repertoire brought on a wave of acute nostalgia, and even that increasingly derided feeling: hope.

In this way, Ted Leo will always be an oasis in relatively bleak times. A unusually apolitical show (particularly after the official escalation of war in Afghanistan), Ted paused only once to acknowledge the state of current affairs as less than desirable. But he followed quickly with an affirmation of purpose: “But let’s not talk about that tonight. Instead, I’ll just continue writing, and singing, songs about it.” I can think of few other callings that could be more important, more rewarding, more necessary.

More photos after the jump.

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Interview: The Swimmers (w/ Steve Yutzy-Burkey)

Swimmers group shot

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  1. MP3: The Swimmers – Shelter
  2. MP3: The Swimmers – A Hundred Hearts

How does a band follow up a debut that received much love with NPR, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Magnet, and many others hailing the smart guitar-driven indie-rock sound they had created, when that same band found themselves disillusioned with the writing and recording process they had to endure to make that debut?

If you are Philadelphia’s The Swimmers, and you are following 2008′s Fighting Trees, you build a home studio, take control of the entire recording process, and rediscover who you are as musicians.  You release an explosive blast of modern new-wave-pop, that hearkens back to the best parts of New Order’s deep synth driven groove, yet at the same time borrows the deep noise explorations of Radiohead’s catalog, combining them with a sharp songwriting sense.

People Are Soft is a career defining point for the band.  Despite the success of Fighting Trees, the band has almost completely remade themselves by creating an album that, while a radical change from what came before, also exceeds the expectations that surrounded their stellar debut.

Singer/ guitarist and principle songwriter Steve Yutzy-Burkey recently took some time to talk with Aural States:

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2 for Tuesday: Locals edition

Two tracks just dropped into my inbox from regional artists.

Baltimore’s Thrushes will be releasing their Heartbeats Remixed CD on Birdnote, May 6th followed by a Sat May 10th CD release show at Metro Gallery. The CD is all remixes of the track “Heartbeats.” Check out the lead track on the album and the original track.

Thrushes – Heartbeats (DtheNextLevel Mix)

Thrushes – Heartbeats (original)

Philly natives Public Record hold a DC release party Apr 15th at the Velvet Lounge in DC to celebrate the release of their album Apr 08.

Public Record – Comfortability

Pony Pants, not Horsie Slacks or Equine Trousers

Pony Pants. The first time I heard that name I practically guffawed myself off my seat.

But then, I heard their music. The stuff these Philly kids pump out via Badmaster Records is what indie dance nights were made for, driving the most stoic of the cross-armed masses into a freaky, spaz-and-grind dance frenzy. The comparisons of Emily J.K.’s vox to those of Le Tigre are apt. And the crunked up electro guitar work is just as grimy as those from the now-defunct Death From Above 1979.

And call it sinful, but I think their recorded material is much more enjoyable than our hometown boy Dan Deacon’s.

Do yourself a favor. Before the drudgery of the work-week begins, head out to the Talking Head this Sunday, and spaz the fuck out. You won’t be the only one, I can personally guarantee you that.
Photo credit Molly Landergan

Pony Pants – Haircutz