Thursday, November 26, 2015

POSTED: Saturday, November 14, 2015, 2:37 PM

With news of the terrorist attacks in Paris - including the carnage at the Eagles of Death Metal show at Bataclan - being updated minute by minute on everyone’s smart phones on Friday night,  going to a lighthearted pop concert didn't seem to be the most appropriate thing to do.

It turned out, however, that the opposite was true.  That’s because  the all-inclusive all-ages dance-pop celebration led by Shamir created a community that reached beyond genre and gender limitations and made the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia feel like it was exactly the place to be.

In his first song of the night, the just turned 21 songwriter whose last name is Bailey, sang: “Best believe this city has just what you need / Come and play, there’s no place you’d rather be.”

POSTED: Wednesday, November 11, 2015, 11:39 AM
Grimes. (Mac Boucher.)

Claire Boucher, the Canadian indie electronic artist who records as Grimes, is a fabulously conflicted pop star.

Boucher, who will play a sold out late show at Union Transfer on Saturday night as part of her 'Rhinestone Cowgirl' tour, has just released Art Angels, her fourth album and by far her most pop targeted effort to date. It’s also the first one where evidence of her professed love for such Top 40 heroines as Mariah Carey, Taylor Swift and the Dixie Chicks can actually be heard in the music.

You might not know that by looking at the album cover, though. It features a drawing by Boucher of a three-eyed Vulcan-eared creature with a sad, ambivalent look on its face, like a melding of Dr. Seuss and macabre Philadelphia graphic novelist Charles Burns. It’s a self portrait of the 27 year old artist who still (correctly) sees herself as an outsider, even though she’s extraordinarily well connected as she makes music that will move her into the mainstream.

POSTED: Tuesday, November 10, 2015, 9:27 AM
Allen Toussaint performs on stage at Bluesfest 2013 - Day 4 on March 31, 2013 in Byron Bay, Australia. (Getty Images)

Allen Toussaint, the New Orleans songwriter and pianist responsible for a long list of hits recorded by artists that included Aaron Neville, Ernie K-Doe, Irma Thomas, Bonnie Raitt, Glen Campbell, Dr. John, Lee Dorsey, Warren Zevon, Robert Plant, Robert Palmer and  Devo, has died. He was 77. 

Toussaiint died of a heart attack on Monday after a concert in Spain in the midst of a European tour, according to a report by New Orleans television station WWL. The native of the Crescent City's Gert Town neighborhood spent most of his career working as a behind the scenes songwriter, arranger and producer, shunning the spotlight to the point where many of his early three minute masterworks, including "Do-Re-Mi," "Fortune Teller" and "Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette)," were written under pseudonyms, with Toussaint most frequently using his mother's maiden name, Naomi Neville.

Always impeccably dressed and gracious on and off the stage - it was not uncommon to see the salt and pepper haired pianist walking the dusty grounds of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in a suit and tie - Toussaint was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1998. President Obama awarded him with the National Medal of Arts in 2013. 

POSTED: Monday, November 9, 2015, 10:56 PM
Summer Fiction, left to right: Mike Kennedy, Justin DiFebbo, Alex Yaker, Bill Ricchini, Avery Coffee. (Tanya Dakin)

Earlier this year, Philadelphia songwriter Bill Ricchini, who records as Summer Fiction, released a superb, sweetly melancholy album called Himalaya, recorded in Manchester, England with ex-pat Philly producer B.C. Camplight.

This June, Summer Fiction and video director J. DeVirgilis went into the Divine Lorraine Hotel on North Broad Street - just before construction began on the renovation of the fabled ruin - and recorded a bunch of the Himalaya tracks. Among the were "By My Side," which makes its video premiere on In The Mix.  (If you're eager for more, headed over to The Key to see "Religion of Mine.")

Summer Fiction plays the Boot & Saddle on Saturday Nov. 21 with the also recommended Heyward Howkins. Ticket info is here.

POSTED: Friday, November 6, 2015, 11:21 AM
Wynton Marsalis. (Rob Waymen)

Wynton Marsalis makes his slow approach to Philadelphia this weekend, headlining with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at the McCarter Theater in Princeton on Friday and the Exit 0 Jazz Festival in Cape May on Saturday. Then, on Tuesday the New Orleans-bred horn player will be the recipient of the Marion Anderson Award at the Kimmel Center on South Broad Street, where he will perform leading the Wynton Marsalis Septet.

I profiled Marsalis in this past Sunday's Inquirer. Read what he says about the state of jazz amidst "a culture of pornography" here. Shawn Brady previewed Exit 0 in the Thursday Inquirer. That's here.

When talking to Marsalis before a tour date last month in Schenectady, N.Y.. I spoke to him about Clark Terry, the jazz trumpeter and educator who, along with his protege Justin Kauflin, is the subject of the Keep On Keepin' On,  Alan Hicks' Quincy Jones-produced 2014 documentary.

POSTED: Wednesday, November 4, 2015, 5:13 PM
John Train, from left to right: Mark Schreiber, Mike Brenner, Mike Frank, Mark Tucker, Jon Houlon, Bill Fergusson.

Among the lesser known dependable pleasures of the Philadelphia music scene are the free Friday night happy hour shows with John Train, the rootsy sextet fronted by superb story telling singer-songwriter Jon Houlon, a prolific sort who is also the lead singer from the more garage-rock oriented band The Donuts.

Neither John Train not The Donuts are breaking up, but Houlon, who's a child welfare lawyer for Philadelphia's Department of Human Service, is taking a planned one year break after 20 years of gigging and releasing six albums with each of his bands.

To give both outfits the proper send off, Houlon is playing five straight nights at Fergie's, beginning tonight, with John Train kicking things off and the band's playing on alternate nights through Sunday. Billed as No 2 Unalike, the concept is inspired by Lubbock, Texas songsmith Butch Hancock's original 1990 No 2 Alike series, in which he played six straight nights in Austin, Texas and played 140 of his own tunes without repeating a single song. 

POSTED: Wednesday, November 4, 2015, 9:28 AM

The onstage power outage that hit midway through Kendrick Lamar's set at the super sold out Trocadero on Tuesday appeared to be completely unplanned, a spontaneous breakdown that threatened to cut short one of the most hotly anticipated shows of the year just as the energy in the room was set to go through the roof.

But even if the rappus interruptus, which came just after the crowd had repeatedly chanted along to a verse to “M.A.A.D. City” at ever increasing volume, had been planned by Lamar, it couldn’t have functioned any more effectively.

The 10-minute unexpected intermission allowed the assembled hardcore fans to consider and appreciate what they’d been witnessing. And it upped the intensity of of the second half of the show, which seemed like it might not go on, and then indeed did.  lt as afforded the 28-year-old rapper from Compton, Calif., who is in the midst of the intentionally intimate 12-city Kunta’s Groove Session tour for his outstanding album To Pimp A Butterfly, the opportunity to further celebrate his bond with his people.   

POSTED: Saturday, October 3, 2015, 11:14 AM
Kraftwerk at the Electric Factory. (Dan DeLuca)

When conventional stage patter is all but verboten and the pioneering German krautrock - or if you prefer, motorik - band principally responsible for bringing electronic music to the masses in the 1970s plays an exceedingly rare show in the City of Brotherly Love, how do it members find a way to wordlessly say: "Hello Philadelphia! How you doin'?"
Well, if you're Kraftwerk, the Teutonic quartet who played a sold out concert at the Electric Factory on Friday night that was the band's first area appearance since they performed at Emerald City in Cherry Hill in 1981, you cleverly do it with retro-futuristic 3-D animation.

During "Spacelab," a song that the four man band of co-founder Ralf Hutter and fellow programmers Fritz Hilpert, Henning Schmitz and Falk Grieffen performed from the 1978 album Die Mensch-Maschine - that's The Man-Machine to you - the Jetsons-like video projections showed a UFO floating through the heavens. Its GPS locator, showed it to be flying directly above Philadelphia, and when it mind blowingly came in for a landing, its destination was the Electric Factory, where the marquee listed Kraftwerk as the headlining attraction.   

The sci-fi cool and forward motion rhythms of "Spacelab" were representative of a seamless, two-hour rapturously received show. The geeked out intergenerational audience happily donned old fashioned cardboard glasses to gain a multi-dimensional perspective on the emotionless, proudly robotic performers. Kraftwerk specialize in songs about travel ("Trans Europe Express," "Tour de France" and "Autobahn," with a video that could have doubled as an ad for under-fire German automaker Volkswagen), while exploring ways humans have been transformed by technology of their own creation.

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