Friday, January 17: Cate Le Bon
Sometimes the most powerful songs aren't the ones with loud, blasting choruses or lofty subject matter; sometimes, the most powerful songs are quiet and intimate, concerned with small matters, such as specific people, or places. Or—in the case of Welsh singer Cate Le Bon—a specific collection of mugs, which form the thematic center of new record Mug Museum. For more than half a decade now, Le Bon has charmed crowds with her intimate, word-y, folk-pop, weaving sparse but powerful tales about memory, death, and everything in between. A self-professed "death-obsessed" artist, who once wrote an entire record inspired by the passing of various pets (2009's Me Oh My), Le Bon boasts the rare ability to tackle morbid subject matters but make them feel less morbid, adding a playful, theatrical vitality. Vocally, the Welsh songstress is both earthy and icy, channeling Nico (although with less deadpan) and PJ Harvey, with deep intonation and understated delivery. She stops by Boot & Saddle this Friday, where the small space and spot-on acoustics should provide the perfect environment for her charming tunes.
9:00 at Boot & Saddle, 1131 S. Broad St., $10–12. Tickets available here.
Saturday, January 18: Royal Bangs
The Royal Bangs hail from Knoxville, TN, a town known more for its country and blues scene than its rock'n rollers. As such, it's not surprising to find a deep blues influence in many of their tunes, from the rollicking "Poison Control" to the jittery "Octagon." It's also not surprising to learn of their partnership with The Black Keys' Patrick Carney, who released or produced three of their four records, including the recent Brass. Yet the Royal Bangs are more than just another blues-y, Black Keys-y rock unit; instead, the four piece sets itself apart with complex, capricious, and action-packed compositions, whose dense sonic texture adds energy, spirit, and swagger. Formed in 2001 by high school students Ryan Schaefer and Chris Rusk, the band rose to fame once Carney discovered them on Myspace, and they started touring aggressively across the U.S. (my first taste came in 2010, when they opened for We Were Promised Jetpacks). These days, they're still rocking hard, delving into classic and soft rock territory on Brass. They'll stop by Milkboy Philly this Saturday for an evening of weekend raging; arrive early for openers Our Griffins, a.k.a. Philadelphia's own DJ Brown, whose intimate story-telling will kick things off right.
8:30 at Milkboy Philly, 1100 Chestnut St., $10–12. Tickets available here.
Monday, January 20: The City and Horses
I first experienced The City and Horses last month, opening for Work Drugs during their holiday spectacle. Their gorgeous harmonies (and whimsical cover of Wham's "Last Christmas") hooked me, and inspired some pretty great dance moves too. Now, a month later, the band headlines Kung Fu Necktie, where their sparkling melodies and brass and woodwind-tinged arrangements are sure to brighten your Monday night. Formed in 2007 by children's TV producer and composer Marc Cantone (credits include PBS KIDS Sprout, and the films Paper Heart and God's Country), plus a rotating cast of friends and musicians, The City and Horses rarely perform, but when they do, turn each show into a production, thanks to their large line-up and Cantone's creative vision. Their newest record, Strange Range, matches lovely chamber pop jewels with lyrics about "anxiety disorders, the real or imagined simplicity of the 1990s, and lovingly loveless relationships," for a result that feels charmingly off-kilter. They'll be joined this Monday by Brooklyn's ARMS, a quirky pop project formed from the ashes of the Harlem Shakes, and Philly's own Attic Dancers. Before you go: stream Strange Range for free via Bandcamp, then get ready to experience the magic.
8:00 at Kung Fu Necktie, 1250 N. Front St., $8. Tickets available here.
Tuesday, January 21: Phosphorescent
Best new (old) music! Brooklyn-by-way-of-Athens, GA songwriter Matthew Houck's Phosphorescent topped many "best of" lists in 2013 with Muchacho, a plaintive, sprawling record of world-wearied, whiskey-soaked, folk tunes about heartache and heart break, that showcased the musician at his most powerful yet. This Tuesday, he brings those tunes to life, kicking off a two-week tour with a stop at Union Transfer. A self-professed hermit and road warrior, who admits the monotony and numbness of tour contributed to a breakdown after 2010's Here's to Taking it Easy, Muchacho was inspired by a foray to Tullum, Mexico, where he found inspiration in solitude and the environment. The result was a series of stunners like "Song for Zula," a sweeping, symphonic, 6-minute slow burner, and "Ride On, Ride On," which matches its simple chorus with an impassioned cowboy bounce. Live, the shaggy-haired Dylan disciple is known for his intense, cathartic performances…which means this Tuesday should be very stirring indeed.
8:30 at Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden St., $18. Tickets available here.