Aurora

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I found myself at another sold out show last week at Johnny Brenda’s to hear the Norwegian-born singer-songwriter Aurora.

Tor Miller opened the evening. Four young guys (sans man buns) whose music was a little poppy, but their dancing was a little new wavey. I guess all opening bands for sold out shows at Johnny Brenda’s need to be four young men. That’s cool, I get it. They played a cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “I can’t make you love me,” which I found to be a curious choice. In any case, they seemed to be having a great time and I loved that they all wore Aurora shirts (by the way, Aurora’s band then wore Tor Miller shirts when it was their turn on stage).

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Aurora then came out with her band soon after. She is this little adorable elf of a girl who has a really great voice. Never underestimate small women, this little one could sing. (Ironically, the crowd there was on the average 6 feet tall.   It was a good thing Susan couldn’t make it- she would not have been able to see a thing.) She cites Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen as her influences and you can totally hear it in her songs. It was by chance that I even had heard of her, but I became totally mesmerized with her voice as she sang David Bowie’s Life of Mars during the credits of an episode of Girls this season. When I realized she was playing Johnny Brenda’s, I ran over to get tickets. It was the perfect concert too, about two hours; I mean she only has one album.

Besides four-guy bands opening for sold out shows, another Johnny Brenda’s aspect seems that the artists are so excited to be there and thankful for the audience. As she looked out at the audience, she said that the night before she had nightmares that no one would show up, and that she “loves us and our cream cheese.” Big crowd pleaser.

Her band was great, but her songs are meant for one to really hear the words. And she is a poet. There was an exceptional tragic song she played with just her guitarist. And she sings with her hands as much as she does with her voice. There was a lot of emotion on

stage that night that was not hokey and she kept thanking us throughout for being so kind and smiling at her.

Johnny Brenda’s is really a great place to showcase new music and everyone should get out there once in a while and support these young kids trying to make it. It is always a feel good show when the artists are as appreciative of the audience as the audience is of the artists.

7 shows to go, 61 days left…

Iggy Pop

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“Hey 50 for 50, you wanna go see Iggy tomorrow night?” As I was wavering whether I could make it back from New York in time, my good friend Amy followed up with “If there was a Mt. Rushmore of rock, Iggy Pop would be on it.” That shut down that dilemma. After automobiles, ferries, trains and buses, I arrived at the Academy of Music with 5 minutes to spare for the Iggy Pop show.

What can one say about Iggy pop. Well, for starters and a professional review, read Jonathan Valania’s excellent review for the Inquirer here. I read it after I wrote this so as not to be intimidated.

“Iggy is rock!” Another quote from my good friend, Amy. It will be no surprise to folks that I had not closely followed his career. I, of course, knew he is, but was never on my radar of someone I needed to see before I, or he, died. That is wrong. Put him on your list. Pay whatever price he is charging, you will not be disappointed. And if you are, come see me, I will refund your money. He was “fill in the blank” before “fill in the blank.” He is the epitome of anti- establishment. He is punk, new wave, rock and roll, beat poet and performance artist. He swaggers, struts, teases, seduces, flirts, cajoles, pushes you away, pulls you back in and then gives you the finger. In a word- magnificent!

When the opening bars of the first song came on, it was like a rocket was taking off, the floors shifted and chandeliers swayed, literally (well not really) shifted and swayed. The thunderous opening bars of “Lust for Life” were mesmerizing and electric. And there was no way anyone could sit in their seats. In fact, this is the first time I have ever been to a show at the Academy of Music where no one, I mean no one, sat the whole time in the orchestra section. They could have resold the seat I was assigned to someone else, because I certainly didn’t need, or use, mine.

When Iggy came out in a black suit, no shirt, he was backed by an unbelievable band adorned in beautiful red dinner jackets (“It’s cool that Iggy got Duran Duran to play back up for him,” Amy commented. Seriously folks, she is gold, you have to see a show with her). Even though he was not wearing a red jacket, nor shirt, he did make sure to wear red underwear to match the rest of the band. The back-up band, which seems an odd description since each and every one of them was an accomplished musician in other big name bands, was on fire all night long. Guitars, bass, six string guitars, drums and back-up vocals all in red vibrant smoking jackets.

During the 5th song, our “wiry little 69 year old Californian surfer dude wound as tight as a rubber band with a noticeable limp” friend dives into the crowd from the stage. Now if you know anything about Iggy Pop, and this I did, he was the first stage diver. And the first row dropped him. Who drops Iggy Pop? Good lord, that was scary. He just scampered back up on stage and continued on. By the next song, they were ready for him and caught him. Phew. He did a lot of crowd surfing throughout the show, came into the audience at times and hung and swung from his set. And he shouted at us, a lot. Not many family friendly words, but each chant got us more and more riled up.

What most surprised me about the show was his ballad singing. I thought I knew a ballad when I heard one. And I did, and he played many, but they were fast and loud. It was like some old school speed metal punk happening combined with poetry. And these were the slow songs. Usually, there is some hard rocking going on and then a band slows it down for a song or two. Iggy’s were slower and they weren’t. To my ear, he also sounded a lot like David Bowie when singing songs off of his most recent album, though this is no surprise as they worked a lot together (Bowie was first to record Iggy’s China Girl) and they are definitely kindred spirits. Additionally, he had better moves than Jagger and more eloquent poetry than Morrison. I also appreciated his dancing. He is a wriggler and you can tell that he just does not care at all what others think. He swayed, wriggled and was fluid the whole time. At times, he looked like he was moving to a string section though none were playing.

He played an amazing 22 song set (check out the full set list here) with nary a break. Since I was not familiar with his discography, I had no anticipation and hopes for him playing my favorite song. It is a great way to see a show, since it allows one to fully appreciate each and very song in real time. However, that won’t happen again, because the next time I see him I will want him to play each and every song I heard last week.

He told great stories throughout the show, but my favorite was his intro to the last song. He wanted the house lights on and the spotlight off of him. He yelled at the light guy to do so and followed up with “Do I need to come up there and saw off your (male body part)? This is my f*&)king night at the opera. Because I said so. And it feels like success.” Yea, it f*&(ing does. And with that he launched into “Success.”

8 shows to go, 66 days left…

 

David Wax Museum and Darlingside

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I listen to a lot of WXPN. I like to pretend that it is a way for me to keep up with the music kids are listening to these days. In fact, I am the exact demographic- a radio station for old music heads who have limited time (though more money) and love learning about new music that older people (like myself) like. In any case, I was listening one day and this song “Guesthouse” came on and it felt both incredibly familiar yet new. When I learned it was the David Wax Museum I kept an eye out for them and was delighted to learn they were playing a sold out show at Johnny Brenda’s, an awesome music venue that holds, maybe, 100 people during the summer, i.e. with no coats, less during the winter. There were two openers, but a long day only allowed us to make only the second opener, Darlingside.

Darlingside is a quartet of young men. Not sure what the definition is of a string quartet, but among the four of them there were 12 string instruments (and a tambourine) and two man buns. The man bun count has absolutely no bearing on the definition of string quartet, it is mostly to give you an idea of their age and demographic. They were really great. Had a very sweet and gentle sound, great harmonies, at times a bit too earnest, but incredibly pleasing. And they all played an enormous amount of instruments. Every song, each young man picked up a different one. They were also very appreciative when people sung along with them, which I found quite endearing. They sang about simpler times and it was really sweet, not snarky. There was a lot of banjo playing during their last song, but not bluegrass-picking banjo. Not what I am used to, but loved it all the same.

David Wax Museum was up next and they did not disappoint. From their website, “The roots of David Wax Museum stretch back nearly a decade, and all the way from New England to Mexico. As a student at Harvard, Wax began traveling south of the border to study and immerse himself in the country’s traditional music and culture. Back in Boston, he met fiddler/singer Suz Slezak, whose love of traditional American and Irish folk music fused with Wax’s Mexo-Americana into a singular, energetic blend that captivated audiences and critics alike.” After I heard their song on XPN, I started following them and saw they played something like 17 shows during SXSW this year. They had a lot of people periscoping their shows so it seemed like every time I was on Facebook during SXSW, I was watching some live footage. And they were equally excited and joyful for each show. They were even joyful, if not delirious, walking down the streets of Austin on to their next gig. It is contagious to be in the presence of a band who so enjoys their craft, you can’t help but be caught up along with them on their journey.

The band members played a multitude of instruments, including guitars, basses, drums, accordion, fiddle, bone thing and ukulele. They had this peppy sound, but David also sounded like a modern Bob Dylan with American twang to him. You could definitely hear and feel the Mexican influence and they even sounded a bit tejeno at times, but in an American folk way. The main thing I loved about them was their sheer joy of playing there and at Johnny Brenda’s. They were so appreciative of the concert being sold out and could not thank folks enough for supporting them. They were just so damn humble. Even to the point when I went to the merch table, Suz introduced herself to me. Uh, yup, I kind of know who you are- I just watched you rock and roll and rock that accordion out for two hours like nobody’s business. How cute was that?

They called for Darlingside to join them for a song and they all left the stage and played acoustic in the crowd. Sadly, two members of Darlingside did not join in since they were packing the van and needed to leave immediately for their next gig, a festival in Knoxville, TN. That, my friends, is the very glamorous life of an up and coming band.

I have no idea if these two bands will be around for long or “make” it. I do know that they were a pleasure to watch, their joy was infectious and their appreciation of their fans was downright humbling. These are the bands I will always support and cheer on. I always say there are two types of people in this world- folks who can make music and those who cannot. And the responsibility of those who cannot is to support those who can. Therefore, it is my obligation to support bands like David Wax Museum and Darlingside. On Saturday night, it was also my absolute honor.

9 shows to go, 68 days left…

Shorty Long and the Jersey Horns

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I have seen a lot of great shows this past year. This was not one of them.

One of the greatest things about this year is the full on support and encouragement I have received from friends and family. People read my blog, suggest bands, turn me on to new music and basically are cheering me on this odyssey. Therefore, I am always game when a friend wants to be part of this year and suggests a band to go see. When that said friend then organizes other friends to join, that is just a bonus. That was the premise this past Friday. We were going to see a friend’s art opening at a bar and then head over to Sugar House Casino (yup I had forgotten Philly had a casino too) to see the Shorty Long and the Jersey Horns.

My friend Cindy has great taste in music and she turned me on this outstanding brass band, New Sound Brass Band, that reminds me of a young Rebirth Brass Band. We did not see them on Friday night. Instead, we were seeing Shorty Long and the Jersey Horns. So far so good, horns are in the name, I like new Sound Brass Band, I thought I was all set. The casino location was odd, but there was no cover fee and free parking. I started having visions that this would be my new Friday night hangout like the rat pack or something.

The seven of us had an absolutely lovely time at Jerry’s pre show as we did a whole lot of laughing and telling of old stories. Lots of interesting tidbits were revealed and I am somewhat amazed that after 20 years, I still learn new Cindy and Genie stories. Absolutely hysterical.

I am not a fan of casinos. I actually love gambling, but am too cheap to spend any of my own money. I just don’t know why you have to use your own money to win. Harrumph. And there is always a sense of desperation permeating. And there are some odd characters. Really odd, but I am sure people thought that as well when we came in. We enter to “bad to the bone” blaring. As we try and get our bearings, I am asked to move to the side for Shorty’s entrance. On a motorized big wheel, microphone in hand. Shorty is a little person and/or has Spina Bifida. And that was not the strangest part of the evening.

There were about eight members of the band and the horns section was really tight. They definitely practiced together and covered rap, blues, rock and roll and soul and just every song blended into the next. Just as they were getting warmed up, they would then take a break, because you know, the casino wants people gambling not listening to music.

As I was dancing to Donna Summer, Doobie Brothers, Bruno Mars, Rolling Stones and Tina Turner, I realized, once again, that I am true lover of music. We were dancing and having a really great time in this very bizarre place. Regardless of surroundings, when music starts flowing, music starts flowing. And music is also a great unifier. For one night, the seven of us had entered the twilight zone and found a way to connect, bond and have fun.

I think I would have been more enthusiastic about Shorty Long and the Jersey Horns, if i had left 10 minutes before I had. As we were about to make our escape, we see Shorty being wheeled through the crowd wearing a bamboo hat shaped like a pagoda (Chinese manual laborer visual reference) and Susan says,” Uh oh, I think something racist is about to happen.” I remark in jest, “Oh, they are probably just going to play Kung Fu Fighting.” And as the opening bars started of, wait for it, King Fu Fighting, we decided it was definitely time to leave. So close.

I am not going to lie; I did not like this show. But, and this is a big but, I had a great time! I learned all sorts of new things. Like Genie dated a rodeo clown and her CB handle was two-step. I learned that Cindy has hotel-owning relatives in Memphis and her handle was Sugaree. I am not planning on organizing any Friday nights at the casino, a la rat pack. Lastly, and most importantly, I love that my friends want to be part of this year with me and I will dance, have fun and enjoy a racist band, just for them. And do it again. This year is about music and the relationships that are forged over it. And when I look back at this year years from now, I can pretty much guarantee that Shorty Long and the Jersey Horns will be one of the most memorable.

10 shows to go, 76 days left…

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