OK, perhaps there was more than one piece of non-ugly public art in Philadelphia produced in the 1960s — Robert Indiana's Love, for instance, for which the city and many others rewarded him with decades of non-licensed merchandise — but you get the drift here. And as you dig around Harry Bertoia's Free Interpretation of Plant Forms (1966) being unveiled on the grounds of the Woodmere Art Museum, you begin to get the distinct impression that the Harry Bertoia is having a moment. Again.
A few things point to this revival of interest in the work of Bertoia, born in Italy but who spent much of his life locally, and was a cohort of your Knolls, your Herman Miller, and so on: One is the exhibit itself, which opens this week and runs through November. Another is the reality that Harry Bertoia's midcentury American design work — his name has been on the lips of your design nerd friends for years — may have never been more ubiquitous or copied as much as it is today. (Look at your Instagram feed: Harry's in there.) Still more evidence of Bertoia's moment is that his sound sculptures, perhaps the most neglected piece in his vast portfolio of creations, are finally getting recognized for the far-out, visionary promise they offered from day one. To put it mildly, they are majestic and strange:
Here's no less than Sonic Youth's Lee Renaldo wiggin' out on Harry's pipes:
Taken in all, we've got a lot of Bertoia to catch up on. Luckily, it's all right in our backyard.
BY JOEY SWEENEY
Every time a white girl tries to sing like Billie Holiday, God’s own sphincter contracts in a full-God-body (Gody?) cringe, and the universe lets go of a sigh that turns into a cough. I mean, we know this. What we cannot know is just how many cab rides in Philadelphia have produced how many full-Gody cringes, how many universal sigh-coughs that, hey universe, not for nothing, really oughta be looked at by a doctor or something.
I speak, of course, of the above commercial for Verragio diamonds at Family Jewelers of Marlton, NJ. By my own very rough estimate, the spot has been running on the small ipad screen in the back of every taxi in Philadelphia, 24/7, for the better part of two years (though it feels like much longer). This is what is known: It is for a jeweler in Marlton, NJ, with an apparently boundless ad budget (or a very, very sweet hookup). This is what is not known: Whose awful music this is, and what long-term exposure to it may bring. In one test case (my own), triggered insanity is suggested.
If you have ridden in a cab during that time, there is a good chance you have seen the ad. And after the first few times, to recognize it is to put it on mute, as I have done, splunging my finger down frantically on countless germ-covered taxi cab touch screens. When, I ask the heavens, will it end? The heavens do not answer. The only reply that ever seems to come is the one issued when I’ve finally forgotten about it, only to enter a cab and have it play once more, the minute I shut the door. And then the experience begins anew.
What is so awful about it, you ask? What horrible crime, other than an assult of barfy CISgendered pony fuckin’ fever marriage-industrial-complex garbage packed in concentrate, does this commercial commit? Well, here you may be right. This could be all about me — all about my grave intolerance of a certain type of appropriation, melded with rote, latter-day American heterosexual mating rituals. Yes. I am fully ready to say that this might be just about me.
But I don’t think so.
When the little hand goes on the 4 on Friday afternoon, WXPN's annual XPoNential Music Festival will get underway, and run through Sunday. But with temperatures rounding up to HEY NOW, that could be scary for some of you. But you wanna see Father John Misty Alabama Shakes, The Suffers, The Districts, White Denim, The Record Company, Josh Ritter, Mavis Staples, Chicano Batman, Low Cut Connie, Kississippi, Esmé Patterson, Femi Kuti - Official (Femi Anikulapo - Kuti), Gary Clark Jr , Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and more! Worry not: VuHaus will be streaming the whole shebang, from Friday afternoon at 4pm ET, and Noon ET on Saturday and Sunday. If you are able and of robust health, of course, you should attend in human form. But if not, this will be the next best thing.
In a fine example of the fates aligning, Philly will bear witness to something of an Unofficial Shoegaze Weekend over the next few days. On Friday, July 8th, Nothing plays Union Transfer Friday, July 8th with Citizen, Culture Abuse, Mary Lattimore + Jeff Zeigler. Then, on Saturday, July 9th, Mahogany plays Johnny Brenda's Saturday, July 9th with Weekender and The Morelings. With many of these acts garnering acclaim locally and internationally, we asked our friends in Mahogany to provide some valuable context: Why shoegaze, why Philly, why now? Behold, their very reasonable answer.
BY JACYLN SLIMM & ANDREW PRINZ
Though "shoegaze" is a somewhat derogatory qualifier in music even today, it is actually one of the few continuously-metastasizing movements in the pop idiom. Initially a rather short-lived but enthusiastic burst of noisy, '90s UK neo-psychedelia most typified by the now-ubiquitous My Bloody Valentine, today's interest in the sound was actually borne of a crest of a rather hard-won body of critically-acclaimed work by now-familiar names like The Jesus and Mary Chain and Cocteau Twins — culled from the ashes of post-punk, but with the ethos of DIY craft and individualism still firmly in place.
But why shoegaze in Philadelphia? Situated just far enough away from the ever-shifting façade of New York, with hard-working Jersey there to remind you that your dreams can be short-lived, Philadelphia has the perfect ingredients for both the true-grit sonic sculptor and the listener who lives for art:
• Plenty of blasted urban wasteland and hauntingly empty space
• Stunning vistas with dawns, sunsets and cloudscapes seemingly crafted specifically for headphone introspection
• Scrappy upstart showspaces and stalwart venues — and their hardworking sound engineers, promoters + staff
• Almost shockingly well-stocked record stores
• A requisite influx of beautiful and curious young residents begging for a good singe of the cochlea
Hence, at some point every Philly music lover turns their ears (and heart) to shoegaze, and perhaps it comes to define their most romantic and idealistic self — a self that is special, and often rightly hidden away for want of protecting the gauzy, pastoral ideals invoked by the genre — though, as we all know, Philadelphians feel as one and are capable of making those crucial rare appearances in the most-needed hours.
In some respects, the shoegaze genre can often (annoyingly) guarantee a built-in audience, just like any other genre — EDM, heavy metal, country — but like most genres, and beyond the MOR offerings, it is in fact the storied and even oddball acts who lend definition to the tributaries branching from said musical river.
With quite special, but historically-speaking, initially limited-appeal groups like Lush now making reunion rounds, and shoegaze-inflected studio technique present in releases from artists as aesthetically disparate as Tamaryn and Lana Del Rey, the lovingly subtle and now considerable influence of shoegaze on both pop music production and performance is here to stay, particularly in consideration of the enduring union of guitar and electronics.
However, before we explore the local currents of these aural tributaries, we must approach both the myth and resonance of Philly shoegaze in its 'IRL' genus. Much of the root shoegaze following in Philadelphia coalesced as a result two key 20th century concerts (there were others, but these stand out the most in the minds of those whom we spoke with). Like the Sex Pistols' 1977 appearance in Manchester, those who say they saw Slowdive in Philadelphia at the TLA on August 15, 1993 might count much larger than those who actually saw them, but the core group who was there has gone on to book more than one local shoegaze show, or found other creative inspiration in that moment — you know who you are. Many who were lucky enough to have seen Spiritualized in 1995 have remarked that it was "like finding God," and one friend has told me that "everyone there either started a band or a heroin habit." The proverbial aural drug — immersive sound — is truly a mind-altering experience.
It's fair to say the chief brick-and-mortar proponent of '90s shoegazing was the still- sorely-missed Spaceboy Records on South Street, where the lure of the import aisle beckoned us to explore antidotes beyond grunge and Britpop, and to indulge in The Verve, Ride, Chapterhouse, The Boo Radleys, Levitation, Moose, Flying Saucer Attack and their ilk, with their contemporized appropriations of Mod, Psych, even Northern Soul — styles which still hold interest for savvy Philadelphians. Today, you can find yourself some of that Spaceboy spirit at shops like Long In The Tooth on Sansom and Marvelous on Baltimore, for starters.
Wait. How did all this Brit influence filter into our plebeian Yankee sensibility? you ask. Well — in a painterly, sensual way. In a loving, posi-vibe way. Much like Thomas Eakins or MFSB, shoegazing musicians endure genuine scorn and suffering to know true joy — but a lot of good Philadelphia people treasure the best, and choose to acknowledge the truth of the effort and investment of the artist — so it all works out. Philly knows. That's this shoegaze jawn, fam.
Cool. But where did all this influence first bear fruit in our fair town? you press. Even now, few endeavors approach the myth, the incomparable wit, the scope, and the brash, whipsmart brilliance of local indie-gaze darlings Lilys as both a production tour-de-force and highly evocative, ever-shifting live entity. If you didn't catch Kurt Heasley and friends in reunion performances earlier this year, peerless gems like the recently reissued 'Eccsame The Photon Band' and 'In The Presence of Nothing' (which your humble authors hold as more sophisticated, deft and varied than 'Loveless') soar to such effortless perfection, they easily remind us that, in a world of telescreens, a day or two spent absorbing these albums in seclusion will leave one forever all the richer and more sensually informed. True trailblazing. Amen.
The Asteroid No. 4 also initially burst forth from the same heady last days of '90s college radio and Magnet/AP coverage of burgeoning local US scenes. Continuously trekking through territory and time with a string of strong releases, they've since relocated to the West Coast and maintain a committed following. A cherished act with understated, longstay power, and heading out this month on string of shows including the Portland Psych Fest and a night with Dinosaur Jr, the best is yet to come.
A decade ago, in the very tender and naïve time of Myspace and Blog Rock, otherwise known as the "Sparks Era" (cue Cut Copy, Justice, CSS), a now-well-known Philly producer explored Kraut-inspired, synth-laden territory within his fantastic and underrated dreampop-fueled project Relay (later Arc In Round). Jeff Zeigler, who most know as having risen to produce the likes of Kurt Vile and War On Drugs, has also more recently produced the creamiest crop of local shoegaze, lending a sensitive hand to each group as they develop their individual sonic signature. With harpist Mary Lattimore, Zeigler plays Union Transfer on July 8 with reigning kings of noisy Philly 'gaze, the incomparable Nothing, whose success in which he's had a considerable hand.
Zeigler also brings us Mercury Girls (now with a great 7" on Slumberland) and The Morelings, opening Johnny Brenda's on July 9th with Weekender for the enigmatic Robin Guthrie-producedMahogany — who've emerged recently from constructing their new studio to sign with Saint Marie Records (Bloody Knives, Mark Van Hoen, The Bilinda Butchers) — while remixing both Russian dreampop act Pinkshinyultrablast and Liverpool Psychfest-bound NYC soulgazers The Veldt.
Tom Lugo's Stellarscope is another important and unstoppable entity in Philadelphia shoegaze, ascending out of the 'underrated' category lately with upcoming shows (hopefully a local date announced soon) — and A Sunny Day in Glasgow report that they're working away at a new record which you'll certainly be enjoying later this year.
As Ben Franklin would probably have said, smilingly: Are ye yet convinced? This is but a primer — the story of 'the sound' continues to unfold, and there's much more history to unpack. Quite literally rocking on the cusp of experimentalism and form, Philadelphia shoegaze has the heart and vision — and the earnest qualities of skepticism, skill and shyness — to melt the heart, warm the spirit, and fire the mind's sweetest desires.
"One of the best times I've ever had as a musician was one Saturday afternoon when my living room was filled with people, all of whom I looked up to, all playing on one of my songs. I had spent the week telling everyone I saw that they should stop by to play, without thinking anyone actually would. It was my own little Laurel Canyon jam, except maybe less pretty with the empty lot across the street. Those are the days that shaped me as a songwriter."Read More
BY JOEY SWEENEY
Watching yesterday’s NBC10 broadcast of Philly’s annual 4th of July concert, it was hard not to feel some conflicting feelings. On one hand, you were clearly witnessing the emotional signature of the Kenney administration, who since his inauguration day event has wanted to go “block party” where Michael Nutter went “Coachella.” This was very much that. This was, if you will allow the Parks & Rec analogy, very Pawnee. On the other hand, it was truly a surprise that the downsized Kenney’s Wawa 4th of July Jam Jawn Super Psychedelic Hoagie Block Party might not have been a smashing success, but it was really and truly Philly and a real success if you could somehow forget the relatively epic scale of the last few years. And it couldn’t help but give you feelings.
This much we know: The Roots, even on just a humanitarian level, needed a day off. Even as the Nutter Era Jam gave way/inspiration to the booking agent free-for-all of Made In America, you could feel it getting away from us. The 4th of July Jam was becoming more of a divider than a uniter, and that’s never a good look, even if the division is between your uncle from the Northeast who hates “that rap crap” and, well, everybody else.
But Kenneystock® was the opposite of that. The stage, for one, was smaller, pushed all the way up to the Oval, and the bill was pretty much a straight up Gamble & Huff greatest hits, with a side of Leon Bridges. It was designed to please, it was designed very pointedly not to offend. And it sounded like a recipe for failure until the moment it happened. Bridges wasn’t the headliner, he was the opener; and as latter day versions of The Intruders, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and The O’Jays (I dare not google the actual original member count, I’m not looking for that kind of “satisfaction,” man) turned in their sets, well, I won’t lie to you. I was surfing in a sea of human emotion. It looked like plenty of others were, too.
There were problems, of course. The weather, for one, ensuring that the overhead shot of the Oval looked like a visual representation of Philly voter turnout in a non-presidential election. And yeah, the groups were sometimes a little rough around the edges (though you could contend, like I do, that this only drove THE SEA OF HUMAN EMOTION to an even higher level). And then there was NBC10, broadcasting this year where ABC6 had since forever, and doing this weird thing where the broadcast portion of the concert ended at 8 (Philly Pops, you suck at life), then cutting to Macy’s fireworks in NYC for two hours, and then coming back to Philly fireworks at 10pm long after everyone was drunk and sleepy and had moved on to whatever they’d moved on to. All of this flying in the face of the central tenet of every Philly 4th of July Concert since the dawn of man: The concert only exists as a lead-up to the fireworks. There’s a press release in my box about why exactly this was, probably, but I am a grown-ass man and I do not need a press release from the city explaining what a bad idea is to me. I'm covered there.
Nevertheless, when Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes (I don’t know if that was the real Harold Melvin) played “Bad Luck,” I stood up in my living room and raised my getting-warmer-all-the-time can of High Life to the ceiling, with a little tear in my eye.
It had been a long time since I’d felt this Philadelphian.
We have mused more than once already this year about the refreshing jolt of absurdity brought into the world by the ongoing trend of fake Facebook gig invites, and all the joy that they bring. And while we still feel like before the summer is out, R5 really will be presenting, oh, I dunno, The Lemonheads at Fishtown Planet Fitness (SEAN AGNEW, THIS ONE COULD TOTALLY HAPPEN AND YOU KNOW IT), only one local venue has, unwittingly or not, really captured the heart of this absurd trend and made it real. Like, really real.
Believe it or not, that venue is Sugarhouse. Look at these listings. Scott Stapp, July 9th. Air Supply, August 12th. The motherfucking Gin Blossoms, August 27th. Not at Port Richmond Applebee's. Not at Game Stop. Not at Fat Jack's Comicrypt. At Sugarhouse. All real. No fooling. Actually happening, and in a such a venue it is as if the oft- and well-deservedly-maligned- casino was somehow in on the joke. Were they? Were they not? We will never know. All we do know is that the Internet just crashed into real life as though and as if the singer in Smash Mouth were the Kool-Aid man busting through a brick wall at Pier One.
Well played, Sugarhouse.