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June 10th, 2018



SOPHIE_BURKHOLDER_BYLINERBY SOPHIE BURKHOLDER Thirty years ago, the Posies recorded their debut album Failure in a small amateur home studio in Bellingham, Washington. In 2016, they released their eighth studio album, Solid States, and now they’re off on a 30th anniversary tour (which stops at World Cafe Live on Wednesday) in celebration of reissues of Dear 23, Frosting On The Beater and Amazing Disgrace that will feature previously unreleased bonus tracks. Though they’ve gone through a series of line-up changes in their rhythm sections, the Posies have always included core members Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer. We got them both on the phone to talk about growing up power-pop prodigies in the high rainyland of the Pacific Northwest and the world-beating ambitions of youth, battling depression and the death of bandmates in middle age, playing in the re-activated Big Star with Alex Chilton and joining R.E.M., and how it feels to have one of their songs covered by former Beatle Ringo Starr.

PHAWKER: So, the first question is actually from my editor. He said, “I’ve been to Bellingham and fell in love with the place. It was the first time I ever saw a whale in the wild, and it really struck me as about as Twin Peaks as it gets.” So he was kind of wondering what it was like growing up around there, assuming that you did? And what impact, if any, do you think it had on the art you’ve made since?

KEN STRINGFELLOW: Well, that’s a big question. Oh boy. First of all, I should point out that David Lynch is Posies FAILUREfrom Spokane. So, if you want, I think, the inland part of Washington is even more Twin Peaks-y. But, I would say that Washington for me, like moving to Bellingham and the Seattle area, etc., was a real breath of fresh air, despite the fact that Bellingham’s a small town. I was living in the burbs with my folks, and my folks were, you know, like preppy, basically. They were not, my folks were not bohemian. They were the opposite of bohemian. And we lived in white-people land. You know, outside of Chicago, outside of New York, outside of Detroit, you know we lived in, I would say culturally sterile environments. And I was hungry for culture. So, moving to Bellingham, which is where I moved with my mom when my folks divorced, I mean it was funky, and it was the first time I’d ever been anywhere funky. And Bellingham’s like a great hippie refuge. And it wasn’t Connecticut. The lawns weren’t all neat and tidy, it was just more interesting. And you know there was a mix of everything. There was a college there, so you had the student population and the interesting professor population. You had the aforementioned hippies and all the things that they brought in, which in the 1970’s, you know we didn’t have Whole Foods, we didn’t have an organic supermarket every 500 yards. I mean, organic stuff was very underground, and the fact that Bellingham was kind of a known spot for people to run away from San Francisco and all the cops and heroin that was kind of getting the hippies bummed out – they moved up to Bellingham because it was peaceful and you could do your thing. And they brought all the primitive ways of thinking that had come from that generation. So that was all there, and it really expanded my mind I think.

JON AUER: It was a pretty amazing place to grow up, because there were a couple different things happening there. You had the regular population, but there’s also a very nice university there called Western Washington University, and actually my father ended up working and teaching there for 33 years. So I was kind of a kid on a university growing up around that kind of culture. My parents at the time were both into music, and they were responsible for bringing musical acts for a concert series to the campus. You can imagine, you know, colleges tend to attract arts and music and all kinds of interesting things, so I had a serious influx of culture at a pretty early age in an area of the country where most people wouldn’t think it would have existed. I was super fortunate. It was also safe, and it was also close to Seattle, and also Vancouver. It’s right in the middle basically, so we got the crossroads of culture from both places and could also visit those places on a regular basis, which we did. I lived in Seattle for a while when I was a kid. But Bellingham, it was just a great place to be a kid, really. It was also an interesting place. It wasn’t just about the norm. It did have its fringe elements and its artistic types, which is what I benefited from, I think. My father was really into music, so for my part of the equation in The Posies, he put a recording studio in our house. A modest one, but this was back in the day before things like GarageBand existed and everyone had a laptop. It was pretty unusual, so my house was kind of the hub for people to come make music at and record music. That’s actually where I learned to make records, and I recorded the first Posies record at my house. That got us deals with the big labels. It was kind of the thing that started everything for us. It was just done in a very modest place in Bellingham. You could say that Bellingham has been exceptionally good to me, personally.

PHAWKER: Well, also more specifically, because you’re from that Northwest area and in the 90’s you were making music, but your sound was so different from those other grunge bands, so do you think that hippie influence helped it be more pop-ish?

KEN STRINGFELLOW: Not really. I think what that is is that Bellingham is not Seattle, and we didn’t have the Posies-Dear-23same access to everything that people in Seattle did. You know, the people who you know from the grunge world, I mean they almost all went to the same private school. Half of Pearl Jam, guys from the Presidents of the United States, and a couple guys from other bands – they all went to the same private school in Seattle. They had a different life, and they were older. They had cool, punk-rock record stores on every corner in Seattle, and Bellingham, you know, we didn’t have hardly anything. I mean, we could hardly get the radio. It’s a small town in the middle of nowhere. And there’s no Internet at this time, of course, so information was not so easy to come by. So, our first album, Failure, is a cross between our parents’ record collections and what we could discover on our own, which is why it’s a little bit retro. I think that’s why that 60’s vibe is there because our parents’ record collections were one of the biggest sources we had in that small town.

PHAWKER: Speaking of the ’60s, what does it feel like to have Ringo cover one of your songs? My editor said that it seems a bit like having God quote you in his grad-school thesis.

JON AUER: That was insane. I wrote the lyrics to that, and that’s one of my songs. Because Ken and I, we write stuff together but we also write stuff apart. I gotta say that when we heard that, you know there’s that old show The Twilight Zone. That’s the kind of vibe. It’s just so surreal. And then I read an interview from Ringo saying that he was presented the song by his manager at the time, and he wasn’t totally sold. But then he read the lyrics, and thought the lyrics were very good, and that’s what convinced him to do the song. So, you can imagine that for me, that was pretty special. To think of this band that I grew up on, that my parents grew up on, and because of them I ended up loving them. The song itself is a play on a Beatles song titled “Golden Slumbers.”
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Q&A W/ Anthony Bourdain, The Lou Reed Of Eating

June 8th, 2018


[Illustrations by ALEX FINE]

EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview originally ran back in November of 2011. Good night Mr. Bourdain, wherever you are.

BY JONATHAN VALANIA Anthony Bourdain is a man who needs no introduction, but for those not in the know or without a consumptive cable habit, understand that he is the enfant terrible of the foodie world who came of age on the Punk Rock Planet of New York ‘77 simultaneously pogoing to the likes of the Ramones, Talking Heads, Television, and Patti Smith and shooting smack in the shithole bathrooms of CBGBs. Upon graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1978, he ran the kitchens of various fancy Big Apple eateries — including the Supper Club, One Fifth Avenue, and Sullivan’s — before winding up the executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in 1998. In 2000, he penned the gonzo fin de siecle memoir Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, which expanded on his infamous New Yorker piece, Don’t Eat Before Reading This, that begins thusly:

Good food, good eating, is all about blood and organs, cruelty and decay. It’s about sodium-loaded pork fat, stinky triple-cream cheeses, the tender thymus glands and distended livers of young animals. It’s about danger–risking the dark, bacterial forces of beef, chicken, cheese and shellfish. Your first 207 Wellfleet oysters may transport you to a state of rapture, but your 208th may send you to bed with the sweats, chills and vomits. Gastronomy is the science of pain.

Kitchen Confidential soon occupied the New York Times best seller list and led to Bourdain hosting his own show on the Travel Channel, No Reservations, wherein he trots the globe sampling the outre customs and exotic cuisines of various indigenous peoples and, for fear of offending his hosts, and in the pursuit of damn good television, bravely chomps down just about everything put in front of him, including: sheep testicles, ant eggs, seal eyeballs, a whole cobra with its heart still beating, and, most disgustingly, a wharthog’s anus, which required him to take Cipro for two weeks. In my book, he is pretty much The Coolest Man On Earth. Given that chefs are the new rock stars, I hereby dub him ‘The Lou Reed of Food’ — just remember you heard it here first, folks.  Recently, Phawker got Bourdain on the horn to talk about eating dog, shooting smack, dissing Philly and, of course, hating on Billy Joel.

PHAWKER: You caused a bit of a ruckus a few years back when you sort of dismissed Philly as a “two-horse town,” Stephen Starr and George Perrier. Would you take that back if you could? Do you still feel that way?

bourdain_2.jpgANTHONY BOURDAIN: I certainly would take it back in a hot second. The only thing that’s in my way is there are increasingly large numbers of really good restaurants there or interest places for sure, a large number have come to Philadelphia since I made that comment. But having great restaurants only is not generally what I do. I’m looking for something different. If you had a huge Cambodian community, that would be interesting. Good fine dining which Philadelphia has, good Italian food which Philadelphia has, that’s not making a show for me yet.

PHAWKER: Aside from the fancy-pants restaurants in town, which there are more and more of these days, there is interesting stuff out in the neighborhoods.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN: I don’t know anything about it. It’s a personal failing that we haven’t found a way into yet. We will, there’s no doubt about it.

PHAWKER: Where are you planning to eat when you get to Philly?

ANTHONY BOURDAIN: I’m in the middle of a tour so generally I pull in late in the afternoon, all I have time for is to check into the hotel, throw some water on my face, take a bite of cheese from the complementary cheese tray, do my gig, by the time I’m doing the signing and the picture taking afterwards I collapse into my bed at 1 AM, wake up at 4:30 or 5 and I’m off to the next city. So unfortunately this time around I will shamefully not be getting around.

PHAWKER: Let’s talk about some of the stranger things you’ve eaten – sheep testicles, ant eggs, seal eyeball, whole cobra with it’s heart still beating, wharthog’s anus, which required you to take Cipro for two weeks – where do you draw the line? Is there anything you wouldn’t put in your mouth?

ANTHONY BOURDAIN: I try to avoid dog, that’s for sure. I’ve managed to gracefully avoid having that presented to me. I try to be a good guest. I try to eat whatever’s put in front of me. But at the same time, I’ve made efforts to not find myself in a position where my host is surprising me with dog.

PHAWKER: There is a Mexican place here in Philly called Los Taquitos De Puebla that sells eyeball tacos.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN: Oh yeah, that’s very classic, I’ve had a lot of that in Mexico. That’s very ordinary food. I’ve had a lot of it. It’s good.

PHAWKER: Touché. Is it cow eyeball?


PHAWKER: A couple things here I wanted to check off in the true/false column. Did you really tell your kids that eating at McDonald’s causes retardation?
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CINEMA: All In The Family

June 8th, 2018



HEREDITARY (Directed by Ari Aster, 127 minutes, USA, 2018)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Hereditary is the feature length directorial debut from Ari Aster who made a name for himself with a disturbing viral short about a family harboring a dark secret called The Strange Thing About the Johnsons (2011). It is also arguably the best horror in the last five years. Hereditary premiered at Sundance in January, and quickly became the film to see this year for horror fans when the buzz surround it hit a fever pitch with some calling it the scariest horror movie in years. While that sounds a bit like hyperbole, I will say for those that love a dark mix of psychological and supernatural horror, they aren’t that far off.

Hereditary is the story of Ann Graham (Toni Collette), an artist known for creating intricately detailed dioramas, who is struggling to come to terms with the recent loss of her estranged mother Ellen. Towards the end of her life, Ellen developed dementia and lived with Ann, her husband Steve, their son Peter (Alex Wolff) and their borderline autistic daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Ellen’s death triggers into motion a bizarre series of events as the family struggles to cope with the matriarch’s death while battling with their own literal demons. When Ann meets a woman dealing with the loss of her son who offers her a chance to speak to the other side, things somehow go from bad to worse as Ann begins to unlock the secrets of her family’s history.  Aster has crafted the kind of horror film that weaponizes your own senses against you to devastating effect. The film’s disarmingly gorgeous and surreal cinematography lulls the viewer into a false sense of security, while the jittery soundtrack establishes an underlying sense of unwavering tension, in much the same way that Christopher Nolan employed a ticking clock in Dunkirk to such unnerving effect.

If you removed all the supernatural elements freom Hereditary you would still have an intensely moving story of a family spiraling out of control as they process their grief. This is by and large due Toni Collette whose performance gives the narrative a captivating baseline of reality that locks the audience in before the film brings the supernatural underpinnings to the forefront. Alex Wolff, who starred in Jumanji, paired with the scene stealing newcomer Milly Shapiro bring this cycle to full circle as we can see the heartbreaking toll Ann and her mother’s relationship has had on her children. The film’s nuanced take on family and how we sometimes struggle with those we love the most is a theme that is echoed throughout the film, even in its most sinister moments. Hereditary is a super effective slow burn shocker, a perfect blend of art house sensibilities and transgressive surreal horror that coalesces into a modern classic of the genre.

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BEWITCHED: Q&A With Hereditary‘s Milly Shapiro

June 8th, 2018



Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC One of the most striking aspects of the supernatural horror thriller Hereditary is the performance by 15-year-old newcomer Milly Shapiro as Charlie, the daughter of Ann Graham (Toni Collette). In the film, Charlie is her Grandmother’s favorite and because of that intense relationship, when she passes away the young girl is lost and retreats inward. As Ann begins to uncover the mystery behind her mother’s legacy, Charlie is left to figure out what life without her grandmother is as she struggles to find her way in this strange world. It’s a subtle performance filled with quiet nuances and an amazing breadth of understated emotions. The unrelenting melancholia she conjures onscreen is utterly mesmerizing. I got a chance to chat with Milly in anticipation for Hereditary’s release and I have to say I was even more impressed with her performance after learning what went into the performance and discovering how different she was from Charlie.

PHAWKER: I have to ask first off this being your first feature length, what has it been like seeing the response Hereditary has gotten from not only critics, but audiences as well?

MILLY SHAPIRO: It was so cool! I always knew that Hereditary was going to be great from the second I read the script. So, seeing everyone’s reactions to it was really amazing, because everyone put their all into this film. It’s been great to see that so many people loved it.

PHAWKER: Did you parents have any reservations when they read the script since Hereditary is a pretty dark film?hereditary_ver5

MILLY SHAPIRO:  Not really. My mom and I read it and she came to me and asked if I was okay with everything. I told her yes, I personally love horror. She asked me if I was going to be freaked out by anything and asked me a bunch of questions, and when I gave her my answers; she said, “do you really want to do it?” and I said yes, I really do. Then she said, “okay, you can do it.” My mom was there with me the entire time to make sure I was okay with everything and everyone else was really great about making sure I was okay as well, because there are a lot of dark scenes in this film. I felt completely comfortable all through filming, and that’s not something you always hear from an actor in a horror movie.

PHAWKER: I didn’t know you were a horror fan, what are some of your favorite horror films?

MILLY SHAPIRO: My favorite horror films are films like The Exorcist, The Shining, the original IT.I usually like the older horror movies, because they take their time to develop. It’s not just about being scared in the moment, it’s about sitting in your house at night and not being able to sleep, because you can’t stop thinking about it. That is something I really love about the horror genre.

PHAWKER: What I liked about Charlie is she is very much an outsider. She’s different, but she’s confident in herself. What was your take on her from the script in what makes her tick?

MILLY SHAPIRO:  I when I read the script, I think I had an idea of who Charlie was. But once I got the part Ari and I got together a bunch of times to really develop the character. She is really otherworldly, is how I would best describe it. She is an outsider. She is almost like an alien in her own world. But to her everyone else is different, weird or strange, she is the one acting how she is supposed to.

PHAWKER: Was there any direction you got from Ari on the character that you’d want to share that was maybe in the scripthereditary_ver6 or mentioned in these discussions?

MILLY SHAPIRO:  We talked a lot about what Charlie thought. You don’t get to really experience that because she isn’t very expressive. We worked hard to really develop what her relationships with the other family members were and how she would react to them. It was very complicated because her way of thinking is very different from how the normal or average person would think. So I had to develop a whole new way of thinking for Charlie. So that way when I stepped into the character I would see the world through different eyes and Ari really helped me with that. For me Charlie was so hard to do because she was so different from myself.

PHAWKER: Charlie’s introvertedness is the result of the damaged relationship between Ann and Ellen, and when Ellen passes Charlie is pushed over the edge. Do you think Charlie knew deep down inside what Ellen was grooming her for?

MILLY SHAPIRO:  I think in a way she did. I think she always knew the body she was in, the way people treated her wasn’t the way she was made to be treated. I think Ellen treated her in a very different way than a normal person would treat someone, to Charlie that just felt right. When Ellen passes away she sees no one else is treating her like that and she does not like that. She thinks it’s very odd and strange the way she is being treated. So she simply retreats further into herself.

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June 7th, 2018

White Denim’s spaceball doth ricochet. They play Johnny Brenda’s on June 24th.

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EXCERPT: Ziggy Played Guitar

June 7th, 2018



VIA ROLLING STONE: A small crowd of sixty or so music fans stood in the dance hall of the Toby Jug pub in Tolworth, a suburban neighborhood in southwest London, on the night of February 10, 1972. The backs of their hands had been freshly stamped by the doorman. A DJ played records to warm up the crowd for the main act. The hall was nothing fancy, little more than “an ordinary function room.” The two-story brick building that housed it – “a gaunt fortress of a pub on the edge of an underpass” – had played host to numerous rock acts over the past few years, including Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, and Fleetwood Mac. Sci-fi music had even graced the otherwise earthy Toby Jug, thanks to recent headliners King Crimson and Hawkwind, and exactly one week earlier, on February 3, the band Stray performed, quite likely playing their sci-fi song “Time Machine.” The concertgoers on the tenth, however, had no idea that they would soon witness the most crucial event in the history of sci-fi music.

Most of them already knew who David Bowie was – the singer who, three years earlier, had sung “Space Oddity,” and who had appeared very seldom in public since, focusing instead on making records that barely dented the charts. His relatively low profile in recent years hadn’t helped his latest single, “Changes,” which had come out in January. Despite its soaring, anthemic sound, it failed to find immediate success in England. But the lyrics of the song seemed to signal an impending metamorphosis, hinted at again in late January when Bowie declared in a Melody Maker interview, “I’m gay and always have been” and unabashedly predicted, “I’m going to be huge, and it’s quite frightening in a way.” Bowie clearly had a big plan up his immaculately tailored sleeve. But what could it be?

Before Bowie took the stage of the Toby Jug, an orchestral crescendo announced him. It was a recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, drawn from the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange. To anyone who’d seen the film, the music carried a sinister feeling, superimposed as it was over Kubrick’s visions of grim dystopia and ultraviolence. Grandiloquence mixed with foreboding, shot through with sci-fi: it couldn’t have been a better backdrop for what the pint-clutching attendees of the Toby Jug were about to behold.

At around 9:00 p.m., the houselights were extinguished. A spotlight sliced the darkness. Bowie took the stage. But was it really him? In a strictly physical sense, it must have been. But this was Bowie as no one had seen him before. His hair – which appeared blond and flowing on the cover of Hunky Dory, released just three months earlier – was now chopped at severe angles and dyed bright orange, the color of a B-movie laser beam. His face was lavishly slathered with cosmetics. He wore a jumpsuit with a plunging neckline, revealing his delicate, bone-pale chest, and his knee-high wrestling boots were fire-engine red. Bowie had never been conservative in dress, but even for him, this was a quantum leap into the unknown. MORE

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WORTH REPEATING: You Aren’t Listening

June 6th, 2018

Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins gave a silent news conference today, speaking out about the White House lies, Trump, and why NFL players take a knee via a series of cue cards.

NEW YORK TIMES: The president labeled the Eagles as unpatriotic because they do not conform to his view of the national anthem. His press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, accused the team of pulling “a political stunt” because many players declined the White House invitation.

“The vast majority of the Eagles team decided to abandon their fans,” Ms. Sanders said.

Hardly. Since the start of the 2017 season, this group of young men has done nothing but embrace its fans, its community and oh, by the way, the Vince Lombardi trophy. Trust me, no one feels abandoned.

I’ve covered sports in Philadelphia for more than three decades. Never during that time have I seen a group of players more dedicated to one another and the city in which they play. Never have I witnessed a more fan-friendly team. For the record:

Safety Malcolm Jenkins, perhaps the most visible leader in the players’ protest against racial injustice, spends his off time riding along with police officers, visiting prisons and meeting with public defenders and lawmakers. He headed the players’ coalition that prodded owners last December to commit up to $89 million to help grass-roots organizations battle injustice.

Defensive end Chris Long, another respected voice in the locker room, donated his entire $1 million 2017 salary to charities funding scholarships and promoting educational equality. This came after he was appalled by the violent white nationalist protests last August in his hometown Charlottesville, Va.

Quarterback Carson Wentz, the 25-year-old future of this franchise, is opening a food truck (“The Kingdom Crumb”) distributing free meals around the Delaware Valley. He also visited Haiti recently and was so struck by the devastation that his faith-based foundation committed to building a sports complex there. Last week, he sponsored a softball game among teammates that drew 25,000 fans and pulled in $260,000 for the Haiti project. At the end of the night, Mr. Wentz announced he will match that sum — making the evening’s take $520,000. MORE

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BEING THERE: The Voidz @ Boot & Saddle

June 5th, 2018



Monday night marked the start of a month long residency at the Boot N’ Saddle for The Voidz, former Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas’ new project. The show kicked off with Promiseland, a one-man band of electronic distortion and screamed poetry. Known for his crowd interactions, he walked throughout the small room and worked the crowd like a good hype man should. Promiseland’s powerfully loud set combined with the seedy backroom ambiance of the western-themed bar and the loop of Pixies and Sonic Youth on the PA between acts should have been the perfect build-up for The Voidz. But to the dismay of the swarm of Julian Casablancas fans nearly foaming at the mouth to see him live, Monday night’s performance was a bit of a wet firecracker.

There are concerts where every second of sound overflows with an addicting euphoria that makes you forget yourself and all the petty bullshit gnawing at you, but last night was not one of them. Admittedly, barring a few technical errors, the execution of songs from The Voidz two extant albums, Virtue and Tyranny, was impressive. But The Voidz played a mere ten songs, leaving out fan favorites like “Human Sadness,” “Permanent High School,” and “All Wordz Are Made Up.”

However, in The Voidz’s defense, there seemed to be a larger proportion of cell phone videographers than usual, especially at the front of the crowd. Not only did they prevent others from forming any sort of mosh pit or collective dance to the pounding rock of songs like “Pyramid of Bones,” or “Where No Eagles Fly,” but there were times when they waved their phones so high in the air that they forced those unlucky enough to be standing directly behind them to watch the show through their phone screens. I’ll admit that I enjoy taking a couple of pictures or short videos of my favorite songs, but this was excessive and obnoxious.

That buzzkill might have been overcome by the band had they still attempted to bridge the audience-performer gap. Instead, they spoke mostly to each other, with Casablancas often muttering incoherently between songs. Still, there were glimmers of connection. Casablancas followed their performance of Virtue’s anthem, “ALieNNatioN,” with a quiet, “That song is about me.” And of course, the ever-energetic drummer Alex Carapetis moved with a crazed passion reminiscent of Animal from the Muppets with maracas taped to his drumsticks. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel that the band took the words of the opening song “Pointlessness” far too literally.

The only Void who seemed to be truly relishing the art of performance was the guitarist Jeramy “Beardo” Gritter. He often climbed to the edge of the stage, leaning precariously off of it to the delight of the aforementioned cell phone cinematographers. But with the several allegations of predatory #MeToo behavior circling the web, I was more repelled than enthralled by his attempts to charm the crowd.

By far, the biggest disappointment of the night was the lack of an encore. Perhaps the less-than enthusiastic crowd was to blame, but the majority of the room stood in confusion as the lights went up and technicians immediately tore down the stage. Rejection of cultural norms and tribal rituals is de rigueur for an edgy underground rock band, but last night it felt like apathy – or at the very least a slap in the face to the fans who sold out all four Philadelphia shows in less than an hour didn’t deserve. As much as I hate to admit it, the almost 20-year-old mantra from the Strokes’ debut entered my mind as I walked out into the cool June night: Is this it? – SOPHIE BURKHOLDER

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KEVIN KRAUTER: Rollerskate

June 5th, 2018

Kevin Krauter plays PhilaMOCA on July 22nd.

RELATED: Best known as one of several guitar players, songwriters, and vocalists in the Hoosier indie-rock band Hoops, Krauter has been making music all by his lonesome for much longer. He grew up in a family heavily involved in local musical theater, even appearing in three productions of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He played in high school bands, but didn’t get serious about writing and recording until he enrolled at Ball State in Muncie, Indiana. His first efforts — recorded in his dorm room — weren’t intended for any kind of audience, but a friend asked him to record a few tracks for a class project. Eventually those sessions became 2015’s Magnolia EP, a short collection of gentle, gauzy songs that reveal his early obsession with one of his first musical heroes, Vashti Bunyan. MORE

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BEING THERE: Japanese Breakfast

June 4th, 2018


Despite torrential downpours and flooded streets, Union Transfer was packed last night for a sold out show headlined by Japanese Breakfast. The first opener was the Philly-based pop punk Radiator Hospital. Bed-headed and chronically-blushing, Sam Cook-Parrott wrapped himself around the mic in a wide-legged straddle, his voice pitched at a droning whine. The set primarily featured tracks from their latest release, The Songs You Like. LVL UP followed with a moody lo-fi set that contrasted pleasingly with the barbed edges of Radiator Hospital. Even with their mellow vibe and blasé attitude, the band unboxed some energetic head-bangers that had the crowd moshing.

The atmosphere was electric with anticipation when Michelle Zauner apparated, angelic in a white floral blazer, blue eyeshadow glittering in the serene light. She bounced around the stage bunny-like, her hi-top sneakers lighting up with every step. Her voice was silken and tender, backed by dreamy, seraphic synths. Zauner was accompanied by a three-piece band, including her husband Peter on bass and keyboard. Peter’s left foot was wrapped in a cast because the night before he had drunkenly dropped an amp on it. As a preface to “Till Death,” Zauner described waiting in the urgent care unit with him, ruminating on the painful moments of marriage. Before playing “12 Steps,” Zauner shared, “It’s named after the bar in South Philly, where I saw my husband for the first time. He was singing Billy Joel…it was a six-minute nightmare.” She called “Boyish” her ugly girl anthem, a song about feeling less-than.

The set was full of nostalgic quips and memories, Zauner expressing deep gratitude to be back in Philadelphia, surrounded by familiar faces. “I used to work coat check here,” she said, laughing. “It’s a very unfulfilling job. This is a full-circle moment for me.” The members of Little Big League joined Zauner for the last couple of songs. The band reminisced about a gig they played at the grimy DIY space Boy’s House. “After you’d finish your forty ounce Steel Reserve, which you could only stomach when you were eighteen, you would chuck it at the Wall of Destruction, and glass and beer would spray all over.” Zauner went on to describe feeling sick of sleeping on cat piss-stained couches, but at the same time feeling contented and full of love for her friends in the Philly DIY community. Zauner was dewy-eyed and emotional by the end, evoking empathy from the audience. She reached out a lithe, tattooed arm, interlocking fingers with a stranger in a sweet moment of gentleness. – MARIAH HALL

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June 2nd, 2018



Attachment-1-3BY KYLE WEINSTEIN Well-known for his role as the wizardly guitarist of Wilco, Nels Cline has accrued an impressive discography and a heaping sum of musical projects and collaborations spanning the early ‘80s to present-day. Cline has collaborated with countless musicians, including Thurston Moore, Elliott Sharp, Zach Hill, Julius Hemphill, and many more, encompassing a diverse range of genres such as free-jazz, noise-rock, funk-rock, and so on. In 2016, Blue Note Records released Nels Cline’s Lovers, a romantic concept album of instrumental renditions of classic love songs.

Last year, Ars Nova Workshop founder and Artistic Director Mark Christman commissioned Cline to compose and perform a retro-fitted Philly-centric version of the piece that was soon dubbed “Lovers (for Philadelphia),” which is essentially a series of interpretations of touchstone compositions written by various notable Philadelphians. In preparation for this special sequel to the 2016 Lovers record, Nels Cline spent the past year exploring and researching Philadelphia’s rich musical history. Tonight, Cline will lead a hand-picked ensemble of 17 musicians for a one-night-only performance of “Lovers (for Philadelphia)” at Union Transfer. In advance of the show, we got him on the horn.

DISCUSSED: The Delfonics, Thurston Moore, beer, Sun Ra, Uri Caine, Philly soul, Theoretical Girls, Bill Frissel, Coltrane, Paul Motian, Low-Riders, Tired Hands Brewery, Ethel Waters, No Wave, Yuka Honda, Wilco, Brenda & The Tabulations, Eddie Lang, Mark Christman, beer, Mike Watt and the legacy of Glenn Branca.

PHAWKER: Let’s talk about the artists you’ve been interpreting for this Philly event. Let’s start with McCoy Tyner. Tell me about him, where he fits in.

NELS CLINE: Well, I always think of Philadelphia when I think of McCoy. He’s most famous for having played for years in John Coltrane’s Quartet, but he’s somebody that I’ve been listening to and enjoying on his own for a very, very long time, and the first song I thought of when I thought of this project with the new Philadelphian repertoire was his ballad, “Aisha,” from the John Coltrane album, Olé. It’s musically right in my wheelhouse as far as the beautiful harmonic content. I think that in the world of modern jazz balladry, it’s perhaps underrated, or at least underappreciated. It was the first thing I thought of, and of course the requirements for the pieces aren’t just musical, it’s also the subject matter that is implied or directly what’s being communicated by the song. So, they have to have something to do with romance, intimacy, sexuality, whatever, but also fit aesthetically into whatever I think the concept of Lovers is, which is my world. “Aisha” fits perfectly into it, not only because it’s Philadelphian – and I can also get John Coltrane mentioned since he famously recorded it on Olé, and he lived in Philadelphia for quite a while – it’s just a beautiful piece of music that’s the kind of thing that I just can’t get enough of, so I’m happy to include it.

PHAWKER: Okay, great. Paul Motian – how’s he fit in here?

NELS CLINE: Paul’s one of my favorite musicians of all time. I think that his drumming, of course, is very singular and remarkable – quite a stylist – but I also really love his own records and his writing. And I didn’t know he was born in Philadelphia, so when I saw Mark Christman’s list of notable Philadelphians – which was quite an extensive list – my eye went straight to Paul Motian’s name, and I immediately scrolled through the song titles and immediately thought of “Folk Song for Rosie,” and I don’t know if Rosie is somebody that is in Paul’s family, I don’t know if it’s a girlfriend, I don’t know who Rosie is or was, but I don’t care [laughs] because I was able to shoehorn this piece into the concept, so the less I know the better, but it’s also an incredibly beautiful piece, and represents some of the greatest of Paul’s modal ballad writing – in its original form on the album, Le Voyage, when I first heard it, but also in its later form on the Live At the Village Vanguard recording with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano. Both versions are absolutely beautiful, and I’m just hoping we can keep this starkness of the recorded versions of Paul’s concepts. We try to keep it lush and, at the same time, not too dense, and keep that mood. So I’m really happy to include Paul Motian. He’s one of my favorites.

PHAWKER: All right great. I really like how you put that emphasis on not knowing who Rosie is, but more of it being all about interpretation.

NELS CLINE: Well, see, for example, my attempts to get Philly soul songs into the repertoire were really unsuccessful because the lyric content doesn’t quite make it for me. You know, on the album, Lovers, lyrics are reproduced on the songs that had lyrics, even though there’s no vocalist, and the reason is that the lyrics were as important as the music in the selection of these songs. And I just couldn’t think of creative ways to re-imagine Philly soul hits, one of them being “La La Means I Love You” by The Delfonics – truly an iconic love ballad, and a huge favorite of my ex-wife, who grew up in Southern California around lowriders – and it’s a big lowrider hit, you know, people listening to it on their car stereos, on the AM radio, in the ’60s and ’70s, it never got old. And so, to be able to include that is actually personal. It has a lot of personal meaning to me. As does the inclusion of Brenda & The Tabulations’ “The Touch of You,” which I had completely forgotten about, but was another favorite of my ex-wife and her friends – more of a deep cut in Southern California – but the musical content is really quite surprising and very flavorful, and it’s got a great guitar riff, so that’s probably as pop as we’re going to get with the Philadelphian repertoire.

PHAWKER: Okay. So, let’s move on, here. How about Ethel Waters?

NELS CLINE: Okay, Ethel Waters, I didn’t even know had associations with Philadelphia. In searching through the various songs that she had interpreted, I thought “Miss Otis Regrets” is so ideal, so incredibly relevant, right now, and so honors, in its urbane and wry and witty way, some of the more twisted aspects of romance that I’d like to include in Lovers. You know, a song about a woman who’s unable to make lunch because she has just murdered her lover for cheating on her is a really great story, and delivered marvelously by Ethel Waters, who we do not normally consider prim. Anyway, we’re going to just do it in an old-fashioned way, but hopefully not a kitschy way; I don’t want it to be kitschy at all. I’ll probably play an acoustic archtop, and keep it very 1930s if we can, and probably let some people solo over the form, to some extent the same way we approached “Why Was I Born” on the Lovers album.

PHAWKER: How about Uri Caine?

NELS CLINE: Uri is somebody I think of right away when I think of Philadelphia. He’s one of these maverick artists who’s internationally recognized to be quite brilliant, but has stayed in Philadelphia. I tried to find some of his compositions that would fit into my idea of Lovers, you know, something intimate and romantic. And I discovered this piece by Uri, called “Magic of Her Nearness,” which I was not aware of, and the recorded version I heard is solo piano, and is actually quite a tribute, in my opinion, to the solo piano work in the ‘60s and ‘70s, primarily of Paul Bley. He uses a lot of Paul Bley flavor in his improvisation on this piece. I’m very happy that we can at least make a nod to Uri Cane as somebody who’s contemporary in Philadelphia, and doing great music. So, I think what we’re going to try to do is make it more of a free-jazz piece. And that’s still being discussed, but I think that’s the way it’s going to go. It’s a beautiful little piece.

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CINEMA: A Confederacy Of Dunces

June 1st, 2018



EDITOR’S NOTE: Warren Lipka was a Phawker intern in 2015.

BY DAVID EDELSTEIN FRESH AIR FILM CRITIC The heist movie American Animals opens with a cutesy title. This is not based on a true story. Then the words not based on disappear, leaving – this is a true story. I doubt any fiction writer could have dreamed up a heist so dumb, stealing the original of Audubon’s multivolume “Birds Of America” from the library of Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky. The movie is funny in spots, but it’s not a comedy. The British writer-director Bart Layton has set out to explore the cultural underpinnings of a particular American brand – a birdbrain. The heist was executed in 2004 by four middle class suburban college students and grads – young men, we’re told in on-screen interviews with their real parents, who’d never been in trouble with the law.

The likeably raw, young Irish actor Barry Keoghan plays Spencer Reinhard, who actually has artistic talent, and on a library tour is mesmerized by Audubon’s book. But it’s Warren Lipka, played by Evan Peters, who decides that they and two others should disguise themselves as elderly scholars, taze the librarian, snatch “Birds Of America” plus a first edition of Darwin’s “On The Origin Of Species” and find a buyer through a fence in Amsterdam. Why? That’s something even the real four have trouble answering in interviews that pepper the movie between the fictionalized scenes in which their younger selves do stakeouts, make charts and watch such films as Kubrick’s “The Killing” and “Reservoir Dogs,” a DVD shelf of American robber archetypes. You can hear how movies saturate their lives when in a restaurant, Warren works his weird magic on another student, Eric Borsuk, played by Jared Abrahamson.

Evan Peters’ Warren is a magnetic sociopath, the linchpin of American Animals. But he wouldn’t sway Spencer, Eric or the jock Chas Allen played by Blake Jenner if they weren’t vulnerable. In the words of one of the real parents, everything in our family was geared for our kids to be successful. And you can feel the anxiety that sentiment generates in young men without clear paths toward success. The turning point comes at an outdoor frat party when Spencer says, ever feel like you’re waiting for something to happen but don’t know what it is? And Warren says, by stealing those books, they’ll rise above the pack or flock or whatever animal metaphor you can think of. The film has many including beavers, as in Warren’s exhortation – if you don’t do this thing, one day you’ll wake up wondering who you might have been if you hadn’t beavered away your life. It’s a nice sight gag when a shopping cart some frat boys set alight sails across the screen behind them. In one shot, you get toxic masculinity, peer pressure and a nihilistic vision of American capitalism.

Writer-director Bart Layton uses a lot of cinematic tricks to pump up American Animals, and it often feels like an exercise in ironic style. It doesn’t have the emotional fullness of a major work. There’s no point where you get carried away by the scheme. You’re always ahead of the characters, thinking – idiots. And idiots just aren’t that compelling. But in the last act, the tone changes, and the film becomes impressive. Ann Dowd as librarian B.J. Gooch doesn’t gracefully swoon after she’s hazed but weeps and pleads, the camera tight on her face. B.J. doesn’t get this is supposed to be like a movie. And suddenly, Spencer, Eric and Chas – if not Warren, who’s fine being mean – get that it’s not a movie too. MORE

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BEING THERE: Primus @ Festival Pier

May 31st, 2018

Primuis by 215Music

Photo by ALEX BUSCHIAZZO courtesy of 215Music

It was late last year that Primus released The Desaturating Seven, a concept album based off of Ul de Rico’s The Rainbow Goblins, a children’s book about a group of goblins who consume the colors of the world, “desaturating” it of our precious ROY G BIV. Primus mastermind and bassist Les Claypool used to read the story to his children, and, as with Willy Wonka, was musically inspired by its content. Their current tour is focused on music from their new album, naturally, and features a rainbow-through-tree-silhouettes backdrop.

The sky was looking iffy all evening, so I checked the forecast – festival pier is, after all, an entirely outdoor venue – and things were looking good. Don’t take that as foreshadowing; it didn’t end up raining. Good old AccuWeather really put out for us at the freakshow, but the audience was still just about as wet as they’d have been had it rained – be it from sweat, spilled beer, and god knows what else…

Primus warmed up the crowd with a few classics before delving into their new material, opening with “Too Many Puppies” wrapped around a sandwiched “Sgt. Baker,” a fantastic opening to the night. “HOINFODAMAN” came next, and featured updated accompanying visuals taken from the song’s music video. Encore aside (I’ll get to that in a sec), the set was symmetrically five classics followed by the entire Desaturating Seven and concluded by five more classics. Twas a very satisfying set-structure. Between songs, black-robed, hooded figures would slowly and theatrically exchange basses and guitars with Les and Ler, respectively.

Off to stage-right, I peeped guitar racks cradling nine Stratocasters in addition to the one Ler was already playing. One might think ten Strats is excessive, but I wouldn’t question the man who literally invented death-metal. Les wore a curly-horned helmet, and Herb sat hooded upon his throne. The band closed their set with the much anticipated “My Name is Mud,” which broke into “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver,” starting from the famous “Dog will hunt” lyric. After they left the stage, it didn’t take much chanting of “PRIMUS SUCKS!” before they reappeared for “Here Come the Bastards,” a worthy send-off. – KYLE WEINSTEIN

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