The 215’s official/unofficial return to live music was marked with the reopening of Union Transfer, our favorite Eraserhood haunt, mega-venue, and former family restaurant… The grand reopening kicked off with a record five sold out nights of hometown indie pop [I-think-it’s-now-safe-to-say] icons, Japanese Breakfast, who drew a pandemic-capacity crowd on August 6th, 7th, 8th, 10th, and 11th; the coat check was even officially renamed “The Michelle Zauner Coat Check” after the Japanese Breakfast mainperson, who formerly interned at UT, accompanied by a sign proclaiming “May everyone who works in this room go on to sell out five nights at Union Transfer.” And, although Zauner was the undisputed queen of Union Transfer, if not Philadelphia, for her week of sold out shows, the following tour to hit the former Spaghetti Warehouse, Lynn Gunn’s PVRIS, proved to be an equally enthralling night of pop music.
I had the pleasure of attending Japanese Breakfast’s second night of their run, on Saturday, August 7th. And, although the setlist wasn’t filled with a bevvy of deep cuts previously un-played on this tour, as is frequently hoped for on the second night at a venue, the order of the songs was notably different, giving those who were also at night one a slightly different experience. 80% of Jubilee, the band’s third LP (which dropped this June), was played to an audience already well-familiar with the words. In fact, the slightly-beachy, slightly-spacey trio of “Paprika,” “Be Sweet,” and “Kokomo, IN” — which opened the show and were all off of Jubilee — proved to be one of the evening’s highlights. Other highlights included “classics” like “In Heaven,” “The Woman That Loves You,” and “Everybody Wants To Love You,” which provided the best reasons to dance for the night. However, the evening’s most touching moment came when R5/UT owner Sean Agnew took briefly to the stage for a, “Thank you,” from Zauner, whom he apparently once bailed out after she accepted a fake $100 (and gave change) for a $1 pretzel at the concession stand.
Japanese Breakfast’s extended homecoming to the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection was certainly “jubilant,” as expected, although their uber-hip audience was just a bit cautiously reserved, in light of the pandemic, giving the heart of the dancefloor a feel a bit more like a hipster prom than a rock concert. However, PVRIS’ crowd on Friday, August 13th, while still masked up, definitely brought the only-slightly-matured teen angst energy that so many of us had been missing throughout the hiatus of live music.
PVRIS is basically a manifestation of Zakk Wydle’s obsession with Lady Gaga. Although beginning about a decade ago as a metalcore act, somewhere sonically between Ozzfest and Warped tour, PVRIS has long-since been in the realm of synth-pop, electronic rock, alt-pop, and other fun things that make white kids shake their booties, while somehow retaining all the punch of their days as headbangers. And as of last year, with the release of third LP Use Me, PVRIS has officially become the solo project of the band’s longtime frontwoman and songwriter, Lynn Gunn (who played all guitar, bass, and drum part on the record, in addition to the vocals and beats she’s always provided.)
Ms. Gunn rocked the hour+ show front and center like a millennial Alec Empire, or perhaps a more positive and life-affirming Alexis Krauss. With a light show flashing to the ultra-heavy beats, Gunn lead the crowds pogoing and fist pumps through much of Use Me, in addition to club anthems like “St. Patrick,” “Half,” and “What’s Wrong,” along with recent single “Monster.” She even included two brand new tracks, “If I Don’t Wake Up Tomorrow,” a swaggy R&B ballad, and “My Way,” an enlighteningly abrasive banger with more than a passing resemblance to some of the mid ‘90s best jams. It may be the year-and-a-half without concerts talking, but if PVRIS’ recent set had any shortcomings, it was only that it was too fleeting… Although, based on the sidewalks of Spring Garden in the aftermath, it did seem to lead to a plethora of unofficial afterparties.