Truth be told, 2013 was nearly the end of the line for my time in “music journalism.” A few months ago I realized that I was almost 30 and had spent the better part of a decade doing something I don’t particularly like for pretty much no pay. I was both bored and fed up with it. I didn’t particularly like interviewing musicians and I felt like the last really inspiring live performance I took in was about 800-900 concerts ago… I didn’t know why I was doing it… But then, in a relatively short amount of time (note the particular dates of these events), I witnessed a plethora of nearly awe-inspiring performances by artists who weren’t childhood heroes or even necessarily significant cultural icons, but artists in their prime (or re-inventing their “prime”) who were doing something that was actually worth seeing, that could excite someone who’s already sung with Belle & Sebastian, been onstage with Iggy Pop four times, and kissed Kim Deal… These ten performances are pretty much what give me hope in the world of music and why I decided it just might not be the best idea to exit that world just yet… Stay tuned for “Top 10 Philthy Live Performances of 2013: Old School Edition,” which does boast a number of childhood heroes…
10. Lindi Ortega @ World Café Live (10/17)
Of all of the contemporary country artists I’ve fallen in love with in recent years, no one balances the traditional folk aesthetic with the popularly rockin’ like Canada-born, Nashville-dwelling Lindi Ortega. And I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen anyone turn the usually-tackily-bourgeois and dull feel of Upstairs at World Café Live into a postmodern honky-tonk quite like she managed.
9. BOY @ The TLA (9/5)
After selling out their first-ever US tour and packing that very same upstairs of World Café Live to a beyond-uncomfortable degree, the two girls of BOY (in addition to their backing back on their first tour of the states) played a shamefully (on Philly’s behalf) desolate gig at the TLA… but it was still brilliant. The Swiss/German duo may not have the most “performance”-inducing sound, but their particular blend of indie pop and folk rings of the best singer/songwriters of the 1990s and the perfect soundtrack for celebrating friends and lamenting those who you let into your life that were far less than worthy.
8. Those Darlins @ Boot & Saddle (10/16)
I first fell in love with Those Darlins with their 2009, self-titled debut, which boasted a crass and intentionally-in-bad-taste take on garage country that was as subversively delectable as a John Waters flick… They understand the beauty of low-art better than just about any other artist of their generation… leading me to regularly proclaim them to be “currently my favorite band.” Three albums in and they’re sounding more like psychedelic Americana or the kind of classic Southern rock that generally leads to pickup truck pregnancies… A little different, but still equally beautiful in the eyes of all critics of “The American Dream.” Their latest Philadelphia appearance had them showing the hyper-hipster (albeit country-themed) Boot & Saddle how to badassedly not give a fuck.
7. He’s My Brother She’s My Sister @ Johnny Brenda’s (11/14)
I’m pretty sure He’s My Brother She’s My Sister hold the record for being Philthy’s most covered artist… And there’s a reason for that… They’re a vaudeville-inspired glam Americana outfit that includes a tap dancing drummer… They exclusively write anthems, but those anthems can range from the hyper-introspective “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” variety to a twangy take on “You Really Got Me.” They remind me a bit of if The Black Crowes were a David Bowie tribute band and their live show reflects that very same aesthetic of the organic spectacle. And after a number of under-attended or under-energized audiences at Philly appearances, this JB’s crowd finally gave the band the kind of love they deserve.
6. Deer Tick @ Union Transfer (11/6)
“Of their last area appearance I wrote, ‘McCauley and crew aren’t exactly ‘charismatic’ in the traditional sense of the word… And they certainly haven’t caused anyone to re-evaluate the criteria by which they consider live music… But that kind of seems to be the point.’ That, however, has since changed, with McCauley now resembling a delightfully tacky postmodern crooner, equally indebted to [Randy Newman, Townes Van Zandt, and the New York Dolls’ David Johansen] (When a fan admired his suit, he replied, ‘Thanks. It’s made of my couch.’)”
5. Lenka @ World Café Live (7/22)
Everyone who reads Philthy Mag knows I’m a complete sucker for cute and quirky piano pop singer/songwriters… And I’m not sure that anyone plays the role of “cute and quirky piano pop singer/songwriter” better than Lenka. I actually can’t believe that she doesn’t own the world after the initial explosion of her “The Show” in 2008. This was her biggest and most fitting Philly headlining date yet… The likes of The M Room and the North Star Bar are far from an appropriate home for her epic whimsy.
4. Fiona Apple and Blake Mills @ The Merriam Theatre (10/19)
“The evening was comprised of the latest passions of artists whose audiences assumed had peaked and who, evidently, find songwriting and performing far more satisfying than living up to ambiguous expectations. And for songwriters lacking the clout of popular hacks like Billy Joel and Elton John, that audacity is far beyond admirable and far more enthralling. To reiterate, this was not a ‘Fiona Apple’ show… It was a night of what currently gets off Fiona Apple… And Blake Mills.”
2. and 3. YACHT @ Boot & Saddle (10/24) and @ Underground Arts (11/13)
“Although their more intimate show at Boot & Saddle in October may have technically been a little more ‘punk,’ breathing room was hard to come by seeing room was pretty much non-existent, so it was nice to actually give them the room to put on ‘a show’ last Friday at Underground Arts, whose main room was only filled to about 1/3rd capacity. The band took the stage at the very Rock’N’Roll time of 12:35am to kick off their hour-long set with 2011’s ‘Paradise Engineering,’ boasting the band’s aggressively rollicking rhythm section as Claire Evans preaches to an eager audience that progress, revolution, and social evolution are all within our hands and our heads (YACHT are pretty much the most enjoyable and potent entity for schooling the masses that exist in 2013.)”
1. Kate Nash @ Union Transfer (11/7)
“It wasn’t just the beauty of the sounds Kate Nash is producing that made for the subversively brilliant spectacle, but Ms. Nash also really stepped up to the plate as an A++ frontwoman, navigating the audience itself numerous times, both on her own two feet and at the hands of the audience who was more than willing to carry the heroine across the venue on their own hands during ‘Girl Gang’ (a FIDLAR cover that had support acts La Sera and Skating Polly, in addition to a bevy of young people, joining her onstage and then hoisted by Nash herself into the hands of the crowd-surfing-ready audience)… It was pretty much the greatest thing I’ve seen onstage (and off) in recent years.”
*And thank you, dearly, to all of the lovely YouTube posters who haven’t complained about me using their cell-phone videos in this post (Seriously, hit me up on Twitter at @IzzyCihak, if you’d like me to take anything down.)