One Bar At A Time, Part 1: The Minus 5, Philadelphia, June 26, 2019

Despite seeing four of the six members of the Minus 5 in exactly the same place (Philly’s Johnny Brenda’s) five weeks ago as Filthy Friends, there was a totally different energy tonight as Scott McCaughey took center stage. The outpouring of love, support and joy was palpable as the hearty McCaughey—joined by Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Linda Pitmon, Kurt Bloch and Joe Adragna—ripped through a clutch of rockers from the recent Stroke Manor and older albums.

Highlights: “My Collection,” “Ghost Tarts Of Stockholm,” “Bleach Boys & Beach Girls,” “I’m Not Bitter” and a cover of Big Star’s “Jesus Christ” with Mills on lead vocals.

—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich

Live Review: The Rolling Stones, Philadelphia, July 23, 2019

To see the Rolling Stones in 2019 is to see many volumes of rock ‘n’ roll history before your eyes. To witness some of the greatest compositions in the rock oeuvre, one after the other, is like no other musical experience. A glorious, extended “Midnight Rambler” into the devastating “Paint It Black” followed by “Gimme Shelter” is as great of a three-song set as I could imagine seeing this year. And Jagger, Richards, Watts and Wood delivered not just that, but so many other greats that it’s like a stadium-sized jukebox of gold.

There was no phoning in here, either, with Mick skipping around like he is in his 30s while Keith still strikes just the right chord. Even with some rain, which provided for odd sights like Jagger spreading anti-slip talcum powder and a mop crew sopping up water on the catwalk while the Stones rocked “Paint It Black,” this band purrs like a musical lion, ready to roar out rawk memories with ease and comfort no other band can still.

While Jagger rattled off some funniness about Wawa and hoagies (obviously, part of the localized banter for every show), he also stated they have played Philadelphia now 54 years and most of the places they performed at are long gone. But the Rolling Stones stand tall and ready to deliver, and in a mid-summer show at Lincoln Financial Field, they showed why they are the best.

—words and photos by Chris Sikich

Live Review: Hozier, Camden, N.J., July 26, 2019

If you think Hozier’s voice is angelic on his two albums, you wouldn’t believe how heavenly it is live. The best way I can describe the experience is that I had goosebumps the entire hour and a half he was singing. Hozier began his XPoNential Music Festival set with “Would That I,” one of the standouts off new album Wasteland, Baby!. After his 2014 eponymous debut, I honestly didn’t think he was going to make anything that even came close, but he sure proved me wrong with his sophomore LP. Hozier puts his whole heart and soul into his music, so it’s no surprise how successful he’s gotten in relatively short period of time.

With help from his backing band and singers, Hozier managed to get the crowd of 15,000 to sing along to a good number of his songs. He ended the show, of course, with international smash “Take Me To Church,” and the whole audience sang “Amen” as they exited the venue. But I stayed put for a little bit, hoping he would play another song or two, like “Cherry Wine” or “Sedated.” 

XPoNential really killed it this year, especially with Hozier as the opening-night headliner. I’m definitely going to return next year to see what the organizers have on tap for the 27th year of this family-friendly festival.

—Samantha Geiger; photos by Chris Sikich

Live Review: Mal Blum, Philadelphia, July 21, 2019

To mark the release of Pity Boy at PhilaMOCA, Mal Blum performed most of the songs from the album under Casper The Friendly Ghost’s watchful eye—and they sounded terrific: honest, emotional and energetic.

Blum writes with road-honed songcraft and candor informed by their nonbinary/trans perspective and efforts to navigate relationships when you don’t have all the tools or the guides you need—when you don’t have an inventory to know what you’re missing. Like the best art, it feels most universal in its specificity.

Highlights: “I Don’t Want To,” “Not My Job” and “Things Still Left To Say” from Pity Boy, plus old crowd pleaser “New Year’s Eve,” which drew the show to a prompt close at 10:30.

With a shared guitarist in Audrey Zee Whitesides, Lucky Cat made a positively simpatico opener. “Other Oceans” stood out, but the band’s whole short set sounded great, even though the bassist called out sick.

In the middle slot, Curtis Cooper had flashes of grungy, Nirvana-inspired bliss amid the primal Primus low end the band favored.

—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich

Curtis Cooper
Lucky Cat

Live Review: The Chainsmokers, Bethlehem, PA, Aug. 2, 2019

Started in 1984, Musikfest is a 10-day festival beginning the first Friday of August in Bethlehem, Pa. Somehow, however, this was my very first time attending. I picked a pretty good year to go, though, with the Chainsmokers as one of the headliners. Musikfest has grown dramatically over the past 35 years, with close to a million people descending on the Lehigh Valley to experience all the diverse music, food, drinks and art it has to offer. 

The Chainsmokers kicked off the first night of the festival, performing on the Wind Creek Stage. A lot of music fans don’t realize how hard this electropop duo actually gets. They have a lot of pop radio hits, but they also kill their live DJ sets. What makes these guys so incredible live is the important role real instruments play on top of their electronic beats. 

At Musikfest, Alex Pall and Drew Taggart were augmented by a drummer. Their set, which lasted a little more than an hour, featured a lot of material from last year’s Sick Boy. Of course, they played their most popular hits as well, such as “Closer,” “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Something Just Like This.” 

An outdoor venue is a perfect place for the Chainsmokers to hold their DJ sets, as it gives them the opportunity to set off fireworks and confetti. Pall and Taggart definitely delivered a visually pleasing experience, with pyrotechnics at almost every beat drop. Despite forgoing an encore, the Chainsmokers put on extremely lively concert and were a perfect beginning to Musikfest. 

—words and photos by Samantha Geiger