Live Review: Death Cab For Cutie, Philadelphia, PA, April 7, 2009

deathcab370Ben Gibbard is a stud now. The famously bookish Death Cab For Cutie frontman known for crooning heartfelt indie-pop lyrics jumped around onstage Tuesday night at the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia, swiveling his hips seductively in time with his guitar. These are moves he clearly honed since the last time I saw the group four years ago. Death Cab played a healthy mix of old and new: tracks off The Open Door EP (due April 14 on Barsuk) alongside mellow, acoustic palate-cleansers such as “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” and classics like 1998’s “President Of What?”

However, Gibbard and the gang could have taken the night off and left the rest to a guy sitting next to me named Steve. Steve’s air guitar, air drums and air bass rivaled the band itself. He screamed requests during every brief interlude. His font of knowledge about each track was impressive. With sweaty enthusiasm, Steve detailed to those around him the backstory of every third song: “This one is about those fires in California. So sad!” Also, his Death Cab lyrical proficiency was in the 99th percentile.

Ben Gibbard: “Oh crap, I forgot the second verse of ‘Title And Registration.’ Where is Steve?!”

Back onstage, the smoke machines fused with Gibbard’s nostalgia-steeped vocals to carry us all back to freshman year of high school. Murky high-beam lights and trippy strobes united with guitar crescendos and rolling drums. You almost had to close your eyes in order to take it all in (and block out Steve’s flailing).

—Maureen Coulter

“Title And Registration” (download): 

Live Review: East Hundred, Philadelphia, PA, March 27, 2009

east-hundred-7450Three months ago, my editor introduced me to East Hundred’s first full-length, the charismatic breakup soundtrack Passenger, and since then I’ve looped it on repeat every time I’m in the office. At this point, he probably wants to lock me in the mailroom. [Actually, that’s because I want you to do the mail. —ed.] One of the better emerging Philly bands (read MAGNET’s recent profile of the group), East Hundred doesn’t quite square with a local indie-rock taxonomy that includes Dr. Dog, Man Man and the War On Drugs. The quintet branches off with its own brand of catchy, keyboard-laced alternative pop/rock. On Friday night, they played a gig with Seattle products Say Hi and Telekinesis at Philly hipster HQ Johnny Brenda’s.

Unfortunately, even the venue’s superior acoustics couldn’t save East Hundred when a guitar amp went kaput in the middle of the set. After a few minutes of confusion (the audience promptly used the unexpected intermission to grab beers and check iPhones), the group managed to punch out a few more songs before time ran out. What I saw, however, in East Hundred’s salvaged performance stirred my latent childhood dream of singing in a band; it’s similar to how I felt about Gwen Stefani in the late ’90s, before she tried to rap. Diminutive vocalist Beril Guceri exuded an outsized stage presence punctuated by her sweet, wistful vocals.

“It gets very hot up there when something like that happens,” said Guceri after the show, referring to the STD (Supreme Technical Difficulty). Considering the singer’s history of stage fright, she and her bandmates kept their cool as they ironed out the glitch.

—Maureen Coulter

“Slow Burning Crimes” (download):

Live Review: Lambchop, Columbus, OH, Jan. 25, 2009


“I’m havin’ such a good time,” said Kurt Wagner, shortly into Lambchop’s 90-minute set at Ohio State University’s Wexner Center For The Arts, “I don’t wanna fuck it up.”

Wagner made the sheepish crack as much to break the silence as anything, since the initial atmosphere inside the Wexner’s black-box performance space was all about the gravity of High Art. The Center’s current exhibit was a collection of seminal Andy Warhol films and audio recordings, and the film theater was running a lauded documentary on venerable sculptor Louise Bourgeois through the weekend. So by the time Lambchop’s audience of fewer than 100 people made its way through the maze of hallways into the black box, we’d been shushed into the quiet respect that comes with wandering through spaces where you have to check your coats, cameras and pens at the door.

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Live Review: Wilco, Wilmington, DE, Aug. 10, 2008

“We’ve now played 48 out of 50 states,” Jeff Tweedy proudly announced to the sold-out crowd at Wilmington’s Grand Opera House. “We’ll hit 49 next week,” he continued, alluding to Wilco’s headlining slot at the Jackson Hole Festival in Wyoming. Earlier this year, Tweedy and Co. announced plans to perform in cities and states otherwise ignored over the course of Wilco’s 14-year career. In addition to wowing newer fans at mega-fests such as Lollapalooza or Baltimore’s Virgin Mobile Festival, Wilco’s summer tour took it to the geographic edges of its U.S. fanbase, with dates in Montana, New Mexico, Alaska and North Dakota. The band’s performance in the historic Delaware auditorium spanned their celebrated nine-album catalog (save a curious absence of anything from 1999’s Summerteeth).

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Live Review: Beach House/Cass McCombs, Philadelphia, PA, Aug. 9, 2008

Early in the night, Johnny Brenda’s was full of loyal West Philadelphia fans in support of local singer/songwriter Annie Sachs (a.k.a. Tickley Feather). Sachs was joined onstage by a keyboardist and another band member manning the synths and pedals on the floor, and she opened by addressing the crowd: “These are my male models … they’re expensive.” Sachs spoke sweetly throughout her performance, thanking friends and fans for joining her for the night. The heartwarming display epitomized Tickley Feather’s captivating presence and music. Under dim lighting, the smoke machines wafted vapor trails through Sachs’ long hair to fit the eerie, minimalist vocals that are layered throughout her songs. At one point, she held up a small stuffed bird and squeezed it into the microphone, harmonizing with the toy’s tweets. Her mesmerizing set put the audience in a trance that was broken only by the gentle beats of a drum machine.

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