Still Holding On: The Dream Syndicate Remains A Live Force To Be Reckoned With

In 2017, when MAGNET fave Steve Wynn announced his reformed Dream Syndicate was set to release its first studio album in almost three decades, we were a little worried. What if it, well, sucked? Thankfully, How Did I Find Myself Here was a stellar comeback LP, and the new These Times (Anti-) is even better. The band just wrapped up a U.S. tour in support of the “sophomore” LP, and MAGNET photographer Chris Sikich was at the Sellersville Theatre show in suburban Philly, enjoying a night of wine and roses.

The Greatest Show(alter) On Earth: Strand Of Oaks Shares Some Brotherly Love

Strand Of Oaks finished the first leg of its tour supporting the excellent new Eraserland (Dead Oceans) with a hometown performance at Philly’s Union Transfer. Tim Showalter and Co. played eight of the new LP’s 10 tracks as well as fan faves such as “Shut In,” “JM” and “Goshen ’97” over the course of their 90-minute set. NYC trio Wild Pink—whose stellar sophomore album Yolk In The Fur came out last year via Tiny Engines—opened the show. MAGNET photographer Chris Sikich was feeling the bearded brotherly love.

Wild Pink

Rather Ripped: Ex Hex Casts A Spell Over Brooklyn

Ex Hex resumes touring behind excellent new sophomore album It’s Real (Merge) the beginning of next month, including dates with Belle & Sebastian. Mary Timony, Betsy Wright and Laura Harris just rocked Elsewhere in Brooklyn, with support from a reignited Versus (new Nihilo EP on Ernest Jenning) and Thick (who just signed to Epitaph). MAGNET photographer Chris Sikich was there and bewitched.

Versus
Thick

Cult Classic: Johnny Marr Closes Out U.S. Tour In Los Angeles With Pal Billy Duffy

Smiths guitar god Johnny Marr concluded his U.S. tour at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. The 20-song set included solo material as well as classics by Electronic and, of course, the Smiths. The highlights of the evening, however, were the last two songs of the encore, for which Marr brought out his high-school chum to play guitar. The friend in question was Billy Duffy of the Cult, and the two tunes were “I Fought The Law” and “How Soon Is Now?” MAGNET photographer Wes Orshoski is human and needs to be loved, just like everybody else does.

Live Review: Michael Fracasso, New York City, June 3, 2019

Austin singer/songwriter Michael Fracasso—who finishes a four-night East Coast concert swing tonight in D.C.—performed at NYC’s Rockwood Music Hall on Monday night along with guitarist Charlie Sexton and keyboardist Michael Ramos. Promoting new CD Big Top, Fracasso is benefiting greatly from the accompaniment of his two Austin buddies, and it is the mark of endorsement from Sexton and Ramos that makes these efforts most notable. 

The hardworking Sexton had a scant two weeks to spare before going back on the road with Bob Dylan, and he chose to help bring attention to Big Top, which was actually recorded by Fracasso and Sexton back in 1999 but had never seen the light of day, until now. Fracasso has long been considered one of Austin’s premier songwriters, and his camaraderie with Sexton and Ramos was rekindled after a heartfelt memorial to late bassist George Reiff, who also played on the album. Amazed and inspired by these nearly forgotten songs that he’d heard at an informal song-pull at Patty Griffin’s home, Ramos brought the vintage recordings to the attention of Lucky Hound Records, which wisely chose to release the forgotten album in its entirety. 

Fracasso is a shrewd song stylist who melds pure-pop sensibilities with infectious Americana, and his clear vocal tenor is well framed by Sexton’s accompaniment. Their recent live performances have picked up where the album left off two decades ago. Opening the Rockwood set with Michael Johnson’s rollicking “Crazy Little Cricket,” the trio searched for the proper balance of their intimate instrumentation. The talented Ramos alternated between piano and accordion all night, while Sexton added the tastiest accompaniment on top of Fracasso’s propulsive rhythm guitar. Fracasso’s classic songwriting was well showcased with performances of standout album tracks like “Mother Nature’s Traveling Show,” “A Deal’s A Deal,” “Mean Ol’ Place” and “My Blue Heaven.” 

Romantic ballad “Long After Hours” showcased Fracasso’s dramatic vocal croon, as did subtle political lament “Laughing Boy,” which was actually directed at President George W. Bush when it was written. While a portion of the audience was solely in attendance to see Sexton, nobody left the show unimpressed by Fracasso’s talent. Those who were more familiar with Fracasso’s long career and many recordings were duly rewarded with performances of fan favorites like the overtly dramatic “Wise Blood,” the infectious ‘Gypsy Moth” and the totally hypnotic “Saint Monday.” The band also revived “Hospital,” a tough, clear-eyed tune off of another Sexton-produced Fracasso album, 1998’s World In A Drop Of Water.  

The trio’s performance at the Rockwood did suffer from a lack of rehearsal time, but the obvious love and respect between these three musicians overcame the glitches. Supporting each other and surrendering all in service of the songs, the band brought these tunes back to life for a new, appreciative audience. With a few more gigs under their belt, they should be completely in sync for their homecoming this Sunday in Austin.

—Mitch Myers

Live Review: Neneh Cherry, Brooklyn, May 14, 2019

Neneh Cherry established herself as a perfectionist right from the beginning, starting and restarting “Falling Leaves” until it was right. Four attempts and a change of in-ear monitors later, she was happy and so was everyone else.

The rest of the set at Elsewhere was flawless, drawing primarily from last year’s Broken Politics. Cherry’s voice was gorgeous, equally supple and lived-in, steeped in jazz, forged by punk and tested by hip hop. It defies categorization.

Introducing “Black Monday,” one of the set’s highlights, Cherry told the story of how it was inspired by Polish women’s struggle against strict anti-abortion laws. Of “Synchronized Devotion,” she simply connected the dots between the broken politics of our time and the duty of artists and the rest of us to resist.

Her band, anchored by husband Cameron McVey’s synth wizardry, was terrific, too, bringing all that was required of Cherry’s many moods: energy, enthusiasm and impeccable playing. Percussionist Rosie Bergonzi was particularly exciting to watch.

Amid the wealth of material from Broken Politics, Cherry went back—way back—just a few times, with her emotional elaboration on Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (from 1990’s Red Hot + Blue benefit comp) and two songs from 1989’s Raw Like Sushi (the wise-and-weary “Manchild,” played late in the main set, and a jubilant sing-along version of “Buffalo Stance” to end the night).

In the pantheon of goddesses ripped out of magazines and taped on the wall next to my bed circa 1993—along with Patti, Polly Jean, Tori, Tracy, Suzanne, Courtney, Madonna, Miki and the ladies of L7—Neneh Cherry was the one who took longest to see, and she was wonderful. It’s inspiring to hear her in such fine form and so committed to the art she’s creating at this point in her life. (I wouldn’t be above begging for a Raw Like Sushi/Homebrew-heavy show, though.)

Openers Lafawndah and Ian Isiah sounded cool, at least what I gleaned from their quick sets.

—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich

Lafawndah
Ian Isiah

Live Review: Santigold, Philadelphia, May 5, 2019

If it’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since Santigold’s first album came out, that might be because it’s technically been 11 years since the release of the maddeningly titled Santogold LP. More likely, it’s because the record’s still a staple of the clubs and coffee shops I frequent.

It’s always cool to see Santi White connecting with the crowd, and her Fillmore show was on point, whether she was reminiscing about her Philly days, bringing up the erstwhile Spankrock (now known as Naeem) for “Shove It” and “B-O-O-T-A-Y,” inviting the masses up to dance to “Creator” or revisiting her 11-year-old self to spit 2 Live Crew’s “We Want Some Pussy.”

The set featured every song from Santogold (with “L.E.S. Artistes,” “Unstoppable” and “I’m a Lady” sounding both classic and fresh), but newer songs like “Can’t Get Enough Of Myself” and “Coo Coo Coo” felt just as perfect. If I’m still dancing and/or drinking hot beverages in 2030, when White and I would both be turning 54, I hope she’s still providing the soundtrack.

—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich

There Will Be Bloodshot: Murder By Death And Sarah Shook Disarm Amish Country

Bloodshot Records labelmates Murder By Death and Sarah Shook And The Disarmers rocked the legendary Chameleon Club in Lancaster, Pa. The Bloomington, Ind., quintet was supporting last year’s The Other Shore, while North Carolina-based Shook and band were promoting sophomore LP Years (also from 2018). MAGNET photographer Chris Sikich bore witness in Amish country.

Sarah Shook

The Bristol Stomp: English Punks IDLES Brutalize Brooklyn

Bristol, England, punk quintet IDLES plowed through an 18-song set at Brooklyn Steel supporting last year’s sophomore effort Joy As An Act Of Resistance (Partisan). Dublin labelmates Fontaines D.C. opened, playing all songs off just-released debut Dogrel. MAGNET photographer Wes Orshoski was there to witness this British/Irish invasion.

Fontaines D.C.