Learning To Crawl: L.A.’s Starcrawler Is Fast Becoming A Must-See Live Band

As L.A.’s Starcrawler gears up for a handful of hometown-area gigs starting the end of next month, we’re bringing you these awesome shots that MAGNET’s Chris Sikich did of Arrow de Wilde and Co. when they recently played Philly’s Boot And Saddle. Starcrawler is promoting excellent sophomore album Devour You (Rough Trade), which came out in October.

Live Review: Lula Wiles, Philadelphia, PA, Nov. 19, 2019

“Sad About A boy” and “Mad About America” is one way to sort Lula Wiles’ songs. In the first category are the virtual a-side and b-side of the Boston trio’s new stand-alone single. “It’s Cool (We’re Cool, Everything’s Cool)” (as Eleanor Buckland, one of the group’s three terrific singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalists, admitted at World Cafe Live, taken verbatim from a real text she sent to a real man) and “You Only Want Me When You Need Me” are instant indie-folk sing-alongs that derive their power from their relatability.

In the second category, “Good Old American Values” and “Shaking As It Turns,” both from last year’s What Will We Do, confront the lasting damage that colonialism and white supremacy have wrought, and the clear and present threat they pose today. They’re no less captivating for being so pointed. Introducing the former, Mali Obomsawin compared land acknowledgements without action to announcing whose car you’ve stolen and then continuing to drive away in it.

While both sorts of songs benefited from the mix of timeless textures and timely topics, it was the soaring harmonies from Buckland, Obomsawin and Isa Burke that left the deepest impression. From the a cappella “What Will We Do” to a thrilling version of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” that featured Matt Lohan and Louisa Stancioff of openers Dyado, the solution to the emotions and dilemmas that rush through Lula Wiles’ music seemed as clear, as simple and as complicated as learning to harmonize.

Listen. Connect. Support. Organize. Lift your voice and share the mic.

—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich


Live Review: Strand Of Oaks, Philadelphia, PA, Dec. 14, 2019

Night one of Strand Of Oaks’ fifth-annual Winter Classic at Philly’s Boot & Saddle was something of a homecoming for Tim Showalter, who recently moved to Texas—and it was a most welcome one. If there was a single sentiment that prevailed, it was this: He may be an Indiana native and a Texas resident—and he may have even spent significant time in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.—but Philly is where Showalter is from as an artist, and this is his family forever.

Strand Of Oaks has always been whoever Showalter says it is—especially at the Winter Classic shows, which have been everything from solo auteur to quasi-full band to special collaborations. On this night, lap-steel journeyman Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner proved to be one of the best guests of the series, first with a solo instrumental workout that peaked with “Hava Negila,” then by adding a melancholy edge to Showalter’s bruised and brooding songs.

Highlights: “Visions,” “Forever Chords,” a cover of Songs: Ohia’s “Whip-Poor-Will” and a new song about cosmic dust and aliens listening to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after he died.

—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich

Live Review: Rat Fancy, Philadelphia, PA, Nov. 15, 2019

Bearing catchy, peppy indie-rock tunes like “Never Is Forever” and the title track of highly appealing debut Stay Cool (Happy Happy Birthday To Me), Rat Fancy wrapped up its tour at Ortlieb’s in Philly with a short-yet-sweet set before flying back to its home base in Los Angeles.

But between playing tasty guitar lines and singing alongside frontwoman Diana Barraza (who I’d last seen playing in Sweater Girls at the 2011 Athens Popfest), Gregory Johnson never let the crowd forget that, for him, this was truly a homecoming—reminiscing about how lucky he was to attend Norristown High School; recalling how his dad had taken him to Ortlieb’s back when it was a jazz club; singling out the many friends, family and former bandmates who comprised most of the audience; and issuing a blanket apology for this being his first time back in two and a half years.

Hopefully, the thoughtful, as-yet-unreleased “M.A.D.”—inspired by gatherings with family for the holidays, of all things—was a hint that Rat Fancy will have ample reason to return soon with enough new material to stretch out with a longer set.

Locals Buddie, Broke Body and Fake Nudes opened the show.

—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich

Fate Accompli: 2020 Is The Year Of The Diamond … King Diamond

Members of the Hellenic Coven have plenty to celebrate in 2020. Not only is Merciful Fate touring this year but frontman King Diamond will also be releasing his first studio album since 2007. Diamond and his solo band hit the road the end of last year to start promoting The Institute, out later in 2020 on Metal Blade. MAGNET photographer Wes Orshoski shot these fatal portraits of Diamond when he played, appropriately enough, Kings Theatre in Brooklyn.