The Philly Music Fest may as well have been the Camae Ayewa Music Fest for the first night of its run. The visionary poet was not only the common link between all three bands playing upstairs at World Café Live, but the MVP with the most to say, in volume, depth and breadth.
Moor Jewelry opened the night with “Working,” from 2020’s True Opera, setting the tone with Ayewa’s intonations, imprecations and indictments of the system and its sinister intentions over a sludgy, grungy groove laid down by guitarist Marissa Paternoster (Screaming Females), drummer Phillip Price and bassist Steve Montenegro. Later on, dedicating “Kate” to a single friend and a sea of faceless strangers, Ayewa warned of the war to come, a war with oneself, a war within, a war we may not have the will to win.
Next up was Moor Mother, Ayewa’s signature noise project; she and Montenegro hunched over a streamlined fleet of machines to create a techno racket fueled by dark fantasies, paranoia and a future only she can foresee in all its gory detail.
Finally, Irreversible Entanglements married Ayewa’s prophetic pronouncements with free jazz by Keir Neuringer on saxophone and keyboard, Luke Stewart on bass and Tcheser Holmes on drums. The cycle of gradually building tension and releasing it, only to ramp it up and offer relief again once more, was the thrill of the whole night.
Downstairs, Spirit Of The Beehive brought this year’s Entertainment, Death to life onstage with force and intrigue; the band’s off-kilter alt-rock provided a welcome interlude in the middle of the evening.
But it was Alex G’s headlining set that packed the house, his amiable pop making folks less fearful of being packed close to strangers and happy just to be alive and well in our own dysfunctional habitat.
—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich