It’s around 9 p.m. on a Friday night and sound check commences inside The Fire on Girard Avenue. Allen Hamilton III, better known as Chase Allen, is the headliner for tonight’s show. But sitting by the curb at a table outside, he appears relaxed.
“I’m just a performer tonight, just like anybody else,” explains the 24-year-old hip-hop artist/songwriter.
His demeanor is completely composed.
A native of West Philadelphia, Allen played football during the majority of his youth. Positioned as a linebacker, he was skilled and quick on the field – hence, his stage name.
After Pop Warner practices, he’d spend time watching his two older brothers – one who made beats and another who both rapped and made beats – as they created music in their bedroom closet, which was their makeshift recording studio.
“I just sat there for like three hours and just watched,” Allen remembers.
The Unconditional Tour stop at The Troc on Tuesday was an event kids dream of – stage diving band members, fans wearing shorts and tank tops in 14-degree weather and lots of swoopy hair that everyone kept pushing away from their eyes.
Needless to say we (me and Jesse, the photographer) felt both out of place – even in the 21-and-up balcony – and as if we were 16 again all at the same time.
The show opened up with Beartooth, whose lead singer, 21-year-old Caleb Shomo (previously of Attack Attack!) demanded that the audience mosh. When people told him they would get kicked out for doing so, Shomo asked, “Then what’s the point of having a hardcore show?”
Before launching into the next song he said, “Everybody have a nice, safe circle pit and nobody do anything that gets you kicked out. We’re here to have a good time.”
This was only minutes before guitarist Taylor Lumley scaled the speakers to reach the balcony railing so he could dive into the crowd from it.
As part of our partnership with Philly Beer Scene magazine, we’re documenting Philly’s relationships between music and beer. For the most recent issue of Philly Beer Scene, G.W. Miller III caught up with Betsy Riley, the Philly field sales rep for Great Lakes Brewing. When she’s not driving around the city slinging beer, she’s most likely at a show.
Betsy Riley was living the dream.
The Ohio native and long-time music lover was a bartender at World Café Live, the West Philadelphia venue housed in the same building as radio station WXPN. For three years, she worked mostly day shifts, which meant she was around when all the big acts would arrive at the venue to unload their gear and set up for shows. She often held the door open for them and assisted them with whatever they needed. Then she’d listen to soundchecks and serve the band members drinks.
“I got really spoiled there,” she says.
Some days, bands would visit the radio station and she’d duck over to watch them perform private studio sessions. And on Fridays, she attended the Free At Noon shows. She met the guys from Alt-J and chatted up Father John Misty. She was starstruck when she met Jim James, the frontman from My Morning Jacket.
“I couldn’t express my love for him though,” she says. “I had to be more modest.”
Then one day, everything changed. Sort of.
Rob Grote leads The Districts by hissing passion from his mouth. The word “vocal” doesn’t seem to do that sound justice. It’s more raw, the wrenched feelings making the noise sound feral, like the raccoons that haunt the backyard of the North Philly apartment he shares with the rest of the band.
The guys – Grote, along with Mark Larson (guitar), Connor Jacobson (bass) and Braden Lawrence (drums) – moved from Lititz, Pa. to Philly earlier this year after releasing their first full-length record, Telephone. That was recorded and put out while they were still students at Warwick High School.
The apartment they share near Temple University campus features a steady line of Beatles records running behind their couch as wall art.
They don’t go to the university, unlike most of those who live nearby in frat houses, student housing units and dorm quarters. They started at Temple last fall but quickly gave up heaving book bags to focus on lugging guitars and drum kits and other gear to venues.
Now, they perform alongside acts that are well past college age. The Districts play for audiences often taken aback by their youth, considering the group’s vintage sound and Grote’s grumbly, mature voice – and the fact that in November, The Districts signed to Fat Possum, the same label that’s home to the Black Keys, Dinosaur Jr., T. Rex and The Walkmen.
“It’s not the craziest I’ve ever heard but we’ve gained some momentum,” Grote says about the Districts’ rapid ascent. “I guess things have been moving decently since 9th grade. I just kind of want to see what happens. I don’t think we would’ve balanced both [college and recording].”
Ron Gallo and his bandmates in Toy Soldiers recently moved into Meth Beach, the studio formerly occupied by Dr. Dog. He writes about the legacy they’ve inherited and the impact the space has had on the band. Images by G.W. Miller III.
Meth Beach is a musical oasis surrounded by dilapidated shores where occasional waves of maniacs and junkies get lost at sea and wash up on North American Street looking for a cure.
Desolation emphasized by a vast thoroughfare making it look like the old wild west on, well, crystal meth?
Who knows where the studio’s name came from but I imagine it has to have something to do with this really strange juxtaposition of musicians providing a bright and sunny soundtrack pouring out the windows and reverberating across a dark and seedy land.
One day I got a call from Zach Miller of Dr. Dog in regards to their aforementioned Kensington studio of six years becoming vacant as they moved on to another home. He mentioned he wanted to “keep it in the circle” and gauged my interest in taking over the locally notorious spot.
The allure of this proposition was really exciting.
We did it. We finally made it through the snowmageddon hellscape that is the month of February. I think this is a cause for celebration. So, if you’re looking for an excuse to finally get out of the house and spend a night out on the town, then you better listen up. Philadelphia will be hosting a plethora of not just concerts, but artist debuts, record release shows and other musical events throughout the city this upcoming weekend. From benefit gigs to anniversary tours, there’s something for everyone to celebrate. – Derrick Krom
After spending the entirety of last month trekking through Europe, local gritty blues-rock trio John The Conqueror will officially celebrate the recent release of their new album The Good Life back in their hometown this Friday night. Philadelphia reggae and hip-hop-influenced Blayer Pointdujour & The Rockers Galore and rock outfit Thee, Idea Men will round out the record release show lineup.
Johnny Brenda’s will be celebrating the opening night of Alien She (a Vox Populi exhibition that examines the lasting impact of the Riot Grrrl punk feminist movement) with a number of rocking female-centered acts. Philadelphia groups Pushin’ It 2 The Limit, The Pretty Greens and Trophy Wife will perform along with New York City punk rockers Mannequin Pussy.
Unique and multi-talented hip-hop artist MH The Verb will be celebrating the release of his new album The Balloon Guide at Connie’s Ric Rac this Saturday night. Performing with a live band, MH The Verb will also be supported by a number of local hip-hop artists who will conclude the CD Release Party with a round-robin style collective performance.
Come on down to Boot & Saddle Saturday night to witness a debut show for both Flyermile (a new band featuring Steve Clifford of Circa Survive and Chris Weyh formerly of A Life Once Lost and Killer Bangs) and Thrills (the high-energy pop solo debut from Philly singer-songwriter Michael Mullin). Lancaster rock band Younger Me will also be performing.
Hosted by WXPN’s Helen Leicht, the 6th annual Philabundance Benefit will take place this Sunday at World Café Live. Benefiting the region’s largest non-profit food bank and hunger relief organization, singer-songwriter Lizanne Knott, alt-folk “barn rock” band Tin Bird, vocalist Jen Creed and Philadelphia singer-songwriter Kevin Killen (above) will all play for a great cause. The price of admission requires a non-perishable food item.
In celebration of the 60th anniversary of one of the most iconic and renowned American music festivals, the Newport Jazz Festival: Now 60 tour will make a stop at the Merriam Theater this Sunday night. Featuring an all-star jazz ensemble put together by festival founder/producer George Wein, the night will be filled with both classic jazz numbers and original material from the ensemble’s members. It’s a must-see for jazz fans.
Mont Brown and Pace-O Beats of The Astronauts drive through Southwest Philadelphia, anxious to start their tour of their old neighborhood — near 54th and Trinity streets, where much of the inspiration for their music is derived from.
They park a few blocks away from Mont’s former home. As they walk down Trinity, Brown takes a moment to look down at the very spot where a friend was gunned down a few years back. He was targeted, Brown says, but no one really knows why.
The Astronauts’ music represents the truth of what they and others have experienced – it’s sometimes violent and otherwise off-color, much like the way life was when they were growing up and still is for some of their friends today.
“I’m the one who does the lyrics,” Brown says. “It’s no hold punches. Everything I’m saying is real.”
In his song “All I Had,” the chorus rings: “I do this for my mom, I do this for my son / I do it with this rap or I do it with a gun / I sell a little crack just to eat a little lunch.”
But The Astronauts also try to motivate people to do better. They took their group’s name from Guion “Guy” Bluford, a West Philly native, who in 1983 was the first black astronaut to enter space.
“It’s a message,” Brown says. “It’s ‘Mona Lisa,’ like a picture that is being painted. We’re not lying, that’s first and foremost. These are real situations. Everything we rap about is the God’s honest truth. Nothing is fabricated. And I’m just telling these kids that Guy Bluford, he made it and we can make it just as well.”