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Beartooth @ The Liacouras Center with Bring Me The Horizon and Underoath.

March 27, 2017

Text, images and video by David Lisowski.

Caleb Shomo, singer of the rock band Beartooth, is no stranger to large stages.

Having signed to Rise Records at the age of 15 as a member of the band Attack Attack!, Shomo has experienced the gamut of music industry success at just 24 years old. Adding another notch on their belt, Beartooth is currently on tour with Bring Me The Horizon and Underoath as part of The American Nightmare Tour.

We caught up with Shomo before Beartooth’s set at The Liacouras Center to discuss what it’s like headlining a show vs opening a show, Warped Tour and when to expect new music.

Track Premiere: The Remix of Vincent John’s “The Great Vibration.”

March 24, 2017

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Vincent John has largely been working behind the scenes in recent years, writing, recording and performing with other acts, including the retro-soul act Lee Fields and The Expressions.

But he’s now putting out his own work, starting last fall with a four-track EP, called Never Go BackToday, we’re premiering the remix of one of those tracks, produced by another Philly native, Mike Onufrak.

We caught up with Vincent to learn a little more about him …

Who is Vincent John and where did you come from?

I grew up in the Philadelphia area and am currently a Fishtown resident. After having lived in NYC for the past 5 years, and spending a good while in LA, I’m back in the City of Brotherly Love and it feels great.

What influenced your sound?

I’m influenced by everything from Afrobeat to MBP (Musica Popular Brasileira), from soul to pop. Psychedelia and blues. It just keeps going. But the music for this project is rooted in 80s New Wave with a Soul undertone.

 

How did you wind up working with Lee Fields?

In 2010 I was recruited by Brooklyn soul label Truth & Soul as a songwriter. We were originally writing for Chaka Khan, who sought out the collective for our distinctive sound.

With T&S, I’ve penned songs for Lee Fields, Nicole Wray, James Morrison, Aaradhna and more. After some time working in the studio as a songwriter and session musician, I was asked to join The Expressions (Lee Fields’ touring band). I continue to work with The Expressions as well as launching this project in the fall 2016 with the Never Go Back EP.

There aren’t a lot of people making pop music similar to yours in Philly. Does that help or hinder you in your pursuits?

I always aspire to do what I feel is natural despite what’s going on around me. I agree, there isn’t a mass amount of artists crafting a similar sound in the city, which can be discouraging when you’re looking for people to play shows with.

But I also don’t think about it so much. I’m just doing what I feel.

What do you aspire to do? Where do you go from here?

I’m currently working on an LP. Right now, I’m just focusing on writing the songs, versus production. Most of the songs are being written here in Philadelphia with close friends.

Usually the production evolves simultaneously with the songwriting but right now, I’m focusing solely on the chords, lyrics and melodies to make sure I have something that is true and can stand on its own. I plan on releasing a 45 this summer and a full length at the end of the year or top of 2018.

The Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience @ The Wells Fargo Center.

March 9, 2017
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Text by Jennifer Granato. Images by Dana Ricci.

Last week, the Wells Fargo Center came alive with music from the seven kingdoms of HBO’s hit TV series “Game of Thrones.”

The Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience was an immersive, multimedia event that made concertgoers forget that they were sitting in the same arena that on most other days is home to the 76ers or the Flyers.

Fans packed the arena to see live musicians and singers, conducted by the composer Ramin Djawadi, provide a real time soundtrack to the show as it played overhead on large screens. A full orchestra, a costumed choir, featured soloists and singers, and an expansive percussion section performed from an intricate, interlocking stage lined with LED lights. A violinist dressed in the style of character Daenerys Targaryen and a cellist dressed as a member of the military order The Night’s Watch were two stand out performers, both capturing audience attention with their emotive performances and use of electric instruments.

The orchestra played large stretches of music, alternating between full, popular scenes from the show and montages of clips. Scenes played in full included The Red Wedding, The Battle of Winterfel, and the pivotal Season 5 moment when Danerys’ lost dragon, Drogon, rescues her from an attack by enemy combatants. As the dragon on screen breathed fire at their enemies, fire shot up from the stage and down from the screen, those sitting close could feel the heat.

In contrast to the fire, scenes that took place in The North were ushered in with confetti snow falling onto the stage and the audience.

Djawadi, a Grammy-nominated composer, was visibly excited and engaged by the experience himself, frequently taking breaks to share quick stories about the show’s production and his musical process with the audience. Djawadi conducted large portions of the event and showed off his own musical abilities as well, playing the hammered dulcimer for part of a track and appearing on an elevated part of the stage playing the piano during one of the most musically interesting and engaging scenes of the entire performance, the explosion of the Sept of Baylor. Djawadi played the haunting piano melody across the stage from the orchestra and was accompanied by soloists as the tragic and vengeful scene played out. When the explosion took place on screen, pillars of green fire flashed up from the stage as well.

Those who wanted to be front and center for the action could sit at tables right against the base of the stage, with each of those sections divided into the different Game of Thrones houses, such as House Stark and House Lannister.

The event also featured a preview for season 7, slated to return to TV in June.

Rozes: “I Want my Music to be Able to Speak to Everyone.”

March 8, 2017

Rozes03smallRozes, the Montgomery County native who also goes by Liz Mencel, blew up when her 2015 track with The Chainsmokers rose to the top of the dance charts last winter.

She’s been non-stop busy ever since, collaborating with the next wave of pop stars, performing all over the place and preparing her debut LP, which she hopes to release this year. She performs at The Foundry on Thursday.

We spoke to her about the whirlwind she has been experiencing, and what she has coming up next.

The last time we communicated, everything was kind of blowing up. How has the last year been?

It’s been good, kind of like a whirlwind, getting used to it all. I constantly try to stay ahead of the curve, which is very tiring but a part of the industry.

What have been the highlights of the past year?

I definitely think playing Coachella was a big highlight of mine. I got to play the Let it Snow show for Amp Radio at the BB&T, which was awesome because that’s my hometown arena. That was definitely one of the biggest highlights of mine because there were some friends in the crowd who didn’t even know I’d be playing.

The Chainsmokers have won a bunch of awards and the song “Roses” was up for a bunch of stuff. How has it been dealing with all that?

I’m still numb to it. It hasn’t set in yet. I wonder if it ever will? I think it’s because I’m constantly chasing a moving target that I’m always like, “OK. This happened. What’s next?”

That sounds nerve-wracking! Are you able to enjoy it all?

Yeah, I’m able to enjoy it but it’s very rare that I actually have time to sit there thinking, “Wow, this is amazing.” I, of course, do think it’s amazing but I feel like I’ve gotten to a point when I’m shaking my leg and tapping my foot thinking, “OK. What’s next?”

It’s definitely a learning process for me to be able to just relax and realize this is really cool.

Do you feel like there is momentum now and you need to capture this and push things forward?

While I couldn’t have imagined this, I also didn’t know this is what the life would be like. I’m constantly racing toward a finish line. It’s good for me, because I think I have ADD or something. I always have something I want to accomplish.

It is what it is. I love it.

What are you chasing? What’s in store for this year?

I have a couple songs coming out. I’m playing Firefly this year by myself – I’m not appearing with The Chainsmokers or anything. This will be my own set, which is really awesome. I’m doing some touring. I’m collaborating with other artists, which is really fun for me because I get to put my dream down and pick up someone else’s life.

It’s a lot of working, grinding and releasing music, and working on my LP.

 

Do you have a timeline for that yet?

We don’t yet but we’re hoping to have it wrapped up by the end of May. Within the next three months or so.

Where have you been recording? In LA?

I’m kind of back and forth. My brother (Patrick Mencel of Bel Heir) is actually my producer, so anything I release is with my brother. I write in Philly but I also come out to LA to write. When I’m in LA, it’s usually for other artists.

Does your brother work for a studio?

He has his own studio in Fishtown. They call their production team Ssik. They produce all my songs.

What are the collaborations you’re working on?

I’m not sure if I’m allowed to announce it yet but I have one coming up pretty quickly. It’s with another DJ act. I’m pretty excited for it.

Who are you writing for?

I’ve written for Louis Tomlinson from One Direction. I wrote with Sophie Beem, who is one of Beyoncé’s girls. Victoria Justice from Nickelodeon. It’s all these people who are starting their solo careers, really.

What do you want out of your career?

I want my music to be able to speak to everyone. I want to really be that escape that I had when I listened to Adele or Alicia Keyes. It’s so important, especially now, that we all have an escape and someone we relate to, and that we all have those outlets that we can pour our emotion into.

Wherever that song winds up – whether I sing it or someone else does, I want it to be able to be there for someone who doesn’t have anyone else.

Are you excited about the show at The Foundry?

I am, especially because it’s an all-ages show. A lot of my fans who are under 21 haven’t been able to see me yet. I’ve been playing all over-21 venues. It will be exciting to see the younger fans.

Elissa Janelle Velveteen: The Popaganda Machine.

February 17, 2017

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Text by Brianna Spause. Images by Brianna Spause and Ben Wong.

Sheltered. Censored. Segregated.

That’s how Elissa Janelle Velveteen, 30, describes growing up in a loving, yet conservative household, as a preacher’s daughter.

“Music was the bridge for me to get out,” Velveteen says. “I grew up singing in the church choir, where the principle taught was to be humble because you’re not singing for yourself. You’re singing for Jesus.”

At first, the singer-songwriter felt selfish commanding attention on stage. Velveteen says the showy, “Hey! Look at me!” attitude she found in the entertainment business was foreign, yet a lifestyle she welcomed to make her voice heard.

“I like to use music as a vehicle,” Velveteen says. “This is fun, but the reason I dedicated my life to it is because you can change the world with it.”

She calls it “popaganda.” It’s catchy music with meat to it, and it has a few goals.

“To reach and help people,” Velveteen says. “To inspire people. It’s not necessarily about me but you do kind of have to flag people down like, ‘Hey! I have something to say.’”

As with most things, Velveteen believes in starting small.

In the issues she cares about, Velveteen has the whole – we might not be able to stop Walmart right now from paying inhumane wages to factory workers overseas, but we can all stop shopping there, right? – kind of attitude.

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She brings focus with her raspy, sharp vocals in Molly Rhythm, the eclectic eight-piece rock/ska/punk band where she is one of the two dueling female vocalists.

To start off her career in Philly, she played her dark, cathartic originals on stage at The Fire’s weekly Monday night open mics. For 10 years, she was so reliable, they brought her on as a host and a bartender.

On a cold December Wednesday, Velveteen graces the same stage in a retro pair of lilac trousers and an intricate tulle hat. The Fire is having their annual Holiday Party. The smell of chili and the sounds of Velveteen’s vocals fill the small room.

As the night winds on, Velveteen plays the majority of her new album, One Sunken Ship. The set is like a journey as Velveteen dances from the acoustic guitar to piano to ukulele-and-kazoo combo and back again, practicing her popaganda by painting a realistic picture of society as she sees it.

“Y’all want to hear a little ditty about police brutality?” Velveteen says as she leans into the microphone, before going into “The Devil’s Hands.”

In the overall catchy tune, Velveteen begs the question, “Where do you get the nerve to call protect and serve legal abuse?” moving on to social commentary like, “We’re changing the channel, but not our behavior. Ignoring our neighbors and waiting on a savior that will never come.”

Lori Johansson, bassist of Molly Rhythm, says Velveteen’s lyrics are what have always drawn her into her music.

“She makes important points on big issues in a very poetic and thoughtful way,” Johansson says. “Her songs command you to pay attention to certain points with her ever-changing riffs and deliberate pauses.”

Velveteen says live performance is where she truly finds the most comfort. The act of engaging people with her message and the spirit of protesting society’s norms works best when she feels like she can engage one-on-one with people in a crowded room through music.

Johansson sees the charming effects of propaganda in both Velveteen’s solo and band performances, from the inside out.

“Words mean something different to individuals and they create synapses in your brain,” Johansson says. “If you hear new thoughts and ideas, it can increase brain plasticity to help you come up with new thought patterns. And music is a wonderful way to help people remember what you are saying.”

Josh Aptner, founder of Deviant Philly and drummer in the progressive rock duo Air is Human, also recognizes the sense of magic Velveteen finds in live performance.

Velveteen was the first artist Deviant Philly, an art collective new to the city, produced an album for. Aptner says when they were recording One Sunken Ship in the studio, something was missing and they couldn’t quite put a finger on it.

“Then we realized, it was the audience,” Aptner says. “She’s a performer, through and through. Even if you just meet her in person you can tell. She’s very gregarious. She’s more comfortable in that setting.”

To solve the problem of the studio stuffiness, they threw a big party and recorded the album live, and outdoors. Velveteen says she is pleased that you can’t tell the recorded album is live, adoringly calling the sound guys all wizards.

“We really wanted that live magic,” Velveteen says. “That’s when I thrive, when I can look at people and I can see them reacting to the music and get them dancing. If they relate and enjoy it, great! Maybe they’ll never reach that level like, ‘Oh fuck! That song is about sweatshops,’ but you’ve given them something. Maybe it’s a piece of you that makes them forget about their problems for a second.”

For Velveteen, the ability to get up on stage and share her thoughts through music is like putting herself on the autopsy table, and encouraging her audience to take a look around. She says experiences are all relatable if you boil them down enough, and she wants to share her coping mechanisms with others.

“I feel like everyone is so alienated now, they’re so alone in their own pain,” Velveteen says. “We are more or less pack animals in the way the reward centers in our brains work. Most of us – unless you’re a sociopath, we want to care about each other, and I want to make that happen for people.”

The Red Hot Chili Peppers @ The Wells Fargo Center.

February 16, 2017

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Text by Vince Bellino. Images by Brianna Spause.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers took the stage at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday for a sold out night in support of their 2016 full-length, The Getaway.

By the time openers Jack Irons and Trombone Shorty finished their performances, the venue was packed, with fans giving warm receptions to both artists’ sets.

Chili Peppers bassist Flea, guitarist Josh Klinghoffer and drummer Chad Smith came out first, jamming instrumentally and dancing around the stage before singer Anthony Kiedis joined them. Their setlist was varied, including a combination of music from The Getaway and older albums including Stadium Arcadium, By the Way, Californication and Blood Sugar Sex Magik.

The first song of the night was “Around the World,” followed by crowd-pleaser and former radio single “Snow (Hey Oh).” The Chili Peppers also played “The Zephyr Song” before launching into “Dark Necessities,” the first song to be played from their most recent album.

Throughout the night, Flea and Kiedis told stories about the band’s 30-plus year career. Flea reminisced about the first time the California funk rock veterans performed in Philadelphia and the warm reaction they received from the crowd. He said he saw many “flavors of people,” to which Kiedis asked how many. The band also performed an impromptu jam while Flea sang about Philadelphia and, at Kiedis’ urging, Scranton. He asked for lyrics about Harrisburg, but the band was already moving on.

Other highlights of the night included a performance of “Under the Bridge,” during which Klinghoffer sat on the stage to perform. That was followed by setlist ender “By the Way,” which elicited a loud cheer when its opening notes were played.

The band left the stage but returned a few moments later to perform three songs: a cover of Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye” (sung by Klinghoffer), “Goodbye Angels” from The Getaway and the Blood Sugar classic “Give It Away.”

Though it wasn’t a hits-heavy night from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, their first night of two at the Wells Fargo Center was a strong one.

The Brotherly Love Benefit Concert for Jeff Bradshaw @ The TLA, featuring Jill Scott, Bilal and More.

January 24, 2017

img_7675Text by Morgan James. Images by James Younge.

In the city of Philadelphia, Friday January 20th signaled a different kind of celebration.

On that day friends, fans, family, and the like congregated at the TLA to honor North Philly native and one of the most sought after jazz trombonists, Jeff Bradshaw.

Bradshaw has worked alongside musical giants such as Jill Scott, Jay Z, Erykah Badu, Kirk Franklin, The Roots, Trombone Shorty and Marsha Ambrosius, to list a few.  He’s been sharing his music for more than 25 years, but this past year he announced his battle with acute diverticulitis. After learning of his illness, his friend and peer Jill Scott led the charge to organize Friday’s benefit concert to assist with Bradshaw’s increasing financial medical needs, and to raise awareness about the disease.

But to regard Friday evening as solely a benefit concert doesn’t quite satisfy the mood of the night. The Brotherly Love Benefit Concert for Jeff Bradshaw was less showcase and more an unparalleled outpouring of love and support for the beloved musician.

Patti Jackson of WDAS opened the show. For those familiar with summer nights at ‘The Dell,’ Jackson’s presence harkened to a familiarity most of the crowd associates with a soulful good time. Also, fun fact – Dell attendees are partial to their creature comforts, and the organizers didn’t disappoint – there were rows of seats at The TLA, who knew!

Singer, songwriter and producer Eric Roberson acted as master of ceremonies – a role that comes naturally to the risible showman. At one point between sets, he crowdsourced lyrics for an improvisational song. Select concertgoers eagerly suggested “beautiful,” “Obama,” “fulfill,” “skillful,” and wait for it, “alpha male,” to which Roberson crooned out a 64-bar banger, replete with a verse, chorus and a bridge to boot.

Jean Baylor of 90s duo Zhané kicked off the performances, followed by violinist Chelsey Green of The Green Project, R&B songstress Algebra Blessett, Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Najee, Philly’s very own neosoul rockstar Bilal, as well as Kenny Lattimore, Raheem Devaughn, Maysa and Robert Glasper.

Glasper brought out Treena Ferebee and Bilal during his set, to which Bradshaw, percussionist/producer CJ Branch, Jill Scott, and Kindred the Family Soul could all be seen and heard sidestage praising and shouting “Hallelujah!” It was this type of function, an unabashed family affair.

Throughout the night, as Roberson introduced act after act, an audience member could be overheard referencing each one as a “living legend” in an awe-inspired hushed tone.

The audience could barely contain themselves when DJ Kool made a surprise appearance and rocked the place with his smash hit “Let Me Clear My Throat,” which holds a special place in the heart of Philadelphians. Not skipping a beat, the band begin to play gogo classic “Da Butt,” when Sugar Bear of D.C.’s E.U. emerged unexpectedly to perform his song to an utterly ecstatic and jamming crowd.

Feeling the energy and love in the room, the husband and wife duo from Philadelphia, Kindred The Family Soul, hopped on stage to express their “brotherly love and sisterly affection” for Jeff Bradshaw by singing their hit “Far Away.”

Peppered throughout the night, Bradshaw was celebrated by the extended civic, music, and entertainment community, receiving an official honor from Councilman At-Large Derek Green on behalf of the Philadelphia City Council, in addition to a show of support from WRNB’s Dyana Williams on behalf of the Philadelphia Chapter of The Recording Academy, and from Fox 29’s Alex Holley of “Good Day Philadelphia” and Quincy Harris of “The Q.”

However no one could have moved the crowd, nor Jeff Bradshaw himself, quite like Miss Jill Scott. Scott sauntered on stage with what appeared to be brown liquor in the classiest of wine glasses and proceeded to give the room exactly what it craved – a cathartic moment for Bradshaw, for Philly. If you’ve never seen Scott perform, it’s, well, it’s magic. She’s theatre. Drama in the purest form. She seduces all within reach.

And she spoke so very highly of Bradshaw, who could be seen holding back tears when he walked on stage to embrace her. She also spoke highly of her city.

“Something about that Schuylkill  punch makes our musicians great,” she said.“Like Bilal, Roots, Jasmine, Kindred!”

When Bradshaw addressed the crowd at length, he was visibly overcome with emotion.

“God is good,” he said. He informed those in attendance of his condition and the importance of healthy eating habits, something he formerly took for granted. “We need to eat better, take care of ourselves and eat plant-based foods.”

Bradshaw said he was appreciative and his heart was full. He said that he was blessed to have friends like the ones he has, even gratefully acknowledging Kenny Lattimore as “a praying man.”

He ended his remarks by bringing up a phone conversation he had previously with Jill Scott during the planning stages of the event.

“Jill said on the phone to me, ‘This is something we need to do more of,’” he recalled.

Every artist on stage seemed to agree.

For those who wish to help Bradshaw on his journey to revitalized health, visit his GoFundMe page here.

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