Category Archives: Music

of Montreal at Union Transfer

of Montreal do not disappoint as they bring their Spring Tour in support of new album, Paralytic Stalks, to Union Transfer.  

If Kevin Barnes were to ever give up making music, he would have ample experience being the ring master for a big time circus. For proof of this statement, look no further than Barnes’ of Montreal and their performance Monday evening at Union Transfer. Even his outfit, a light grey suit covering a frilly red shirt, gave the idea that he might have lions jumping through flaming hoops at some point in the evening.

Even before doors open, there were hints at the impending conviviality – brightly dressed kids, some with faces painted, hinting at the circus-like atmosphere forthcoming. The first of two openers was of Montreal band member Kishi Bashi, who held the near capacity crowd in near silence as he performed a handful of songs off his forthcoming LP, 151a, due out next week. It was quiet to the point he had to ask if the audience was really polite or if he was playing to an empty room. As for Bashi, he was anything but quiet, mixing violin, his own beat boxing, guitar and throughout looping samples of himself on the stage to produce some powerful sounds on such songs as “It All Began with a Burst”. After that “burst” of energy, things turned more low key, as Sweden’s Loney, Dear (Emil Svanängen), the second opener of the evening, took the stage for a more relaxed set. Accompanied by an accordionist, Emil removed his shoes before starting into a set “he had reversed the order of from last night.” Occasionally playing on a drum set that might have been sized more for an eight year old in his bedroom than a sold out show at Union Transfer, he played his downtempo set as anticipation built for the headliner’s appearance.

Shortly thereafter, as ‘90s radio R&B started to waft out of the sound system, the crowd began to gather steam. They’d given their attention to the other two rings under the big top that night, and now they were ready to give their full attention to the ring master in the center ring. Starting out with songs from their most recent effort, Paralytic Stalks, the crowd’s energy rose. During the second song in the set, characters dressed head to toe in black came out and threw bundles of balloons into the crowd. The packages burst into individual balloons, as if mimicking the crowd’s excitement. During the performance, various characters appeared on the stage, acting out scenes as the band played on. By the time Barnes and Co. got to “Suffer for Fashion”, off of 2007’s classic Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, the crowd was in full tilt, dancing around the stage and on the balcony above the general crowd. As if they knew what the crowd was anticipating, there was no banter from the band as they flowed from song to song in their nearly hour and a half set, save for Barnes saying a gentle “goodbye” to the audience at the conclusion, and “Did you have a good time tonight Philadelphia? I know I did. I know I did.” at the end of the encore, which was preceded by two men dressed in pig masks leading the crowd in cries for the band to return to the stage.

The Ringling Brothers might have a run for their money.

8th Annual XPoNential Music Festival Headliners Announced

If you’re like me, you probably find yourself thinking: man, I don’t get over to Camden nearly as much as I should. Luckily the fine folks at WXPN have come along with their annual pretty awesome reason to venture across the Ben Franklin Bridge: the 8th annual XPoNential Music Festival.

WXPN returns to Wiggins Park in Camden on the mighty Delaware River for that latest incarnation of their annual music festival July 20-22, this year expanding and adding a third day. A full line-up will be announced on May 1st, but yesterday they announced the headliners. Wilco, Philly’s Dr. Dog and the Avett Brothers are all on board for this year’s shindig. There’s a little twist though. That show will actually be at the nearby Susquehanna Bank on Saturday July 21st, but will still be part of the overall festival. In fact, if you buy a 3 day festival pass, it includes lawn seat admission to the Wilco show.

Judging by their upcoming tour schedule, which is pretty laid back- this will be the next time Dr. Dog plays the Philly area after their two sold out shows at the Electric Factory this past weekend.

Reserved tickets for Wilco, the Avett Brothers and Dr. Dog go on sale this Saturday, March 31st. Tickets for the rest of the festival will be available on May 1st, when the rest of the lineup is announced. For more information, go here.

photo courtesy of

Enter The Drgn King

Dominic Angelella fiddles with a twelve string electric guitar. Ritz Reynolds puts on a jean jacket. This is happening at their studio- located in an unassuming and gritty building in South Philly, in between Mummer Town and the Delaware River. Outside there are people pushing grocery carts and dudes working on motorcycles. This is the home of Drgn King.

Drgn King- spelled that way for a reason. Maybe a couple reasons depending on how long the conversation lasts. Google “dragon king” and a sugar rush of sites devoted to Dragonball Z and ancient Chinese myths appear. Google “Drgn King” and Angelella and Reynolds appear- one with long hair, one with short and collectively with funky tunes. One is from the suburbs of Philly, one is from down Baltimore way. Old news though, because now it’s all about Pennsport, Google searches, homemade music videos and Drgn King.

The sound of Drgn King:
“Brian Eno and the RZA hanging out,” Angelella says. Reynolds nods in agreement.

Drgn King- they recently expanded to four members with the addition of bassist of Julie Slick, who according to Angelella is “the illest bass player in the city” and drummer Joe Baldacci. Angelella plays guitar, keyboards and sings while Reynolds does the producing.

Drgn King: music videos inspired by the Beastie Boys, live shows inspired by the Flaming Lips, musical upbringing inspired by the Roots.

Ritz Reynolds is a busy man. He is not just one of the dudes behind Drgn King, but also a sought after freelance music producer who has done work with the Roots, Black Thought, Mac Miller and more. Reynolds is the Philly native of Drgn King, having grown up in the lush, tree-lined streets of Ardmore and learning about music from his big brother; everything from Wu Tang Clan to Nine Inch Nails and eventually the Roots. It was all about the Roots for Reynolds and was a dream to work with the Philly legends some day. It was, as time progressed, a pleasure to work with the Philly legends, which he’s been doing since their album, Rising Down and has continued to do so up through their most recent release, undun. He bounces back and forth between Los Angeles and Philadelphia. He promises to make those Drgn King live shows if he can.

Drgn King- a good drunk conversation helped get things started.

At the Piazza in Northern Liberties a few years back, Angelella told Reynolds he wanted to rap for him. Both had known each other from traveling in similar circles and jamming with similar people- people like Dice Raw and Nickie Jean. But at first glance the pairing was an odd one- the rock n roller Angelella and the hip hopper Reynolds.

Angelella is the one from Baltimore and the one who came to Philadelphia to attend University of the Arts. Upon arrival, he got out there; determined to play as much music as possible- a sideman, a solo act, a member of multiple bands, bands with amazing names like Elevator Fight. In those first couple years, Angelella got around.

“I tried to play with everybody,” he says, “just to figure that (what kind of music he wanted to play) out.”

After that conversation at the Piazza, Drgn King hunkered down in Reynolds’s studio- recording music. There are live shows once or twice a month, but for the most part, Drgn King is a science experiment and Angelella and Reynolds are the mad lab coats behind it. Their debut album is done; it’s in the can. It’s mastered and everything. Drgn King are sitting on it though, currently trying to figure out how to release it. A handful of songs from it are out there, released via the band’s Bandcamp page and one or two, accompanied by music videos. The most popular one so far is “Holy Ghost,” directed by David King, and was released late last summer. The tune Reynolds admits, “is a very likable jam” and the video features Angelella and Reynolds walking the city streets, joined by friends and passer-bys. All that is missing is a fish eye lense, but the Beastie Boys’ influence is clear.

“Those Beastie Boys’ videos,” Angelella says, “were the best thing ever when I was in high school, middle school.” He is the proud owner of the Beastie Boys Criteria Collection, a DVD of all of the band’s music videos.

Also in the Drgn King pipeline is an EP of covers, which may or not include a D’Angelo tune, and a hip hop influenced mix tape. The mix tape raised an initial concern for Angelella, who worried that it might throw fans off; fans who may have been introduced to Drgn King through the “Holy Ghost” video. Reynolds was unfazed though. It was what Drgn King was about- this desire to be unattached to any particular genre and do what they wanted. Drgn King was about making their musical style a musical style all of its own. There would be big drums, but there would be pop. There would be some hip hop, but there would be some rock. At times, it may even sound like a good old fashioned Spaghetti Western.

There would be Drgn King.

There is a live show that may also include a projector or a television; the presence of a visual element. For Drgn King, the live show should be an experience. It should be experienced by the audience in a way that they are involved; be made part of the show, but not through sing-a-longs or clapping in unison.

“Being so fucking on,” Angelella says of the crowd, “so excited about being there.”

There is a Reynolds sighting, carrying a briefcase containing only a tambourine at Johnny Brenda’s.

There is another appearance by the Philly rapper, Asaad, who both members of Drgn King believe is the best young rapper in town.

There is Drgn King, not a Chinese myth, a Chinese restaurant or a Chinese, crazy cartoon.

It is Drgn King, original rock music from down South Philly way.

photos by Anthony Farlow and Don King.

Heineken Green Room: RJD2 & DJ Statik @ Walnut Room

RJD2 & DJ Statik rock the Green Room on Walnut St.  Photos by Tim Blackwell.

Another awesome event sponsored by Heineken, exclusively for Green Room members. Green bottles everywhere, as attendees sipped Heineken at the open bar, then swarmed straight to the dance floor. Playing everything from Hip Hop to Latin music, Reggae to Electronic grooves, RJD2 & DJ Statik proved they know the true meaning of “move the crowd..” Not a Heineken Green Room member? Sign up on the 215 Mag email list for invites and info on future Heineken events. Check the slideshow for all of the action.



Book Review: Jay-Z’s ‘Decoded’

Born in the poverty-stricken South Bronx under Plato’s idea that necessity is the mother of invention, hip-hop gave hope to a generation who went from rags to riches through its byproducts of rap music and the illegal drug trade. Perhaps the largest name to ever dabble in both of the aforementioned means of commerce is Jay-Z [born Shawn Carter]. Going from Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects to the cover of Forbes magazine earlier this year, he has attained a status far beyond the reach of the commonplace rapper du jour. Decoded is Jay-Z’s first foray into the literary field as a memoir of his rise to fame, detailing the subtext of the lyrics from 36 of his songs interweaved with his life’s philosophies.

Decoded walks you through the first-hand tale of a kid in Ronald Reagan’s crack era, who fearlessly reconciled risking his life as a drug dealer to leave poverty behind. Upon seeing rap ciphers in his neighborhood and attaining adulation for the likes of Rakim, Run-DMC and Public Enemy, he begun honing in on the skill that would one day make him a household name (seemingly unaware of its possibilities at the time). After approaching music with an air of skepticism, upon witnessing early comrade Jaz-O catch bad breaks, he finally chose to leave the street life behind him, setting into place his eventual meteoric ascension within hip-hop. From Rocafella Records’ humble beginnings to a self-appointed duty to kill the autotune recording trend, he gives us crucial morsels to explain his professional and personal growth over time: from the making of Jay’s classic debut LP, Reasonable Doubt, to his close relationship with the Notorious B.I.G, to a run-in with the law for assaulting a label executive, and a hindsight that finds him disgusted with his smash hit “Big Pimpin’.”

More than an overview of Jay-Z’s career, the book extends a rare view into the deeper thoughts of a man considered shallow and superficial by stern detractors. Speaking on topics such as the alarming rate of incarceration for African-American men, George Bush’s war, Hurricane Katrina and the role he played in Barack Obama’s election, it is apparent he takes social responsibility as serious as his career. Dually, he spends much of the tome fighting an uphill battle for the world to view his craft, and hip-hop at large, as a legitimate art form. Despite it being a multi-billion dollar culture that has shaped and influenced lives worldwide, Jay defensively speaks on how Cristal executive, Frederic Rouzaud, and Noel Gallagher of the rock band Oasis, have clashed with the mores he holds most dear. He recognizes and embraces his power as a business and artistic leader, while noting the dangers of falling prey to the pressures of handling success, drawing a parallel between himself and the artist Basquiat.

Decoded is a masterwork if only for the fact that few other emceess would be afforded the opportunity to speak at this length about their life’s progression. The tale of horrific street conditions, and hardened survival instincts, that ultimately gave way to boardroom triumphs is the latest testament to the ever-elusive balance Jay-Z has found between art and business. A minor drawback is that diehard fans aren’t given much they didn’t already know, as it seems the book was written more for casual observers. The artist looks back at his past with some shame, and a simultaneous lack of remorse, while celebrating the notion that he’s responsible for telling his truth alongside celebrating his success and impact. (Spiegel & Grau)

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Review

The guideline for most rap interviews goes as follows: ask how Rapper X got his start, how Rapper X liked working with this artist, and the one question that never fails is “So who are you influenced from”. The response you usually get out of Rapper X is: “Well I grew up listening to everything, so I draw influences from all over” or something along those lines. Kanye west has created a new standard for hip hop albums with his latest release, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,  which dropped late this past November. His first album off of the G.O.O.D. Music label, Kanye West displays a more mature appreciation for music than he has on any other album. Kanye infuses a raw techno sound with strings and horns to create a sound unlike any other. He’s completely changed his sound from the “College Dropout” days.  He features artists like indie folk singer Bon Iver as well as Sir Elton John, neither of which have much relevance in the world of hip hop despite Elton Johns VMA performance with Eminenm.  The instrumentals Kanye uses reflect that of a man who truly listens to anything, thus making his album appeal to all listeners.

Listeners might however be disappointed with the content of MBDTF. Unlike his first three albums, Kanye is less politically and socially aware in this latest release. Rather than have an outward focus on the world, Kanye seems to have dumb-ed it down a bit. Rather than listen to Kanye’s opinions or views on the world, you see the world that Mr. West is living in. From this album you get a sense that Kanye’s established his swagger as a rapper, but all the success comes with a falling social life. In the song “Blame Game” Kanye describes a relationship gone bad that resembles the end of his long term relationship with long time model girlfriend, Amber Rose. In addition to new subject matter, his lyrics are a lot raunchier than on prior albums. The song “Hell of a Life” he opens with “I think I fell in love with a porn star, turn the cameras on she a born star”. Kanye seems to have a new belief system, this “I don’t give a fuckness”  that only he understands and we the audience try to relate to. This new bravado makes his album almost comedic and leaves the listener asking “did he really just say that?” Kanye seems to have lyrically conformed to the rap game. I can’t say that the things he say set him apart from any other artist on scene. Rather than supply us with hood anthems like “We Don’t Care”, off his freshman album, College Drop Out, Kanye’s main focus seems to be women, wealth, and a good time.

Some of my personal favorites off the album include the opener “Dark Fantasy” which reels in listeners with witty metaphors, and a beautifully sung hook. Another, “All of the Lights” features a catchy hook sung by Rihanna, and is more of a typical radio track compared to the rest of the songs on the track list. It features the standard, verse-hook-verse format but at the same time has lyrics that don’t get old. All in all I don’t think I can name a single bad track on the album. Lengthy as it is, with a good amount of songs lasting five and a half minutes or more, I had no problem listening to it. If anything my only issue was wanting to hear more. If he keeps maturing his sounds and keeping relevant Kanyes career will have a “Hell of a Life”.