Tag Archives: Jared Levy


Shabazz Palaces Offer a Glimpse of a Hopeful Future at Boot & Saddle

March 19th, 2018

Shabazz Palaces – Boot & Saddle – March 18, 2018

If now feels dangerous, it’s time to expand our minds. It’s time to imagine new possibilities. We want Black Panther’s Wakanda. We want to shift the boundaries of discussion, and music can be our messenger. Space is needed. Today is cluttered. But through clever lyrics and rich soundscapes, Shabazz Palaces move through the void. They inspire thoughts on an astral plane, somewhere beyond the earthly concept of what is possible to what can be imagined. They are steeped in art, from their dress to visual displays. On Sunday night at Boot & Saddle, the duo of Ishmael Butler (aka Palaceer Lazaro) and multi-instrumentalist Tendai “Baba” Maraire stood behind a projection of thought-provoking imagery. Even when the screen went blue, with a NO SIGNAL icon dancing about, it felt intentional. More so, clips of rocket travel, African tribes and a tense scene with Christopher Plummer.

The whole room was wrapped in sound, the low end rumbling against the walls. And the songs spanned the group’s entire catalog, including last year’s third and fourth LPs—centered on our relationship to devices—Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star and Quazarz vs. the Jealous Machines. The content of those two albums was woven in between standout tracks from previous recordings, such as songs from their debut release, Black Up, which received some of the loud crowd’s wildest applause. It was interesting to see such a cozy venue host such an immersive hip-hop group. With limited lighting, the two were backlit by the screen. We saw occasional flashes of a face, a necklace or a metal plate like armor. There were shadows of a drum machine. It was like ghosts in the machine: The voices and the grooves, space to imagine, boundaries pushed and a glimpse of a hopeful future. —Jared Levey | @Playtonic


Slowdive Look Toward Their Past and the Future at Union Transfer

November 16th, 2017

Slowdive – Union Transfer – November 15, 2017

(Photos: Silvia Saponaro)

Perhaps there’s no better description of Slowdive than the one on their Twitter page: “Formed in 1989 in the Depths of Reading, UK. We like noisy guitars and cool pedals.” In two sentences, the band captures their long history and general musical aesthetic. The latter, while evident on their earlier records, is revived on their most recent release, Slowdive. The album is their first in 22 years, and it gives new material to their devoted fan base while making a pitch for another generation of listeners in 2017. Both crowds came out on Tuesday night at Union Transfer for a packed, sold-out performance.

Being there, the most immediate sensory impression was total visual immersion in a carefully planned light show. Lamps, strobes or a background video—and in some cases, all three—accompanied each song. Sometimes it was overtly synched with the music, like the loop of a white pill rotating in space for “Sugar for the Pill.” Other times, it was an all-out assault of brightness and backlighting. This, paired with the band’s all black clothing, made the experience of seeing Slowdive a deeper exploration of their sound and mood.

Looking around at the audience, both young and old stared at the stage, smiling, or taking a break from the visuals, closed their eyes and moved their heads with the music. Plainly, they sounded great. The vocal interplay between Rachel Goswel and Neil Halstead came through clearly and beautifully, the two voices sounding as good as their earlier work. It was a night to both bask in the nostalgia of an earlier sound and celebrate the return of the noisy band from the depths of Reading. —Jared Levy | @Playtonic


Thundercat Proves He’s One of the Best Live Acts in Music Today

September 25th, 2017

Thundercat – Union Transfer – September 24, 2017

(Photo: Eddie Alcazar)

As Thundercat, Stephen Bruner is an extraordinary (and endearing) weirdo. His bass-playing ability rivals that of anyone playing the instrument. And if that’s not true on a technical level, his sense of melody and unique approach to making music put him in a rarefied space. On a six-string bass, which he often strums like a guitar, Thundercat alternates between inventive chords and rapid successions of notes. It’s a dizzying and inventive combination. On his latest album, Drunk, out earlier this year, he extends on his particular aesthetic blend of funk and jazz while singing oddball lyrics in a falsetto. Some of his pet obsessions are video games, psychedelia and his pet cat, Tron, who gets multiple name-checks throughout songs. This combination of serious musicianship and delightful goofing earns Thundercat more and more fans as he mines deeper into his sound.

On Sunday, the second of back-to-back shows at Union Transfer, Thundercat continued to delight with the breadth of his catalog and the joy of his personality. For the performance, he came out in Muay Thai boxing shorts that matched his dyed-red braids. The latter were put to good use as Bruner swung his head around with eyes closed and lips pursed while playing quick riffs. Those moments when he and the band played the musical equivalent of a high-speed chase were the most thrilling. It’s a high-wire act where each musician is forced to find the center within the musical digressions. But there was also pleasure in more straight-up renditions of some of his standout tracks, like the show-closing “Them Changes,” which Thundercat played while gesturing to the audience like Dave Chappelle in his famous Rick James sketch. That sense of humor, paired with his awesome abilities, makes him one of the best acts in live music. —Jared Levy | @Playtonic


Mitski Romances Union Transfer on Friday Night

July 10th, 2017

Mitski – Union Transfer – July 7, 2017

Toward the end of show-opener Half Waif’s set, frontwoman Nandi Rose Plunkett mentioned speaking with headliner Mitski in the green room, saying a 30-minute set is like all the good parts of a relationship. It was a clever remark and many laughed, but it was also something to think about when taking stock of the talented lineup at Friday night’s sold-out show at Union Transfer. All three acts shared their unique, intimate selves and left like a perfect affair. Half Waif with dazzling and self-confident songs from her EP, Form/a, and Julia Jacklin with a hushed, solo electric guitar set, blending melancholic music with a soft yet powerful country-twanged voice. Each built on the other until Mitski, on bass and vocals, arrived with her two bandmates on guitar and drums. Then it was a great romance.

Mitski, playing coy, barely addressed the audience until she stepped forward with the spotlight shining on her. She wore a white dress, about which she later said, “Do I look like a princess? If I’m living my dream, I should do it up.” This kind of blunt vulnerability and dark sense of humor comes out on her most recent album, Puberty 2, and especially in the standout track “Your Best American Girl,” in which she sings, “If I could, I’d be your little spoon/ And kiss your fingers forevermore.” On the bass drum was the word HAPPY in reference to Puberty 2’s opening track. And while many of Mitski’s songs deal in darker times, at least when sharing these experiences, she found a deep connection with her audience. In that sense, like all of the performers, she found a way to have all the best parts of a relationship. —Jared Levy | @Playtonic


Josh Ritter Takes Union Transfer to Church on Sunday Night

February 22nd, 2016

Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band – Union Transfer – February 21, 2016

(Photo: Jared Levy)

(Photo: Jared Levy)

Faith was in the air last night at Union Transfer in Philadelphia. Josh Ritter came to town touring behind his most recent release, Sermon on the Rocks. And for this album, he explores relationships, love and religion through a mix of honest lyricism and rollicking folk rock. The album art features Ritter in a paint-smeared jumpsuit, and in concert, he wore the same outfit. It looked like he painted the backdrop, two exploding pastel mountains, and with lights flashing on the backdrop as well as on Ritter and the Royal City Band, he and his band traded solos and smiles, comfortably and confidently.

Ritter, for his part, was disarmingly sincere. While he performed, his expressions oscillated between full-faced grins and looks of deep emotional searching. And these expressions were reflected back from those in the crowd who delighted in every song. But it was mutual faith because Ritter sang like these tunes mattered to his very core, and the audience, in turn, looked back in hypnotized delight.

All material was welcomed, whether it was from Sermon on the Rocks or past albums. And “Snow Is Gone,” played on acoustic guitar, was especially well received. For sing-alongs like those, the sound in Union Transfer was that of a rich unison. For the most part, those in attendance seemed to be in their late 30s or older, a veritable army of local radio station WXPN devotees. And when Ritter repeated “homecoming,” during the last song, “Homecoming,” he pointed the microphone toward the audience, beckoning them to sing along, which they did, devoutly and passionately. Ritter inspired this kind of faith and it was a pleasure to witness. —Jared Levy | @Playtonic




Dungen Bring Swedish Psychedelic Rock to Boot & Saddle

October 19th, 2015

Dungen – Boot & Saddle – October 16, 2015

It’s an interesting thought experiment to consider whether Dungen would be as popular as Australian contemporaries Tame Impala if they sang in English. Both bands play a similar brand of classic rock–inspired psychedelia, but the difference is that Dungen sing in Swedish. That’s not insignificant. While Dungen sold out Boot & Saddle, in Philadelphia, last Friday night, there were only small pockets of cheers for familiar melodies. Otherwise, it was a different form of appreciation, something more internal and directed toward the music rather than the lyrics. As such, it was refreshing—different in a good way.

Confusingly though, all members of Dungen seem to speak English very well. At one point, frontman Gustav Ejstes mentioned that Philadelphia was the home of the “scratch” and asked if the audience knew the scratch. Someone in the crowd sarcastically responded, “Yeah, we’re American.” But the band’s sincerity was endearing. Before “Festival,” one of a few songs played from Dungen’s classic album, Ta Det Lugnt, Ejsetes dedicated it to “Melissa, who drove 10 hours for the show.” And for the last number, “Du e för Fin för Mig,” drummer Johan Holmegard led people to clap along, encouraging them by saying, “Feel the vibe” before the tune digressed into a wall-of-sound jam. That was the sweet spot for Dungen: beginning quiet and building to a climactic finish.

“Thank you for listening to Swedish music,” said Ejstes after “Du e för Fin för Mig.” For an American audience, not knowing Dungen’s lyrics is part of the band’s unique appeal. They play within a cross-cultural genre while preserving their own culture. This is either disorienting if you cling to the necessity of understanding the words in songs or refreshing if you free yourself from that constraint and absorb yourself in the music. Choosing the latter, it was a wholly satisfying experience. —Jared Levy | @Playtonic





Purity Ring Dazzle with Two Sold-Out Shows on Saturday Night

June 1st, 2015

Purity Ring – Union Transfer – May 30, 2015

The genre witch house makes me think of angsty teens swaying in a graveyard. But outside the graveyard and inside Union Transfer on a warm Saturday night, the teens did more than sway: They stood, transfixed by Purity Ring, who captured their ears while an intense light display captured their eyes. It was worth coming early for the opener, Braids. Midway through their set, everyone around me was captivated by the music. I turned around to look at the crowd, and behind me, a girl who was crying. It was emotional. During the last song, “Miniskirt,” frontwoman Raphaelle Standell-Preston sang, “But in my position/ I’m the slut/ I’m the bitch.” In an audience that was mostly women, these kinds of painful, confessional lyrics connected.

And although there weren’t any tears during Purity Ring’s set, I did see two people ferociously making out halfway through the first song. They didn’t stop for the entire set and neither did the dazzling light show. The stage setup was really something: threads coming down from the ceiling and a hazy globe, much like the cover image of the band’s newest album, Another Eternity. The songs they played, including “Heartsigh,” got the kind of reception that’s to be expected from a band that sold out two shows in one night. Leaving the venue, a line snaked around the block for the late performance. Not to the graveyard, but to somewhere life-affirming, if only for a night. —Jared Levy | @Playtonic

(Purity Ring play Terminal 5 tomorrow night and again on Wednesday night.)