Tag Archives: Union Transfer


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




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.)


Ex Hex Close Out the Weekend at Union Transfer

April 27th, 2015

Ex Hex – Union Transfer – April 26, 2015

All female rock bands aren’t novel. In fact, groundwork was set by riot grrrl nearly 20 years ago. And to that point, across town, on the same night as Ex Hex’s show, audiences could see Speedy Ortiz, fronted by Sadie Dupuis. These bands are often mentioned together as well as in relation to gender politics in contemporary indie rock. That may be because despite a more diverse landscape, historically, it was rare to see women rip ear-ringing guitar solos, much less do so in sequin dresses and fishnet stockings. At Union Transfer on Sunday, this was the takeaway image to go along with Ex Hex’s wonderfully aggressive and infectious sound.

Ex Hex is Mary Timony on guitar and vocals, Betsy Wright on bass and vocals, and Laura Harris on drums. Although they are a relatively new band, with only one LP, 2014’s Rips, Timony is a veteran of the indie rock scene, having played in Helium, Autoclave and Wild Flag. Last night, both Timony and Wright wore sequin dresses that shimmered in front of an equally shimmery backdrop of brass-colored streamers. Harris’s bass drum depicted a spider that was either symbolic of a black widow or a devourer of men—or it was just unsettling imagery. In contrast, the sound was steady, booming rhythms and big, beautiful distortion, led by Timony bending down to adjust whatever knobs or pedals were needed to play the music even louder.

The set list was a quick succession of tracks from Rips, interspersed with new songs and the most recent single, “Hot and Cold.” Each song leapt forward, before falling back in line with other sub-three-minute sound attacks. It was rapid fire, with occasional false starts and breaks for stage banter. Timony playfully acknowledged the men in the crowd, jokingly dedicating a song by saying, “This one’s for the party boys.” Some of them danced wildly and others stood cross-armed, absorbing the music of their WXPN morning commute. But across all genders, Ex Hex played wonderfully within a less than inclusive history of music and expertly within the vacuum of the night. —Jared Levy | @Playtonic

(Ex Hex play Music Hall of Williamsburg on 6/12.)



Houndmouth Are Unrelentingly Energetic at Union Transfer

April 6th, 2015

Houndmouth – Union Transfer – April 4, 2015

During the second chorus of “Sedona,” it struck me: I hadn’t listened too closely to Houndmouth’s lyrics prior to seeing them on Saturday at Union Transfer, but that night the words had direct meaning. As the band sang, “I remember, I remember when the neon used to burn so bright and pink/ A Saturday night kind of pink,” a neon pink sign reading HOUNDMOUTH glowed atop the stage—and it was a Saturday night. The only other time reference was when drummer-singer Shane Cody called out that Wisconsin had beaten Kentucky in the Final Four.

Otherwise, Houndmouth played in a time warp. The guys—guitarist-singer Matt Myers, bassist-singer Zak Appleby and Cody—wore eccentric vintage outfits with deep V-neck shirts while keyboardist-singer Katie Toupin donned a shimmering blue dress. At times,
it seemed like they were trying to approximate Fleetwood Mac’s aesthetic. Toupin looked and sounded the part of an ethereal songstress while Myers stood at the front of the stage, high-kicking during solos. It worked for them, though, and throughout a set list comprised of material from their first album and their newest, Little Neon Limelight, Houndmouth were unrelentingly energetic.

Most of the songs sounded like they should be played in front of an audience rather than in a studio, especially when they climaxed with instrumental swells and big harmonies. But there were quiet moments too, like when Toupin played guitar and sweetly sang, “Gasoline.” And even if they wear their influences on their sleeves, quite literally, as the classic-rock costumes indicated, Houndmouth don’t come across as overly sentimental, and it’s appreciated. The quartet gave shout-outs to some of the Philadelphia bands they admire, especially Dr. Dog. And despite not sounding alike, both groups approach a live show similarly: work hard, have fun and relax. —Jared Levy | @Playtonic



Kishi Bashi Provides a Feast for the Senses at Union Transfer

February 19th, 2015

Kishi Bashi String Quartet – Union Transfer – February 18, 2015

Sight and sound are the primary senses that an audience uses. And while they complement each other, it’s often said that one sees a band rather than hears one. The body isn’t given enough credit, the muscles and bones. They ache for hours after standing, but if it’s a good show, it’s a good hurt. Still, with that awareness of the body, on Wednesday night at Union Transfer, Kishi Bashi provided floor seating for those eager enough to arrive before the opener, Busman’s Holiday, which he justified by saying, “I know it’s unusual to see a show seated, but I saw one recently and it was great.”

That kind of playful, upbeat attitude was what came across in both Kishi Bashi’s stage banter and his music. After he strode onstage following his four-piece orchestra, Bashi brandished a baton with a maestro’s flair. His particular aesthetic was less traditional, as he wore a well-tailored jacket, dark vest and a plaid bow tie. The clothes were somehow reminiscent of his music, juxtaposing the classical and the idiosyncratic. It was heard on songs like “Bittersweet Genesis for Him and Her,” when Bashi explained that the lyrics told of how “Earth was created by a cosmic couple,” although when the music faded out, he offered, “Earth was destroyed at the end of the song.”

The music featured an unconventional approach to percussion through the work of the orchestra, as well as ecstatic drumming on the banjo(!) from Kishi Bashi’s partner, Mike Savino of Tall Tall Trees. The two traded verbal jabs but also seriously blended instrumental parts when the musical moments called for interplay. To parse out the experience, it went back to this idea of sight and sound: Savino’s neon banjo glowing against the dark stage and Bashi’s high register sailing over the strings—the audience standing after “a seventh inning stretch,” only to stay upright until the final song, when Kishi Bashi, surrounded by his band, played an acoustic version of “Bright Whites.” It was quiet, lush and physically striking as the other musicians stood in a semicircle and watched for cues. It was a full sensory experience, as all good concerts should be.
—Jared Levy | @Playtonic


Phox Gain the Friday Audience’s Trust at Union Transfer

February 16th, 2015

Phox – Union Transfer – February 13, 2015

It should be difficult for an audience to trust a band. There are reasons to be skeptical. Despite the usual assurances that band X is happy to be performing at venue Y and loves city Z, audience members ought to understand that touring is a grind. It can’t be the case that every show is the best show or that every city is the best city. Still, it’s an act of faith that keeps concertgoers going to shows, to see bands they love or those that intrigue them.

On Friday night at Union Transfer, Phox proved to be truly genuine. The six-member band from Baraboo, Wisc., walked onstage, illuminated by four marquee letters spelling their name. Lead singer Monica Martin stood in the center, surround by the band’s five male members. She nervously cracked her knuckles and fidgeted before diving into the first song, singing with natural confidence. Maudlin and mid-tempo, at first it seemed out of place, as the guitarist in a pink blazer failed his arms, imploring the drummer to play more aggressively, but it was also quintessential Phox: outwardly confident yet inwardly insecure. The songs ache.

Martin gestured to the significance of the night, Valentine’s Day eve. In her typical humorous yet painfully self-aware stage banter, she mentioned how the third song was about “homeboy walking away,” but circled back, saying, “Happy Valentine’s Day is what I’m trying to say.” And then, midway through the set, Phox made an unexpected decision. They stripped away the electric instruments, grabbed their acoustics, huddled around Martin and played songs just like they “did in the living room.” It was an intimate moment and hard to believe it was unscripted. Still, that was Phox. At another point in the show, they called up multiple friends and the opener, Field Report, to sing “You Are My Sunshine.” It was achingly cute and reminiscent of a Gap ad, but it would be wrong to think poorly of such a sincere moment. They earned the audience’s trust and, in doing so, gained their admiration and respect. —Jared Levy | @Playtonic


The New Pornographers Are in the Zone

November 21st, 2014

The New Pornographers – Union Transfer – November 20, 2014

Last night at Union Transfer, I felt a collective sense of nostalgia. The sold-out crowd that came out to see the New Pornographers appeared to know many of the songs, but they mostly showed quiet appreciation for the music, rather than jubilant release. That seemed to suit the New Pornographers, too, as cofrontman AC Newman said, in a song break, “We’re all focused on rocking…. We’re in the zone.” And within that zone, they played a smattering of songs from their new album, Brill Bruisers, as well as selections from their formidable catalog, six albums deep.

Last night’s show played to the strengths of the other cofrontman, Dan Bejar—who goes by Destroyer in his solo project. Bejar, visually distinctive with his raised mess of curly hair, full beard and rumpled, unbuttoned shirt, crooned in his odd, high register. On the songs that featured his vocals, he walked out from stage right, sang with nonchalance, bowed deeply and then disappeared again to stage right. It was an excellent counterpoint to the otherwise straight-up power pop songs that are the staple of the New Pornographers.

What made the performance so enjoyable, though, was the balance. The New Pornographers are a supergroup, with essentially every member counting as a someone who fronts the band. The greatest example of this is Neko Case, an incredibly successful solo artist in her own right, who sacrificed most of her vocal duties to support Newman and Bejar in harmonies. She tapped the tambourine and clapped with the audience, but when she blended her voice, it made the whole thing work. It’s that attention to detail that shows the wisdom of experience. Seeing that from Case and the New Pornographers reminded me that there’s improvement to be had over time and endless good feelings in the small refinements of prolific talent. —Jared Levy | jaredlevy.contently.com


Courtney Barnett and San Fermin Are a Winning Combination

October 21st, 2014

Courtney Barnett/San Fermin – Union Transfer – October 20, 2014


The rarely mentioned truth about live music is that it is, in essence, an exercise in predictability. From night to night, bands play the same songs with minor variations. The attitude of the crowds may influence things, but when a group plays their songs, they are working from a script, a set list of material, which, hopefully, they know well. Within that paradigm, where is the band’s enjoyment? What does the audience come to see and hear? How is live music a unique experience?

Listening to Courtney Barnett, you get the sense that whatever navel-gazing, highbrow thinking is imposed on her music, she will shrug it off and keep playing. As the lyric to her runaway radio hit, “Avant Gardender,” goes, “It’s a Monday/ It’s so mundane.” Mundane for her, maybe, but for the audience that came to see Barnett with coheadliner San Fermin last night at Union Transfer, the performance was extraordinary, necessarily so. It’s self-evident that everyone would feel something different, from the older couple sitting at the circular table wedged between the bar and a support beam to the many flannel-clad twentysomethings. As a member of the visual majority, I too could pick out the influence of the Dirty Projectors and the National on the intricate orchestral pop of San Fermin.

And in Barnett’s shrug-filled delivery, I even heard a little Dylan. But on Monday I wanted to lose myself in these performances, and for two mesmerizing hours, they offered just that, as routine magic. Midway through her set, Barnett asked, “How is everyone doing? Good, great or average?” You could take a poll, but we all know that the responses would differ. Barnett—and her band—and San Fermin are two well-paired acts, touring as a curveball-to-fastball one-two combination. It’s tricky and off-kilter, but I imagine that every night is slightly different and new. And when it comes to live music, that is what you hope for. —Jared Levy




Phantogram Continue to Grow Bigger in Philadelphia

October 20th, 2014

Phantogram – Union Transfer – October 18, 2014

What a difference four years can make. In 2010, Phantogram played Mercury Lounge to an audience of half the venue’s capacity. The duo of beat-maker Josh Carter and vocalist Sarah Barthel showed confidence then, playing songs from their excellent debut album, Eyelid Movies, complemented by art-house films in the background, but they were still feeling through the material to create an engaging live show. On Saturday night at Union Transfer, though, Phantogram looked like a band transformed, in full possession of their talents and truly deserving of the sold-out crowd’s transfixed gaze. It was a performance to enjoy in and of itself and to admire for its passion, physicality and complete beauty.

Stunning Barthel is Phantogram’s visual and emotional center. On Saturday, she wore a black leather crop top with black short shorts to match and silver bracelets running from her wrist to her elbow. Throughout the set, Barthel moved around the stage with a microphone in hand, sighing and singing her vocal parts with an intensity that soared above the group’s full-bodied sound. Two additional musicians, a live drummer and multi-instrumentalist, created floor-shaking bass and teeth-clattering kicks. Beams of strobe light flashed onto the band and crowd. Still, Barthel’s fragile voice juxtaposed against huge electronic beats is the unique success of Phantogram’s sound. It’s what kept the audience rapt until the last electronic loops cut out.

Four years later, Phantogram are famous. Their music appears in commercials and on the Hunger Games soundtrack. Their second album, Voices, released this year, reached No. 11 on the Billboard 200. And when Phantogram played their most recent single, “Fall in Love,” next to Eyelid Movies“When I’m Small,” 1,000 people sang along to both choruses. That’s a new phenomenon, but it’s also a consummate showing of support from Philadelphians. At the show’s end, Barthel said of Phantogram’s first ever performance, which was in Philadelphia: “Ten people showed up, but they brought it.” And with a second sold-out show on Sunday, Philly brought it again—and whenever Phantogram return, a growing and increasingly connected audience will be there. —Jared Levy





Animal Collective Continue to Take Risks

October 29th, 2013

Animal Collective – Union Transfer – October 28, 2013

(Photo: Jared Levy)

Animal Collective maintain a following by continually challenging and redefining their sound. There’s nothing easy about listening to radio interference and white noise, but buried in the experimental band’s musical trances are subtle shifts and changes. The pleasures are similar to gazing at a piece of visual art where you start with base enjoyment and then peel back layers of understanding until there’s confusion … and then what?

The dial was continually turned on last night at the second sold-out show of Animal Collective’s two-night stay at Union Transfer in Philadelphia. Most of the songs came from their latest album, Centipede Hz, where the idea of crafting a live show through radio mimicry was originated. The stage setup, designed with dangling teeth and a projection screen coiled around a pointy felt tail, also drew from the album. The images were that of tropical-colored spin art flashed in time to the music. The night’s theme was Halloween, and costumed attendees filled the venue. Some dressed as animals, perhaps as an ode to Animal Collective, but the band members looked more like a collection of smoked-out zombies. There was little talking—some kind words about the opener, Dan Deacon, and Halloween—but screeches and industrial-noise loops cued the next song and then the next song until one began that everyone knew: “My Girls” with the chorus repeating, “I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things, like our social stats/ I just want four walls and adobe slats for my girls.”

It was during this song—along with some other tracks off Merriweather Post Pavilion—in which people pushed forward and even the quietest attendees mouthed the words. Still, there were distinctively difficult moments, notably the breaks before “What Would I Want? Sky” and “Peacebone.” These numbers blossomed from a struggle to arrive at the opening notes. Risky behavior for some bands, but for Animal Collective, the pleasure of their music is intrinsic to the process of its creation: four minds molding and dismantling sound. —Jared Levy


Union Transfer Opens Tonight in Philadelphia

September 21st, 2011

To quote Neil Young, “Tonight’s the night.” Yes, Union Transfer, named after the original train-depot station that occupied the building, officially opens for business when Clap Your Hands Say Yeah plays the new venue’s very first show. According to Philadelphia Weekly, “Tonight marks two returns from the dead…. We’re talking about the venerable building at 10th and Spring Garden that formerly housed the culinary shit hole known as the Spaghetti Warehouse, but this evening gets its grand reopening as the gorgeous new music venue Union Transfer. And we’re also talking about the reunited Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, which will christen Union Transfer with lots of fresh tunes.”

The Courier Post opines: “It is being touted as a general admission, air-conditioned venue that can accommodate 600 to 1,000 music lovers, depending on the show.” And that some of Union Transfer’s fine attributes are a close-to-Center City location, a state-of-the-art sound system and a wide array of bands, from Odd Future to Chris Robinson to Gillian Welch. But remember, this is just the beginning. Expect lots of great shows week after week. Philadelphia, welcome to The Bowery Presents.

The Bowery Presents Heads to Philadelphia

July 12th, 2011

Despite being the fifth biggest city in the country, Philadelphia has some gaps in its music scene. So The Bowery Presents has teamed up with Sean Agnew of R5 Productions, and Avram Hornik and Mark Fichera of Four Corners Management to open Union Transfer this fall. The name comes from the original train station that occupied the building, and the venue will have flexible capacity, accommodating between 600 and 1,000 people. There should be about 200 shows a year, and you should expect a diverse cross section of bands. The Bowery Presents’ Jim Glancy tells the Philadelphia Inquirer that “hopefully, Union Transfer fills a void and energizes the whole scene.” And that begins with Philly’s Clap Your Hands Say Yeah on Wednesday, 9/21. So now you’ll have another reason to visit the City of Brotherly Love other than to get a cheesesteak. Hope to see you there.