The third song on our countdown comes from an album that found a new home in 2009. Moon Sweet Moon was self-released in 2008, but in the hands of The Hours 2009 seemed to the year of Via Tania. "Wonder Stranger" was the first single from the album, and one of our favorite tracks of 2009.
I’ve been an East Bay (mostly Oakland and Berkeley) resident for the better part of the last five years but really did not become a member of the music scene until 2009. I also must say that I really don’t make it out of the East Bay too often to see music, so the highlights of my year are obviously going to be slanted in favor of the Oakland/East Bay scene. Nothing against San Francisco, but the East Bay is my home and home to an amazing amount of talented people who make great music. If you are a big follower of the SF scene, then I will probably leave out some bands you think should be on my list but hopefully we can at least agree on a few things!
My Favorite Shows of 2009:
1. WHY? at Great American Music Hall, SF
I am a self-admitted WHY? fan boy and it was amazing to see them play their songs live. I can see how some people might think that WHY? is a band that would be better on record, seeing as much of their appeal can be attributed to the creative production found on their albums, but the bottom line is that they write amazing songs and are great musicians. Diehard fans of WHY? and newcomers alike were not let down and my fondness for this band has only grown since.
2. Any show where Grand Lake and Man/Miracle play together!
Is there a better pairing of bands in the East Bay than Grand Lake and Man/Miracle? I doubt it. Two completely different sounding bands that are great for different reasons but always bring more energy and intensity to their sets than most Oakland bands could even dream of. The best example of this was at the Ghost Town Gallery in November, both bands had us dancing in a drunken frenzy!
3. Tall Grass at Fort Gallery, Oakland
The now, unfortunately, defunct Fort Gallery was one of my favorite venues for the short time it was open and no show exemplifies what made that place so cool as Tall Grass’ CD release show. With about 30 to 40 of us sitting on the floor with cold beers from the nearby liquor store in hand, Tall Grass’s acoustic guitar, fiddle, and simple drums eased us into a state of awe, interrupted occasionally by bursts of laughter and giggling. A wonderful reminder of what makes Oakland such a beautiful place to witness live music.
4. Peter Stanley, Waste Band, and Silian Rail at Book Zoo, Oakland
On a cold winter night, three bands played an entirely acoustic show at a small bookstore on the edge of North Oakland and Berkeley. Rarely do you get to see bands play completely acoustic (no microphones, no amplifiers) and be blown away. Peter Stanley (of Winter’s Fall) began the evening with his twangy voice and acoustic guitar, followed by Waste Band’s guitar, baritone ukulele, and beautiful harmonizing voices. To cap off the night, math rock duo Silian Rail played an acoustic set with both members playing guitar (usually a guitar and drums duo). To hear their songs in the intimacy of a bookstore and the simpleness of two acoustic guitars showed the versatility and strength of their songwriting.
5. Vetiver at Treasure Island Music Festival
Vetiver had the tall task of playing in between Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Grizzly Bear on the cold and damp afternoon that was the second day of the Treasure Island Music Festival and they completely delivered. I was not very well versed in their recorded material prior to the performance so I wasn’t sure what to expect and was overwhelmed by the song writing and clear talent of the musicians playing. Definitely one of the better sounding bands at the festival, despite the wind and rain the band sounded clear and full and the songs were interesting and easily enjoyed.
Tonight, Let’s Pretend is a work of meticulous beauty. The Great Unknown, four local Philly gentlemen, have always been good at making folk rock something stimulating and fresh, which, considering how tired the outfit is, is no small feat. This full length album of songs is no exception, and demonstrates a fine level of craftsmanship. The orchestration of the multitude of string instruments is fantastic, smoothly forming that feeling of rolling the windows down on a long ride through the country. Banjoes, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, and lap steel interplay for a dreamy southern twang – swelling and slowing with emotion. Military beats can sometimes be heard, and in other instances, a clear and driving force of drums as well as other percussions that give the music the perfect accent. A sense of loss can be found amidst the tunes in lyrics written by the whole band. “I’m Not Listening,” for instance, which happens to be my personal favorite song on the album, contains a message of loneliness after separation: “Earthquakes and hurricanes, the ruins spell your name, I’m not looking.” Heartbreaking lyrics such as these add a whole other element to Tonight, Let’s Pretend. The endearingly sincere vocals heard throughout this album make it so much more relatable, making you feel every word intoned. It’s an honest album, with no glitz or glam, but by relying on pure, raw talent, The Great Unknown have written one of my favorite albums of the year. myspace.com/thegreatunknownband – James Sanderson
The Chickens is the side project of Street Kyle with help from his FNU Ronnies bandmate Michael Reaser. Judging by tracks like “Inside the Chicken Den” and “Phocumolous vers. #1,” expect fuzzy barely intelligible punk-ish vocals with sharp angular post punk riffs. However, they are a relatively new band and looking to add more members so there should be plenty of experimentation as they search for their unified sound. I’m really enjoying the track “Untitled #1” which sounds like it was made to be the soundtrack for an updated version of Space Invaders by mixing a little ominous psy-trance with pulse pounding industrial. The Chickens’ debut release on cassette, The Chicken, is available on Fan Death Records. The invasion will not be televised! myspace.com/therealchickens – Q.D. Tran
So there’s been a lot of talk lately about how no one says “Merry Christmas” anymore, and everyone goes for the politically correct “Happy Holidays.” Who fuckin’ cares!?! Eat, drink and be merry because you get the day off! And once you’re over being cooped up in the house with your crazy family, head out to Johnny Brenda’s Saturday night for mewithoutYou. The Weiss brothers and friends have parked their vegetable oil running ’76 Charter bus, and will be celebrating the holidays locally this year. They’ll be joined by avant-garde art rockers Make A Rising, but sorry if you don’t have a ticket because the show is SOLD OUT, and so is the one on Tuesday at First Unitarian Church with both bands and last year’s Deli Best of Philly Poll winner Drink Up Buttercup. We hope that it’s a Happy Festivus for the rest of us! We’ll see you around the pole for The Feats of Strength. Johnny Brenda’s 1201 N. Frankford Ave., 9pm, SOLD OUT, 21+
It’s a slow weekend, but it should allow you to rest up for next week’s New Year’s festivities.
The Khyber (56 S 2nd St.) SUN South Broad
World Cafe Live (3025 Walnut St.) SAT (Downstairs) Jealousy Curve, Pawnshop Roses
North Star Bar (2639 Poplar St.) SAT The Groovement
Lillie Ruth Bussey (a.k.a. Bianka Brunson) is a singer-songwriter who’s eclectic yet modest. Each tune (or "ditty," as she so aptly tends to call them) feels like it was handcrafted and endearingly gift-wrapped just for you. Certain sounds pervade throughout, like the chiming bells and piano tinklings, but most of the ditties are built around a single stark element, like the minimal, but warm, analog synth sounds of "Doors Locked," the more traditional acoustic guitar meditation of "Can’t Help," or the ukelele-based "Heart You Protect." Her lyrics, personal and beautifully earnest, revolve around "love, loss, ghosts, America and a car full of monkeys." But as easily as she can tug at your heartstrings, Miss Bussey knows how to "jam on the one" which always turns her shows into a raging dance party where sometimes the line for lap dances starts behind her. It’s Brunson’s unique ability to instantly wow crowds that keeps the Deli staff coming back for more. Lillie Ruth Bussey will be joined tonight at North Star Bar by fellow earSnake labelmate rocker Shawn Kilroy and elegant folk outfit A Stick and a Stone. North Star Bar, 2639 Poplar Street, 9pm, $8, 21+ myspace.com/lillieruthbussey – Joe Poteracki
Talk about properly named artists to see when there’s snow outside! The North Star Bar takes the storm inside for a bit when Polar Ice Cap takes their indie alternative rock to the stage. The band is still fairly new to the scene, but with a sound that’s fairly reminiscent to the likes of Hum and Weezer, they may be on the right track. They’ll be joined by Machine Gun Joe. You might have caught them playing shows with the likes of The New Time and Levee Drivers before, and their rock music has a strong Neil Young influence with subtle hints of psychobilly. North Star Bar, 2639 Poplar St., 9pm, $8, 21+ myspace.com/polaricecaptheband – Bill McThrill
You can probably lump SuperGoose in with the number of Bucks County artists that I think have been really spicing up the Philly indie music scene for years (as well as the Brooklyn/NYC scene). I’m not sure what’s in the water up there, but I do know that the wooded areas and open spaces leave little to do while growing up except think, listen to music, take drugs and have sex which certainly helps nurture great musicians (and can often be their downfall). SuperGoose is a power trio that combines ominous mechanical sounding indie rock with layers of fuzzy synth-noise and vocals that ooze rock n’ roll. It’s a big sound that I’d like to hear through arena speakers. Check out the video above for “Do the Catapult” from the Pipedown Finale, and decide for yourself! myspace.com/supergooseband – Q.D. Tran
A name like Prowler should have you think of something edgy and infectious, with an urban swagger that makes you want to get up from your seat and unleash all that stored tension. It’s an apt name for a band that delivers what the Philly music scene certainly needs more of: an odd brand of funky, indie dance-rock. Spastically soulful vocals are laid over fat, polyrhythmic beats, angular guitar scratches, and boisterous bass and synth effects. "Spooky Pussy" shows them at their most playful; that is, until it bleeds into an instrumental refrain that could only be described as, well, spooky. Check out their dope remix of "Spooky Pussy" with Plastic Little here. Kung Fu Necktie, 1205 North Front Street, 10 p.m., FREE, 21+ myspace.com/prowler – Joe Poteracki
Ever since their self-titled debut was named one of the top ten best local releases of it’s year by beloved Philadelphia Weekly’s Doug Wallen, who praised the band for their "shambling country-folk goodness culled from the oldest of schools," North Lawrence Midnight Singers have been raising some ears. Their blend of roots music and Americana does a good job of bringing everyone together in a satisfied hoe down. And that might just be what they’re aiming for tonight, but it wouldn’t be a good hoe down without some bluegrass music, and fortunately HogMaw, whose music was just recently featured on WXPN’s folk show, have enough to keep you moving. Oddly placed, but also dedicated in keeping the evening in motion is Igor’s Egg with their quirky progressive, psychedelic brand of mischief. They recently released a book/album combo called The Ultimate Tuh. The Khyber, 56 S. 2nd St., 9pm, $8, 21+ myspace.com/northlawrencemidnightsingers – Bill McThrill
You should make it to the M Room tonight for Dave Sommer’s Benefit Show. It’s full of local acts that were nice enough to donate their talents for an evening to help a comrade in need. It’s a good cause. We HATE cancer! You should too. Also don’t forget to grab a gift for someone you love at The Punk Rock Flea Market in The Starlight Ballroom. M Room, 15 W. Girard Ave., 9 pm, $10, 21+ myspace.com/cloudminder
Other things to do besides shopping…
Johnny Brenda’s (1201 N. Frankford Ave.) FRI Like a Fox and The Cobbs
Kung Fu Necktie (1250 N. Front St.) SAT Prowler
North Star Bar (2639 Poplar St.) FRI Grimace Federation SAT The Codes
The Khyber (56 S 2nd St.) FRI Dirty Diamond’s Third Annual Vagina Jam, SAT North Lawrence Midnight Singers and Igor’s Egg
Tritone (1508 South St.) FRI Buddhafest 36 w/ Kickin’ Bear, New Pony, Urban Giants and more
Voyeur (1221 James St.) FRI Making Time w/Cold Cave
M Room (15 W. Girard Ave.) SAT The Elevator Parade, Gondola, Music for Headphones
World Cafe Live (3025 Walnut St.) FRI (Upstairs) Among Criminals, SAT (Downstairs) Peek-A-Boo Revue POSTPONED
The Barbary (951 Frankford Ave.) SAT The Tough Shits, SUN Mischief Brew