Hamilton Leithauser and Chet Faker at WXPN’s Free at Noon
Fri., May 16. xpn.org
Overall vibe: As part of their annual music biz insider Non-COMMvention, WXPN treated listeners to a great—if unusual—Free at Noon pairing, with Australian up-and-comer Chet Faker and Hamilton Leithauser, best known as the lead singer of the Walkmen, performing back-to-back. In typical WXPN fashion, the atmosphere was particularly laid-back, with scores of poncho-wearing dads and flannel-clad twenty-somethings sipping beer and tapping their feet, presumably happy to have braved the monsoon-like storm.
Most memorable moment: “Thanks so much for coming out in the deluge. Good luck getting home,” Leithauser announced playfully before launching into the infectious new single, “11 O'Clock Friday Night.” With his wife lending her voice to the backing vocals and a string section in tow, Leithauser conjured up that same sense of trumpeted ragtag majesty—slightly wistful but still very much alive—that made the Walkmen such an interesting band.
Scene stealer: I’d never heard of Chet Faker (real name: Nick Murphy) before, and I’m not normally too into electronica, but this guy had the whole room captivated from the moment his fingers brushed across the Wurlitzer. Layering his emotive vocals with downtempo beats and swirling sound waves, Faker created a soulful and atmospheric pastiche that was at once haunting and handsome, from the first note to last. (Max Ufberg)
Swans at Union Transfer
Thurs., May 15. utphilly.com
Overall vibe: Fresh off this week's release of their 13th studio album, To Be Kind, Swans hit the stage for an almost two-hour-long sonic assault. I've always enjoyed being at a show where there's a palpable sense in the crowd that you're all about to witness something special. Swans, regardless of the era, are an indelible fixture in American experimental music, and vibe at UT was one of anxious anticipation.
Most memorable moment: A 15-minute long intro to the set, full of noise manipulation and a bearded, shirtless man hammering away at a gong. Also, the guy standing near me wearing an authentic Civil War kepi having a weird religious experience.
Scene stealer: Sixty-year-old Michael Gira has channeled his youthful rage into a honed craft of musical repetition. Each song Swans meandered through carried a powerful build-up and payoff, with Gira gyrating and directing traffic. Would I have preferred to see Gira and crew rip Holy Money or Filth all the way through? Of course. But I was born in 1990, so this will have to suffice. (Daniel Gelb)
Angel Olsen at a.k.a Music
Wed., May 14. akamusicphilly.com
Overall vibe: Before she trekked up to join her backing band and crush a sold-out Johnny Brenda's, the singer/songwriter/real-life celestial being played a free, stripped down acoustic set at a.k.a.. The back room of a.k.a. makes you feel like you're in a friend's basement, which prompted Olsen to remark, "I feel like I'm 18 again."
Most memorable moment: There's a YouTube treasure of Olsen playing an in-store gig on Record Store Day a few years back. She cracks a wry smile while strumming carefully along to the hauntingly gorgeous "Some Things Cosmic" in the video, and when she did so at a.k.a., the room was swooning.
Scene stealer: That voice. Olsen so quickly can manipulate it from a lonesome whisper into a full-throated operatic marvel. It commands the attention of any sized room, and her acoustic set was a real treat for the 50-or-so of us crammed into a.k.a. (D.G.)