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Philly2Philly.com looks back at the most notable Philly shows of 2009

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Anyone who’s read my music spotlight column over the past six months or so understands that the local music I profile tends to be left of center. This is mostly due to the fact that I’m profiling local Philly bands, and the “in” style seems to be left-of-center indie rock. It’s also what I tend to listen to. Go figure.

So, in writing my top five shows of the year (and then some), you’re going to see a lot of these sorts of bands. I also tend to favor shows at intimate venues and make exceptions for very few acts that can fill the capacity of places like The Electric Factory, Trocadero and Tower Theater (Tegan and Sara, Dinosaur Jr., NOFX), but I didn’t see them this year. I concluded long ago that most venues holding more than 1,000 people are the equivalent to listening to a CD at high volume, or low volume depending on your seat.

My list is partly best shows, but they’re also my personal “most notable” for various reasons in and out of the venues. Two great shows that were left off the list: Ida Maria at the North Star Bar on June 15 and Don McCloskey at the White Dog Café on November 13. That being said.

5. Sons and Heirs/Meeting in the Aisle (North Star Bar; August 21)

Count me as part of the group of people that’s still entranced by tribute bands. It wasn’t until I saw The Sons and Heirs at the North Star Bar that I realized you could equally respect, feel weirded out by, and pity a musical act.

These guys look like the Smiths – down to their haircuts, garb and makeup – and sound like the Smiths. Their stage names are Smiths-esque. That, I guess, should have been expected. That lead singer Ronnissey tosses gladioli flowers into the audience and, as he told me in August, actually studies The Smiths' live shows he’s got on VHS, was sort of surprising.

Also seeming to be a tradition of tribute bands was the fact that the audience at the North Star seemed to get smaller with the song. By the end of The Sons and Heirs’ set, there were easily less than 20 people in the audience. Those who’d filed out had presumably heard their desired song, and left.

What struck me was the idea that a group of individuals could go so far as to become obsessed with another musician. I’ve forever held the opinion that the best musicians aren’t the ones who can play any number of instruments or other’s songs well, but actually create good songs with their knowledge of said instruments and songs. The Sons and Heirs were entertaining, they did their job, but they weren’t necessarily good. They were sort of just there.

But that was child’s play compared to whom they opened for. The main act was Radiohead tribute band and Philly’s own Meeting in the Aisle. Their enthusiasm immediately disturbed me. They, too, looked and sounded almost exactly like their idol band.

Bizarrely, and I don’t mean any disrespect by this, they exist for Radiohead fans too cheap to see the band live and too bored to listen to the albums at home. Radiohead still exists. They still play. They still release albums. Meeting in the Aisle just copies them.

The Queers4. The Queers (The Barbary; December 2)

I’m totally biased when it comes to New Hampshire’s 25+ year-old pop punk act, The Queers. It’s not for any particularly strange reason. My dad wasn’t a Queers fan or anything. I’m just biased toward bands that rock, and The Queers rock.

It’s headed by Joe Queer and a mix of fellow musicians – usually guys from other bands he’s on tour with or a myriad of bass guitarists and drummers who’ve appeared on several Queers albums through the years. Their show at the Barbary featured Dangerous Dave on bass, who’s played on most Queers albums post-1996, most notably their 1999 hard rock classic, Beyond The Valley… and 2002’s Pleasant Screams. Adam Woronoff from The Leftovers (who opened) filled in on drums.

Normally, the Queers would be at the top of any list I could ever make, regarding almost anything relating to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What was different here was that their all-ages show at the Barbary began at 6:30pm (not doors open; like, actually began) and by the time I showed up (about 8), the Queers had already started. I’d never been to a show that was over by 9pm. The all-agedness made the Barbary’s first floor feel more like a bunch of kids moshing in a sweat box (which, in the punk world, is often the point). The tiny stage, and possibly the tour as a whole, called for Joe Queer alone on the guitar, when he usually has a backup rhythm player (often I’ve seen him alongside Philip Hill of Teen Idols). This didn’t leave too many guitar solos and lead parts up to the imagination.

That being said, it was still the Queers. Their punk rock medley style, stopping two or three times in an hour, produced classic Queers hits “Punk Rock Girls”, “See You Later F***face” and “Ursula Finally Has Tits”, off their 1993 sophomore album Love Songs For The Retarded. They covered Screeching Weasel’s “Cindy’s on Methadone”, The Ramones’ “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” and “I Don’t Care” and played The Angry Samoas’ “My Old Man’s a Fatso”, which, since 1998’s live album Suck This, has been a mainstay of Queers shows.

3. TJ Kong and The Atomic Bomb (North Star Bar; November 3)

I went to see TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb at the North Star knowing very little about them – never heard of them, didn’t know what kind of music they played, didn’t know they were playing that night. Okay, I knew nothing. Within their first five minutes, it was obvious the band wasn’t just talented, but had concocted their own blues style flattery of Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley with a 00s lo-fi buzz kick in the vein of Jay Reatard and The Wavves.

Their style wasn’t so much Philly as Nashville, and their audience came ready to dance. Dudes in wife beaters and suspenders peppered the audience and began swing dancing with their equally-costumed ladies to singer Dan Bruskewicz’s melodic storytelling about 20 minutes in.

Their preceding and post-acts equally rocked – Backwords and Toy Soldiers, respectively – capping off a brilliant indie post-punk blues night. All three of these bands should be noteworthy additions that’ll really take off in 2010. Backwords resides in Brooklyn, but tours often on the other side of the Turnpike (and their 8-song EP was only $1!) Both TJ Kong and Toy Soldiers are local acts we’ll keep you updated on through 2010.

2. Titus Andronicus (First Unitarian Church; November 11, 2008)First Unitarian Church

A few things about this show. It was not the second best show I’d seen all year, and neither was it this year. That being said. Put this one in the notable category.

I saw New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus in the First Unitarian Church’s basement in mid-November 2008. My buddy from New York had come all the way down to see them, and, while I hadn’t heard them, my initial thought was a convenient ‘What the hell, let’s go.’ My roommate came, as well.

As is normal with shows at the church, the three of us bought 12 beers at the deli around the corner and we drank them inside. But the real show was at Drinker’s Pub, before the musical festivities and said deli purchase.

It was a Tuesday. A young-ish middle-aged man (say, mid-to-late 40s) in a shirt and tie was parked alone at the bar. His eyes were a drunken marroon. The three of us sat down at the bar where just a year earlier, we had been brutally kicked out of for debauchery we equally couldn’t clearly remember. But we’d since made up and the bartender welcomed us with metaphorical open arms, filling our pint glasses with Yards and making small talk.

The drunken man next to me started talking, and I talked back. Somehow, the conversation filtered its way to the recent presidential election and then-President elect Obama’s pick of Rahm Emmanuel as chief of staff. “I believed in him,” the guy said to me, “until he picked Emanuel to work in the White House.”

Tin foil hatWhat followed was full-frontal penetration of naked anti-Semitism, conspiratorially worming its way into my auditory canal. This guy believed it all: Bush and Clinton planned and executed 9/11 at the request of Israel (and several Israeli and Jewish businessmen profited from the attacks), American evangelical leaders are helping Israel because of doomsday scenarios involving getting all the Jews back to Israel so Jesus can come back and send them to hell, fluoride conspiracies, Hollywood propaganda conspiracies, stuff about the U.S.S. Liberty bombing back in 1967, the Lebanon War of two years earlier and the Federal Reserve.

He said he was an accountant, in town for business, and therefore knew of what he spoke. “I’ve been studying the link between 9/11 and the Federal Reserve for the last five years,” he said. “And I had to stop, because I was getting too close to the truth.”

Titus Andronicus was easily the worst band I’d ever seen live – and I spent my teenage years going to ska shows. Are these guys punk rock? Indie rock? They’re not sure, but whatever it was, it was bad. At one point, someone in the front row began mocking the skinny, bearded lead singer Patrick Stickles about posing for photos on stage, which he denied doing, retorting, “You’re looking at the wrong websites.” My roommate, huddled toward the back, let out a more laconic critique, cupping his hands around his mouth and screaming, “You guys suck!”

1. Handsome Furs (Johnny Brenda’s; July 9)Handsome Furs

On their MySpace page, The Handsome Furs represent themselves with a profile picture featuring singer/guitarist Dan Boeckner vampirically sucking a scantily-clad percussionist and synthesizer-er Alexi Perry’s neck. See, the Handsome Furs are actually married. And, at least on the surface, their matrimony seems to be a happy one.

Maybe a little too happy.

When I saw the Handsome Furs at Johnny Brenda’s, I knew to expect a good show. I’d seen them rock at the North Star Bar in April 2008 in promotion of their first LP, Plague Park. What’d changed between these two shows was that Dan and Alexi had gone from dating to marriage. And, apparently, July 8th was their anniversary.

“Handsome Furs Hate This City” got the romance started off, as the keyboard-heavy single featured both band members playing separate keys on the same tiny instrument, their arms at opposing ends in proportion to where their bodies stood.

Before long, in between actual performances – in which Perry danced on one foot and Boeckner achieved a full-body convulsion while spitting his often loving but not full-on chick flick lyrics (especially with songs like the 80s-esque treble-heavy keyboard ballad “Officer of Hearts” and “Radio Kalinigrad”, a heavy reverbed guitar hit reminiscent of Boeckner’s other band Wolf Parde) – there were full-on PDA makeouts on stage.

By the end of the show, the lovebirds were leaning over each other to kiss and fondle in ways that’d make their respected suspected yoga teachers nod in approval. This included a Spiderman-oriented tongue-on-tongue with Boeckner literally bending over backwards, guitar still strapped on.

That being said, they put on a great show. Boeckner put every lazy hipster boyfriend in the audience to shame with his love for music, performance, and hot wife. He is literally the envy of his entire male fan demographic. Perry was able to rev up the crowd in typical face fashion, describing her love for the city of Philadelphia on more than one occasion. We cheered every time she did so.

First Unitarian Church photo from http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com

The Queers photo from http://www.delawareonline.com/blogs/2007/04/wusses-need-not-apply.html

Tin foil hat photo from http://www.brokencredit.com/

Handsome Furs main photo from http://inconcert.ro/