Recap: Philly Sings Beck’s Song Reader at World Cafe Live


This past summer, Beck Hansen announced a new album…sort of. Those waiting to hear the first new album by Beck since 2008’s Modern Guilt would have to play the album themselves. Just over a month ago, Beck released this “album,” called Song Reader, exclusively on sheet music. He wrote 20 songs and printed them all in a beautifully-packaged book, leaving it up to others to interpret and play the music.

Sometime soon after the announcement of this ambitious project, independent concert promoter Marley McNamara (who also manages Levee Drivers and The Districts) began putting together a brilliant show. She somehow gathered 20 of the city’s best local acts, then had them each pick one song from the book and make it their own. Last night, everyone’s hard work culminated with a packed Upstairs at World Cafe Live, eager to hear what each band brought to the table. The lineup McNamara built was diverse, talented, and extremely fun.

Johnny Showcase provided glam with his Lefty Lucy cabaret. Kuf Knotz and producer goldenSpiral provided some hip hop (as did Killer Whale). Ali Wadsworth contributed jaw-dropping vocals (as always). The Great Unknown took masked fun and playing with projectors to another level. Juston Stens and the Get Real Gang engaged the crowd in a folky singalong. And that wasn’t even half of the fun.

Toy Soldiers, The Districts, Levee Drivers, The Lawsuits, and Sean Hoots were another piece of the puzzle that made this lineup read like a hall-of-fame of current local artists in Philly. The Naked Sun, Penrose, New Sweden, Up the Chain, Chris Kasper, Andrew Lipke, Modern Inventors, Perserverance Jazz Band, and Rich Mystics (a new NICOS GUN side project) rounded out the group.

It’s difficult to really judge Beck as a songwriter with these twenty songs. After all, we have no idea how he would play them. But, on the surface, some of these songs aren’t really all that great. The beautiful thing about this project though is that it is up to others to find out how to make them great, and that is what Philly did last night. Each band brought their own unique sound, resulting in a show that bounced around from folk to rock to blues to hip hop to jazz to alt-rock and back to folk again. Each act got a 10-minute block to set up on stage, perform their song, and get off stage for the next one. Barring a few minor delays, these changes ran surprisingly smoothly and weren’t too long to lose people’s interest. The folks running the sound did a fantastic job making sure the changes were seamless and the music still sounded great.

I’ve been writing this blog for 2-and-a-half years now, and I don’t think I have ever been prouder of and more impressed with this city’s amazing music scene. Last night wasn’t just a testament to the local talent playing the music around here, but the people running the show behind the scenes working their asses off to make things like this happen. It was a thing of beauty, and I’m sure it would have made Beck proud.

You can view pictures of each act in the slideshow at the top of this post. HotBox Studios was there filming each performance, so keep an eye out for that (we will surely let you know when and where you can find it). Below, check out the lineup and the respective songs each band played.

Philly Sings Beck’s Song Reader @ World Cafe Live – Philadelphia, PA – January, 8, 2013
01 The Naked Sun – “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard”
02 Penrose – “I’m Down and This Town is a Nuisance”
03 New Sweden – “Saint Dude”
04 Up the Chain – “Do We? We Do” (video)
05 Ali Wadsworth – “Eyes That Say ‘I Love You'” (video)
06 The Districts – “Please Leave A Light When You Go” (video)
07 Toy Soldiers – “Rough on Rats” (video)
08 The Lawsuits – “Why Did You Make Me Care?”
09 Johnny Showcase & the Lefty Lucy Cabaret – “Now That Your Dollar Bills Have Sprouted Wings”
10 Killer Whale – “Heaven’s Ladder”
11 Levee Drivers – “America, Here’s My Boy”
12 Chris Kasper – “Just Noise”
13 Sean Hoots – “We All Wear Cloaks”
14 The Great Unknown – “Mutilation Rag”
15 Juston Stens & the Get Real Gang – “The Wolf is on the Hill”
16 Kuf Knotz and Golden Spiral – “The Last Polka”
17 Andrew Lipke – “Title of This Song”
18 Modern Inventors – “Sorry”
19 Perseverance Jazz Band – “Red Shanghai”
20 Rich Mystics – “Last Night a Dream You Were”

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  • http://twitter.com/virtualfarm VFC

    It was awesome. Thanks to all the bands for inspired performances and to Beck for being so damn interesting.

  • tom

    No video yet?