Earlier this year, a fantastic new venue opened in Philadelphia and the inaugural act was a duo comprised of two rock stars with storied pasts that found there way to each other. The Both (Aimee Mann and Ted Leo) had wonderful banter akin to groups that had been together for years. They played a raucous set that mixed unique new material with songs from the individual artists repertoire. So when Minor Alps (Juliana Hatfield and Matthew Caws) came to World Cafe Live on Friday night, I had very high expectations. Expectations that were not entirely met, at least for the first half of the show.
Before I am ripped to shreds by anyone, let me say the two are fantastic musicians and I absolutely love the album, but something was off at the beginning of the night. The duo came out to much fanfare and Caws seemed to immediately take control, engaging the audience and leading off with “I Wanna Take You Home,” the Nada Surf song that featured Hatfield.
All seemed fine, but going into a 3-song streak from the Minor Alps collection it was clear that Caws was taking the lead. Whether on purpose or through technical error, Hatfields vocals took a back seat. There was essentially no interaction between the two for the first half of the set, and for a quieter, more intimate show, very little was done to address the audience. Hatfield herself seemed out of it, but being the penultimate show of the tour, she may have just been tired. Even on her own material, she seemed to take a back seat.
Then the halfway point hit, and “Inside of Love” came on and the place woke up, both on stage and off. Finally, the vocal duties evened out. There was a sense of energy that suddenly flowed through Hatfield, and Caws began to play off of it for the remainder of the show. Taking time out to talk about his experiences in the city, both in the clubs (his reference to Brenda and Johnny’s gave me a chuckle) and at World Cafe as part of a festival, Caws was still the more vocal of the two, but it was good to see Hatfield get a second wind.
By the time “The Way You Wear Your Head” hit, their voices had soared together, especially on “I Don’t Know What To Do With My Hands.” Hatfield took the lead on “When Will I Be Loved” by The Everly Brothers, and closed out the show with Nada Surf’s “Fruit Fly.” leaving the audience begging for more.
Opening act Sylvan Esso left a mark on my brain…and in my ears. Featuring Amelia Meath of Mountain Man and Nick Sanborn of Megafaun, the two form an unlikely electronic duo. Amelia’s soulful vocals glide effortlessly over Sanborns pulsating, minimalistic analogue beats. They were very much in tune with each other for the entirety of their set. She would slide back and forth across the stage, while he would bob and shake with the beats with a huge grin on his face. It was a magnificent set, and while they haven’t released a an album (or even an EP) yet, I jumped at the chance to own their single. While the sound may have been a little out of place considering the main event (they would have faired better with a crowd that still has Purity Ring on their iPods) they were well received, and deservedly so.