Alex G. | Photo by Josh Pelta Heller for WXPN | hellerhound.com
Teen Spirit: Alex G’s introspective youth anthems bring out a hometown crowd
If you were standing up front, close to the stage last night at Union Transfer, you’d have noticed a disproportionate demographic of 17- to 20-year-olds, holding iPhones instead of beer and waiting bright-faced and wide-eyed for the double-bill of Philly’s own Alex Giannascoli — better known as Alex G — and New York’s Porches.
Concurring that Giannascoli’s fans were largely a younger demographic, the 19-year-old next to me expressed his moderate and considered sartorial disdain for his generation: “They’re all dressed weird too.”
That said, many were wearing band shirts advertising their adoration for the Philly-based, highly prolific DIY bedroom-recording-studio songwriter.
On the contrary, Porches tees were few and far between, and the blank faces on the crowd seemed to suggest that this was largely an introduction to the music of opening band Your Friend.
Representing Lawrence, Kansas, the project is largely the result of Taryn Blake Miller’s home studio meditations. Their set featured cuts from their first full-length record Gumption as well as from 2014’s Jekyll/Hyde, an EP assembled by Miller using money she’d won in a radio station battle-of-the-bands contest. And it closed with a two-track medley, conjoining “Who Will I Be In The Morning” from their LP with Miller’s “Expectation/Reality,” masterfully juxtaposing the blissful and the blistering.
“Are you guys happy to have Alex home?,” asked Miller of the crowd, quickly noting, “we’re jealous. We’re sad. We’re gonna miss him. This has been a really amazing tour.”
The sentiments were echoed by bassist Kyle Stringer after the show. This tour was the band’s first time playing Philly, and Manhattan too, where they’ll play their final date tonight. For some of them, he said, it was their first time playing anywhere outside of local Kansas venues. Stringer was so genuinely, so refreshingly happy to get to realize his childhood dream of playing music in a touring band that he was smiling as he contributed his basslines to their set last night, with an infectious exuberance that can sometimes feel rare for so many musicians toward the end of a long tour. He told me too how much they loved the venue, that early on friends had suggested to them that Union Transfer would be the best house they played yet, and that the band couldn’t have agreed more.
Porches’ lead singer Aaron Maine (aka Ronald Paris), with his Warhol-white hair and the distinctly unpretentious and aloof swagger of a 70’s-era New York City art-rock frontman, shepherded the crowd through an interactive set, preempting each of his songs with an example of how he wanted fans to dance to it, and at the end asking everyone there to lay down on the floor (they did, all of them). Porches’ music reaches deeply into so many diverse genres, from punk rock to new wave, autotuned snyth-pop to what almost sounds at times like “Boys-Of-Summer”-era Don Henley, anchored by the bruising basslines of multi-instrumentalist Maya Laner along with withering lead guitar riffs from Kevin Farrant.
By the time Alex G and crew made it onto the stage, the teen spirit was palpable. The crowd was clearly peppered with hometown friends and longtime fans, and although Alex G’s homecoming last night should have been as comfortable an environment as a band could ask for, the singer exhibited what seemed to be a moderate stagefright, his body language directed inward as he almost exclusively faced his bandmates while he played, shoulder to the crowd. Giannascoli’s melodies are equally awkward, with a discordant convolution that stops perilously short overriding their pop-friendly sensibility.
But walking to that edge is, in a way, that’s the point. This is music that bridges the stylings of Beat Happening, Stephen Malkmus, or the earlier work of Cobain or the Kirkwood brothers to a brand new generation of young fans. And the fans turned out in a big way last night.
So last night’s show featured three bands of talented millennial musicians, who paid homage to cultural heroes like Calvin Johnson and Morrissey while playing to a room full of millennial listeners? It gives you hope that the kids really are alright.