Sheer Mag delivers a TKO of rock and roll hits at Union Transfer - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Sheer Mag | photo by Tom Beck for WXPN

Look, there’s no arguing the fact that rock and roll is alive and well, OK? Only a fool would say it’s dying. But here me out: if you tried to sell me on the idea of riff rock being a lost art, perhaps I could be persuaded. There’s a flurry of great rock and roll bands out in today’s scene — many, like Strand of Oaks, the War on Drugs and The Districts are from Philadelphia — but how many truly fit within the realm of shredding, riff-oriented rock and roll? I could be wrong, but it seems as if it’s a declining amount. Ever since the early 2000s, successful bands like the Foo Fighters, The Strokes, Spoon and Wilco have written songs around hooky lyrics and melodies pounded through loads of distortion. It’s a formula that’s been proven successful. All of those bands are tremendous, some of them legends, even. But you know what? Sometimes I just want to hear a freakin’ guitar solo. Not just guitar solos either, but songs based around riffy and flashy guitars in the realm of Led Zeppelin or AC/DC.

Punk rooted Philly faves Sheer Mag, who often gets compared to Thin Lizzy, is just that. Saturday night at Union Transfer, Shredder-in-Chief Kyle Seely provided riff-oriented rock at its finest, oozing every note from his Marshall amp with the prowess of an inebriated early-70s Jimmy Page. Frontwoman Tina Halladay added to the aesthetic, as she strutted her stuff and sang about left-leaning politics with the pissed off sneer of John Lydon in his heyday. The band opened the show with the same song they open their latest album, Need to Feel Your Love, “Meet Me in the Street.” The gritty straight-up rocker eventually gave way to the more disco-oriented (yes, disco, you read that right) “Fan the Flames,” making the first two songs of the show a better one-two punch than any you would have seen thrown in the Mayweather-McGregor fight that night.

The band rattled off some more hits throughout the course of their setlist, including “Just Can’t Get Enough,” “Button Up,” and “Nobody’s Baby,” to the audience, which ranged widely in age and sported a conspicuous amount of tattoos. A third guitarist joined the band for the set, allowing rhythm player Matt Palmer to take a stab at keys and tambourine during a few songs. At several points during the beginning of the show, mosh pits formed near the stage, making it difficult to take clean photos of the band. But hey man, there’s no whining in punk. It was worth it.

After ending the set with “Can’t Stop Fighting,” the group came back to perform a two song encore consisting of the title track off their latest album, “Need to Feel Your Love,” and “What You Want,” which is the very first song off the band’s very first EP.

During the show, Halladay gave a special shout out to Haram, one of the night’s opening bands. Haram, whose songs all feature Arabic lyrics, apparently drew some unwanted attention throughout their set. Halladay said she heard someone in the crowd say “Speak English” during their set. She added that anybody who didn’t support an inclusive environment wasn’t welcome at a Sheer Mag show. Unfortunately, the event revealed that even in the liberal/progressive world of indie rock and roll, cultural intolerance still happens. The world is a tough place sometimes, but luckily we have Sheer Mag to help make it better, one rock show at a time.

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