Best of Philly 2017: Music, Comedy, Theater and More

The War on Drugs plays the new-look Dell Music Center on Sept. 21. (Shawn Brackbill)

Best of Philly 2017 is now online as well as at newsstands, celebrating outstanding food, people, shops and more from across the region. Here are some highlights from the Fun & Games section:

Musical Instrument Collection at the Free Library
Thanks to an innovative new program at the Central branch, you can check out all sorts of musical instruments for three weeks, for free. One of our editors borrowed a ukulele, a bass guitar, and a Fender Stratocaster with a surprisingly loud amp. Our apologies to the neighbors.
1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA | 215-686-5322 | Website

Sing Your Life Karaoke at W/N W/N Coffee Bar
Sara Sherr has been ruling the local karaoke scene for a while now, but her newest series—in this unexpected coffee shop/bar/co-working space mashup—is the freshest one yet. The themed Thursday nights include Queer, Feminist, Big Gay Country and, our personal favorite, Protest.
931 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, PA | Website Read more »

Music: 10 Shows to See in the Next 7 Days

Jamila Woods plays Johnny Brenda’s on Wednesday. (courtesy of the artist)

Jamila Woods @ Johnny Brenda’s | Wednesday, July 26
With her supple voice and message of resistance and persistence, this Chicago soul singer makes you sweat and swoon on last year’s HEAVN. These songs are groovy, optimistic and empowered.

Boston / Joan Jett & the Blackhearts @ BB&T Pavilion | Thursday, July 27
Save a space for Boston in the amazing history of fans becoming the lead singer of their favorite bands. After the death of longtime singer Brad Delp in 2007, Tommy DeCarlo — then a manager at Home Depot — wrote a tribute and posted it on MySpace. Within a year, he was hired full-time, singing “More Than a Feeling” and touring the world. He’s got the pipes. Anyway, here’s some Joan Jett, because she’s great. Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: Bucks County Playhouse’s Guys and Dolls is a Show to Love a Bushel and a Peck

Darius de Haas and Company in Guys and Dolls at Bucks County Playhouse. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Any opportunity to see Guys and Dolls—near the top of the top among American musicals—is a treat, and I especially looked forward to it at Bucks County Playhouse. It’s an ideally intimate venue, as well as one rich in history and atmosphere. The cast has many terrific performers (BCP does very well with casting in general). Most of all, the director is Hunter Foster, Artistic Associate here, who two summers ago led an exceptionally intriguing version of Stephen Sondheim’s Company.

Foster’s Guys and Dolls, always enjoyable, has many good things and at least one sensational one. Darius de Haas, a delightfully winning Nicely-Nicely, delivers his 11 o’clock number, the rafter-raising Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat, with effortless charm, musicality, and a gorgeous voice. It brings down the house, as well it should. Read more »

Video Evidence: Don’t Miss These Artists at XPoNential

Offa Rex — British folk singer Olivia Chaney playing with the Decemberists — performs on Friday. (Shervin Lainez)

The XPoNential lineup is always an impressive mix of old favorites, rated rookies and artists hitting their stride, but this year’s roster looks especially hot. The amazing Hop Along leads a stellar cast of locals that includes No Good SisterThe Dove & The WolfHardwork Movement (whom I seem to write about every week) and more.

There’s lots of WXPN-style star power, too, like Wilco, Charles Bradley, Conor Oberst, Spoon, Chicano Batman, Drive-By Truckers and Hurray for the Riff Raff.
Oh, and some rare treats: Philly singer-songwriter Amos Lee playing with New Orlena’s famous Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and a set by Offa Rex — in which British folk singer Olivia Chaney fronts the Decemberists.

Since the festival includes multiple stages and venues (Wiggins Park and BB&T Pavilion), you’re gonna want to study the schedule and do a little research ahead of time. Here are some videos to help you out… Read more »

33 Things to Do This Weekend

Nobunny plays PhilaMOCA on Friday.


Shark Tank: The Final Episode @ PHIT
Extended for two more shows. A parody of the popular TV show about inventors seeking funding from rich people. Includes a large cast and video elements. Created by Max Sittenfield and Sean Keegan-Landis. Friday and Saturday.

Back to Back to Black: A Tribute to Amy Winehouse @ Ardmore Music Hall
Remember Jones and his 15-piece orchestra pay tribute to the singer who gave us “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good.” They perform her album Back to Black in its entirety. Read more »

Tonight: Hardwork Movement and Strange Parts

Hardwork Movement recalls Teddy Pendergrass on their latest track.

Built on a bedrock of horns and guitars, the music of Hardwork Movement is always jazzy, smart and fun as hell. The Philly hip-hop/soul collective just dropped this new track “Becca’s Movement” (produced by Weathervane Music), a song about hope and desperation with a chill beat and a passionate chorus that reminds me of Teddy Pendergrass.
Read more »

14 Things to Do in Books, Comedy, Art, Movies, Storytelling, Tattoos and more

Let Me Make You a Martyr starring Marilyn Manson screens at PhilaMOCA on Thursday.

Mystery-Author Panel @ The Rosenbach | Wednesday, July 19
Philly-area crime/mystery writers Dennis Tafoya, Merry Jones and Jon McGoran will participate in a panel discussion about writing, local crimes that have inspired them and more.

Tell Me A Story @ Shot Tower Coffee | Wednesday, July 19
Hillary Rea hosts this storytelling night with the theme “Make a Splash.” Speakers include Cecily Alexandria, Max Barth, Anna Goldfarb, Ted Passon, Rina Patel, Caroline Rhoads and me, Pat Rapa. Read more »

Music: 9 Shows to See in the Next 7 Days

Algiers plays Johnny Brenda’s on Saturday. (Joe Dilworth)

Kendrick Lamar @ Wells Fargo Center | Wednesday, July 19
Everyone agrees that Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar is one of the fiercest (and low-key funniest) performers in the business. His lyrics are bold and powerful, and span the emotional spectrum. His aesthetic is engaging and ambitious, and pushes mainstream hip-hop into weirder territory. Of the three videos released so far for his critically acclaimed latest record Damn, none has fewer than 26 million views. The one below has 248 million. So. I don’t know why this show isn’t sold out yet — except everybody’s strapped for cash and it’s in a big giant sports arena — but that just means you have time to make an impulse purchase. (See Also: Kendrick Lamar brings a pop-up shop to Philly.)

Ghost @ The Fillmore | Thursday, July 20
For all the face paint and the costumes and the Satanic Panic rigamarole, Swedish band Ghost’s music is surprisingly accessible. It’s just as much power-pop as heavy metal. But the lead singer is a “demonic anti-Pope” with a skull face, so I guess it’s a little spooky. “Hey mom, I’m worshipping the devil tonight. \m/” “That’s nice dear. <3” Read more »

Let’s Watch a Bunch of Tim and Eric Clips

Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim met as film students at Temple.

Before Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim moved to Hollywood to make big (and weird), they were known around Philadelphia for their uniquely off-kilter comedy shows. When they weren’t playing in bands, the Temple film students could be found in small clubs and galleries showing pre-taped comedy bits and sketches with an off-speed sensibility and unpredictable structure. Traditional punchlines were rare.

In L.A., they honed and mutated their style for Adult Swim staples like Tom Goes to the Mayor, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and, most recently, Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories. That quintessentially disturbed and awkward Tim and Eric aesthetic — also seen in a feature-length film and commercials for deodorant and light bulbs — is often imitated with limited success. There’s more to it than just glitchy editing tricks and creepy extras, people.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Awesome Show, the duo will stop by the Merriam on Thursday for a live performance. And to celebrate that, let’s watch a bunch of videos from Tim and Eric’s impressive and bizarre career so far. Some of this is NSFW, NSFL, etc. Read more »

The Know-It-All Guide to Philly Summer Reading

Wellington Square Bookshop in Exton

From Histories to Mysteries: In Which We Ask the Owners of Our Favorite Bookshops a Lot of Annoying Questions About What to Read

The Shop: Open Book Bookstore
Where: Elkins Park
Who: Lynn Rosen, owner

When people say, “I just want a great beach read,” I often suggest …The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion. The title character is charming and quirky, and it’s a fun story.”

Our top-selling book of 2017 is …Who is Barack Obama?, by Roberta Edwards. It’s part of a series of biographies for kids. Following close behind, 100 Things to Do in Philadelphia Before You Die, by Irene Levy Baker, and Idaho, a terrific debut novel by Emily Ruskovich.”

A great vacation biography is … “Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, the book that inspired the blockbuster musical.”

The Shop: Head House Books
Where: Queen Village
Who: Richard De Wyngaert, owner

My go-to vacation reads are …Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts; Outline, by Rachel Cusk; and We Are Not Ourselves, by Matthew Thomas.”

Our top-selling books of 2017 are …The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood; The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead; Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance; and How Not to be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, by Jordan Ellenberg.”

Some great nonfiction reads are …Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson; Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond; Ways of Seeing, by John Berger; Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard.”

The Shop: Wellington Square Bookshop
Where: Exton
Who: Leslie Finkel, manager

When people say, “I just want a great beach read,” I often suggest … “A Paula Hawkins novel — The Girl on a Train and, recently published, Into the Water. Hawkins writes gripping novels about complex women faced with challenging situations.”

The young-adult book every grown-up should read is …The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. He writes about vulnerability in a way that will resonate with adult readers.”

Our top-selling book of 2017 is …Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly. It was a hit with our 40-plus-member fiction book club. Word got out.”

The Shop: Joseph Fox Bookshop
Where: Rittenhouse
Who: Judi Fox, co-owner

My go-to vacation read is…The Gilda Stories, by Jewelle Gomez. She uses the vampire horror genre to write about the family.”

When people say, “I just want a great beach read,” I often suggest … “Junot Díaz’s This is How You Lose Her. These short stories spike into hard and funny moral knots.”

Our top-selling book of 2017 is … “It’s between Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and How to Raise a Jewish Dog, by the rabbis of Boca Raton Theological Seminary.”

These Are Our People: 6 Fantastic Books About the Most Respected, Detested and Dynamic Philadelphians

1. Showboat: The Life of Kobe Bryant, by Roland Lazenby. Last year’s dissection of the Lower Merion grad.

2. You Say to Brick: The Life of Louis Kahn, by Wendy Lesser. A new bio of Philly’s most famous architect.

3. Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography, by David S. Reynolds. Award-winning 1995 bio of the Camden poet.

4. Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America, by Daniel R. Biddle and Murray Dubin. The life and times (and murder) of Philly’s baseball-playing civil rights pioneer.

5. High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly, by Donald Spoto. Spoto had unprecedented access for this 2009 book.

6. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, by Walter Isaacson. The best-selling biographer’s (Steve Jobs, Einstein) 2003 take on Ben’s long, accomplished life.

What Are You Reading This Summer? 12 Interesting Philadelphians Dish

Jim Kenney, mayor: Doing Business by the Good Book, by David L. Steward and Robert L. Shook. “Highly recommended.”

Sara Goldrick-Rab, Temple prof, provocateur: Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen. “I’m hoping to finish it before I see him in concert for the first time this fall.”

Brock Blomberg, president, Ursinus College: Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen. “I always find it interesting to learn how artists find their inspiration and what motivates them to take such extraordinary risks.”

Brenda Shelton-Dunston, executive director, Philadelphia Black Women’s Health Alliance: The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead, and Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi.

Cecily Tynan, 6 ABC meteorologist and fitness freak: Audition: A Memoir, by Barbara Walters; Marie Curie: A Life, by Susan Quinn; Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed; One at a Time: A Week in an American Animal Shelter, by Diane Leigh; Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg.

Allison Vulgamore, president and CEO, the Philadelphia Orchestra: Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All, by Tom Kelley and David Kelley, and The Food of Morocco, by Paula Wolfert.

Vik Dewan, president and CEO, the Philadelphia Zoo: “I’m planning to reread Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. And Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss at Grandparent Reading Day.”

Robert Bynum, restaurateur, jazz aficionado: The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead, and The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein.

Camille Paglia, writer and social critic: “Herbert C. Kraft’s The Lenape-Delaware Indian Heritage: 10,000 B.C. to A.D. 2000, a lavishly illustrated 670-page book. He was in my view incontrovertibly the greatest scholar of Native American culture in the New Jersey-Pennsylvania region.”

Ajay Raju, Dilworth Paxson CEO and philanthropist: “Not in any particular order: Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, by René Girard; Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, by Neal Gabler; The Singularity Is Near, by Ray Kurzweil; and Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse.”

Stephen Tang, CEO, University City Science Center: The Purpose Economy: How Your Desire for Impact, Personal Growth, and Community Is Changing the World, by Aaron Hurst; Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance; Two Paths: America Divided or United, by John Kasich; The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism, by Yuval Levin; The Man’s Guide to Women, by John Gottman, Julie Schwartz Gottman et al.

Madeline Bell, president, CHOP: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. “I’m a history enthusiast and a student of human behavior, and this book has equal parts of both.”

Quintessential Philly: Amazing Reads By Philadelphians and About Philadelphians

Fiction: South Street, by David Bradley. His first book, published in 1975, is gritty and hilarious in its depiction of Philly half a century ago. In Her Shoes, by Jennifer Weiner. The 2002 novel by the feisty, prolific writer. Tumbling, by Diane McKinney-Whetstone. Published in 1996, this is a best-selling first novel about an African-American family in South Philly. Third and Indiana, by Steve Lopez. The longtime Inky columnist’s 1994 debut novel about life in Philly’s Badlands.
Keep Quiet, by Lisa Scottoline. Thirty million (and counting) in print for the prolific Inky columnist/mystery author.

Memoirs: The Removers, by Andrew Meredith. A moving 2014 work by a Northeast Philly corpse retriever. Bossypants, by Tina Fey. The 2011 book by the Upper Darby comedian. Disgruntled, by Asali Solomon. Award-winning Haverford prof’s 2015 tale of celebrating Kwanzaa on the Main Line. Christopher Morley’s Philadelphia, edited by Ken Kalfus. Slice-of-life columns by the 1920s newspaper raconteur. Philadelphia Freedom: Memoir of a Civil Rights Lawyer, by David Kairys. Cornel West called this Temple Law prof “one of the grand long-distance runners in the struggle for justice in America.”

History: Philadelphia Gentlemen: The Making of a National Upper Class, by E. Digby Balzell. Sociological study by the Penn prof who coined “WASP.” The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study, by W.E.B. DuBois and Elijah Anderson. The 1899 classic of sociological scholarship, with an intro and follow-up by Penn emeritus prof Anderson. A Prayer for the City, by Buzz Bissinger. Life in Ed Rendell’s City Hall. Philadelphia: A 300-Year History, various authors. Dense but defining collection of essays on the city from its founding onward, first published in 1982.

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