Live Music: NON-COMMvention, World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, PA

Written by Concert Reviews, Music

treNON-COMMvention is the premier annual event for North America’s noncommercial Triple A radio stations. It was founded by Dan Reed in 2001, when he was at radio station WFPK in Louisville, which cosponsored the event. In 2008 the event moved to Philadelphia, and WXPN (where Reed is the music director) stepped into the co-sponsorship role, along with TripleAradio.com.

This was my first visit to the annual conference, which not only features panels of interest to radio people, but some notable musical guests over the course of the event’s three days. To be honest, although I’m sure that the panels were interesting, I’m not a radio professional, and my main interest in being there was to see the artists assembled for day two. NON-COMM is held in WXPN’s World Cafe Live, which is one of the best new music venues in the country, with stages on two levels, including one with a bar/restaurant. To see all of my photos from NON-COMM, please click here.)

I arrived at World Cafe in time to head downstairs to the main stage for an early performance by the Derek Trucks Band. Trucks has developed into one of the finest slide guitar players in the world, and his set of torrid blues got the day off to a great start. Musically, the set was very reminiscent of Trucks’ day job, as a guitar player for the Allman Brothers Band, but he does quite well on his own, playing with great confidence and style.

After a lunch break, and a panel dealing with how music is delivered to radio these days, the music moved upstairs for sets by some new artists. I was very impressed by piano player Tim Brantley and his band, who are from Atlanta. I was a bit less taken with Elvis Perkins in Dearland, despite the fact that he was joined onstage by Philadelphia’s own Dr. Dog, a band that I admire.

After dinner, it was back down to the main stage for a really interesting evening lineup. First up was Rhett Miller, who has a new self-titled solo album coming out next week. Miller, who is the leader of the Old 97’s, played solo and acoustic but was full of passion and energy as he focused on his new material. Next up were North Carolina’s Avett Brothers, who I’ve seen a couple of times before. I was a bit disappointed at their performance at SXSW recently, though the blew me away with their set at Newport last summer. Happily, their set last week was closer to the Newport show. For a largely acoustic act, these guys know how to rock. They also have a new Rick Rubin-produced album coming out soon, and the new tunes I heard have me looking forward to it.

My homeboy Pete Yorn was up next, another artist with a new album, Back and Forth, coming out. Well, it was a radio convention after all. Pete is also someone I’ve seen a couple of times. He has a great band, and he’s a terrific songwriter and singer, at times reminding me of Tom Petty with his gift for melody. This guy deserves a lot more attention, and hopefully his new album will bring it to him. Closing out the show downstairs was a young band from San Diego called Delta Spirit. I’d heard of them, but never heard their music, and for me, they were one of the great discoveries of the day. They play a powerful brand of Americana that had my total attention. I made a note to be sure to get their 2008 debut album Ode to Sunshine when I got home.

Finally, it was time to move upstairs for an old-time soul showdown, featuring two of the soul music revival’s greatest bands. First up was Austin’s Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears. They are a very basic, hard-charging, no bullshit band, led by a charismatic front man Joe Lewis. There’s nothing fancy here, just old school funk and soul, played by a very competent band. Capping of the night was an appearance by the Revelations, featuring Tre Williams. Earlier this year, I praised their ep, Deep Soul, here on Popdose, and the live show did not disappoint. Tre is a force of nature, and the band is more than equal to the task. Their set was a nice contrast to Black Joe Lewis, as they concentrated more on romantic Philly-style soul, and a gentler brand of soul.

All in all, a wonderful day in a great venue with some fine artists. I should also make mention of the WXPN staff. I’d always heard that WXPN and their supporters have a real family vibe going, and it turned out to be true. Everyone was as nice as could be, and made the day a very pleasant one for me.

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