Sunday, November 29, 2015

Concert Review: Elle King @ Union Transfer - Philadelphia, PA 11/27/15

Elle King is larger than life.  She breaks barriers with her music.  She tears down stereotypes about how women are supposed to act.  She lives life to the fullest and at 26 she is already battle-scarred. She wears her heart on her musical sleeve.  She takes no prisoners and boasts no regrets.  And we love her for all of this.  Despite claiming she's not America's Sweetheart, she is turning into exactly that.

Legends like Elle King are not born overnight.  They are made from life experiences.  Much has been made of her celebrity lineage (Actor Rob Schneider and Actress London King).  I believe that has little to do with this story.  Perhaps more should be made of her stepfather.  The man that introduced her to the music of The Donnas.  I put more stock in her musical influences.  From early female punk pop to classic soul and R&B.  These are things that have helped get her to where she is today.

If you don't know the brash lyrics of 'Ex's & Oh's you live in a cave.  Elle's music can be heard on every alternative station across America today.  Every pop station, too.  Most country stations are playing "America's Sweetheart".  Even genres cannot contain Ms. King.  Still, the phenomenon known as Elle King didn't happen overnight.

Elle King went from busking at Rittenhouse Square in Philly to playing a sold-out show at The Union Transfer in her old home.  She is only the second solo female act to top the Billboard Alternative Charts since 1996.  She now joins the elite company of Kate Bush, Alanis Morissette and Lorde.  It was a long journey, but every scar is a song and revenge has never been sweeter on the ears.

This show at Union Transfer sold out quickly—yet another show that even the overpriced Stubhub tickets were selling out.  Shows like this are the ones you regret not seeing.  Fortunately, that would not be the case for me.

I arrived early for the show to retrieve my credentials.  The doors were opening at 8.  It was 7:10 and there was a line down the block.  It was a nice night and I decided to wait in line.  I spoke with a great couple behind me about local venues and musical likes.  For a moment the anxiousness I get before concerts went away and I remembered how lucky I was to be doing what I'm doing.  I was going to see an artist I love and then write about it for others to read.  All was right in the universe.

I managed to get a spot close to the stage and was ready for the show.  The crowd was a nice mix of young and old.  Country fans and alternative fans.  We were all to be surprised with a third act on this night.  Skrizzly Adams took the stage by himself with an acoustic guitar.

After two songs he was excited to tell us he would be at the merchandise table after his set, selling not only cd's but also his own brand of beef jerky.  He told the ladies that although beef jerky may not be their snack of choice he was confident they would like his meat.  He was in the middle of his cover of "Beast of Burden" when he broke a string.  After three songs he cut his set short and was off.

Next up was psychedelic folk rock band Horse Thief out of Oklahoma City. I did not know them but I quickly liked them.  They reminded me of Band of Horses, who easily own one of my top ten albums of all time.

There is nothing better than watching a band who loves what they are doing.  You could see it in the way that they smiled at each other on stage.  The chemistry was there and it showed in their music and their set.

They played a great set.  Their lyrics were contemplative and covered in mid-western dust. Their sound complemented Elle King's.  This tour is great exposure for them.  I expect to hear a lot more from them.

After a 40-minute set they left the stage and everyone waited for Elle.  The stage was set.  Her microphone stand was decorated with lit stars that changed colors, as well as a cup holder.  We thought she would be on at 10.  Then 10:15.  Around 10:20, Jessie from Radio 104.5 took the stage to announce Elle.  I took her picture and she in turn took ours.

It was finally the moment that we all waited for. The lights dimmed and Elle King took the stage, with a drink and a beer, and then she and her band went right into "Jackson".

After her second song she addressed the crowd.  Usually she rolls through the set but tonight she had a lot to say.  She said that at one point, Philadelphia was where she called home.  She said this is where she learned to play the banjo.  It was also where she learned that seven hits of acid was too much to take all at once.

She said she decided to leave Philly behind to follow a man—a "tall motherfucker"—to Denmark.  It was there that he dumped her.  That was the first and last time that she would let that happen to her.

Confidence like that exudes beauty.  And Elle is beautiful and confident.  She said that after that experience she was inspired to write the very song that would get her signed to a record contract.  She then played "Good to be a Man".

Her voice was strong and spot on. There was no production tricks needed to make her sound good.  It helps that Union Transfer has a good sound system.  It is always awe-inspiring to see someone sing with their entire being.  She has the gift to make you feel what she is feeling.

Critics felt that "Good to be a Man" made Elle a feminist.  She said considering she just made an entire album about sleeping with men that it wasn't the case.  She then told the story about a group of mean girls.  Of course, she wrote a song about them.  The irony is they know the song was about them and they still came to see her show.

Elle was talkative with the crowd all night and they loved it.  They were talking right back to her. Yells echoed the hall about how much they loved her and that she was pretty and wonderful.  The crowd sang along with "Kocaine Karolina" as Elle channeled her inner Cat Power.  Next was her infamous, raunchy cover of The Beatles' "Oh Darling."  Just before starting the song, she noticed a young girl in front of the stage.  She asked the girl her name and age.  She was 10.  Elle was coming to the realization that this was an all ages show.  They turned the lights on and asked to see how many children were in the audience. There were about 30.  She said that she was the last to know and that this changed her show a little bit (she whispered her curses from that point on).  After "Oh Darling," she got the crowd going with "Under the Influence" before her band left the stage, with the exception of her guitarist, Simon.  Elle said that "See You Again" was the only nice song she's written that she really meant.

The home stretch included "Last Damn Night" and then the house exploded when she played "Ex's and Oh's."  The building actually shook.  After a few more she was done and off they went.  We all knew there would be an encore.  There had to be.  We hadn't heard everything yet.

Chanting gave way to the band reemerging.  The showstopper would be "America's Sweetheart," a strong declaration from a bold woman.  And here she was, everyone's sweetheart.

She mentioned that this was the largest sold-out show of her tour and it meant the most to her that it was in Philly.  It was where she wants to vacation when the tour was over.  Someone in the crowd handed her a cheesesteak.  She wondered aloud when she would stop putting things in her mouth that other people gave her.

She invited Horse Thief out to the stage to help her with the last song.  Cameron came out with shots and they downed them before their cover of "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

It was a love-in.  The bands.  The crowd.  We all felt as one.  When they were done they took their photo on stage with the crowd behind them.  Elle was the only woman on the stage.  She said it was the way she liked it.  I doubt there was room for another woman on that stage.  Elle was the only woman we needed.

This is only the beginning for Elle.  Who knows what current life experiences she's writing about right this very second.  I will leave you with this: was I the only one to notice a ring on her ring finger?  Maybe it's just costume jewelry but you never know.

See you at the next show!



  1. Loved this review! I hope to see her someday.

    1. Thank you Steph. She made it easy. She puts on a great show.


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