I only saw nine bands in two days at Non-Comm this year, because I blew off the first night of the annual radio confab hosted by WXPN-FM (88.5) to go see The xx at the Mann Center
Even though that meant that on Wednesday I missed Blondie (watched them on Fallon), Brent Cobb (seen him twice recently), Chicano Batman (they're playing the Xponential festival in July) and The Districts (doing two shows at Union Transfer in August), I stand by my decision.
It was a lovely albeit-80-plus degree evening, and this season's debut of the Skyline Stage at the Mann, the open-air roofless hilltop space that affords a postcard view of the Center City skyline.
Plus, The xx - the British trio guitarist Romy Madley Croft, bassist Oliver Sim and producer-DJ Jamie Smith - touring behind their top-notch third album I See You, were terrific, and perfectly suited to the sultry setting. They're expert at making stylish electro-soul music that moves from chilled out intimacy to something close to communal, dance floor - or in this case, dance lawn - release. But they're never the slightest bit obvious about it, and always project a thinking person's warmth and humanity. Love that Hall & Oates-sampling "On Hold," too, sampled here:
But on to Non-Comm. I saw a lot of quality stuff in the upstairs-downstairs shuffle that goes on during the radio confab, where acts are playing often playing before small crowds than they're accustomed by the audience are made up of (mostly) public who the acts hope will go home and play their songs.
The acts I saw that acquitted themselves well were many. Philly native and now Nashville based guitarist Ron Gallo tore it up upstairs on Thursday. Young New Orleans guitarist and underrated soul singer Benjamin Booker stood out on Friday. English folk singer Laura Marling fronted a six piece group that fleshed out her luminous folk songs in impressive ways. The Mavericks served a reminder at what a fabulously soulful party band they are, with a far broader definition of Americana than most. They're back in town at the Sugar House Casino on June 10.
Warren Haynes woolly, jammy roots-rock couldn't hold my attention, but subtly jangly New Jersey band Real Estate did the trick. Hurray For the Riff Raff played a solid set upstairs in the sweltering room upstairs on Friday, though the band's proud, well-meaning songs about immigrants and underdogs are starting to get weighted down with the seriousness of their message.
But the real reasons i wanted to write about NonComm were the two final acts to play in the mercifully cooler downstair room, where the air conditioning was working over time: The Dream Syndicate and Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm.