Last Wednesday night (04-08-15) Luke Rathborne walked across Philadelphia’s World Café stage amongst the gentle chime of silverware and glass. Opening for Lady Lamb upstairs, the half-restaurant/half-bar/half-general admission music venue was dimly lit, relying mostly on faint aerial lights and the burning candles on each of the room’s linen draped tabletops. As Rathborne picked up his guitar and stepped forward, the house lights brightened slightly, softly illuminating the singer as the day’s darkened, overcast sky poured through the wall of windows to his right. As cars of every shade hurriedly sped by the building, Rathborne began strumming. After shifting the audience’s gaze from the inaudible chaos of evening city traffic to the strings of his black acoustic guitar, the musician bent to the microphone and parted his lips.
“Thank you. My name is Luke Rathborne.”
Past solo releases including After Dark, I Can Be One and Dog Years have each showcased Rathborne’s propensity for introspective pop rock augmented by an atmosphere of gritty resolve. It’s a combination that is at it’s most focused and affecting on his most recent offering, 2013’s SOFT. Enlisting a full band and recording under his surname, the twelve-song record has an attitude and boldness embedded in it’s every note. And although on this night he was performing alone, the musician threaded and joined his past and present with a needle as sharp as any melody ringing out from the monitor’s planted by his feet.
Performing an acoustic cover of Big Star’s “Thirteen,” Rathborne captured a solemn nostalgia engulfed in wistful, wishful thinking. Throughout his set he continually switched from an acoustic to electric guitar, exercising a stillness and placidity with the acoustic, and a brooding recklessness with the electric. Rathborne exclusively used the latter while performing the SOFT tracks, “What More” and “Wanna Be You.” Stripped of drums and bass, both songs retained a toughness despite lacking the physical brawn that accompanies a full band. Although far from lacking muscle, the performances recalled the flickering spark and gleaming energy of primitive rock and roll.
As audience members inched closer to the stage, the room itself seemed to shift, steadily appearing smaller and smaller. Arriving to the sound of the crowd’s applause, headliner Lady Lamb wasted no time before beginning a set brimming with songs from 2015’s After. Featuring guitar, drums, bass and occasionally keyboards, the night’s arrangements were constructed concisely and pointedly, allowing enough space and breathing room so that every instrument and note played was audible, accessible and essential. Following 2013’s Ripely Pine, the second record from Aly Spaltro has already garnered widespread praise, much of it leveled at the unusual song structures and vivid imagery at its core.
The music of Lady Lamb communicates in colors, furnishing deeply visual lyrics with a springing vocal style that would almost suggest improvisation. Composing guitar based rock and roll, Spaltro welds bright, roaming melody with absorbing reverie. Songs like “Billions of Eyes,” are drenched with an air of speculative daydreaming, infusing small moments like the race to catch a train with the high stakes feel of a mini motion picture. And although darker elements lie at the heart of songs like “Vena Cava,” it is the type of introspection that is capable of yielding garage rock sing-alongs made for a room like the one at World Café.
“Up the winding mountain roads
From Hudson to Vermont in the season’s first snow
The boys asleep in the back of the car, we were in the front
We were singing along to every word of the songs
That helped make us who we are.”
Floating across genres, Spaltro closed with a meditative, melancholy performance of “Ten.” As her band quickly exited the stage, the sound of the musician’s electric guitar filled the room, instantly quieting any conversation occurring towards the back of the bar. Tracing childhood memories to their very root, the song’s final refrain finds Spaltro thinking of how her mother would honor the past by way of written record; making notes of images from her youth as a way of seeing them as clearly as the day her eyes first registered their sight. And judging by the swarm of people who waited to greet a gracious Spaltro and Rathborne after the show, the two performers gave the Philadelphia audience their own reason to go home and add another line to their notebooks.
Article by: Caitlin Phillips