On stage: Two dynamic women headline this weekend

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times


Two very impressive female-fronted rock acts will be sharing a bill on March 3 at the Theatre of the Living Arts (334 South Street, Philadelphia, 215-922-1011, http://www.lnphilly.com) – and both queer-friendly artists have cryptic names.

For older music fans, LP refers to an album with LP taking its name from “Long Player.” Current music fans, on the other hand, know that LP refers to one of the most dynamic rockers making music today. LP derives her moniker from her given name – Laura Pergolizzi.

There are plenty of cunning cats but there is only one Kat Cunning. The versatile singer/actress/dancer shortened her name Katrina Cunningham to Kat Cunning.

LP is now touring in support of her latest album, “Lost On You,” which was released May 2017 via BMG/Vagrant. It is her fourth studio album.

Executive produced by Mike Del Rio (Christina Aguilera, X Ambassadors) and including several tracks co-written by Nate Campany (Tove Lo, Carly Rae Jepsen, Martin Garrix), “Lost On You” is soulful, bluesy and powerful. The album included the #1 most Shazam’d song in the world at the time — “Lost On You” in late 2016.

In September 2015, the song “Muddy Waters.” the first single from the new album was released. In June 2016, the song was featured in the violent and emotionally-charged closing scene of the season four finale of Netflix’s original series “Orange Is The New Black.”

“I already had a bunch of songs before I went into the studio,” said LP, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “I got on a writing tear. And, I had others in the pipeline. At the end of summer 2016, I started writing a bunch more.

“ When I’m writing a record, it takes on a life of its own. I like to keep a different landscape. I might have three or four songs and then a few more will come.

“In review, I wrote the album from a viewpoint of a breakup I had. It was very personal and deeply emotional. As I’ve gotten more established, my fans expect more emotional things from me. My body of work has been well-received. I believe that a body of work builds. Fans hear older songs they love. It builds on itself.”

LP’s previous albums were “Heart-Shaped Scar” in 2001, “Suburban Sprawl & Alcohol” in 2004 and “Forever for Now” in 2014. She also has released three EPs – “Into the Wild” in 2012 and ‘Spotify Sessions” and “Death Valley” in 2016.

“I don’t go back to the early stuff in my live shows,” said LP. “I do go back to ‘Into the Wild’ and I play some songs from ‘Forever for Now.’

“Songs come to me. I think sometimes for me, I get them in a surprise attack. I have a real pop sensibility – even with the tone of my voice. I do what feels right to me. If you like it, you like it…if you don’t, you don’t. My music has spun its own thing.”

“I have two new songs I’m playing in my set and they’re getting really nice response. I don’t play new songs until they’re fairly hard done. It’s always an interesting time when you’re not releasing new stuff.

“I’m not releasing anything new right now. I’m working on an album and I’ll have a single out in a couple months. But, for right now, my show is a rock show and I’m still enjoying playing the old stuff.”

Video link for LP — https://youtu.be/330Ge5WFaFA.

Kat Cunning

Kat Cunning is a singer-songwriter, choreographer and actress. The queer, sex-positive artist, who is a dance conservatory grad, got her start in Baroque-Burlesque Operas with Company XIVand made her dramatic debut playing Emilie in “Les Liaison Dangereuses” with Janet Mcteer and Liev Schreiber on Broadway.  She made her official Broadway debut in 2016 playing Lila inCirque Du Soleil’s “Paramour,” for which she co-wrote Lila’s score.

She crafts songs blending pop, soul and Baroque arrangements, drawing from her study of dance as well as her time on stage.  Cunning performed as the only live component in Refinery 29’s “29 Rooms” Fashion Week exhibit. She brought artist Juno Calypso’s dreamlike, David Lynch-inspired room to life with real-time interpretations of audience member’s dreams (via song).

“I’m originally from Portland, Oregon,” said cunning, during a phone interview Monday from a tour stop in Detroit, Michigfan.

“I graduated early from high school. I was dead set on not going to college. I was dead set on being a dancer. I went to visit SUNY (State University of New York) Purchase. It was dark and nothing to inspire you. That attracted me.

“I was a dancer in Portland. I studied classical ballet. As a dancer, ever since I was little, I was obsessed with ballet. Everything I loved about dance led to ballet and theater.

“It was mostly music for me. With ballet, I wasn’t concerned how high my leg could go. I was more into the music and how I could relate to it. All ballets are stories. They were more like plays than dance.

“At 14, I went to study with the Joffrey Ballet. I had dreams of dancing for a company like ABT (American Ballet Theatre). Then, I realized that dance wasn’t where I needed to be. I’m curvy. I’m not waif-like. And, with dance, I didn’t have enough control. I went to SUNY and I learned modern dance and kung fu. I learned how to be heavy on my feet.”

Now, Cunning has found a way to blend dancing, acting and singing into her own unique performances.

“I want to make concerts that incorporate modern dance – gorgeous contemporary choreography,” said Cunning. “I’m always writing songs. I have a lot that I’m sitting on. I’ll be releasing an EP soon.

“On this tour, I have a 20-minute, five-song set. I have a band with me – guitar and drums – and they give me a lot of energy on stage. I don’t like to perform to just tracks.”

Video link for Kat Cunning — https://youtu.be/_UrDtPZHlqc.

The show at the TLA will start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $22.

Other upcoming shows at the TLA are The Expendables on March 4, Spoon on March 6 and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark on March 7.

Joanne Shaw Taylor

Another female-fronted act will be featured at a concert in the city when Joanne Shaw Taylor headlines a show at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com).

Taylor has established herself as one of the U.K.’s top stars of the blues-rock world. She grew up in Wednesbury in the Black Country, England, and was inspired in her early teens to play the blues after hearing Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins and Jimi Hendrix.

“I grew up near Birmingham,” said Taylor, during a recent phone interview

“My dad played guitar and was a big music fan. He was also a big blues fan and listened to artists like Big Bill Broonzy and Bukka White.

“I started playing guitar when I was a teenager. I was listening to acts like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins and ZZ Top. I also listened to Cream, Free, Led Zeppelin – anything that was loud. I didn’t get into British blues acts like John Mayall or Alexis Korner until later.

“I was attracted to American music. It’s funny because Joe Bonamassa, who is a friend of mine, was in New York listening to British guys and I was in Britain listening to American guys. I did a blues cruise with Joe Bonamassa a few years ago.

“I always wanted to play guitar. I had played classical guitar at school. I knew I could play guitar but classical wasn’t for me. It was too structured. When I listened to Albert Collins, there were no rules. I listened to the blues guys and imitated them. I loved it so much.

The girl with the big voice from the Black Country has toured extensively around the world, released critically acclaimed albums and gained a global fan base as well as having the honor of playing alongside some of her musical idols.

Taylor’s debut album “White Sugar,” which was released in 2009, opened the door. Subsequent albums “Diamonds in the Dirt” (2010), “Almost Always Never” (2012), “Songs from the Road” (2013) and “The Dirty Truth” (2014) enabled Taylor to build a world-wide fan base.

“The Dirty Truth” was a return to her original sound that mixes rock riffs with blues influences. The album was released in the U.K. in September 2014 on Taylor’s own independent boutique label, Axehouse Records.

“I have 20 years of playing guitar,” said Taylor. “I started when I was 13. My first guitar was a Mexican Sunburst Strat.

“Now, I have five studio albums and one live album. The most recent was ‘Wild,’ which I did in February 2016 with Kevin Shirley.

“He’s worked with acts like Joe Bonamassa, Aerosmith, Journey, and Iron Maiden. I recorded the album in Nashville in a studio in the old RCA Building – Grand Victor Sound Studio. We were in the studio with the band for four days.”

According to Taylor, “Recording at Grand Victor was incredibly inspiring. It is quite the legendary studio. Dolly Parton cut ‘Jolene’ and ‘I Will Always Love’ you here. And Chet Atkins worked here. Basically, if there was a hit record out of Nashville, it was made here. I am very proud of this album, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear it.”

Video link for Joanne Taylor Shaw – https://youtu.be/3DMP2YDXVJg.

The show at the World Café Live, which has the Billy Walton Band as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Other upcoming shows at the World Café Live are Start Making Sense and School of Rock Downingtown on March 3 and Adrian Daniel on March 7.

There will also be another show in the area on March 3 that features a top-flight female guitarist – and a world-famous male guitarist. The show at the Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) has Eric Johnson as the headliner and Arielle as the opening act.

Eric Johnson

Johnson is a highly-acclaimed guitarist from Texas. His 1990 album “Ah Via Musicom” was certified platinum by the RIAA, and the single “Cliffs of Dover” won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

While Johnson is most famous for his electric guitar skills, he is also a highly proficient acoustic, lap steel, resonator, and bass guitarist, as well as an accomplished pianist and vocalist.

He is also extremely versatile in the genres he plays including rock, blues, jazz fusion, soul, folk, new-age, classical, and country. Guitar Player magazine has called him “one of the most respected guitarists on the planet.”

At the end of 2017, Johnson released a new album, “Collage,” that combines five new original songs with five covers that reflect both his inspirations and range. It features an acoustic version of Jimi Hendrix’s “One Rainy Wish,” The Beatles classic “We Can Work It Out” in a Caribbean groove, B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby,” the surf rock classic “Pipeline” and Stevie Wonder’s 1966 hit “Uptight (Everything’s Alright).”

Recently, Johnson announced plans to perform “Ah Via Musicom” in its entirety at dates across America in 2018.

“I never planned on doing a tour like this,” said Johnson, during a recent phone interview from his home in Austin, Texas. “I really never even planned a tour for ‘Collage.’

“People were talking about artists touring old albums that were fan favorites. I said – well, mine would have to be ‘Ah Via Musicom.’ Then, I thought about doing a tour for ‘Ah Via Musicom.” I called Tommy and Kyle and they were available. We all thought it would be fun.”

When Johnson recorded ‘Ah Via Musicom” in Austin in 1988 and 1989, Tommy Taylor was his drummer and Kyle Brock was his bass player.

According to Johnson, “I listen to the fan feedback and comments as I plan my projects and tours. That’s how I got into the recording and subsequent tour with Mike Stern. Same thing with the acoustic recording and tour because I kept hearing ‘Hey when are you gonna do that acoustic record you’ve been talking about for years’.

“But by far, the most feedback I’ve been getting from fans is to play the entire ‘Ah Via Musicom’ record live so I figured I’ve put this off for too long.  The time is now, and the timing worked out for Tommy Taylor and Kyle Brock to be involved too so here we go.”

Johnson will also be in the present with live performances of songs from “Collage.”

“I spent six months recording ‘Collage’ at my studio here in Austin and finished it in October,” said Johnson.

“When I’m writing, usually the melody and the chords come concurrently and then I keep working on it. Most of the time, the lyrics come last – but not always. If it’s a vocal tune, lyrics are really important. When I was making the album, I actually sang and played at the same time. I played live in the studio. I just tried to keep it as organic and natural as possible.

“I tried to cut ‘Collage’ more live. We did a lot of songs in three takes. I didn’t want to make an album that was pieced together. I wanted to make everything more soulful. I wanted to create a human experience.

“Recording it live made a difference. We just went in and did whatever felt like it would be fun –to see what was working and what wasn’t. We recorded twice as much as was on the record. And, there is a jazz track that is a bonus track on the Japanese release.”

Arielle, the opening act, and Johnson have a history together.

“Arielle sang on ‘Collage’ and we’ve written a couple songs together,” said Johnson. “She’ll join us for the ‘Collage’ part. Arielle will start the show with a short set and then introduce us. We’ll play a short set of songs from ‘Coillage’ and some older stuff. After an intermission, we’ll come back and play ‘Ah Via Musicom’ in its entirety.”

Video link for Eric Johnson — https://youtu.be/safVhk-Jnkg.


Arielle is a singer-songwriter and guitar player from Austin. She just released a studio EP titled “Mind Lion” on February 9 – one week before she headed out on the road as part of Johnson’s tour.

“I release about three EPs a year,” said Arielle, during a recent phone interview from her home in Austin. “I usually tend to make EPs because it takes less time.

“I recorded ‘Mind Lion’ in December at home. I do most of it myself. One of my musical partners is in L.A. and he plays a little to help me put. He plays keyboards.”

On “Mind Lion,” Arielle has created a vibe where the heart, emotion and observations are the essence of the compositions.

According to Arielle, “The most important thing for me as a songwriter is to be genuine. To encapsulate the exact feeling into sound, into a bottled-up version of the purest form. The more I experience and can be real within myself, the more courage I have to write about things that make me feel vulnerable. The more they are able to reach more people’s hearts. To always do what’s tasteful for the song, rather than what makes me feel validated.”

Arielle is a prolific writer who has found that releasing EPs every few months is a better model than releasing a full-length album once a year.

“I’m always writing,” said Arielle. “I have so many songs that are already completed or else don’t need much work. On each EP, the songs are fresh. I really try to create a theme with the songs. Each theme is a little snapshot of my life.”

Music has always been a big part of Arielle’s life – even if it wasn’t what her parents would have preferred.

“My parents are both doctors and they had high hopes that I would be a doctor as well,” said Arielle, who was born in Orange, New Jersey and raised in Hawaii and Northern California.

“At age five when I was in school, I was already singing. My teachers told me that I sing different than most. They threw me into the choir and I developed a passion for instruments – and writing songs. I play ukulele, piano, bass, drums, banjo, cello, mandolin and guitar.”

On this tour, Arielle will be by herself on stage.

“It’s just me,” said Arielle. “I do have a looper – and I’m also playing in Eric’s band. I play one of my songs in his set.

“My set is 25 minutes. I’ve worked up a set o showcase some of my songs and totally get out of my comfort zone. I’ll have fear, anxiety and a lot of emotion.”

Video link for Arielle – https://youtu.be/aP6JvGxqFoY

The show at the Keswick will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $29.50 and $49.50.

Another show this week at the Keswick will be Rachelle Ferrell on March 4.

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