On Stage: Balún celebrates Puerto Rican roots

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times


The coquí is a frog endemic to Puerto. The species is named for the loud call the males make at night. This sound serves two purposes. The coquí is a very important aspect of Puerto Rican culture and has become an unofficial territorial symbol of Puerto Rico.

To hear coqui’s unique call, you need to go to Puerto Rico. Or you can listen to “Vaivén,” the opening track of Balún’s new album “Prisma Tropical.”

Balún is a Brooklyn-based band with its roots in Puerto Rico. The multi-lingual quartet — Angélica Negrón, Noraliz Ruiz, José Olivares, Raul Reymundi – is touring in support of its new album and will bring the tour to Philly on August 23 for a show at PhilaMOCA (531 North 12th Street, Philadelphia, 267-519-9651, www.philamoca.org).

The band’s new album taps into its island roots and is up-to-date and nostalgic at the same time. With the band’s sonic reconnection with its homeland, the recorded sounds of live coqui serve as a perfect introduction to the album’s 16 tracks.

“Nora, our cuatro player who still lives in Puerto Rico, sent us the idea to use the coqui,” said Negrón, during a phone interview Monday evening from her home in Brooklyn. “She just used her phone to record the sound of the coqui late at night from her home on the island.”

With power still out in portions of the island after last year’s Hurricane Maria,  Balún, an electronic indie band, self-identify as transnational. The quartet that broke out of the San Juan indie scene a decade ago has since undergone a formational odyssey through the industry, academia, and the stateside Puerto Rican experience.

Balún’s long awaited sophomore album “Prisma Tropical” focuses an incredibly wide field of genres and influences into a revelatory sound that evokes both of the band’s homes and the distance between them. You can hear tiple, bomba barrel drum, cuatreo and dembow – along with modern electronica.

“We feel like this represents the diaspora of living between places,” said Negrón. “We call Brooklyn home but we go to Puerto Rico a few times a year. It’s the expression of the emotional toll of going back-and-forth. Noraliz moved back to the island three years ago. So, three of us live in New York and one in Puerto Rico.

“Mostly, the album has to do with us reconnecting through the music of the island. It’s also about remembering things about Puerto Rico that we forgot. Living in New York, we can listen to it in a different way.”

Since the band’s early days as part of the DIY music scene in San Juan, Balún has built a reputation for genre-fluidity. As film school and conservatory students playing every available bill and selling home-burned CDRs to electronic, hardcore, and punk crowds, Balún amassed an eclectic following on the island.

A debut record on Chicago’s Brilliante label and national touring followed, but for core members Angélica Negrón, Noraliz Ruiz and José Olivares, the pull of New York and new musical directions proved too strong.
Relocating to Brooklyn, the band’s pursuits outside of Balún began reshaping the context of their music. Perpetually expanding its vision, the band released a series of singles, EPs and official remixes exploring shoegaze, folk, and bedroom electronic pop — tied together by the introspective magical-realism of Negrón’s lyrics.

With the more recent addition of old friend and seasoned punk guitarist Raul Reymundi, and under the guidance of percussionist and producer Lawson White (Jamie XX / Gil Scott-Heron, Chromeo, Ben Folds, David Lang), Balún’s component pieces now touch nearly every corner of music.

“We recorded the new album with Lawson White at Good Child Music, a studio here in Brooklyn,” said Negrón. “ I’m also a composer and I had worked with Lawson before. We knew he’d be a good person to work with.

“We had two full-lengths and a couple EPs in the middle. This time, we had a lot of demos that we thought would be part of an album. For this album, we felt the songs needed a professional studio and a producer. It was co-produced with Lawson and José.”

Viewing Puerto Rico from New York, through the prism of the wider musical world, Balún’s passage from one to the other has led to an inextricable embrace of both.

“Our live show will be focusing mostly on songs from the new album,” said Negrón. “At a recent live show, we played all the songs from ‘Prisma Tropical’ and one new song – ‘La Salida’ – which we wrote after the record was done.”

Video link for Balún – https://youtu.be/6xb61jOiq_0.

Video link for coqui frog — https://youtu.be/54-FzuE-w0U.

The show at PhilaMOCA, which has Grandchildren as the opening act, will start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $14.

Other upcoming shows at PhilaMOCA are The Warhawks on August 24, Slaughter Beach on August 25, goodnight/goodluck on August 26, and The Chamanas on August 28.

Now through August 26, The Candlelight Theater (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302- 475-2313, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) is presenting “Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?”

Anthony Connell

The production features two of the candlelight’s veteran performers – Anthony Connell and Victoria Healy. Connell plays the male lead “Eddy Ryan” and Healy has the female lead role of Becky Bakowski.

“Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?” is a novel published in 1975 by author John R. Powers. The 1950s era story was subsequently adapted into a Broadway musical and a screenplay.

The title comes from nuns’ traditional habit of not allowing female students to wear patent leather shoes because they could reflect up under the school uniform’s plaid pleated skirts and thus give male students opportunism to gaze up at their undergarments.

As far-fetched as the possibility of sneak peaks may seem, this is just one of many skewed ideas nuns used to show their influence over students at Catholic schools. The list of nuns’ idiosyncrasies is long and can be recited by almost anyone who attended Catholic school as a youngster.

The original coming of age musical involves the 1950s Catholic education of eight Chicago children — following them from the start of elementary school through the senior prom and beyond. Along the way it touches on such topics as first confessions, puppy love, patron saints, teacher’s pets, and sex education classes.

The show’s humor is universal so experience with a Catholic education is not a pre-requisite.

“The core jokes are about Catholic school,” said Connell, during a recent phone interview from his home in Marcus Hook. “But, you don’t have to be Catholic to understand them. Even if you didn’t go to Catholic school, you’ll get the humor.’

One of the central plot elements running through the musical is that Eddie Ryan is infatuated with a chubby girl, Becky Bakowski. She becomes his best friend, and he later falls in love with her when she matures into a beautiful young woman.

Unfortunately, she has decided to become a nun. Many years later Eddie returns to his old elementary school to inquire about Becky only to find she has left the order and is teaching in a small school in Indiana. At the end of the musical they are reunited.

Connell, who has been performing at the Candlelight Theater since 2102, had the necessary educational background for this show. He attended grade school at Holy Saviour in Marcus Hook, high school at Cardinal O’Hara in Springfield and college at DeSales University in Center Valley (near Allentown).

“This show brought me back to my Catholic school days,” said Connell, who majored in musical theater at DeSales. “The nuns were very strict. In fifth grade, I gave a girl a hug. A nun saw me do it and she made me stay after school for a week.

“When I auditioned for this show, the only thing knew about it was that it was a show about Catholic school.”

Obviously, Connell was able to relate – but so have the audiences at the popular dinner theater just over the state line in Arden, Delaware.

“A lot of the audience went to Catholic school,” said Connell. “Our regulars laugh at anything we do but they have been able to relate to this production. It’s a trip down memory lane. They look at the students and see which one they relate to. And, it allows non-Catholics to get an inside look at what it was like to be Catholic in those days.”

Connell also relates to his character – Eddie Ryan.

“I was that kind of character when I was in school,” said Connell. “I was kind of shy. I came into Catholic school in first grade and had to learn how to pray. Back then, it took me a while to find my niche.”

Video link for “Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?” — https://youtu.be/bPjJw0YWLcQ.

The Candlelight Theater is presenting “Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?” now through August 26. Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings (doors 6 p.m./show, 8 p.m.) and Sunday afternoons (doors, 1 p.m./show, 3 p.m.). Tickets, which include dinner and show, are $63 for adults and $33 for children (ages 4-12).

The Candlelight’s next production — “Brigadoon” — will run from September 15-October 28.

June Divided

August 24 is a big day for June Divided.

It’s the official release date for the band’s new EP “Body Wars” on Revival Recordings.

And, the Philadelphia-based quartet — Melissa Menago- Vocals, Keys, Guitar; Chris Kissel- Guitar; Keith Gill- Drums; Lenny Sasso- Bass  — is  celebrating with a “CD Release Show” in its hometown at Boot and Saddle (1131 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, 215-639-4528, www.bootandsaddlephilly.com).

“The new EP was recorded a while ago in our producer’s basement,” said Menago, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from her home in northern Delaware. “We recorded five tracks there with Fed Mascherino and the other two were self-produced.”

Mascherino is a Coatesville native and still a Chester County resident. Over the last 25 years, he has been a key member of a number of top bands including Brody, Breaking Pangaea, Taking Back Sunday, The Color Fred, Terrible Things, The Lemonheads and Say Everything.

“It was supposed to be a five-song EP, but the process took way longer than expected,” said Menago. “I wrote two more songs and they were the ones we self-produced.”

June Divided is approaching the end of its first decade as a band.

“The band started out as a project Chris and I did when we were music majors at Drexel University,” said Menago. “When we graduated in June 2009 and were looking for jobs, we decided to keep the music going.

“We needed a drummer, so we put an ad on Craigslist – more as a joke than anything else. To our surprise, it actually worked. Keith answered the ad and we fell in love with him. It was a good fit.

“It’s still the same band except for our bass player. Lenny Sasso was originally our manager and now he is our bass player.

“We recorded our debut EP ‘Other Side of You’ at Sound Line Studio in the Poconos (Canadensis). Alec Henninger, a good friend of ours, was an engineer there so we got him to produce it. Actually, before that, we did a two-song single at Drexel. One of the songs was ‘Bullet’. We went up and re-recorded it at Sound Line. It came out good so that’s why we went back.”

Menago, who attended high school at the Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Wilmington, is June Divided’s principle lyricist.

“The songwriting is pretty collaborative, but I do the lyrics,” said Menago. “The music comes first and then we add the lyrics. Sometimes, I know exactly what I want to say when I hear the music. Other times, I have no idea.

“I definitely draw from my life experience. But, I’ve been taught to make sure that lyrics are universal. We’re still writing songs all the time. We’d like to put out a full-length sometime soon. One of our favorite things to do as a band is writing songs.”

June Divided just released a single, — “Firestarter.” The track is the fourth single the band has released off “Body Wars.”

“‘Body Wars’ was originally self-released and then Revival Recordings picked it up,” said Menago. “Revival saw us play at the Launch Music Conference. We talked with them for a while and finally worked a deal.

“We haven’t recorded anything new in a while. But, I have been writing. Everything is in the experimental stage right now.”

Video link for June Divided – https://youtu.be/fnUsJacIw3I.

The show at Boot and Saddle, which has June Divided and Shane Henderson as co-headliners and Saver as the ooenig act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Other upcoming shows at Boot and Saddle are Exnations in August 23, American Trappist on August 25,

Frequently, when bands head out to perform live shows, they are touring in support of a recently-released album or EP.


Espers, a Philadelphia-based rock band, are out on the road for a series of shows in the Northeast – including a show on August 24 at Union Transfer (1026 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, 215-232-2100, www.utphilly.com). Their most recent album is “III,” which was released in 2009.

There is no new album on the horizon. A national tour is not being considered. For now, Espers — Greg Weeks, Meg Baird, Brooke Sietinsons, Helena Espvall, Otto Hauser — is just doing a three-show tour with stops in New Jersey (Jersey City), New  York (Pine Plains) and Philly. Still, it’s an exciting time for Espers’ long-time fans in the area.

“We released our last album nin 2009,” said Baird, during a phone interview last week from her home in San Francisco.

“We toured a lot after the record came out. After that, there were too many life changes for many of the members of the band.”

As a result, the band went on hiatus – until recently.

“It wasn’t like we decided to quit,” said Baird. “Very quietly, we finished our commitments and then didn’t take on anything new.”

That changed last year.

“A promoter from the Hudson Valley’s Huichica Music Festival asked if we’d be willing to play a show,” said Baird, who has also released several solo albums. “That happened last winter. He approached me because we both live in the Bay Area. I didn’t think it would fly because it had been so long.

“I just told him that I’d pass the message along to everyone in the band. I did — and they were all up for it. The same five members that made the lest recorded are on for this show. We’re getting together in Philly for a week of rehearsals before we go out and do these shows.

“Otto, the drummer, lives in the Hudson Valley and does a lot of session work. He’s also performing with Vetiver. “Helena calls Lisbon home. There’s lots of music for her in Portugal. Greg and Brooke remained in the Philadelphia area.

“Vetiver is a Bay Area band and we’ve crossed oaths a lot. This Vetiver band is also a reunion. They’re celebrating their 10th anniversary and are on the bill with us at Union Transfer. It’s the original Vetiver band from their first album.”

Espers formed in 2002 as a trio featuring singer-songwriter Greg Weeks, Meg Baird and Brooke Sietinsons.

“Greg, who is from New York, was doing solo work,” said Baird. “Brooke and I were both from South Jersey. I’m from Burlington Township and Brooke is from Brooklawn. Greg and Brooke were cooking up ideas. I got drafted and we started out as a trio.”

Espers later expanded to a sextet including Otto Hauser, Helena Espvall and Chris Smith. Their music is reminiscent of late-sixties British folk with inspiration from bands such as Fairport Convention.

The band released its self-titled debut in 2004 and followed that with an album of cover songs, “The Weed Tree,” in 2005. In 2006, Espers released their third full-length album,” II” on Drag City Records.

“For these shows, we’re doing songs from all of our albums,” said Baird. “We don’t have any new material so we’re sticking with catalog stuff.”

Video link for Espers — https://youtu.be/Q8J7HfFn6QY.

The show at Union Transfer, which also features Vetiver and Ryley Walker, will start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $25.

Union Transfer is also presenting a show with Interpol and Honduras on August 23.

On August 24, fans of metal music should head down to the Voltage Lounge (421 North Seventh Street, Philadelphia, 215- 964-9602, www.voltagelounge.com) for an all-ages show featuring Charcoal Tongue, September Mourning, Kaleido, and Generation Empty.

Charcoal Tongue

Based in San Antonio, Texas, Charcoal Tongue — Christopher Mora (vocals), Luciano Islas (bass), Matt Guajardo (guitar), and Jacob Navaira (keyboards, vocals) — came together in 2015 after Mora’s attempted suicide. The band’s dark sound is a blend of heavy metal, hardcore punk and metalcore.

Charcoal Tongue is touring in support of its new EP – “24 Hours: My Deterioration” on Spinefarm Records. The four-song EP includes “My Deeds on Display,” “Fix Me,” “Inside Out,” and “Lead You to the Dark.”

“We recorded the EP in October last year,” said Mora, during a phone interview Wednesday from a tour stop in Amityville, New York.

“We made it with producer Josh Schroeder at his Random Awesome Studio, which is his studio in Bay City, Michigan. He’s a really cool producer. We talked to a handful of producers and we liked his philosophy.

“I have a home studio where I write all the music. I’m still writing but nothing is finished. A lot if it is in pre-production. We have a full album’s worth of songs that go back to 2015.

“Instead of having us release an album, our label said – why just put an album out right away because with people’s attention spans, it’s better to just put out singles and EPs. We heard the songs as an album but now we kind of like it being split up. At some point, we’ll have a deluxe album with the songs from the EP and a few other tracks.”

According to Mora, “‘My Deterioration’ is the introduction to the Charcoal Tongue story. I was in a really dark place writing these songs and I think that translated into this EP sonically and lyrically. I needed to get this part of the story off my chest in order to make it to self-realization and eventual recovery.”

Mora has battled almost his entire life with mental health issues.

“I was never diagnosed as bi-polar, but I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety from when I was in fourth grace up to the present,” said Mora.

“They had me on Adderall since fourth grade. Then, they gave me medication fro depression. I’ve stopped all that. It’s been about a year that I’ve been off my medications.”

Charcoal Tongue’s latest single is “My Deeds on Display.”

According to Mora, “‘My Deeds on Display’ is about pretending to be OK… when underneath the surface, you are harboring something deeper. With this video, we portrayed the story of my childhood and adolescent struggle with mental illness and the dependence on medication, which began when I was 10 years old. Hopefully those who share the same history of being in and out of psychiatrist offices, hospitals, and mental health facilities will see this and be able to relate and know that we’ve been there. And most importantly — that it’s OK to not be OK.”

The message is for himself as well as for the listeners.

“I feel it’s important to be writing songs – talking about all the different emotions and feelings. And, talking about the importance of not holding it in. The experience of writing these songs has been very cathartic for me.”

Video link for Charcoal Tongue – https://youtu.be/-vt4yc826Ew

The all-ages show at the Voltage Lounge, which also features September Mourning, Kaleido, and Generation Empty, will start at 6 p.m.

Tickets are $15.

Other upcoming shows at the Voltage Lounge are Night Demon on August 23 and The Emo Band on August 25.

Bedlam Kiss

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) has the following schedule — Flash Funniest 2018 – A Summer Comedy Festival – Week #3 with Belynda Cleare, Connor McGovern, Chris Hayes, Jesse Blanco, Vince Valentine, and Marc Staudenmaier on August 23; Bedlam Kiss, Galaxy 13 and Green Cathedral on August 24; New Summer Sounds of the Kennett Flash Winner’s Showcase with Backyard Blue, and Mom Fears My Music on August 25; and  Romantic Warriors I – A Progressive Music Saga – Films & Words at The Flash with Chad Hutchinson on August 26.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host Affinity Colabs Story & Poetry Slam on August 26.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will present Steal Your Peach (Playing a Mashup of The Allman Brothers + Grateful Dead) on August 24; Denelle Anderson and Seraiah Nicole on August 25; Zachademy of Music plays Queen + Countdown To Ecstasy plays Steely Dan + Muscle Tough plays Fleetwood Mac on August 26; and Big Sam’s Funky Nation Tribute to Allen Touissant with members of Swift Technique, West Philly Orchestra, and Melody Gardot on August 29.

Valley Forge Casino (1160 First Avenue, King Of Prussia, 610-354-8118, www.vfcasino.com) will showcase Mike Vecchione in its Comedy Club on August 24.

Rainbow’s Comedy Playhouse (3065 Lincoln Highway East, Paradise, 800-292-4301, http://www.rainbowcomedy.com) is presenting “Love, Lies & the Lottery” now through October 27.

Matinee performances are every Wednesday, Thursday and selected Saturdays with an 11 a.m. lunch and a 1 p.m. curtain. Evening performances are every Friday, Saturday and selected Thursdays with dinner at 6 p.m. and the show following at 8 p.m. There will also be “Twilight Performances” on selected Sundays with dinner at 2:30 p.m. and the show at 4 p.m. Ticket prices range from $27-$63.

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