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July 02, 2007

Casiotone For The Painfully Alone; Donkeys: First Unitarian Church Chapel, Philadelphia PA 07.01.07

You'd think the dark wood paneling, pews and gilded flourishes of the First Unitarian Church's side chapel would make for a stuffy, imposing atmosphere; the kind of place where if one makes a single false move, God will personally see fit to their eternal damnation. Chalk it up to the freewheelin' nature of the Unitarians themselves, the acoustics, whatever --  every performance I've witnessed in this fifty-person capacity space has been anything but staid.


That said, rock bands can't seem to shake off the novelty of playing in a house of worship; I'm pretty sure I've heard every single religious-themed joke, thanks to all the years of watching bands at the Church.  Tonight, the drummer of the Donkeys asked,  "Are there any Unitarians in the audience? Do they know we're here?" Is there an emoticon for a sigh, with some serious eyerolling?


I'll let these guys slide for now, if only because I was impressed with the San Diego group's modernized, carefully crafted take on Americana, weaving together strands of the later period Velvet Underground, Good Earth-era Feelies, the Band and so forth. There wasn't much in the way lyrically to grab me (though I'll check out their self-titled debut just to prove myself wrong), but the secret weapon was their guitar player who threw out riff after fractured riff -- not too far removed from the art punk of Television.


Casiotone for the Painfully Alone quickly took the stage, which is quite a feat when you consider lone CFTPA'er Owen Ashworth travels with about 3-4 enormous keyboards. (Which I think is still a lot less than the last time I saw him travel with...) But the dude's got his set-up down and I'm talking about something more than logistics here -- minimalist, melancholy pop tunes constructed out of electronic beats and keyboards. Until tonight, I used to think that once you've seen one CFTPA show you've seen 'em all. With a backup band in the Donkeys and a stinging cover of Springsteen's "Philadelphia" (Dude seriously nailed it), I've seen the future of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. The hazy country rock of the Donkeys unleashed the pop genius of Owen's songs, and for a moment I was briefly reminded of the Magnetic Fields or the Silver Jews' wry takes on love, etc. I wasn't the only one who was caught up in this moment -- the girls in the front pew who wanted everyone to stand up during CFTPA's final songs? Yeah, they were feelin' it too, and more than happy to bear witness to this miracle.


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I always used to feel that the boss should never have incorporated synthesizers into his sound. (cf all of born in the usa.) But CTFPA somehow proved me wrong.


Yeah! Even though it was pretty faithful to the original, something about that particular instance transcended the song.

Ned Raggett

Owen's a great guy -- he worked with my sis for a little while in SF and we've chatted a couple of times since -- and it's been interesting to see how he's worked more with his music over the years. I wouldn't have expected this type of show with him which makes it all the more enjoyable to read about -- thanks! And the photos of course rule.


Yo, dude that was a good piece up keep the good work!

mr. f

Excellent piece on an excellent band. And way to prove to all those photo-wusses that good pictures can be taken on any kinda camera.


oh man, so awesome that you're writing about casiotone for the painfully alone for billboard. casiotone! top of the pops! casiotone! top of the pops!

(p.s. it's "streets of philadelphia"... and man, i would have loved to have heard that.)


i hope you picked up the split tour 7"... i came home to find they had left me a copy of the 'tour boxer shorts'... i really hate when bands leave underthings at my house! ick ick.


Great review, Maria! I love that Philly seems to have so many concerts in church buildings. Wish I could have checked it out. -J

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