Lightspeed Champion – World Café Live, Philadelphia

On my way into Center City Philadelphia Friday night, I was greeted by standstill traffic on 23rd between Sansom and Walnut Streets due to a fire engine that’s sirens were blaring. I turned down Sansom to park my car and proceeded to walk the 6 blocks to World Café Live. As I approached the venue, I noticed the fire engine blocking traffic was now situated right in front of the building I was headed towards and a large crowd was gathered outside. Immediately I was hit with a barrage of thoughts from how this would affect my seeing Lightspeed Champion (ex-Test Icicle Devonte Hynes) perform to how WXPN would manage if something cataclysmic happened to their home (which shares space with World Café Live).

I come upon a group of four guys, all of whom I find out have come up two hours from Maryland to see the show. After they inform me that the fire alarm went off and the fire truck showed up, one of the guys informs me he’s been waiting two years to see Lightspeed Champion live. Hearing that, I’m a bit astounded, but totally understand where he was coming from once Dev took the stage. It turns out the alarm was set off by some smoke from the kitchen that turned out to be harmless; soon after my arrival, the crowd was allowed to re-enter the building for the last half of the first act. There was, of course, that guy who made the joke, “I told you this artist was smokin’!”

The excitement of the false fire alarm died down and the crowd came to a hush as Dev and his violin player Mike Sidell walked onto the stage. They begin to play a strong and hauntingly beautiful tune, getting lost in the music. The audience is mesmerized by the gorgeous sound until Dev breaks the silence with the song’s opening line, “I’m a dick / Yes, it’s true / Everyone shall know it’s true.” The crowd laughs at the first line, then is quickly silenced again as Lightspeed plays on. His sound is simple with country-rock and folk-pop flourishes that set the mood for deeply personal and emotional lyrics.

Dev talks of how he’s shaky from the excitement of seeing the Star Wars exhibition and riding the Sky Bike at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute earlier that day. Of the Sky Bike, a bike on a rail in the air with nothing but nets below, he says, “It’s fuckin’ like ET or something,” in his British accent. The pair then launch into “Galaxy of the Lost,” a crowd favorite. Every single person in the room is focused on the stage and the well-crafted sounds coming from it. Dev then traded in his acoustic for the piano as he played “No Surprise,” a gorgeously melodic love song. As he switches back to guitar to play a Christmas song, the energy in World Café Live is high. “Christmas Song” details a now disaffected Christian spending Christmas alone: “I was once a Christian boy / But something deep inside me got annoyed / I still see the ghost of Christmas past / Oh, Lord how long will it last? / ‘Cause I been feeling down.”

Next up is a simple and refreshing song called “Everyone I Know Is Listening To Crunk.” The title alludes to jokes about Lil Jon, but is, instead, a heart-wrenching tune about a man who needs love and comfort. A plucky tune follows in the same lyrically emotional vain that is Lightspeed Champion’s M.O.: “My stomach’s turning / …You don’t have to tell me this is wrong / …I know I can’t erase two years of my life.” The lyrical content of his songs would make it easy to label Lightspeed Champion as “emo,” but Dev is so much deeper than that. He bares his soul in his songs in a beautiful and honest way that transcends silly labels.

The set wound down and ended with “Midnight Surprise,” but the audience demanded an encore. Dev complied saying, “This is the only time we’re gonna play this on our trip to the States,” as he and Sidell covered the Star Wars theme song. Fans of Lightspeed Champion know about Dev’s obsession with Star Wars, so the cover was widely appreciated. Dev plays both the guitar and piano beautifully and his efforts were only enhanced by the gorgeous stylings of Sidell on the violin. After listening to the two on stage, I’ve decided that the violin is absolutely underutilized in music today; dear bands, use them more, thanks.

Lightspeed Champion puts on an amazing live show which rivals the near perfect quality of his new CD Falling Off The Lavendar Bridge. As the set ended, I had fully understood why Guy From Maryland #1 had waited for two years to see this show and why all four had driven two hours to be there. I can safely say that Dev is my UK Kevin Devine, which, if you know me/my love for KD, it’s a huge thing for me to say. Falling Off The Lavendar Bridge hasn’t left my car’s CD player and I’m fairly certain it’ll log plenty of time in my iTunes playlist.

Lightspeed Champion plays all this week at SXSW and then heads back to Europe to tour through May. Find specifics on MySpace.

Set List: Galaxy of the Lost, No Surprise, Another Song About Being Alone At Christmas, Everyone I Know Is Listening To Crunk, Dry Lips, In Limbo, Tell Me What It’s Worth, Midnight Surprise

Lightspeed Champion: myspace | youtube | blog
Domino Records: website | myspace

[where: 3025 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19104]


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