I am fortunate to live in a city that is a regular tour stop for a host of bands. I am even luckier to be in an area that has a tremendous homegrown music scene. One truly special Philadelphia-bred musician, Steve Gunn, played a show at Union Transfer on Saturday night.
The Lansdowne, PA native and former member of Kurt Vile’s band was touring in support of his tremendous new album The Unseen In Between. The sensational record is an amazing combination of songwriting and guitar work that has earned attention from national publications.
Gunn’s Union Transfer setlist consisted almost entirely of work from his new LP, but was bookended by a pair of old favorites. Gunn opened with the serene “Wildwood” before launching into new material with the uptempo “Vagabond.”
A guitar player who is known for creating beautiful, dulcet songs, Gunn has a different presence live. He retains his innate ability to play with feel that make his records stand out, but onstage Gunn turns into more of a shredder. Even his appearance on CBS This Morning on the same day of the Philly show belied how captivating his guitar work can be in-person.
This transformation was evident during some of his lengthier jams like “New Familiar” and “Lightening Field.” Gunn looked as if he became one with his guitar as he manipulated foot pedals and coaxed sounds out of his Fender amp.
Gunn was not alone in his musical prowess either. Sideman James Elkington is a perfect pairing with the Delco guitar player. The bandmates frequently provided an electric one-two punch. This was not only evident on extended jams, but on delicate songs like “New Moon” and “Luciano.”
The band closed out the hour-plus gig with a two-song encore. The first, “Stonehurst Cowboy,” was dedicated to Gunn’s mother. In an amazing moment, you could have heard a pin drop in Union Transfer as Gunn introduced the song about his deceased father.
The second, “Way Out Weather,” reversed the tone of the encore with an epic blend of guitar from Gunn and Elkington. Gunn’s biggest hit to date, “Way Out Weather” is a remarkable song that defines the musician: wonderful on the record, but thrilling in-person.
Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore
Earlier in the night, Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore set the evening’s tone with a mellow set that included keyboard, harp, and guitar.
The show was also a homecoming for the duo. Baird, who is a member of Gunn’s band, has been in Philly acts like Espers and Watery Love. Harpist Mary Lattimore noted that she used to work in different capacities at Union Transfer, including selling soft pretzels and checking coats.
The pair collaborated on the folk album Ghost Forests in 2018. Much like Gunn, the subdued nature of their performance belied their music’s emotion. For the majority of their set the audience stood in silence to absorb the intricacy and beauty of two more special Philly musicians.
Music Monday is a recurring series on the Flat Circle that spotlights indie artists, highlights from my personal collection, and music news.