Philebrity publisher Joey Sweeney’s a pretty cool guy, I guess. He and his Long Hair Arkestra band are opening for Eleanor Friedberger at Milkboy on Friday night.
Joey Sweeney’s a pretty cool guy, I guess. The Philebrity publisher and Quaker City Mercantile creative is also in a band. And he has long hair and plastic glasses. And he married a badass poet, Elizabeth Scanlon, and together they made the 215 Festival (version 2.0) reach new heights last November. Now he gets to open for Eleanor Friedberger at Milkboy on Friday night with the help of his Long Hair Arkestra.
One of the things I love about Joey is his bone-dry sense of humor. And he delivered this week.
Friedberger is undoubtedly a solid match-up for Joey Sweeney and the Long Hair Arkestra: They both value a strong turn of phrase; they’re both pretty no-nonsense when it comes to hype; and I’d frankly pay to periscope a long, morning coffee talk between the two of them.
“I think she’s one of the smartest songwriters going right now,” says Sweeney, “and everything she does, from the sleeve art down to the way her band sounds, I always feel like: ‘YES! THAT!’ I think that side one alone of ‘Last Summer,’ just that first run of ‘My Mistakes‘ through ‘Roosevelt Island,’ is just such incredibly strong songwriting and style. It’s seriously as on point as something like Echo & The Bunnymen’s ‘Ocean Rain‘ in terms of finding this amazingly cool mise en scene and nailing it to the wall. It’s like Renata Adler or Elizabeth Hardwick or something.”
I had to google Adler and Hardwick.
Friedberger’s debut solo record, “Last Summer” (2011, Merge Records), is an absolute gem. The elegant 39-year-old singer, writer, keyboardist, and guitar player had long worked with her brother Matthew in the band Fiery Furnaces. Together, between 2003 and 2009, they put out eight damn records.
Sweeney’s not quite as prolific, but his musical journey has nearly as many chapters as hers. He started writing songs as a teenager in the ’80s, and he has fronted bands The Barnabys, The Trouble With Sweeney, and Arctic Splash. Pitchfork gave The Trouble With Sweeney’s “Fishtown Briefcase” (2004) a rock-solid 7.8. Not that Pitchfork is, you know, the ultimate — but it’s worth noting.
Running Philebrity, starting in 2004, took him out of the music game a bit. But in 2010 he returned to the stage with Arctic Splash and then, in October 2013, he released “Long Hair,” a record that’s still quite lovely and jams. He got some help from none other than Lushlife on that one, who helped with some gorgeous and sophisticated string arrangements.
So what’s the state of things now, as he prepares to open for Friedberger?
“This new bass-drums-guitar-organ-sax configuration of the band we’re doing feels really fresh and where I want to be,” Sweeney says. “I’m also enjoying playing electric guitar for the first time in years, which is shocking to me. We’ll be playing a handful of new tunes for the first time ever at this show. There’s this cool settling thing that is happening where the configuration of the band is landing somewhere between the earnest beach rock of ‘Long Hair’ and the Ron-Wood-playing-a-guitar-made-out-of-a-toilet-seat of Arctic Splash. Who could have known that would be my sweet spot?”
He is nothing if not good with words.
Now here’s the good stuff. I ask him about being an opener versus being the headliner and what mentalities present themselves when this dynamic is at play. He cites a documentary about the art punk band Half Japanese, “The Band that Would be King,” in which co-founder David Fair said this about the bands they’d played with over the years: “You know, every time we played with another band, I made a notch on the back of my guitar if I thought we ‘beat’ them. It turned out that I made a notch every time.”
I know that he’s not aiming at “beating” Friedberger but merely flexing his art-punk-documentary knowledge.
Now, how about an opening band wishlist, eh, Jojo? He obliged, and it is excellent.
We open for them:
“Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance” at Max’s Kansas City
“Muswell Hillbillies”-era Kinks at The Bataclan
The Go-Betweens at a house party in Brisbane, Australia, circa 1982
Curtis Mayfield at The Bottom Line
Phew — he said “circa”!
And they open for us:
Noel Gallagher solo in the upstairs room of Tatooed Mom
The Silver Ages at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia
Billy Bragg in the upstairs room of Jim’s Steaks
Joe Kusy at, like, an Indian rug store or something.
That about says it all, I guess. Now do your Googles.