On Stage: Lauren Hoffman finds catharsis in ‘Family Ghost’

By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

Lauren Hoffman

In 1997, Lauren Hoffman was living in Charlottesville, Virginia when she released her debut album “Megiddo” on Virgin Records America.

Now, in 2017, she is still living in Charlottesville. An, she is still playing songs from “Megiddo” on her current tour – a tour that brings her to Philly on June 2 for a show at The Fire (412 West Girard Avenue, Philadelphia, 267-671-9298, thefirephilly.com).

“I still play ‘Fall Away’ from ‘Megiddo’ and some songs from my second album ‘Choreography’ but the major part of my set right now is the new album,” said Hoffman, during a phone interview Wednesday from her home in Charlottesville.

The new album, which was recorded by Lauren Hoffman & The Secret Storm, is titled “Family Ghost.”

“‘Family Ghost’ came out in January,” said Hoffman. “We’ve been working on it since we got together in 2014. I put some of the songs out earlier as an EP called ‘Dragon.’

“I didn’t feel any theme when I was making the album. When I wrote, the songs seemed so different from each other – almost like different genres.

“I didn’t think they had much in common until I heard them when the album was done. I guess you could say the theme was the damage that you carry from your immediate family. It became like an extended therapy session.”

On the new disc, Hoffman and her band meld her previous albums’ angst over love, relationships, and expectations into a powerful, cathartic release.

“I’m now in a better place than I have been,” said Hoffman. “I’m in a better place physically and emotionally.”

“Family Ghost” is an 11-track collection that demonstrates Lauren Hoffman & The Secret Storm’s unique, multi-dimensional brand of atmospheric, dark rock. Featuring a mixture of cabaret, broken ballads, and indie rock, it is a collection of heart-bending narratives that double as emotional exorcism.

“I grew up in Charlottesville,” said Hoffman. “I always thought I’d leave here and never come back.

“I had four albums in my 20s and lived in Europe, L.A. and New York. But, I always checked back in Charlottesville. When I had my daughter eight-and-a-half years ago, I came home.”

Hoffman’s current group includes guitarist Tony Lechmanski (Bella Morte), cello-violinist Cathy Monnes (Sally Rose Band), bassist Jeff Diehm (The Last Dance), keyboardist Ethan Lipscomb, and new drummer Kevin Ardrey.

“I’ve had this band together since 2013,” said Hoffman. “We’ve been through four drummers but all the other members have been here since the start.

“The band started with me and Tony. I hadn’t been playing at all for a while when my daughter was young. We did some shows as a duo. Then, I got an offer to do a big show in Charlottesville and it went really well.

“But, touring is really hard with six people. We all have day jobs and I have a kid so we’re not doing any long tours right now. We usually just go out to do shows on weekends.”

Hoffman’s fans have stayed faithful – including her fans in this area who have waited a long time to see her perform live.

“The last time I played Philadelphia was in the early 2000s,” said Hoffman “And, this show will be the first time I’ve come to Philly with a band.”

Video link for Lauren Hoffman & The Secret Storm — https://youtu.be/j6hp9uZDZkU.

The show at The Fire, which also features Elissa Janelle Velveteen, Bern & The Bastards, Teef and Moron Girls, will start at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10.

Corky Laing

Mountain is a legendary classic rock band that hit its peak in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the era of album rock on the radio, Mountain filled the airways with songs such as “Nantucket Sleighride,” “Theme for an Imaginary Western,” and especially “Mississippi Queen.”

The band’s line-up featured guitarist Leslie West, bassist/vocalist Felix Pappalardi, keyboardist Steve Knight and drummer Corky Laing.

Mountain disbanded in February 1972 after a tour of the U.K. Pappalardi returned to studio work, while West and Laing formed West, Bruce and Laing with former Cream bassist, the late Jack Bruce.

Now, four decades later, Laing is back on a tour billed as “Corky Laing Plays Mountain” – a tour that touches down June 3 at Kung Fu Necktie (1248 North Front Street, Philadelphia, 215-291-4919, kungfunecktie.com).

In the late 1970s, Laing released his solo album “Making it on the Streets” that is often cited as an overlooked pioneer of AOR. In the early 80s, he recorded with an indie band called the Mix and at the end of the 1990s he got together with Noel Redding (Jimi Hendrix Experience) and Eric Schenkman (Spin Doctors) to form the band Cork.

In the 90s, Laing worked for several years as the vice president, A&R, of Polygram Records, Canada. During that time, he produced bands like Men Without Hats and Bootsauce.

He also had his own radio show, Under the Rock, in Canada, has published an anecdotal road-stories book, Stick it! and has his one-man show, The Best Seat in the House, a humorous autobiographical production that combines storytelling and music.

Now, he is on the road – re-creating the great music Mountain made during its short but brilliant time as a functioning band.

“I’ve got a trio now and they can really play well,” said Laing, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “Chris Shutter is a young guy and he’s a great guitarist and Joe Vendi is a veteran bass player.

“The guys I’m working with really want to play. I’ve lived through all the aspects of the music business. Playing with this trio is a wonderful pace to land at this point.”

Laing, who will turn 70 next year, knows that Mountain’s original fans are getting long of tooth – or are deceased.

“Mountain wasn’t as big as some of the other acts back in the day but we did have a lot of fans,” said Laing, who is a master of high hat and cowbell. “Now, a lot of those fans are really old.

“Over the years, the songs took on different ideas because we jammed. The songs changed a lot. Now, I’m playing the repertoire the way it was recorded.”

Fans – old and new – appreciate Laing’s respect for the original recordings.

“The response to this show has been wonderful,” said Laing. “The people who come out are ardent fans. There are no frills – just Mountain songs the way they were originally made.

“A six-week tour is challenging. The good news is that it’s a terrific repertoire. We’re doing all the main songs – and we’re digging deeper.

“I may be getting old but I still love playing – and I want to keep it up.”

Video link for Corky Laing – https://youtu.be/kUurZWscDu0.

The show at Kung Fu Necktie, which has Ecstatic Vision and The Golden Grass as opening acts, will start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Grim Streaker

On June 3, PhilaMOCA (531 North 12th Street, Philadelphia, 267-519-9651, www.philamoca.org) will present an interesting triple-bill featuring Grim Streaker, Junior Astronomers and Cold Fronts.

Grim Streaker, which features singer Amelia Bushell, guitarists Dan Peskin and Micah Weisberg, bassist Bill Dvorak and drummer Piyal Basu, has been together as a band for less than a year.

“We’re still pretty new,” said Weisberg, during a phone interview Thursday afternoon from his home in Brooklyn, New York. “We’ve been a band since fall of last year.

“We were all playing in different bands in Brooklyn and had worked on various projects together. Me and Bill and Dan bonded over our love of punk songs.

“We hadn’t been playing punk with our other bands. So, we got together to do some fast punk songs. We all grew up listening to different punk bands. Bill is hardcore 70s – Ramones, CBGBs. Dan is from Californian and he was into skate punk.

“We didn’t have any songs at the start. We just got together in a room and played as fast as we possibly could. The result was our first single ‘Guts.’”

Grim Streaker’s debut single, “Guts,” which came out in January, was produced by Mike Kutchman.

“Mitch has his own studio – Greenpoint Studios – in Brooklyn,” said Weisberg. “We wanted to use him because he had worked with several bands we like. We did all the recording for the single in one day.

Grim Streaker will be releasing its debut EP “Girl Minority” on July 7.

“We recorded the EP at Diamond City Studio in Manhattan a few months ago,” said Weisberg. “We made it with Ayad Al Adhamy and Joel Witenberg and it was mastered by Mike Kutchman.

“We recorded and mixed all the tracks over the course of a week back in March. Lately, we’ve been trying to play as many shows as possible to get the name out there.

“Hopefully, after people see us play live, they’ll get what we’re doing. Amelia is a force to be reckoned with on stage. We have four squares and one circle.

“We have about nine or 10 songs that we play in our live set. And, we’re writing songs all the time. For now, we still all have day jobs. Our concert in Philly this weekend will be our first out-of-town show.”

Video link for Grim Streaker — https://youtu.be/IPzGB9Kipaw.

Junior Astronomers

Junior Astronomers will hit town playing songs from their new album “Body Language,” which is scheduled to be released on June 9 via Refresh Records.

The indie rock band from Charlotte, North Carolina features Terrence Richard, Philip Wheeler, Colin Watts, and Elias Pittman.

“We’ve been together for 10 years now,” said Richard, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon as the band traveled from Richmond, Virginia to a gig in New York. “We’ve dedicated our lives to doing what we love.”

Junior Astronomers have recorded several albums, a few EPs and a number of singles over the last decade. Now, they’ve created a sparkling new album for their fans.

“After our last album, we weren’t in a rush,” said Richards. “We wanted to make sure we made the record we wanted to make.

“We had 12 tracks done for the album but we decided to take one of them off. We released two EPs – ‘Thank You’ and ‘FPM’ — because we had songs that didn’t fit the album.

“We tried to keep a vibe going. On our first record, we tried to make it sound chronological thematically with music and story. The first and last songs are in the same time signature.

“The new album deals with our relationship with living here in Charlotte for so long. I still love Charlotte. There’s no place like home.

“The record is about not really liking the progression of the city – tearing down nice old buildings and putting up huge box-like apartment buildings.

“We recorded ‘Body Language’ with engineer and producer Mike Pepe at Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium Recordings in Kernersville, North Carolina.

“We had been recording at the same studio in Greensboro for a while and we needed a change. At Fidelitorium, we used analog equipment and then went through ProTools to get it digital.

“We spent over a year-and-a-half getting ready to make the album. We all get together to write the songs and it took us that long to write the songs that we wanted to use for the album.

“In our live show on this tour, we’re playing a little bit of both our albums – mixing old and new together. Obviously, we’ll be focusing a little more on the new record.”

Video link for Junior Astronomers — https://youtu.be/5k1li7xSoYE.

The show at Philamoca will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.

Francis Dunnery

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will have Francis Dunnery on June 3, Mark Unruh on June 3, and Open Mic with guest host William Rose on June 4.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host The Jost Project with Gina Roche on June 2, Jim Boggia on June 3, the Phoenixville Art Street Festival on June 4.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will present John Eddie and His Dirty Ol’ Band and The Parameters on June 2 and “50th Anniversary Celebration of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” with The Newspaper Taxis performing the album in its entirety on June 3.

Valley Forge Casino (1160 First Avenue, King Of Prussia, 610-354-8118, www.vfcasino.com) will present Starship featuring Mickey Thomas on June 2.

Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, 215-731-3333, www.kimmelcenter.org), will be presenting the hit show “Motown the Musical” now through June 11. Ticket prices range from $37-$132.

The Candlelight Theater (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302- 475-2313, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) is presenting “Crazy for You” now through June 25.

Video link for “Crazy for You” — https://youtu.be/FsUwE4R4oXk.

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) will present The Robert Cray Band on June 2,

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will have John Mayall on June 2, Echoes (Pink Floyd Tribute) on June 3, The Fabulous Greaseband on June 4, Eric Johnson and with Special Guest Arielle on June 5 and Cracker Unplugged on June 6.

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