By Ziggy Merritt
This past Saturday, up-and-comers Cende opened for two of the most inspiring pop acts on tour at the moment; (Sandy) Alex G and Japanese Breakfast. All three have had busy years that have seen them release or about to release new albums on top of near-constant touring schedules. But comprised of members of more seasoned acts such as LVL UP and Porches, Cende has not just the credentials but the inventive drive to live up to their peers with their fresh throwback sound that factors in 90s alternative rock, a healthy dose of punk, and some jangle for good measure. To say that this was among one of the best touring lineups to have hit the iconic stage at Union Transfer is putting it lightly.
The project of Michelle Zauner, Japanese Breakfast’s set was just one of the night’s many highlights. Since I saw her last October at Everybody Hits, there’s a newfound joy to her performance that’s hard to overlook. Perhaps some of that is from the months of constant touring, which see her coming back to her home here in Philadelphia after back-to-back tours with (Sandy) Alex G and label-mates, Slowdive. But much of that seemingly comes from the irreverent nature of her latest album, Soft Sounds From Another Planet due out next Friday, July 14th and factoring heavily into her set that evening. Songs about falling in love with a machine (“Machinist”) and roadhead (“Road Head”) are comparatively lighthearted against the deeply personal nature of her debut. Both the personal and the irreverent are rendered in their own distinct beauty by dreamy experimental pop that truly resists classification.
(Sandy) Alex G’s headlining performance was decidedly more unhinged from a cool and aloof attitude onstage. Zauner and him both share a style that so heavily blends various facets of pop, punk, and with Alex G especially, alt-country. But that experiment has lasted 7 years for Alex G, with 7 full length albums and a smattering of EPs in-between. Bits of screamo and harcore punctuated moments in the night where the pit was overcome by moshing and frenzied stage-diving. Other moments were noted by the improvisational character of his performance, something that eventually came to a head when the prepared setlist was exhausted and he began playing what he pleased after an ill-fated attempt to let the beaming crowd pick for him.
Cende opening for both acts left much to be expected of the Brooklyn natives. Yet, even with only one EP and their recent full-length debut, #1 Hit Single behind them, their performance was just as impactful as their own practiced mix of pop and punk reverberated loudly throughout. Starting with their single, “Bed” they worked their way through their own brief discography before ending the set on “What I Want” with help from Zauner herself and Alex G’s violinist, collaborator, and partner, Molly Germer. The boys of Cende showed a humility in-between songs that gave praise to their friends on tour as well as the family and friends attending the show that evening. Despite the show-stopping performances by their peers, they stood singular in their ability to make an impression well after their turn at the stage had come to a close.