We Know It’s Only Rock N’ Roll But We Like It

M. Ward, Union Transfer, Saturday night by PETE TROSHAK

Mysterious troubadour M. Ward brought his dark and dreamy music to Union Transfer in Philadelphia on Saturday night, in support of his excellent new solo album A Wasteland Companion. In contrast to the sunny throwback Cali pop of his She & Him duo with Zooey Deschanel, Ward’s solo work is more rural, more dust and dirt, less sandcastles in the sky, more Leonard Cohen than Brian Wilson. Ward and his band, dressed like old school club musicians in suits and hats, effortlessly shifted through genres: spectral folk, rollicking country, otherworldly pop – all with depth and skill. Ward is a magician on stage, spellbinding the crowd which hung on every note. He sang quietly but powerfully, his voice slightly rough – the sound of a man who has known love and loss. Ward also displayed an almost supernatural guitar mastery, sounding like a man with more fingers than most. The highlight was a brief mid-show solo acoustic set where he dazzled with his guitar playing and an ominous performance of “Watch the Show” from the new album. Opening for Ward was guitar legend Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth fame, who impressed with his current group and selections from his new solo LP, Between The Times And The Tides. Lee’s playing and band were sharp, the music reminiscent of late 70’s New York guitar rock – a vibe similar to Television’s Marquee Moon, and that’s never a bad thing. — PETE TROSHAK