On Stage: Aztec Two-Step ‘2.0’ updates beloved act

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor

Aztec Two-Step

Aztec Two-Step has been around for decades and has played the area numerous times over the years at a variety of venues – including Kennett Flash not long ago.

When the band came to the area two years ago for a show at the World Café Live, there was a buzz. The duo was touring in support of its first studio album of new material since the release of “Days of Horses” in 2004.

Now, the band is coming back to the area for a show on November 2 at The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) and there is a new buzz.

Say goodbye to Aztec Two-Step. Say hello to Aztec Two-Step 2.0.

Aztec Two-Step 2.0 features lead singer, songwriter and original founding member Rex Fowler with his new ensemble, following partner Neal Shulman’s retirement.

“The name Aztec Two-Step 2.0 seems to be a good fit because we’re starting new,” said Fowler, during a phone interview Tuesday morning from his home in New York City. “We’re doing a different take.

Recording and touring non-stop since the early 1970s, Fowler and Shulman had accumulated 46 years of awards along with TV and radio appearances that include the David Letterman Show, World Café Live, and the King Biscuit Flour Hour. They played venues ranging from Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center to Kennett Flash.

In 1986, the duo’s “Living In America” received the New York Music Award for Best Folk Album and was named in Billboard’s year-end critic’s poll.

If you’re trying to remember any of the band’s charting singles over the course of its 46-year career — good luck. There are none.

The two musicians met in 1971 in Boston at an open mike at a club called the Stone Phoenix. Shulman was in a small school in Boston and Fowler was devoting his time to being a full-time folk singer.

In 1972, they began performing together as Aztec Two-Step, which got its name from a poem by beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. One year later, they were in Los Angeles doing their first album for Elektra Records.

The Elektra album “Aztec Two Step” started it. ATS’ second record “Second Step,” which was released by RCA Records, solidified the duo’s career. That album stayed in print with RCA for 17 years.

Even without a hit, Aztec Two Step was able to build a dedicated following — a fan base that has allowed the duo to release more than 20 albums and several of live DVDs.

Now, Shulman has bailed out and Fowler is forging ahead.

“We always had full instruments when we were recording,” said Fowler. “Now, we’re performing that way.”

The show at the Ardmore Music Hall will provide fans with an introduction to the group’s new members.

Dodie Pettit (Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals) is an accomplished songwriter and recording artist. Pettit first met Fowler when she was a session player and singer on ATS’s 1980 “Times of Our Lives” album. The two were recently married and are the heart and soul of the new Aztec Two Step 2.0 ensemble.

Pettit was part of the first generation of female rock bands of the 1960s – first with The Untouchable and later with The Enchanted Forest. She is also a former Principal Dancer for the American Repertory Dance Company and had a distinguished 15-year career on Broadway as an original cast member of “The Phantom of the Opera,” as well as appearing in Tony Award winning musicals “CATS” and “Titanic.”

Steven “Muddy” Roues (Upright Bass, Blues Harmonica, Vocals) is a record producer, songwriter, recording artist and touring musician with a 40-year career. He continues to perform his original music regularly with The Roues Brothers, Finn & The Sharks and The UpSouth Twisters.

Roues has performed live or recorded with such world-famous acts as B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Howling Wolf, James Cotton, Sam and Dave, The Chambers Brothers, Wilson Pickett, John Hiatt, Joe Ely and David Bromberg. Muddy was an honored band member in the critically acclaimed documentary film, “The Other Side of Nashville” featuring Carl Perkins.

Peter Hohmeister (Drums, Percussion, Vocals) met Fowler and Pettit recently at a cabaret in Westport, Connecticut when he was sitting in with a local jazz quartet. The duo immediately came to the conclusion that Hohmeister’s nuanced and versatile percussive style would be a perfect fit for ATS’s diverse musical canon.

“We feature three- and four-part harmonies and we’re a lot more dynamic,” said Fowler. “The songs are the same. We’ve just added more production that previously had only been on the records.

“I’m enjoying everything about it. It’s great seeing these songs come to life with a different intensity.”

Video link for Aztec Two-Step 2.0 — https://youtu.be/J9qsJnxQvrQ.

The show at The Ardmore Music Hall will start at 4 p.m. Tickets are $28.

Other upcoming shows at the venue are Live Dead ’69 featuring Tom Constanten plus members of Ratdog, Jefferson Starship on November 3, and Trigger Hippy on November 6.


CINEMA CINEMA’s new album is as fresh as Krispy Kreme donuts when the red light is on. The duo’s new album “CCXMD” was just released on November 1 by Nefarious Industries.

Making music that has always been hard to categorize, CINEMA CINEMA was established in 2008 by Brooklyn-born cousins Ev Gold (vocals/guitar) and Paul Claro (drums). They’ve been described as “experi-metal punks” by the Village Voice, and “a jolt of adrenaline” by BrooklynVegan.

Touring extensively over the past decade, the duo has performed more than 450 shows in 11 countries, including Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and most of the continental US.

Now, the band is embarking on a 10-show national tour touching down at such “world famous venues” as Jerry’s Pizza & Pub in Bakersfield (CA), Rubber Gloves in Denton (TX), Elbo Room JL in Oakland (CA), and Jub Jub’s Thirst Parlor in Reno (NV).

Their show in this area is scheduled for November 2 at McStew’s Pub (5316 New Falls Road, Levittown, mcstewsirishpub.com). CINEMA CINEMA will headline a quadruple-bill which also features Old Man Savage, Infinity and Black Friday Death Count.

“The album comes out Friday,” said Gold, during a phone interview Tuesday evening from his home in Brooklyn, New York.

“We’ll do a warmup show on Saturday and then head to the West Coast for a run of shows in California. We’ll also play Nevada and Texas on this tour.

“Phil is my cousin. We started this band in 2008 in Brooklyn and we’ve played close to 500 shows since then.”

CINEMA CINEMA has toured alongside Greg Ginn seven times with various SST Records projects, including a 50-plus-date 2014 North American tour opening for Black Flag.

The duo has toured Europe six times including a 2013 stint in support of Martin Bisi Band and a run of summer festival dates in 2016. The band appears in and has contributed music to the critically acclaimed 2014 documentary “Sound and Chaos: The Story of BC Studio.”

CINEMA CINEMA is now touring in support of its fifth full-length, “CCXMD.” The duo made a radical shift from any previously recorded output and moved into ambient and atmospheric free-jazz territories. They brought in horn player Matt Darriau to join the group for a collaborative, entirely improvised affair.

Darriau, who is known for his work with Grammy award-winning world-music ensemble The Klezmatics, had been a guest on CINEMA CINEMA’s 2017 album, “Man Bites Dog,” providing saxophone on a handful of tracks. This time, Darriau brought more tools from his repertoire which allowed the trio to explore the strange beauty of chaotic sound.

“We have the horn player on the new album but he’s not out with us on this tour,” said Gold. “We’re going to play other new material. We’re working on another new album right now with Thor Harris from Swans. It should be out sometime next year.”

CINEMA CINEMA has a history of forging new paths rather than repeating what has been done before.

“We follow the sound wherever it leads,” said Gold. ‘The new stuff is ambient free jazz rooted in improvisation – wacko avant-garde punk material.

“We started the collaboration with Matt Darriau in 2013 and recorded ‘CCXMD’ about two years ago. We cut it in Brooklyn at the now-defunct Electric Plant Studio. It recently closed after being around for 26 years.”

CINEMA CINEMA hasn’t been around anywhere near that long, but the band is now in its second decade of making unconventional music.

“We do it because it makes us feel good – and makes us feel sane,” said Gold. “Our sound – and our genre – is still revealing itself to us every day.”

Video link for CINEMA CINEMA  — https://youtu.be/iaxAAIpHrDA.

The show at McStew’s, which has Old Man Savage, Infinity and Black Friday Death Count as opening acts, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5.

Video link for Erin McKeown – https://youtu.be/jx5qSJOWdyg.

The show at Boot and Saddle, which has Aiden James as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Other upcoming acts at Boot and Saddle are Kindness on November 2, and Quintron and Miss Pussycay on November 5

Erin McKeown

Erin McKeown offered the following invitation to people on her online mailing list – “FRIENDS IN PHILLY! …i return to your fair city for a proper headlining set. new songs and old. new jokes and old. come down to get down in the funky awesome-ness of the boot and saddle.”

McKeown was referring to her show on November 3 at Boot and Saddle (1131 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, 215-639-4528, www.bootandsaddlephilly.com).

McKeown (pronounced “MICK-yone”) is a musician, writer, and producer known internationally for her prolific disregard of stylistic boundaries. She has released 10 full length albums over the last 20 years, all the while refining her distinctive and challenging mix of American musical forms.

Leading her own band, she has performed at Bonnaroo, Glastonbury, and the Newport Folk Festivals. A familiar presence on NPR and the BBC, McKeown’s songs have also appeared in numerous commercials and television shows.

While a student at Brown University, Erin was a resident artist at Providence, Rhode Island’s revolutionary community arts organization AS220. A 2011-2012 fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center For Internet & Society, she is also the recipient of a 2016 writing fellowship from The Studios of Key West and a 2018 residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

Her latest solo release is the “Mirrors Break Back” album which was released in 2017.

“I haven’t been in the studio since 2017,” said McKeown, during a phone interview Monday afternoon from her home in western Massachusetts.

“Most of my time has been spent with the production of the Off-Broadway show. We also made a cast album for the show. I’ve just been writing for the last two years. I would think that I’ll have a new album out in 2020.”

Her first musical, “Miss You Like Hell,” opened Off-Broadway at The Public Theater in 2018, where it was nominated for five Drama Desk Awards, including Best Lyrics, Best Music and Best Orchestrations. The Wall Street Journal named it Best Musical of 2018.

“The musical did great,” said McKeown, during a phone interview Monday afternoon from her home in western Massachusetts.

“I spent a lot of time writing the original musical. Writing a musical takes over your whole life. I’ve probably already written over three albums worth of music. It was first staged in fall 2016 at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego. We learned a lot from the run in California.

“It’s about a mother and daughter who take a road trip across the country and it’s set in the Obama years. I did the music and the lyrics and Quiara Alegría Hudes did the book and lyrics.”

Immigration is a focus of the play — a daughter who is allowed to stay, a mother who may be forced to leave, and the unexpected cadre of American originals they meet on the way to the mother’s citizenship hearing.

“We had a nice run with the show,” said McKeown. “We did three full workshops before we had our first production in California. The shows in New York went really well. It’s been great getting to work with artists on this level.

“The highest measure of success was that we got to make a cast album. It makes it accessible. We licensed the production and anyone around the country can do it. Eight productions are happening now all over America. Next is writing a new show.”

McKeown, who has had a strong following in the Philadelphia area for years, has seen her recording career come full circle – and then some.

She released her debut album “Monday Morning Cold” in 1999 on her own label — TVP Records. After releasing another album on TVP in 2000, McKeown recorded albums for Nettwerk Records, Righteous Babe, and Signature Sounds.

In 2011, she returned to TVP for an “anti-holiday” album. Since then, she has added four more releases to her TVP catalog – “Manifestra” (2013), “Small Deviant Things, vol. 2 + 3” (2013), “According to Us” (2016) and the “Mirrors Break Back” EP, which was released on March 31, 2017.

“I made that EP really quickly,” said McKeown, who performed a free concert at Eagleview Town Center in Exton back in June.

“I wrote it and recorded it in three months. I’m in a songwriter’s group. Once a week, we get a writing project and have a week to send a song back. We use words in order that are submitted to us.

“I wrote the last EP with them. I wrote nine and chose the six best for the EP. The song ‘Pretty Little Cemetery’ was written with words from this project. I like limitations. I function better with limitations. They help me creatively.”

The darker themes and sharper-edged R&B sound of “Mirrors Break Back” are no accident. These six songs were conceived as a meditation on self-hate and a direct response to McKeown’s 2016 ode to self-confidence and identity, “According to Us.”

Synths, programmed beats, and multi-tracked doo-wop background vocals add new shades of expression for McKeown as she wrestles with her worst impulses and negative thoughts.

“‘According to Us’ was a really positive record about finding out who you are,” said McKeown. “When Trump got elected, I felt all these dark impulses. I needed to explore all my dark influences and deal with them. I think we all know things we hate about ourselves – and it’s good to open that door.”

According to McKeown, “I struggle with insecurities like anyone else. With the darker turn of politics, I decided to explore the less positive voices that exist in my head.

“I think we have to first acknowledge and understand how we diminish ourselves with our own thoughts before we can more effectively fight the powers that are actively trying to break us from the outside.

“Sometimes I am my own worst enemy, and I’ve got to work through that, so I have the foundation to help others. Even though these songs each begin in shadow, they pull towards light. It’s true that mirrors break back, but not for long.”

McKeown is a musician, writer, and producer known internationally for her prolific disregard of stylistic boundaries. Her brash and clever electric guitar playing is something to see. Her singing voice is truly unique – clear, cool, and collected. Over the course of more than a dozen studio albums and thousands of live performances, she has developed and refined a distinct and challenging mix of American musical styles.

“For my show in Philly, it will be a trio – myself and two people I like to play with,” said McKeown. “I’ll have Tina Richerson, who has played with me for eight years, on baritone sax and Piper Preston on drums.”

In another recent mailing list message, McKeown wrote, “the time is nearly upon us! i’m excited to announce that my dear friend tina richerson will be joining me on baritone sax. philly’s own glittery singer-songwriter aiden james is opening. the night will be delicious!” Video link for Erin McKeown – https://youtu.be/jx5qSJOWdyg.

The show at Boot and Saddle, which has Aiden James as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Other upcoming acts at Boot and Saddle are Kindness on November 2, and Quintron and Miss Pussycay on November 5.


Wilderun plays metal music that is much more than just metal music. The band’s music has depth and direction rarely found with other metal bands that rely on speed, volume and thrash.

Wilderun, a band featuring Evan Berry, Dan Müller, Jon Teachey, Joe Gettler and Wayne Ingram, will display its musical prowess in as show on November 3 at Connie’s Ric Rac (1132 South Ninth Street, Philadelphia, https://conniesricrac.com).

“A big element of our music is the symphonic backing behind our metal music,” said Berry, during a recent phone interview from his home in the Boston area

“Wayne studied orchestration at Berklee (Boston’s famous Berklee College of Music). As a result, Wayne’s music has a symphonic quality. Dan was also an orchestration student.”

Wilderun is touring in support of its new album, “Veil of Imagination,” which was released November 1. The LP is billed as “a stunningly epic, emotional and whimsical odyssey through landscapes of earth and mind.”

According to Berry, “The album as a whole has a lot of peaks and valleys through light and darkness, and ‘The Tyranny of Imagination’’ is probably the deepest valley.’ Whereas our previous single ‘Far from Where Dreams Unfurl’ explored brighter, melodic territories, we wanted this song to focus more on guitar work, atmosphere, and the darker textures of the orchestra.

“Lyrically, this song is a sort of submission to the power and oppression of an overactive mind.  Up until this point on the album, the ‘main character’ has been battling his own inability to live in the real world, attempting to find ways to perceive reality as it truly is.  This is a song of defeat, and of going inward to the point of no return.”

“Veil of Imagination” was recorded at More Sound Studios in Syracuse, New York in the spring of 2018.

“It has been a long time since we recorded the album,” said Berry. “We cut the album in Syracuse and recorded it in two chunks.

“In February 2018, Wayne and I met with the rhythm section in the studio. In March, Dan and I did the vocals and finished the recording. After that, we had discussions with a few record labels.

“We released our first two records independently, so we wanted a good record deal for the new one. Eventually, we decided to put it out independently. We funded it all ourselves. The sales of previous material gave us enough funds to make the new record.”

The Boston-based band has previously released two albums — 2012’s “Olden Tales & Deathly Trails” and 2015’s “Sleep at the Edge of the Earth.”

“We formed the band in 2012,” said Berry. “Me and Wayne got together in 2011. I had a bunch of songs already written so we started the album before we even had a band. We hired a drummer and then he brought along a bassist.

“In 2015, our lead guitar Wayne was living in L.A. and, with a job and a wife, wasn’t able to tour. So, we brought in Joe Gettler to be our live lead guitar. Now, he’s a full-time member. We kept Wayne with the band but strictly as an orchestrator.”

“Our sound has definitely become more orchestral. Some of the other aspects have been dealt back a little. This album has more depth of texture. It’s colorful.”

Video link for Wilderun – https://youtu.be/_dQdTAxStL4.

The show at Connie’s Ric Rac, which has Lör, Wandering Oak and Frost Giant as opening acts, will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Toronzo Cannon

Not long after he released his Alligator Records debut, “The Chicago Way,” Toronzo Cannon established his reputation as one the most electrifying bluesmen to emerge from Chicago in decades.

Cannon has etched that reputation in stone with his second Alligator album, “The Preacher, The Politician Or The Pimp,” which was just released on September 20, 2019. The songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist sets a standard by fusing his original, keenly-detailed tales of everyday life with his muscular guitar playing.

Cannon is now on tour in support of the album — a tour that will bring him to the area on November 3. Cannon is headlining the Diamond State Blues Society’s “Blues Harvest 2019,” which gets underway at 1 p.m. at The Reef (2618 Carpenter Station Road, Wilmington, Delaware, www.diamondstateblues.com).

“The Chicago Way” was a hard act to follow. The album was nominated for a Blues Music Award in 2017 as “Album of the Year.” Cannon and Alligator president Bruce Iglauer won the 2016 Living Blues Award for “Producer of The Year — New Recording” for “The Chicago Way.”

“Bruce produced the new album too,” said Cannon, during a recent phone interview from a tour stop in Michigan.

“I had a little more influence on the production this time. I was more comfortable in the studio – and I had a lot more ideas.”

Like many of today’s newer musicians, Cannon also has a “day job.” His primary source  of income is as a bus driver for Chicago Transit Authority.

“This is my 26th year as a bus driver for C.T.A.,” said Cannon. “The things I see while driving my bus are inspiration for songs. The whole CD was written on the bus. I get a lot of ideas when I’m driving. I’ve looked back and seen people shooting up heroin in the back of the bus. I’ve had grandmothers fighting on my bus.”

Real-life situations are great topics for songwriters. Cannon has had the benefit of sitting in a front row seat for years and having the ability of transforming what he sees into stellar blues tracks.

“Me being from Chicago and seeing what I see every day exposes me to a lot of tax brackets,” said Cannon. “I talk to people. I don’t know who you are, but you tell me. The other day, I had to coax a guy off my bus in a tough section and then a few minutes later, I’m driving on the ‘Magnificent Mile,’ which is one of the richest areas in Chicago. My bus goes through a LOT of tax brackets.”

Almost every day, Cannon is in a great – and constantly moving – position to be an observer of life in a big American city.

According to Cannon, “It’s not about the solos. It’s about the songs. People get used to everyday life, so it’s easy to miss the things around them. I write about those things. I know the problems of Chicago — the hardship — because we’re always a scapegoat. But I choose to love and respect the city because of the Chicago blues giants that came here from down South. I’m proud to be standing on the shoulders of every great Chicago blues musician who came before me.”

Cannon grew up on the South Side of Chicago near the Robert Taylor Homes and Theresa’s Lounge where he heard blues artists including Buddy Guy and Junior Wells.

Throughout the history of Chicago blues, the intensely competitive local club scene has served as a proving ground, where only the best musicians rise to the top.

Iconic blues artists from Muddy Waters to Howlin’ Wolf to Koko Taylor to Hound Dog Taylor to Luther Allison all paid their dues in the Chicago blues bars before making their mark on the world.

The same holds true today, as newcomers look to living legends like Buddy Guy, Eddy Clearwater and Lil’ Ed Williams for inspiration in taking their music from Chicago to fans across the globe.

Now, Cannon is ready to write his own story as he claims his place as one of the city’s most popular and innovative blues musicians.

“I came in the side door of blues,” said Cannon.

“I grew up around it. When I started playing guitar, I wanted to play reggae. All the clubs around Chicago were blues clubs. I grew up in the neighborhood of Theresa’s Lounge and never even knew how famous it was until I got older.

“I remember hearing all these great blues guys like Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters. Now, I’m a blues musician. I have had some full-circle moments. I play blues for this age.”

Video link for Toronzo Cannon —

The show at The Reef will start at 1 p.m. with a set by Nicely, Smith and Hawkins followed by a set by Albert Castiglia at 2:45 p.m. Toronzo Cannon’s performance is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $40.

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