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The Meditative Slow Burn Of The Sidekicks

The Sidekicks performing live for Folkadelphia
Senia Lopez
The Sidekicks performing live for Folkadelphia

Steve Ciolek digs a good turn of phrase. When the frontman of The Sidekicks sings "You've got that chronic 2000 high school state of mind" on the song "Twin's Twist," you can take it a couple ways. He could be telling someone "You've got a chronic state of mind from your high school days in the year 2000." Or, he could be saying "you've got a state of mind reminiscent of the Death Row Records compilation Suge Knight Represents: Chronic 2000, which you rocked a lot in high school." Funny, clever, and in both cases painting a picture of somebody who is clinging tightly to their younger self, even if it finds them at odds with the rest of the world.

Ciolek also loves vivid description. "Twin's Twist" is a jaunty piece of power pop contrasting a carefree childhood and a more severe adulthood, and it's also the name of a mixed drink outlined in the first verse: Strawberry lemonade doused in liquor, "...'cause it's the simple tricks that help you seem wild."

For five albums and a handful of 7-inch singles with The Sidekicks, Ciolek has focused on the "writer" portion of "songwriter." Even as the band's sound evolved from the above-average basement show indie rock of its earliest records to the sophisticated hooks and moving arrangements of this year's Happiness Hours (released this spring on Epitaph Records), the clincher has always been Ciolek's soaring, emotive voice, and moreover, his lyrics.

When The Sidekicks stopped by WXPN Studios this year to record a live set for Folkadelphia, the band showed off some of that spirited rock steeped in lyricism. The Sidekicks performed the aforementioned "Twin's Twist," as well as the meditative slow burn title track from Happiness Hours. The latter finds the songwriter wondering, "Of thoughts like 'Every gigantic white cross is made by the same gigantic white cross company' / And I think about that because I'm from the Midwest / And I have a vague interest in the art of market cornering."

It's a complex but perfectly lucid image that embodies travel, capitalism, and humanity — a little bit John Darnielle, a little bit Elvis Costello, and very much Ciolek's own. Hear the complete session in the player.

Copyright 2018 XPN

John Vettese is a music writer and photographer based in Philadelphia. He is the editor of WXPN's music blog The Key, producer of the audio/video live performance series The Key Studio Sessions, and a contributor to Magnet Magazine.