Camp Cope has long considered Philadelphia to be their home away from home, so when lead singer Georgia Maq greeted the crowd at Union Transfer on Friday night with the exclamation, “It feels so good to be in my favorite city in the entire world!” it wasn’t hard to believe that she was being totally sincere. The Australian group was accepted as one of Philly’s own going back to their debut in the City of Brotherly Love at the old Balcony Bar just about 5 years ago to the day. Philly’s vibrant and accepting indie/punk scene is extremely female/LGBTQ-centric and Camp Cope has always been considered one of the gang. It’s with this in mind that I am always willing to make the hour and a half drive down the NJ Turnpike from NY to catch them in Philly.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since I last saw Camp Cope at The Church (AKA First Unitarian Church) back in 2019. With that in mind, the current version of the band which graced the stage at Union Transfer was somewhat different from what we last saw 3 years ago. They released a new album earlier in the year and Running With The Hurricane is somewhat of a departure for the band. Of course there’s still precocious Georgia and the backbone of the group, Sarah (Thom Thom) Thompson behind the drum kit but for the album, they added a second guitar and for this tour they’ve added Jenny Aslett to the mix. And then there’s the absence of Kelly-Dawn Helmrich on bass who couldn’t make this trip due to her expecting her firstborn relatively soon. Kelly’s role as bass player extraordinaire is being filled by UK ex-pat and current Philadelphia denizen, Lou Hanman of All Away Lou (amongst a multitude of other bands).
Having seen their show a couple of days earlier at Webster Hall in NYC, I already knew what would be in store as far as the new lineup was concerned. Their set started off with an early single, “Keep Growing” which the band would eventually include on a 4 song split they did with the now disbanded Philly group, Cayetana. With the lyrics:
I’ll keep growing my hair out
It’s not for you
Oh no, it’s not for you
No, it’s not for you
While the song might have been at the time a direct response to a romance gone wrong, it seems that on this tour, Georgia and Camp Cope are doing their own thing, they’re not the same group from 5 years ago and these imminent and obvious changes aren’t for the public but instead for them. They’re growing as a group (both literally and figuratively) because they need to. The need to avoid inertia and stagnation is first and foremost a priority for the group.
Next up was “Jealous” from the new album. This one started out pretty slow with Georgia singing almost dirge-like over Lou’s rolling bassline riffs. That is until the chorus where Georgia’s vocals take off. After experiencing vocal issues a couple of years ago and subsequently having surgery to repair the problem, her voice is back better than ever. With a range much more diverse than before, she is now hitting notes and killing them…killing them in a very good way.
The third song of the evening was another older one, “How To Socialize and Make Friends”, the title track from their incredible sophomore album. A bouncing rocker and crowd favorite, this one would have the crowd swaying and dancing and singing right along with Maq as she danced and swirled all over the stage in not much more than a t-shirt and sandals, eventually kicking off her shoes saying “shoes…they’re so fucking stupid”.
We then got a stretch of new songs from Hurricane to which the crowd was already quite familiar, singing and dancing throughout. At some point during this set of new material, Georgia expressed how sorry she and the band were for the “fucked up things your country is putting you through”. Going on she explained how they were raising money on this tour for reproductive and female rights. This would be an ongoing topic throughout the evening, not at all surprisingly.
Two of the new songs which stood out during this section of the show were “Caroline” and the album’s first single “Blue”. On the album, “Caroline” is sung quite slowly but here Georgia took the bouncy, yet subtle bass riff that plays throughout and interpreted the lyrics with that same bounce, picking up the pace of the song, making it much more of a jaunt than what we hear on the album.
As far “Blue” is concerned, they played it pretty straight up relative to the recorded version. But what struck me was the vocal work on the song. As I’ve said already, Georgia’s voice is sounding superb on this tour and on this song particularly she gets to show it off glowingly. Furthermore, we are treated to something we’ve never had before as far as live Camp Cope is concerned, background vocals. With the addition of Jenny and Lou, the extra vocals only accentuate the power and beauty of Georgia’s pipes.
I guess this might be as good a place as any to mention the unbridled triumph which Lou Hanman is on bass. Kelly’s style of playing bass as almost a lead instrument rather than a rhythm instrument is not at all typical. Matter of factly, off the top of my head, the only other player who does it is Peter Hook of Joy Division/New Order fame. Well, Lou has managed to step into the band and absolutely nail it. While I’m not at all surprised she was able to fill Kelly’s role, but the ease and comfort to which she’s accomplished it blows my mind.
Finishing off the evening’s set were two absolute gems. First, was the title track from the new one, “Running With The Hurricane”, a rollicking freewheeling song that reaches anthemic levels as Georgia pranced throughout the stage shouting the title and main lyric.
And to close things out, the band jumped into what might be one of the most scathing FU songs of all time. Part jilted lover breakup song and part I’m so sick of the patriarchal music biz bullshit, the song oozes with male loathing. And on Friday night Georgia spewed that loathing with an absolute vengeance. The beauty of it all, however, was and is that here was Camp Cope, having just gotten back from a triumphant set at Pitchfork, here was Camp Cope playing Union Transfer in Philly, a steady upward progression from The Balcony Bar to Philly MOCA to The Church and now UT.
Camp Cope killed it in Philly and continues to kill it almost everywhere they go despite all those naysayers who told them along the way to book a smaller venue.
Swipe through below to see more pictures from the triumphant event!