Camp Cope Live at Union Transfer (2022-07-22)

Camp Cope has long considered Philadelphia 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 whole world !” it wasn’t hard to believe she was totally sincere. The Aussie band have been accepted as one of the Phillys since their debut in the City of Brotherly Love at the old Balcony Bar about 5 years ago to the day. Philadelphia’s vibrant and tolerant indie/punk scene is extremely female/LGBTQ-centric and Camp Cope has always been considered part of the gang. With that in mind, I’m always willing to drive an hour and a half on the NJ Turnpike from NY to catch them in Philadelphia.

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since I last saw Camp Cope at The Church (AKA First Unitarian Church) in 2019. With that in mind, the current version of the band that 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 Run with the hurricane is a bit of a departure for the group. Of course there is always the precocious Georgia and the backbone of the band, Sarah (Thom Thom) Thompson behind the drums but for the album they added a second guitar and for this tour they added Jenny Aslett to the mix . And then there’s the absence of Kelly-Dawn Helmrich on bass who couldn’t make this trip as she’s expecting her firstborn quite early. Kelly’s role as bassist extraordinaire is filled by British expat and current Philadelphia resident Lou Hanman of All Away Lou (among a host of other bands).

Having seen their show a few days earlier at Webster Hall in New York, I already knew what was coming in regards to the new lineup. Their set started with a lead single, “Keep Growing” which the band would eventually include on a 4-song split they did with now-disbanded Philly band Cayetana. With the lyrics:

I will keep growing my hair

It’s not for you

Oh no, it’s not for you

No, it’s not for you

Although the song may have been a direct response to a romance gone wrong at the time, it seems that on this tour, Georgia and Camp Cope are doing their own thing, they’re not the same band from a while ago. 5 years and these impending events and the obvious changes are not for the audience but rather for them. They grow as a group (literally and figuratively) because they need to. The need to avoid inertia and stagnation is above all a priority for the group.

Next up was “Jealous” from the new album. This one started out pretty slow with Georgia singing almost like a dirge over Lou’s rolling bassline riffs. It’s until the chorus where Georgia’s voice takes off. After experiencing vocal issues a few years ago and having surgery to fix the problem, her voice is back better than ever. With a much more diverse range than before, she now hits notes and kills them… kills them in a really good way.

The third song of the night was an older one, “How To Socialize and Make Friends”, the title track from their incredible second album. A bouncy rocker and a crowd favourite, this one would have the crowd rocking and dancing and singing with Maq as she danced and twirled all over the stage in little more than a t-shirt and sandals, ending by taking off his shoes saying “shoes…they are so stupid”.

We then received a series of new songs from Hurricane which the crowd was already quite familiar with, singing and dancing everywhere. At one point during this set of new material, Georgia expressed how sorry she and the band were for the “shitty things your country is putting you through”. Continuing, she explained how they fundraise on this tour for reproductive and women’s rights. It would be a recurring topic throughout the evening, which is not at all surprising.

Two of the new songs that 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 but subtle bass riff that plays throughout and performed the lyrics with that same bounce, picking up the pace of the song, making it is much more of a ballad than what you hear on the album.

As for “Blue”, they played it pretty straight from the recorded version. But what struck me was the vocal work on the song. Like I said before, Georgia’s voice sounds great on this tour and on this song in particular, she can show it off brilliantly. Plus, we get something we’ve never had before when it comes to live Camp Cope, the backing vocals. With the addition of Jenny and Lou, the extra vocals only accentuate the power and beauty of Georgia’s pipes.

I guess this is perhaps the best place to mention Lou Hanman’s unbridled triumph on bass. Kelly’s style of playing the bass almost like a lead instrument rather than a rhythm instrument is not at all typical. In fact, off the top of my head, the only other player who does is Joy Division/New Order’s Peter Hook. Well, Lou managed to get into the group and absolutely nail it. Although I’m not at all surprised that she was able to fill the role of Kelly, but the ease and comfort with which she accomplished it blows my mind.

To end the set of the evening, two absolute gems. First, there was the title track from the new one, “Running With The Hurricane,” an exuberant freewheeling song that reached anthemic levels as Georgia pranced throughout the stage shouting the title and lead lyrics. .

And to wrap things up, the band launched into what might be one of the most scathing FU songs of all time. Part abandoned breakup song and part I’m so sick of the bullshit of the patriarchal music business, the song oozes with disgust for men. And on Friday night, Georgia spat that hate with absolute vengeance. The beauty of it all, however, was and is that here was Camp Cope, fresh off a triumphant set at Pitchfork, here is Camp Cope playing Union Transfer in Philly, a steady progression from The Balcony Bar to Philly MOCA to The Church and now UT.

Camp Cope killed it in Philadelphia and continues to kill it almost everywhere they go despite all those naysayers telling them along the way to reserve a smaller venue.

Swipe below to see more photos from the triumphant event!

Kenneth T. Shippee