Ten things we saw + heard at Pilam’s Human BBQ XXXVIII - WXPN
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Street SIty Surf at Human BBQ XXXVIII | Photo by Kate Bracaglia for WXPN

Ah, Human BBQ, the sweet celebration of music and roasting flesh (or at least hot dogs) took over Pilam again this year, with 17 bands playing the UPenn frat house between noon and midnight. We went, we headbanged, we ate hot dogs, and we soaked in a lot of cool bands. Here are ten things we saw + heard at Human BBQ XXXVIII.

1. Snow. I can’t say with certainty that it’s the only Human BBQ where it’s snowed, since I haven’t been to all XXXVIII of them—but I can say with certainty that it’s the first Human BBQ’s I’ve attended where it’s snowed—and I’ve been to 13. If you’re wondering whether it’s possible to have a BBQ in the snow, Pilam proved this is a resounding yes.

BBQ'ing in the snow at Human BBQ XXXVIII

BBQ’ing in the snow at Human BBQ XXXVIII

2. Rising Philly band Grubby Little Hands kicked things off at 1 with a scintillating set of swirling psych. Or at least that’s how my friends Alex and Graham described it—I confess I was still eating brunch at 1 pm during their set. (If there’s one thing I learned from 13 BBQs it’s that it’s impossible to see every act). After hearing this report though (and their great new single)—I’m totally making sure I check out their record release later this month at Johnny Brenda’s.

3. The afternoon was all about hanging in the basement listening to punk—like Brooklyn trio TREO ‘09 whose furious thrashing and twisted jams ignited an afternoon of antics—or quirky post-emo trio Street Sity Surf, who travelled all the way from Portland, ME to play BBQ—and West Philly duo King Azaz whose fuzzy ragers seemed made for graffitied basements.

King Azaz at Human BBQ XXXVIII

King Azaz at Human BBQ XXXVIII | Photo by Kate Bracaglia for WXPN

4. West Philly post-punk trio Bone Bats were an early evening highlight, front man Dan Parshall singing, screeching, and emoting into the mic like a cool, punk Isaac Brock.

5. Philly rockers Cold Foamers are another band topping our “must see” list. The five-piece packed the basement for their 8 PM set, offering big rock licks tempered with psychedelic forays and moments of real introspection and tenderness. Their new EP Musketball dropped in February and is a creative, twisted journey through 20 minutes of psych-pop weirdness.

Cold Foamers at Human BBQ XXXVIII

Cold Foamers at Human BBQ XXXVIII | Photo by Kate Bracaglia for WXPN

6. Fuzzy basement punk has long been Pilam’s bread and butter, so I was psyched to see hip-hop artist Moor Mother Goddess—aka Camae Defstar—on the bill, stirring afternoon crowds with her blend of spoken word-meets-hip-hop-meets-feminism. The Fader recently ran a feature on Defstar’s unique blend of poetry and activism back in December, which is worth a read.

7. The evening’s headliner, and probably my favorite set, was indie-pop sweetheart Japanese Breakfast, aka Brooklyn-via-Philly-via-Eugene, OR artist Michelle Zauner, who, despite claims that solo sets were her “worst nightmare,” managed to completely charm the crowd with sweet, powerful tunes, drawn mostly from her (P’fork-approved) new record Psychopomp. When not working on solo material, Zauner also fronts Philadelphia indie rock band Little Big League—although my first introduction to her tunes came back in 2010 when I caught her previous band, Post Post, at a DIY show at Haverford College. So it’s cool, 6 years later, catching her again in a DIY college setting.

Japanese Breakfast at Human BBQ XXXVIII

Japanese Breakfast at Human BBQ XXXVIII | Photo by Kate Bracaglia for WXPN

8. One of the most fun sets was from Philly vibe-maker / DJ Brandon Can’t Dance (aka Brandon Ayres), who channeled Future Islands with his deep vocals and ‘80s vibes, inciting a basement dance party with only a mic, some looping pedals, and cool disco lighting.

9. Indiana post-hardcore band Cloakroom closed out the fest, taking the stage around 11:30 PM. Before their set, the dude standing next to me told me they were “scary,” then later clarified this to mean “loud.” They were certainly loud, but not so scary, unless you’re afraid of moshpits, which they definitely incited with their moody, grungy tunes.

Cloakroom at Human BBQ XXXVIII

Cloakroom at Human BBQ XXXVIII | Photo by Kate Bracaglia for WXPN

10. Pilam’s graffiti game was strong as always, especially the declaration as you go into the basement: “Maybe partying will help.” From what I can tell, it always does.

Human BBQ XXXVIII | Photo by Kate Bracaglia for WXPN

“Maybe Partying Will Help” — at Human BBQ XXXVIII | Photo by Kate Bracaglia for WXPN

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