Introducing The Skeleton Key: Our new DIY scene gossip column covering Bowie donuts to a Dead Moon tribute this month
Philadelphia is a really huge city. Like, absolutely massive. Next time you have the chance to fly into or out of PHL, take a good long look out the window: it really is the sixth largest city in the country, and that’s not even counting what’s referred to as the Greater Philadelphia Area AKA the ‘burbs and South Jersey. For most people, the city is limited geographically to where you live, where you work or go to school, and maybe some other landmarks around town. There are plenty of people who rarely find themselves in Center City and others who have never stepped foot in the suburbs.
As the place for Philadelphia music news, The Key strives to reach all citizens of our great city, no matter where they live. To that end, we present our newest column, The Skeleton Key. Our aim with this is not just to supply all of you with the latest news and rumors about everything going on in the city but also to better promote some of the bands that might be a bit more under the radar.
Before I move on to this month’s edition, a quick bit of housekeeping: I want to make sure that it’s quite clear that the idea for this is very much in homage to – that’s the nice way of saying ripping off, right? – the great work my fellow Key contributor A.D. Amorosi did for more than two decades at The City Paper, specifically the regular column he wrote called The Icepack. Also, a quick bit about me! I am a music journalist and photographer, a college radio DJ at WKDU 91.7FM, and someone who has been going to shows for way too long. I’ve also started booking bands over the past few years, which is both wonderfully rewarding and the biggest pain in the ass known to man.
Here are some of the topics this column will cover: upcoming shows, news about bands going into the studio or putting out albums, promotion of other bits of music journalism you might have missed, talk about old bands, rumors about new ones, and everything in between. If you want to send in some HOT TIPS or COOL RUMORS – I know you do! – you can reach me via e-mail or find me on Twitter at @talkofthetizzy.
So welcome to the first ever edition of The Skeleton Key! It’s January, so for better or worse you’ve dodged me hitting you over the head with my best of 2017. I’m normally not someone to do end-of-year lists, but The Key let me write about my favorites from the Philly DIY scene and as you might have already gathered that’s my bread and butter. If you want to see what I thought were the 16 best (physical) releases of the past year, you can take a look over here.
Of course every list has limitations and I totally forgot a bunch, as people were extremely eager to point out. Top of the pile was West Philly shredders Devil Master, hands down one of the best metal bands in the city. Their “Inhabit the Corpse” tape was released on Halloween and it’s the absolute perfect soundtrack to the doom and gloom that surrounds us almost continuously these days.
There are no Devil Master shows happening this month but that shouldn’t keep you from gripping this tape – or going on their Bandcamp, whatever – and just cranking it while you stare at the cold, bleak world outside. By the time February rolls around your headbanging and air guitar playing will be up to speed and you’ll be able to show off at one of the five Devil Master appearances that month, starting off with their gig opening up for Germany’s Occvlta at Boot & Saddle on the 12th.
It’s all well and good to get stoked for future metal, but what about everything happening this month? Well, if you like punk and metal, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t go to Johnny Brenda’s this Friday for the benefit to help everyone’s favorite anarchist bookstore, The Wooden Shoe, expand their music section. Headlining will be NYC/Philadelphia’s legendary Thulsa Doom, who this year are celebrating two decades since first forming. Support includes Nightfall (who I did not forget to put in my year-end list!), Trash Knife, and The Charley Few.
January might be a miserably cold month but always remember there’s safety – and warmth – in numbers. If you’re looking for a crowd, you’d do a good job heading to Everybody Hits on Friday the 12th for the brilliant Baltimore dream pop quintet Wildhoney. Hometown heroes Hurry and Empath are opening so get out of the cold and show up on time.
Twenty four hours later and a mile down the road is one of the most interesting shows of the month: WKDU Presents Fugazi at PhilaMOCA! Well, half of Fugazi. Messthetics is the rhythm section of that famed DC band, bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty, along with avant garde guitar wiz Anthony Pirog. But wait, there’s more! Also playing will be the recently reformed Scram, Philadelphia’s finest dub punk outfit who opened for Fugazi numerous times, including at a WKDU presents show in 1989. Amazing!
Scram played their first show in 25 years last summer and it was so much fun. If you’re not familiar, I’d recommend tracking down their live on WXPN recordings, which I think is some of the best stuff they ever did. Oh, and a little band called Writhing Squares will be opening up, no big deal.
Two albums that you’ll undoubtably soon be able to find in the revamped record stacks at the Wooden Shoe are the new LPs from indie darling Curtis Cooper and Ramones-core rockers Dark Thoughts. While the latter hasn’t announced a release show just yet, you can catch Cooper and grab a copy of Messy at Johnny Brenda’s on the 19th with Laser Background and Coping Skills. Also, read this fantastic article about the album written by The Key’s John Vettese back in November.
I’ve DJ’d downstairs at Johnny Brenda’s a couple times and let me tell you how oddly satisfying it is to blast Rancid Vat and Crass at top volume across a bar full of people who are probably not as excited by obnoxious music as you are. Head over there on the 24th for much of the same when “DJs Cooley Cool and Ziggy-J” – aka Jeff from R5 Productions and Jake from WKDU – play nothing but songs by Minneapolis punk freaks Dillinger 4. It might not get as wild as one of their legendary shows, but as the band sings on one of their best songs: “I want to get some friends here tonight /I got a basement full of booze and some blues to lose / I’ll ignore the whole world tonight / It will be alright.”
Don’t forget about Philly Loves Bowie Week, starting this Friday. And by week I mean 10 days, because David Bowie was no mortal constrained by our earthly rules of space and time. I’m looking forward to getting one of those deliciously beautiful stardust-covered chocolate donuts from Federal Donuts and seeing the rough cut of the new Sigma Kids documentary, about the time the Starman spent in Philadelphia recording Young Americans in 1974 and his friendship with the fans who waited outside Sigma Sound Studios every day.
Speaking of the 70s, make sure to check out Jay Schwartz from Secret Cinema’s DJ night I Belonged To The Blank Generation at Johnny Brenda’s on the 29th, where he’ll be spinning nothing but punk and new wave from 76 to 79. While Schwartz is mostly known for his work in film, his involvement in the local punk scene goes back to the Hot Club days four decades ago and I’m sure he’ll be pulling some absolutely fantastic rare tracks to play.
Bowie isn’t the only recently departed rock god being honored in the city this month. On the 27th head over to Liberty Cycles up in Kensington for Dead Moon Night, with four bands paying tribute to the late Fred Cole – guitarist of Dead Moon, Pierced Arrows, and more – who passed away in November after a long fight with cancer. Even though these bands were all based in the PNW they had a huge following around the country and around the world, with Philly being no exception.
Added bonus: the proceeds from the show all go to the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, a charity that helps out career musicians with huge medical bills. Find me up front screaming along to “It’s O.K.” and “Let It Rain” with a tear in my eye.
That’s it for now! Next month’s installment will be heavier on actual content and lighter on me babbling about myself. Remember, send in your tips, rumors, rare records, and cool demo tapes. I’ll be waiting!