The Skeleton Key: The end of the year, called and counted, filled with reggae, klezmer, punk, film screenings, and more - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Pinkwash | photo by Yoni Kroll | courtesy of the artist

Everybody is out here with their 2018 top ten list and I’m still completely obsessed with one of last year’s favorites, the self-titled debut from jazz quintet Irreversible Entanglements. It’s not just the music or the lyrics or the delivery, all of which are, for the record, incredible. Really it’s the fact that I still haven’t had the chance to see them play despite them being from here. Somebody please book this band a show in Philadelphia!

Anyways, it’s December and you know what that means faithful Skeleton Key readers: no, not Christmas. I don’t even celebrate that holiday! Nope, it’s time for every single music fan in the world to put together a top ten list or two. That’s right! Welcome to the end of the year, called and counted.

For both our sakes, I should point out that this is not one of those articles, though you should obviously check out all the ones we’re publishing here at The Key over the next couple weeks. I’m actually terrible at making up my mind so putting together these kinds of lists feels both impossible and like a bit of a waste of time cause I’ll probably regret half my choices within hours.

All that being said, 2018 was an incredible year for music, especially here in Philadelphia. There were new releases from old favorites like Screaming Females, Flag of Democracy, HIRS, and Strapping Fieldhands. There were absolutely brilliant first albums from brand new bands including Full Bush, The Guests, 700 Bliss, and Dark Web. I saw a ton of shows in venues ranging from basements to record stores to bars to every other conceivable space in the city and probably a couple in spots that made absolutely no sense but were fun just the same.

But wait! There’s still a month left in a year and a ton of things happening. So let’s get to the calendar, starting off with two shows tonight on opposite sides of the city. The Rotunda is hosting local jazz hero Elliott Levin – he might mostly be known for West Philly Orchestra and being an ever-present figure at Tritone (RIP!) but Elliot has played with everyone from Cecil Taylor to Odeon Pope to Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes and so many more over the past few decades – with Bob Musso, Mark Hennan, and Jackson Krall.

Over at PhilaMOCA is DC post-punkers Priests with Empath, fresh off their tour with Swearin’ in October. Opening up that show is Carnivorous Bells, a new band made up of at least a couple Tampa transplants. One of them, percussionist Leo Suarez (most recently beating the drums with noisy no-wavers Taiwan Housing Project), told me that this new self-described “cave prog” outfit will appeal to fans of Oxbow, Sun City Girls, and This Heat. I’m sold!

A couple movie screenings this week that also bear mentioning: tonight – I know, I know, but maybe they can stagger them so you can go to all three – is Electro-Pythagorus: A Portrait of Martin Bartlett, a documentary about the electronic composer and musical innovator who died 25 years ago. That’s at Lightbox. Thursday night at the Art Dept. Collective in Northern Liberties is a live scoring of of the Khalik Allah film Antonyms of Beauty being done by DJ and Key contributor John Morrison.

Friday is the sixth day of Hanukkah and trombonist Dan Blacksberg is bringing his klezmer band to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for a celebration. Blacksberg was just awarded a residency at the Kimmel Center for 2019, which is incredible on so many different levels. He’ll be working with a band including frequent collaborator Nick Millevoi on guitar, Chad Taylor on drums, Jaimie Branch on trumpet, and a cantor, Rabbi Yosef Goldman, with the goal of exploring the “connections between jazz, Jewish music, and music from the Middle East,” specifically Arabic and Turkish traditions. More about that here.

Dan Blacksburg | photo courtesy of the Kimmel Center

This is huge and you should definitely come to the PMA Friday to hear him and his klezmer band — with renowned trumpeter Susan Watts, daughter of Philly great Elaine Watts — and wish him a hearty mazel tov on this exciting news.

Since that show is an early one, you can head over to Kung Fu Necktie when it’s done and catch Cave, the Twig Harper/Bill Nace Duo, and Long Hots. The first two are on tour – Cave are a five piece psychy drone band from Chicago who have put out records on Drag City and Twig Harper and Bill Nace are a couple noisers best known for their work in groups including Nautical Almanac and Body/Head – and Long Hots are that “Kensington basement boogie” band that put out Monday Night Raw, one of the best tapes of the year. This is truly a must-see show.

Speaking of can’t miss gigs, Saturday has a couple of them competing hard. At Everybody Hits it’s Dark Thoughts and Swearin’, both contenders for album of the year. Up at Jerry’s on Front it’s the always fun and interesting Desertion Trio with 2019’s best of list frontrunners Writhing Squares, whose LP will be released by Trouble In Mind in about a month.

It’s been almost two decades since the last time industrial legends Einstürzende Neubauten came to Philadelphia and 15 years since the last time they even toured the country. While the band continues to play shows throughout Europe it seems like we might be out of luck on this side of the pond. What’s a fan to do?

Well, you can book a flight to Germany and follow the band around on tour. That’s always an option. But if you’d like to stay local you can just come to PhilaMOCA on Tuesday the 11th and see Neubauten bassist Alexander Hack play in his project HackedePicciotto with noted filmmaker, artist, and musician Danielle de Picciotto, who has performed with everyone from Die Haut to Crime & the City Solution and is also Hack’s partner. Opening the show will be experimental guitarist Eric Hubel, a frequent Glenn Branca collaborator who recorded with Hack and de Picciotto on their most recent album.

Just three days later and also at PhilaMOCA is “Queer Black Diva and underground popstar for the cyber resistance” MHYSA with lawd knows, Pamela_and her sons, JUJU PIE, and XHOSA. If you have any interest in dance, electronic noise, and experimental music in general you owe it to yourself to come to this show.

That Saturday is the final art auction at Space 1026 before they have to close down their Chinatown HQ and move to a yet-to-be-determined new home. If you’ve ever been to one of their auctions in the past – or just visited 1026 for any reason whatsoever – you know just how amazing the art made there is. Bonus: money made at this event will go towards helping buy a new building for the art collective.

Also that night over at Johnny Brenda’s is a rare Photon Band gig. While they stopped regularly playing live more than 15 years ago, since main member Art DiFuria left us for Savannah back in 2010 the noted indie band has continued to be active, releasing albums in 2013 and 2015. This show will be a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the first Photon Band release All Young in the Soul which came out on Darla Records, also home to American Analog Set, Tullycraft, My Morning Jacket, and many more. Opening up is American Trappist and Mt Vengeance.

While not on the same sporadic schedule as Photon Band, West Philly two piece rockers Pinkwash also haven’t been playing out that often recently. That should change in 2019 with the release of their new album. If you want a preview of those songs, head over to LAVA Space that evening to see them play with Freezing Cold, Todd Killingz, and Iffy.

The week or so before Christmas is historically bad when it comes to live music. Lots of people are out of town and the ones who haven’t left are busy buying presents, being anxious about everything, and generally getting into the Christmas spirit.

Last week we published a calendar of all the different DIY markets happening throughout December but missed this one, probably because it hadn’t been announced yet: on Wednesday the 19th at Boot & Saddle is a last-minute flea market and craft fair with performances by Coping Skills, Curtis Cooper, Kahlil Ali, and Beach Bod. The vendors list is as long as my arm and the whole thing looks really fun. Plus it’s a benefit for Juntos! What’s not to love?

On the 22nd there’s a very special reggae concert at Kung Fu Necktie with Sister Nancy, one of the most popular female dancehall performers in the history of the genre. While there’s no real lack of reggae shows in Philadelphia, it’s rare that they happen in such small venues. Opening up will be Philly’s Attic Tapes. As of press time this show is more than halfway sold out so maybe get yourself or someone special a ticket for the holidays and go see a legend play live.

On the 24th — and all the way through the next day — do the right thing and tune into Jon Solomon’s Christmas Marathon on WPRB. This is the 30th annual marathon, which is amazing. Last year I spoke to Jon and you can read that interview here.

Two quick mentions at the end of the month: come to Everybody Hits on the 28th for what might just be one of the best punk gigs of the year with Warthog and Sister Anne from NYC, Public Acid from Greensboro, NC, and The Stutter from Philly. Warthog just put out a 7” that quickly rose to the top of everybody’s best of lists and this show is going to be nothing but perfectly punishing.

There’s only one New Year’s Eve show that matters in the same way that there was only one Halloween show that mattered: that’s right, Philadelphia, the Sun Ra Arkestra is playing. Ring in 2019 with Marshall Allen and the band alongside West Philly Orchestra, Johnny Showcase, and Mambisa at Underground Arts.

I’ll see you all next year. And remember: vote Skeleton Key for Top Monthly Calendar Column in Philadelphia!

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