The Key's Year-End Mania: DIY Crystal Ball - Yoni Kroll's most anticipated Philly music happenings of 2019 - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
photo by Farrah Skeiky via

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2018 incredible. Today, Key writer Yoni Kroll takes a look at what’s ahead in the local DIY scene.

When I was at Drexel I took this class on “Sociology of the Future” where a big chunk of what we did was learn how to make accurate predictions of what’s to come based on analysis of the past and present. Pretty cool, right? I’d like to say that I learned a lot about prognostication and general soothsaying in this class but considering my, uhh, educational fortitude back then it’s doubtful I showed up half the time.

Still, I don’t need a crystal ball to tell all of you about some of the amazing things we have to look forward to in 2019. So put away those tea leaves and save those complicated star charts for another time and let’s take a look at everything in store for us over the next twelve months.

1) Kahlil Ali tape release show with Reef the Lost Cauze, Zorn, Under 95

One of the top shows of 2019 happens just a couple weeks into the new year. Somehow punk / rapper Kahlil Ali has managed to get Reef the Lost Cauze – whose own new album just dropped yesterday – to play a Grays Ferry bar that holds maybe 60 people and that’s only if they like each other. A lot. Kahlil’s been taking off since they permanently moved to the city in the past year and I’m excited to see what’s next for them. Opening up this show are skate punks Under 95 and Zorn, one of the most exciting metal bands in Philly right now, which makes this a true crossover gig.

2) Dan Blacksberg

Klezmer maven and all-around mensch Dan Blacksberg has had a brilliant year: the West Philly trombonist put out an album – Radiant Others, with frequent collaborator Nick Millevoi of Desertion Trio – put together the Haimish Harmonies series for the Philadelphia Folksong Society, and played concerts all around the city. He also recorded a bunch more episodes for his klezmer podcast, also called Radiant Others, and worked his day job as the musician-in-residence at Kol Tzedek Synagogue.

But wait, this is an article about 2019! So check it out, on top of everything else Blacksberg achieved in 2018, he was named to a residency at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts and also booked a series in West Philly that includes members of the Sun Ra Arkestra. Kimmel Center first: in December Blacksberg and Rabbi Yosef Goldman of Center City’s Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel were awarded a year-long residency to, “explore and fuse connections between jazz, Jewish music, and music from the Middle East” according to a statement released at the time. The first event of many will be an introduction and kick off performance on the 11th of January.

In February the Blacksberg-curated Encounters jazz series will happen at The Mothership, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it storefront venue in West Philly. While Blacksberg regularly plays halls of all sizes, the star of the four day long mini-festival, Sun Ra Arkestra maestro Marshall Allen, is a rare sight at a space this small.

Long Hots play Jerry’s on Front | via

3) Jerry’s new space

If you’re going to talk about storefront venues you need to talk about Jerry’s on Front, the spot at Front and Kensington run by Solar Motel Band’s head honcho Chris Forsyth and artist Maria Dumlao, who have been killing it all year. I was just there a couple weeks ago to see Writhing Squares and Desertion Trio – both of whom are putting out new albums soon! –  and it was a great time. Jerry’s is expanding to a second location just down the block next year. The goal for the new spot is to create even more rehearsal spaces for bands in the neighborhood. Forsyth and Dumlao have been putting so much time and effort into Jerry’s and it shows. I’m looking forward to seeing a ton more music there next year, starting with William Tyler (Lambchop, Silver Jews) in February.

Jerry’s is running a micro-loan fundraiser to get the money needed for the second location. That means that anyone who donates will be paid back in full once the funds are secured. You can find that over here.

4) Break Free Fest 

Break Free Fest has been one of the most fun and most important annual events in the city since it started in 2017. From their slogan: “This is for the punk and hardcore kids who were told they were listening to ‘white music.’ This is for the bands who speak their native tongue and are told no one will understand them. This is for those who constantly find themselves shoved to the back. This is for the misrepresented in a music scene that they feel so passionate about. This is for us.”

Last year’s show was beyond incredible – a picture from Soul Glo’s absolutely electric set, which I’ve heard multiple people bring up as one of their favorite’s of 2018, was even on the cover of Maximum Rocknroll (seen at the top of the article) – and we can’t wait to see what 2019 holds.

5) Deerhoof at Union Transfer

Freaky, noisy indie rockers Deerhoof might be from San Francisco but they are huge, huge fans of Philly punk. A couple years ago they were so impressed by Blank Spell’s opening set at their show at Underground Arts that they asked the West Philly three piece to join their in-progress tour. In February they’re back in town playing Union Transfer and have not only tapped Soul Glo to open but also have Fishtown no wavers Chronic Anxiety on the bill. This is going to be an excellent and super fun show and you’d be a dummy to miss it.

6) Buck Gooter + Palberta at Johnny Brenda’s

Buck Gooter is another band that isn’t from here but might as well be. The Harrisonburg-based industrial duo has been a fixture in Philly for almost as long as they’ve been a band, which is almost 15 years at this point. While I’ve seen them everywhere from a basement record store – RIP to the Marvelous on 40th and that brief period of time when they were hosting wild shows right in the middle of Ivy League territory – to countless houses, crappy bars, and other DIY spots, this will be the first time I’ll get to witness the Goot play a proper venue and I’m pretty excited about it. You add in the fact that this is a record release show for their new album, which is being released on Philly label Ramp Local, and that the fantastic Palberta and David Vassalotti are opening and you have yourself a perfect show. I’ll see you there!

7) New recordings from…

New music is the best music and these bands are all putting stuff out this coming year. Going to keep these previews short; if any of these descriptions sound good, you should make it your mission to pick up these releases when they drop.

The Ire – Gothy post-punk with members of The Guests and Dark Thoughts. By press time they’ve played literally fewer than five shows but the buzz around this band is so intense you’d think they’ve been busy for rewriting the history of Philadelphia music for a decade. But here’s the thing: they just might.

Solarized – Speaking of game-changers, I’ve been waiting to hear the Solarized LP for the better part of a year. The four piece political hardcore band (which for the sake of journalistic integrity I should tell you includes frequent Key contributor Alex Smith on vocals) went into the studio at the beginning of the year and despite all my attempts at getting them to leak a couple tracks it still hasn’t happened. Still, every performance I’ve seen from Solarized since they recorded has been incredible and I can only imagine just how good this album is going to be.

Writhing Squares – Two piece bands often feel like they’re missing something. It’s not that the concept of two people and only two people making music together is a bad one. It’s just that there’s a limit to how much you can get out of just two instruments and sometimes it’s pretty clear that the guitar and drums duo really do need to add a bassist. That is not the case when it comes to Writhing Squares, a bass and saxophone – and occasionally flute –  two piece out of Fishtown. Their new album Out of the Ether is being released by Trouble In Mind on the 25th of next month and I couldn’t be more excited. I saw them play the 20 minute long opus “A Whole New Jupiter” at a show at Jerry’s on Front a couple weeks ago and it was beyond amazing. My prediction is that this will be on everyone’s best of list in a year.

Northern Liberties – Northern Liberties is still one of my all-time favorites. The West Philly art punk trio has been around since the turn of the millennium and still churn out fantastic music on a regular basis. I’ve always described them as, “If Wire and Joy Division had a baby and that kid was signed to Crass Records” and I’m still going to stick by that because as silly as it might sound, it’s also pretty accurate. Their most recent album, Errant Ray, was released three years ago and I can’t wait for the new one. We profiled lead singer and second percussionist Justin Duerr last year and you owe it to yourself to read this interview with one of the most interesting and brilliant artists in Philadelphia.

Soul Glo – This is the third time in this article that I’ve brought up Soul Glo so I’ll keep this brief: one of the best bands in the city are putting out what is basically their first LP and I’m beyond stoked for it. While Soul Glo has been around for a few years and put out an album in 2016, that was made up of songs recorded in 2015 and 2014. I feel like the band has really come into their own since that last release and I’m excited to hear what it sounds like on the record.

Pinkwash – The second two piece band on this list, Pinkwash is guitar and drums in a pounding, pounding rhythm. They released a stunning debut album on Don Giovanni two years ago called Collective Sigh and are finally putting out a followup to it next year. Part proggy math rock, part driving punk, the band’s sound is wonderfully huge and very fun. The band has been wrapped up in other projects – guitarist Joey Doubek joined political punks Downtown Boys and drummer Ashley Arwine was touring with Waxahatchee and these days is playing with Wildflowers of America – but I’m hoping that with this release that I’ll get to see them play more often because they are truly one of my favorites in the city.

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