The Skeleton Key: From a J Dilla tribute to rock n’ rollers galore to so much jazz, we’re looking for love in all the right places this month
January might be the traditional time to make resolutions and talk about how we can go about bettering ourselves or whatever it is you’re trying to do with your life but let’s be honest: February is when stuff starts to get real. I can’t help you stop smoking or go to the gym more often, but if you’re resolved to go to more shows I’ve definitely got you covered.
This month is incredibly jam-packed with all manner of events, from avant garde jazz to wild metal to a stacked J Dilla tribute. And that’s all just in the next week! Have you ever just contemplated how lucky we are to be living in one of the best cities in the world? I have. That’s why I do this column. So let’s get started!
There’s a long tradition of heavy metal in our city and I’m not just talking about that amazing Cinderella commercial for a Delco hot dog spot in 1983. Though if you haven’t watched it – or read our 2014 interview with the producers of the ad – you really should. Philadelphia has been a destination for hessians of all stripes from the dawn of time to the present age. Some of the current bands beating the drum for heavy metal include Devil Master, who just announced a March record release show for their new one on Relapse, Zorn, Pissgrave, and so many more.
If you want to hear some of these bands or just want to listen records and slam some beers with a bunch of denim warriors, head over to the Barbary tonight for Hard Shit Only. This is the monthly metal night’s second anniversary and they’re celebrating with a live performance from “heavy nocturnal rockers” Sonja who released their first EP last October.
If it’s rockers you’re seeking, you should head over to Kung Fu Necktie Thursday night for the Writhing Squares record release show with Sparrow Steeple and Head Room. Two piece bass and sax weirdo punks Writhing Squares have been putting in so much work over the past few years and it’s great to see it all pay off. Their new album is on Trouble In Mind – home to Rays, David Nance, Ethers, Mountain Movers, Olden Yolk, and at least a million other fantastic bands – and it’s absolutely incredible. Look for a preview of that show Thursday morning here at The Key.
That same night in West Philly is the first concert in the Encounters at The Mothership series. Put together by trombonist Dan Blacksberg, whose Kimmel Center residency began last month, this is one of the most exciting things to happen in Philly jazz in the past few years. Each night of Encounters will be a mix of solo performers and bands playing songs composed and curated by Blacksberg. The performers on Thursday include Susan Alcorn on pedal steel, Ashley Tini on mallets, Matt Stein on bass, and Michael Szekely on drums. This is a perfect introduction to everything that’ll be going on at Encounters for the following three days with the apex being a performance by Sun Ra Arkestra bandleader Marshall Allen on Saturday. More information and a full lineup can be found over on Blacksberg’s website.
On Friday it’s a choice between Encounters night two – Veronica MJ solo and a group that includes the Temple University’s Boyer College Electroacoustic Ensemble Project, which is neat – and over at MilkBoy, it’s Dysrhythmia, the mathy metal band that got its start here in Philly two decades ago. According to their band history, the first show they ever played was with Ruins from Japan over at the Stalag 13 warehouse over on Lancaster Ave. in 1999. How ridiculous is that?! I wasn’t at that one but I did see the band pretty regularly until they moved to NYC a few years back. Opening the MilkBoy show will be Pyrrhon and Cleric.
I appreciate being able to revisit stuff like Dysrhythmia that I have a long history with because it makes me think differently about some of the current bands I’m seeing play regularly. Romanticizing different periods in history is something we all do, but we also need to remember that every generation turns out amazing bands and that good music did not stop in 1975 like it didn’t stop in 1985, 1995, 2005, or 2015. Which is to say, in 15 years you might be talking to someone younger than you who is completely amazed when you tell them you got to see that very band you’re going to watch in a basement this weekend.
Let’s get back to the calendar! Starting with Saturday, which is all about coffee shops. I mean, more than usual. In the morning head over to Milkcrate Cafe in Fishtown and have a coffee and donut at Donuts for Dilla, an all-vinyl party celebrating the life of J Dilla, who passed away 13 years ago this month. The lineup for this one is absolutely stacked: Lil Dave & DJ Junior, Tripledouble, Universal Cave, and Ed Christof. That night park yourself at the Green Line Cafe on Locust in West Philly for the Young Scum, Tact, Gnawing, and Psychic Flowers show. Drink lots of coffee, listen to music, and have lots of fun. It’ll be great!
What are you doing on Valentine’s Day? Hot date? Counting down the seconds until midnight when all candy goes half off? Count me in. There are a couple cool things happening that Thursday, including the Sneaks and Cherry Glazerr show at the First Unitarian Church and the Steven “ESPO” Powers pop-up screen printing station in Suburban Station that Mural Arts is doing. Love, Philadelphia style.
If nothing else pans out that night, you’d be doing yourself a solid just sitting around and catching up on the series we’ve been running called “The Essential Love Songs of Philadelphia” where Key writers are “recapping 14 songs that scream ‘love’ just as strongly as they scream ‘Philly.’” Not only are all these articles interesting and a total delight to get into but I can’t think of another subject that would unite John Coltrane, Kississippi, Todd Rundgren, and The Roots. Pass the heart-shaped Tastykakes and check that out over here.
The first time I ever saw Hüsker Dü and Sugar frontman Bob Mould play live was at The Trocadero in 2002. He was solo – like, solo solo, just him on stage – and playing guitar to pre-recorded tracks while running back and forth on a stage set up with giant video screen showing scenes from the Midwest. It was a seated show and the crowd didn’t really get going until he did some Sugar covers. I can’t say that I had fun, though it was a cool concept. Fast forward to 2019 and Mould is still putting out great records and touring. He’ll be at Union Transfer on Friday with Titus Andronicus and this time he’ll have a full band backing him up.
I know I’m always talking about how great it is we live in a city with such diverse entertainment options but sometimes I really wish there was only one thing to do. And by ‘sometimes’ I mean Saturday the 16th when PhilaMOCA is showing the punk cult classic films Return to Nuke ‘Em High volumes one and two with director Lloyd Kaufman in attendance, jazz heavyweights Mostly Other People Do The Killing are up at Jerry’s on Front with Unspeakable Garbage and Sirius Juju, and my fellow WKDU DJs will be hanging out at the disco party fundraiser over at Philly AIDS Thrift. If anyone has any tips on making up my mind, I’m all ears.
If you end up skipping the jazz show Saturday don’t fret! There’s a lot more where that came from this month. On the 19th the amazing Chris Pitsiokos Unit is playing at The Rotunda. That’s sax, guitar, bass, drums, and electronics all coming together to make a huge racket. If that sounds like a bit too much just come to The Rotunda the very next night for the Brandon Lopez Trio, who might be more chill but are no less good. The third night of this unofficial Philadelphia avant jazz tour is back at Jerry’s where there’s an incredible show with the Bill Nace and Chris Corsano drums and guitar duo – AKA Vampire Belt, “something like a mangled car wreck at the intersection of hardcore and free jazz” according to Corsano’s website – Ken Brenninger, and Jeff Zeigler.
The final week of February is just as busy as the rest of the month if not more so. On Friday the 22nd ‘industrial blues’ two piece Buck Gooter are playing their Philly record release at Johnny Brenda’s while hometown new wave upstarts The Guests open up for legends Gang of Four at Underground Arts. Read up about the Goot and their label, West Philly’s Ramp Local, in a piece we published last week.
On Saturday you should head over to Everybody Hits during the day for Two Piece Fest, now in its twelfth year. With 22 two person bands spread out over the course of the day there’s no way this isn’t going to be awesome. I’m not totally sure of the lineup or order but keep an eye out for 7th Victim – that’s Rodney from The Dead Milkmen’s industrial act – and a brand new band called DeStructos made up of Sam from Mob Terror and Cassidy from Devil Master and Blank Spell that apparently sounds like “the B52’s but weirder” according to everyone who saw their debut a couple weeks back.
If for some reason you’re getting sick of duos, the show that night at The Trocadero is pretty amazing: long-running New Zealand rockers The Chills are playing with Brion Starr and Springhouse. This is the first time in more than two decades that the Flying Nun Records band has made the trip from Dunedin and you shouldn’t miss it.
The fact that Ed Schrader’s Music Beat has never played Two Piece Fest is a bit of a travesty. The fact that the Baltimore-based duo is going to be in town just a few days after this year’s edition is downright obnoxious. I mean, come on people! Coordinate! Still, it’s not like I’m going to skip seeing them rip it up at Johnny Brenda’s on the 26th with Param Anand Singh and Evil Sword.
The final show on my calendar is also one of the coolest things happening all month: San Francisco’s biggest fans of Philadelphia punk Deerhoof are playing Union Transfer and have tapped as local openers not just Soul Glo, which would be cool enough, but also wild no wavers Chronic Anxiety. Last time Deerhoof came through town a couple years ago they ended up falling in love with Blank Spell, who opened their show here, and subsequently absconding with the West Philly three piece during the last leg of their tour. How cool is that?
Alright! That does it for this month. Send all hot tips to my Twitter @talkofthetizzy and I’ll see y’all in March!