The Skeleton Key: April is for Balkan big bands, hanging guitars, cult movies, so much jazz, and Sheer Mag - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Sheer Mag | photo by Yoni Kroll

Wake up, Philadelphia! I know last month was a long one but here we are in April and I have a full plate of shows for you. So full, in fact, that it’s rare there’s a day without two or three can’t miss events. How wild is that? Even if you never even wanted to leave the house once this month – I don’t know, maybe you just broke your leg or something terrible like that – there’s enough new music from Philly bands to keep you occupied for a long time. Don’t worry, we’ll get to that too.

Before I get started on this marathon slog through the calendar I wanted to point out three different festivals happening over multiple dates in April: Philly Celebrates Jazz, the Cinedelphia Film Festival, and Jamaaladeen Tacuma’s Outsiders Fest. I’ll mention a few specific events from these but you should take a look at the linked calendars for each of them cause there’s so much going on. If you’re into jazz, which as a Philadelphia resident you should be, check out Shaun Brady’s monthly column for The Key where he goes deep into everything going on in that world.

Starting out today, make sure to head over to the Rotunda in the afternoon for the first ever Philly BalkanFest. Performers include Raya Brass Band, the Philadelphia Women’s Slavic Ensemble – who just recorded a fantastic session for WXPN’s Folkadelphia – and West Philly Orchestra, who are playing their homecoming show after a two week long tour that brought them to Texas and back. There’s also going to be Balkan and Roma food and art. Tonight you have a choice of the noisy and weird: the always fantastic Sunburned Hand of the Man is at Jerry’s with Purling Hiss’s Kiel Everett opening and at Everybody Hits it’s NYC’s blues punkers Shilpa Ray with Taiwan Housing Project and Lightninging, the latter of whom just released a new single.

Philadelphia Slavic Women’s Ensemble | photo by Gabriela Barbieri for WXPN

Have you ever bought tickets so far in advanced for something that you forget about it? That happened to me once with a Diamanda Galas concert and I’m still both sad and a bit embarrassed for missing it. Which is to say: if you have tickets for the very sold out Screaming Females and Thou gig at PhilaMOCA on Monday, be sure to go. If like me you did not buy advanced entrance to that one, don’t worry: the rock n’ roll show that night at Ortlieb’s with Tommy and The Commies, Les Lullies, and The Whips should be just as fun.

A recent Pitchfork review called the new Y La Bamba album a “whirlwind of dream pop, folk, and jubilant dance music” and if that doesn’t make you want to go see them when they play at Johnny Brenda’s on the 9th, I don’t know what will. Speaking of excellent dream pop, Aster More is playing the following night at Boot & Saddle for a Planned Parenthood benefit put together by Black Dog Gallery that includes a bunch of other bands and a ton of artists. And if punk is more your speed you should definitely head over to the batting cages for Machine Gun, The Guests, Open City, TØRSÖ, and Low Vision because that’s going to be one for the ages.

Remember how I was saying earlier that some days this month have two or three excellent shows happening at basically the same time? Thursday has seven. How ridiculous is that? Let me run through this as quickly and succinctly as possible:

Funky big band Grupo Fantasma is at World Cafe Live with Interminable, at Johnny Brenda’s it’s Saddle Creek guitar maven Hand Habits and Chris Cohen, Japanese costumed pop punk superheros Peelander Z are playing Kung Fu Necktie, rock n’ rollers Honey Radar and Nox Boys are down the street at the Barbary, and at Brickbat Books off South it’s the Philadelphia debut of celebrated guitarist Kinloch Nelson, who just released his first album at age 69 on Tompkins Square. Opening up that show will be the duo of Kyle Press from Love Club and Impressionist – who just put out his first solo album a week ago at the ripe old age of 30! – and Scott Verrastro from Kahoutek.

If you were counting you’d have noticed that’s just five. The sixth event of the evening is the local premier of the film A Tuba to Cuba about the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and their trip from New Orleans to Havana in 2015 to trace their musical roots. That’ll be at The Rotunda. And that afternoon there’s a lecture over at the Kelly Writers House on Penn’s campus by Richard Barone and Rob Norris of The Bongos about the music of Lou Reed. What a perfect music-filled day!

The next night is chill by comparison. There’s a great jazz show at the Community Education Center up on Lancaster Ave. with a group including noted up-and-coming drummer Nazir Ebo, who at just 19 has played with everyone up to and including Wynton Marsalis, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and in February Marshall Allen and Danny Ray Thompson from the Arkestra. On the other side of town (and the age spectrum), The Original Sins, Brother JT’s garage band from way back then, are playing a rare reunion over at Johnny Brenda’s with two saintly openers, St. James & The Apostles and St. John’s Alliance.

Also of note on Friday is the first concert of the Bowerbird-presented Maryanne Amacher series Perceptual Geographies. The late Amacher was an experimental composer who lived in Philadelphia for a number of years and received her undergraduate education at UPenn studying under Karlheinz Stockhausen. She was known both for her work writing music but also creating intricate sound installations. This series, which is being held at the Holy Apostles and The Mediator Episcopal Church at 51st and Spruce, will include contributions from all parts of her artistic output. More information can be found on the Bowerbird website.

On Saturday the 13th there’s a little something for everyone going on. It’s the opening night of Jamaaladeen’s Outsiders Fest over at South Jazz Club with a heady lineup including Tacuma, Ronnie Burrage, Sumi Tonooka, Braxton Bateman, and Tarus Mateen. Over at Jerry’s On Front it’s that Lee Renaldo hanging guitar thing – no, really, it’s Lee Renaldo from Sonic Youth playing a guitar suspended from the ceiling with Alan Licht and the Loren Connors and Chris Forsyth duo opening – and at Evangelical Lutheran in Fishtown the Ominous Cloud Ensemble and Camp Candle are on The Monthly Fund’s April show benefiting the Aspiring Young Artists Project.

If it’s more wild times you’re looking for check out that Dead Milkmen, Black Landlord, and Big Mess Orchestra benefit show at Underground Arts. This is the very definition of a stacked lineup, where each of the bands playing could be headlining on their own and I’d be just as excited for any of them. We profiled the Dead Milkmen and their various side projects – including Big Mess – just last month and you should check that out before the show.

There’s a bunch of the Cinedelphia films that I’m clamoring to see, chief among them Rock ‘N’ Roll Motel, Dons of Disco, and Where In The Hell Is The Lavender House: The Longmont Potion Castle Story. All at PhilaMOCA, the first two of those are on the 13th and the latter two days later. Dons is a documentary about drama in the Italo disco scene and if you’re at all interested in the Longmont Potion movie you already know what it’s about — digital skillets and elevator fines, mostly — but Rock ‘N’ Roll Hotel almost defies description … which is probably why it was ‘lost’ for 30 years. Check out the trailer for it and revel in its brilliance:

One of the most exciting shows of the month, Xylouris-White at The Rotunda, is happening on Tuesday the 16th. Georgios Xylouris is a master of the Cretan lute and Jim White is a drummer best known for his time playing with Australian rock band the Dirty Three. Together they have been bringing their unique take on traditional Greek tunes to the world since 2014. Philly guitar duo Elkhorn is opening what is certainly going to be a remarkable evening of music.

Speaking of Australian rock bands, The Scientists will be making a very rare Philadelphia appearance at Johnny Brenda’s the following night with the brilliant DC garage act Des Demonas and local shredder Bill Nace. Keep it going that Thursday over at Jerry’s with the record release show for the brand new Sparrow Steeple on Trouble In Mind. The next night I’ll see you at Underground Arts for the Control Top record release/homecoming show as part of their month-long tour with Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! fame. So much new music! It’s all very exciting.

That Sunday at MilkBoy is the return of Synergy Effect, the Jamaaladeen Tacuma group with Will Calhoun from Living Colour and Marc Ribot. Opening up will be Akeem’s Razor featuring Streetlight Manifesto trumpeter Matthew Stewart.

Not surprisingly, the final week of the month is just as jam-packed as the rest of April. You have Acid Mother’s Temple at Underground Arts Tuesday, longtime Italian psych doom heavy hitters Ufomammut on Wednesday at KFN with Green Meteor, and the record release show for the brand new Desertion Trio album on Friday at Ruba. That last one — with the addition of organist Ron Stabinsky and Tara Middleton on vocals they’re more of a quintet than a trio, though they’re keeping the name — is going to be absolutely fantastic and is really just a must-see show no matter what kind of music you’re into. Bandleader and lead guitarist Nick Millevoi has been killing it on all fronts over the past few years and I’m stoked to see what’s next.

While Millevoi plays across town and in a number of different outfits, the last place I saw his band was at Jerry’s with Writhing Squares back in December. This month Jerry’s head honcho Chris Forsyth – who Millevoi has played with extensively in both the Solar Motel Band and other configurations – is putting out a double LP on No Quarter and playing two shows at his home base to celebrate the release. The first of those is on the 27th with Garcia Peoples and the second the following night with Cold Hands.

If you’re not going to that, I hope you got tickets to the very sold out Camp Cope show at the Church with Thin Lips. I heard a rumor that Chrissy from Thin Lips will let you in for free if you get a band tattoo but that’s unconfirmed as of press time.

The following night you have a solid choice to make: either go to Vox Populi to see the positively Gits-esque Invasive Species and the viola-heavy doom and gloom of the Forgotten Bottom, a new-ish neo-classical two piece that just put out their debut album at the end of last month, or head to PhilaMOCA for that especially well-booked Guerilla Toss, Writhing Squares, and Laser Background show. Either way you’re doing the right thing.

The final show on my calendar is the very next evening back at the First Unitarian Church with Sheer Mag, Scumraid, and Physique. On their own Sheer Mag are unarguably great and just one of the most fun bands to see play live. But also, just cause you can put them on when you’re hanging out with your parents and just cause they played on late-night TV doesn’t make them any less of a rowdy punk act. My favorite time to see Sheer Mag is when they’re on a bill with a bunch of loud, wild bands. Which is to say: I’m really excited for this show with South Korean noise punks Scumraid and a bunch of equally raucous bands. See you in the pit!

And remember: please send all hot tips, album leaks, and praise to @talkofthetizzy on Twitter!

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