HIRS | photo by Yoni Kroll for WXPN
The Skeleton Key: Halloween has arrived with heavy metal, HIRS, Zamrock, and so many cover shows
Philadelphia has always embraced Halloween. That’s just how it is. I spent the last few minutes trying to figure out why, like maybe there was a moment in October of 1776 where Ben Franklin turned to James Madison and said, “This is cool and all, but what if everyone was in costume and there was a Misfits cover band playing?”
But really, what if everyone was in costume and there was a Misfits cover band playing?
This city has always been a dark and bleak place teeming with the ghosts of hundreds of years of history and I can’t imagine that ever changing. So you know what they say: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!
Welcome to the Halloween edition of the Skeleton Key, your bi-monthly column covering all things DIY and more. Yes, I did say bi-monthly. We’ve expanded. Take a look at the first column from this month for a bit more about all that.
I’m going to start running through things but we’re going to be circling back to everything Halloween early and often, don’t fret. While the two shows on my calendar for tonight could not be any more different either would be a perfect way to celebrate the spooky season. Revered new age experimental multi-instrumentalist and mystic Laraaji will be performing at The Rotunda at a can’t-miss Bowerbird event with Chris Powell from Need New Body and Man Man opening.
Up at the Foto Club there’s a cover band show – Black Sabbath, Motörhead, Judas Priest, and W.A.S.P. – to kick off the now annual Street Metal Massacre festival! Keep those horns up and get hell bent for leather at the Ukie Club all day Saturday with bands and the Philly Metal Punk Swap Meet.
If heavy metal isn’t your thing, don’t fret! There’s a ton of other things happening. Over at the Free Library psych blues trio Ill Fated Natives are playing a free afternoon show that’s hosted by Beyond The Bars, an organization we profiled in August. At the Rail Park at sundown a band including local jazz great Harold E. Smith with be playing the final concert in the Moon Viewing Platform series, which by all accounts has been amazing. I haven’t been able to get there for any of the other shows so I’ll be sure to make that one. When it’s over I’ll be rushing over to the First Unitarian Church for the Philly debut of Zamrock legends W.I.T.C.H., which is going to be incredible.
If you’re not familiar, Zamrock is a genre that originated in Zambia – that’s the Zam part – back in the 70s and is a bit of a mashup of pysch and hard rock with Central African music. This is some heady stuff and W.I.T.C.H. (“We Intend To Cause Havoc”) was one of the best. To be able to see them, especially in a DIY space like the Church basement, is a treat. This will be one of the best shows of the month and you should really try and come out.
Sunday night at Ortlieb’s Skeleton Key favorites Northern Liberties will be opening up for Portland rock n’ rollers Nasalrod, which include original Fear drummer Spit Stix in their ranks. Beer Breakfast Dungeness Crab and Sheena & Thee Nosebleeds are also playing.
Next week starts off with a total banger at Union Transfer with metal heavyweights Obituary, Abbath, Midnight, and locals Devil Master, who have been on the road with that tour for the past month. Speaking of Devil Master, have you seen that picture going around of famous flautist and temporary Philadelphia resident André 3000 sporting the band’s sweatshirt? When I first saw it on Facebook shortly after it was posted by the other person in the shot, man-about-town and Director of Operations for the Old City District Brett T. Mapp, I could not believe it. I asked and Brett was kind enough to say we could reprint it here for all of you to gawk at, too. Someone get that man a flute intro on Monday night!
If you’re going to Kung Fu Necktie on Wednesday to see HIRS, The Body, and Stinking Lizaveta – and you should because that’s a bonkers lineup – make sure to get there on time because the show almost certainly sell out. Each of those bands could pack a venue twice the size of KFN and it’s mind-blowing they’re all on the same show at such a comparatively small space.
Thursday night there are two competing shows that are remarkably similar but only in one way: they both feature a member of a famous band from the 80s and 90s playing that group’s hits. At Ruba it’s Gibby Haynes from the Butthole Surfers with Paul Green Rock Academy as his backing band and at Union Transfer at the same exact time Peter Hook and The Light will be performing New Order’s Technique and Republic albums.
I’ve seen both Butthole Surfers and New Order cover sets for Halloween and I can guarantee that the above two shows will be at least as good as whatever bands I saw rocking a West Philly basement.
In case you don’t know all the words to “I Saw an X-Ray of a Girl Passing Gas” or “Fine Time” and you’re looking for something to do that night, I’d suggest checking out the Arthur Brooks Ensemble V concert at The Rotunda. Not only has Brooks played trumpet with some of the greats over the past four decades – Cecil Taylor and Sonny Sharrock, just to name a couple – but the opener of Jesse Sparhawk on harp, Scott Verrastro on drums, Mike Watsun on bass clarinet, and Kyle Press on alto sax is worth the price of admission alone.
My Friday evening is going to start at the University City Arts League for a rare exhibition of the art of Mandy Katz. You might know her just as the singer of The Invasive Species and Geb the Great Cackler or any of her other bands stretching back to the early 90s but Mandy is an exceptional artist across disciplines. This exhibit, entitled If Gardens Dream, is an “immersive experience including paintings, drawings, painted dresses, ceramics, seed jewelry, painted gourds, dolls, illustrated lyrical poetry and botanical illustration.”
While I probably won’t be making it out to Bethlehem for wrestling, vegan snacks, and punk bands – that’s right, it’s another night of Let’s Hang Out, this time with Amanda X and Body Spray and a slew of spooky wrestlers! – I encourage anyone with an interest in any of those things to head up to Sokols. You won’t be disappointed, that’s for sure. My plan is to stay in the city and go to one of the many shows happening, though I haven’t figured out which one.
Legendary punk freaks Flipper are playing the Church basement with Taiwan Housing Project and Narcos Family Band, which is the obvious choice. True fact: I played in a Flipper cover band for a Valentine’s Day benefit show a couple years ago. If you’re curious, there’s video proof over on Facebook. There’s probably a good chance that Flipper will sell out and I guess there’s a small chance you might not be a fan so here are your backup gigs: at Ortlieb’s grungy post-punkers Timelost are having a record release for their debut Don’t Remember Me For This, Russ Waterhouse from Blues Control is at the Record Exchange, and the second installment of Nick Millevoi’s “Streets of Philadelphia” series is happening at Pageant. I got to interview Nick recently about those new compositions and that will get published here very soon.
Timelost isn’t the only Philly band putting stuff out right now. There is new music from Soul Glo, Solarized (featuring The Key’s Alex Smith), They are Gutting a Body of Water, Moor Mother, Dark Thoughts, and Faking.
While those other bands have gotten a decent amount of coverage here in the past, we haven’t talked about Faking before. What started off as a more straightforward noise rock project in 2013 has morphed into something more musically nuanced, interesting, and fun, especially with the addition a couple years back of Matt Garfield from 2000’s cult favorites Mose Giganticus on bass synth. No Comfort is the band’s first release with Garfield and it’s very good. The album won’t drop until next month but in the meantime check out the track “Hard Work” below and make plans to go see them with Black Lung, Queen Elephantine, and Mutant Flesh at Century on the 7th.
I know that when it comes to industrial music that Philly has a bit of a bad rap – if you’ve seen The Dead Milkmen or 7th Victim at any point recently, you’ve certainly heard noted rivethead Rodney Anonymous rightfully complaining from the stage about how those bands just don’t stop here on tour – so the fact that My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult and Pharmakon are both playing on Saturday night is pretty great. Well, it’s also kind of a bummer because you need to make a choice as they’re on literally opposite sides of the city. Also that night Chicago punks Blacker Face are in West Philly with Manikineter, Nowhere, and Rainbow Crimes and there’s a benefit for Project Safe at the Mascher Space in North Philly with Hermit High Priestess, percussionist Hyunjin Cha, and more.
That night is also the true kickoff of Halloween shows with the annual TJ Kong and The Atomic Bomb costume ball and cover show at Johnny Brenda’s and the Vaudevillians NYB dance party benefit – with Night of a Thousand Kates DJs! – at Everybody Hits. The following evening out in Phoenixville they’re showing Nosferatu at the Colonial with a live organ score provided by the Theatre Organ Society of the Delaware Valley. How cool is that?!
On Monday night over at The Rotunda a fifteen person band made up of members of Hardwork Movement, Upholstery, Citywide Specials, and more will be playing the “iconic hits and underground classics” from forty years ago. 1979: Good Times and Damaged Goods will also feature the return from a long hibernation of Philly favorites Disco Hootenanny.
Head back out to the Colonial Theatre on Devil’s Night to see theremin orchestra The Divine Hand Ensemble play their annual Halloween show. Phoenixville is only an hour away and the Colonial is one of the coolest spots to see that sort of thing.
Alright! We’ve reached Halloween night! I hope you’ve figured out your costume because I am seriously the last person you should come to for advice. I’ve been voted “Most Obscure Costume” and “Oh, Are You Dressed Up? I Wasn’t Sure” every year for the past two decades, though the fact that nobody got my Captain Lou Albano outfit in 2012 – curly wig, rubber bands in my beard, a Hawaiian shirt – still irks me. I mean, come on people! Get with the program.
I think I’m going to be a cat burglar this year. We’ll see how that goes. The two best shows happening on Halloween are Night Of The Living Bjorgin West Philly, which includes a Bjork cover band called Bjorg (really!), and legendary Germantown jazz acts Sounds of Liberation and David Murray & Creative Arts Ensemble at Johnny Brenda’s. You really can’t go wrong with either of these but no matter what you do head over to the Unknown Pleasures goth dance party at the Dolphin to finish out the night.
I’ve seen a lot of cover sets over the years. Some of them have been good – shout out to Slaytallica, Glamowar, Cocksparrer, DEVO, Avail, X, Nirvana, Mischarge, CCR, Bullshit Detector, Poison Idea, Mohawktown, and countless others – and all of them have been fun. But one of the greatest nights of my life and certainly the torchbearer for all cover bands forever and ever was the Chumbawamba supergroup I saw play on the rickety first floor of a house in Mantua in 2014. Please check out this video taken by Loud Fast Philly’s Joseph Gervasi and revel in the beauty of 150+ ecstatic punks absolutely losing their damn minds:
The Chumbawamba cover band at the annual West Philly cover bands show. They almost made the floor cave in with joyously dancing punks.Posted by Joseph A. Gervasi on Friday, 31 October 2014
Bonus: the full video from the set was just unearthed and posted to YouTube! Thanks to Karen Churchyard for shooting the show and alerting me that it was finally uploaded!
As always feel free to hit me up on Twitter with any tips, tricks, or treats at @talkofthetizzy! See you in November!