The Goats | from Live at Khyber Pass
Live at Khyber Pass is an amazing reminder why The Goats mattered, and still do
In Philly and beyond, you either know The Goats or you don’t. And if you do know them, you might not really know them.
Mischaracterized in their all-too-brief, remarkably-intense 90s heyday as a pot-rap / party-rap band with occasional forays into politics, this Philly crew was actually quite the opposite. Maybe that happened because they were more “fun” than Rage Against The Machine, or even Public Enemy — the “alternative”-era standard-bearers for what politically-informed, activism-oriented music looked and sounded like. But The Goats weren’t that dour; they had a live band that numbered from 9 to 13 members, with high-octane punk-to-funk pro-mosh energy that set crowds on fire.
But peruse their lyrics, particularly from their debut record Tricks of the Shade, and you’ll see what The Goats were really about. Songs shed light on the country’s history in colonialism and oppression (“Tricks of the Shade”); they talked about the racism and brutality of those tasked with protecting and serving the public (“TV Cops”); they talked about women’s rights, particularly their right to make choices regarding their own bodies (“Aaah D Yaaa”). They took down the drug war that disproportionally affected black citizens; they unpacked gentrification, when the Philly reference point for such was Mt. Vernon Street in Fairmount.
These are songs that could have been written today. I don’t know if that says more about the foresight and perceptiveness of The Goats’ MCs Oatie Kato, Madd, and Swayzack, or about how not-far we’ve come as a society since 1992. But landing at the tail end of one presidency that led the United States into an international war, and heading into a new “tough on crime” presidency, The Goats spoke for the downtrodden, and did so in a way that brought people together — loud music that packs the house, whether it be an Old City rock club or a far away stage on tour in Europe.
This spirit is bottled amazingly in Live at Khyber Pass, a brand new release of a 1993 concert recorded at the legendary Philly venue — a spot that was a home base of sorts for The Goats.
The gig took place on July 4th — how appropriate that they spent Independence Day dissenting? — and was captured via soundboard recording care of the band’s label, RuffHouse / Columbia. Unfortunately, the tapes were shelved and never got used by the label, but were informally passed around the band’s inner circle over the years. (I first heard about this show and the recording of it care of a vintage cassette dub XPN’s Bruce Warren keeps in his office. An incredibly productive Facebook thread later, and I’d connected with several of The Goats’ associates, one of whom told me that this new digital release was in the works.)
The performance shows off the band’s heavy chops — their lineup was a constantly rotating cast, so it’s it tough to say who was onstage at this particular show, but historically it involved Philly power players like drummer Chuck Treece (of McRad and more), keys player Mark Boyce (who went on to a stint in G. Love’s band), and bassist E.J. Simpson (also of the excellent folk-rock trio Maggie, Pierce and E.J.). The set also shows off the charismatic balance struck by the MCs: Oatie being more cerebral and apt to break into the band’s politics, Madd more of the charismatic bring-the-party player, Sway doing a bit of both in hype man mode, all screaming into the mics at the top of their lungs (and even breaking up a fight toward the end of the set).
It’s an incredible recording of an incredible band at their peak. The majority of the setlist draws on Tricks, with slight jammy divergences (“Bring The Beat Back”), quick cover teases (The Clash’s “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.” on the lead-in to the free speech anthem “Burn The Flag”), and an early version of “Real Phillie Blunts,” a song that would later appear on the band’s sophomore album No Goats, No Glory. (That album gets a bum rap for not being as front-to-back loaded as Tricks, but it’s pretty awesome in its own right, particularly “Mutiny” and the instrumental groove “Lincoln Drive.”)
The Goats sadly parted ways in the wake of No Goats; Oatie went on to play in the bicoastal duo Jimmy Luxury, Madd had a solid run in Black Landlord across the 00s. But Live at Khyber Pass makes it clear how much The Goats had to say in 1993, and how much their songs still have to say to us today. Listen below, and for more, the band’s discography is streaming in full online, and you can dig in here.