It’s almost 2020 and I have one message for you, Philadelphia: embrace change. I know it’s hard. I know seeking out new things can be difficult. I know there’s comfort to be found in those firm, unvarying aspects of our lives, especially these days. But that doesn’t mean you should just ignore the unknown, the new, and just keep on doing the same things you’ve been doing forever. Cause really, what’s the fun in that?

And before you’re all, “Don’t tell me what to do, random music reporter!” let me remind you that you’re reading The Skeleton Key, the twice-a-month column where we run through the calendar and share all that hot news and gossip from the Philadelphia scene. So if you want to do new things, see new bands, and experience all the myriad music this city has to offer, keep on reading. Let’s begin with tonight!

I know I’m about to lose all my DIY cred but the only spot to be is the Kimmel Center. No, it’s not “Escape to Margaritaville” – that isn’t until June of next year, Parrotheads! – it’s a free performance by Irreversible Entanglements, one of the finest and most innovative jazz bands this city has to offer. The Moor Mother-led five piece just dropped their first recordings since their debut album in 2017 and it’s a total scorcher:

Thursday one of my favorite bands in the city, the avant-rock duo Hermit High Priestess, are playing one of my favorite series, Warp Factor 9 at the Suzuki Piano Academy in West Philly, along with pianist Julian Hartwell. If you’re a fan of jazz, classical, chamber music – or just curious about any of that – and you’ve never gone to one of the shows in the series you owe it to yourself to check it out.

That brings us to Friday the 20th and the half-dozen amazing shows happening that night, including two that are Christmas-themed (at least in name, I make no promises of eggnog and seasonal covers). Let’s talk about those first: Riffmas is at Johnny Brenda’s with Ecstatic Vision, Sabra Cadabra, Sun Voyager, and Grave Bathers while over at Century it’s Noisemas with Grip, Nowhere, Slophouse, and Salt Farm. At Union Transfer it’s Daughters, Health, and the always electric Show Me The Body. That’s going to be a fun one.

Flyer by Holly Firesheets
Flyer by Open Mouth Presents

There are also two different gigs with members of the aforementioned Irreversible Entanglements, which is neat. Luke Stewart (bass in IE) is playing solo at Brickbat Books off South with Madam Data, Meanwhile over at Vox Populi, Keir Neuringer (sax in IE) is at a Fire Museum Presents show with the Estamos Trio. On the other side of the Schuylkill, the jazz metal three piece Stinking Lizaveta are on a bill with Zorn and Positronix at what is sure to be a memorable meeting of West Philly bands past and present.

Head back to Century the next night for a hugely stacked show with Hatchers, Drums Like Machine Guns, Honey Radar, and Human Adult Band. Any one of those would be exciting on their own so the fact that they’re all playing together is mind-boggling. Out at the Ardmore Music Hall it’s Living Colour with hometown heroes Ill Fated Natives opening up, and at Kung Fu Necktie it’s Annachristie Sapphire from Sisters 3 (check out this wonderful blast from the past Key Studio Video Session #1!) with Barney Cortez and Pat Finnerty. Annachristie has been living and making music out on the West Coast for the past few years and it’s always exciting getting to hear all her new stuff during these rare visits home.

That Sunday is the first night of Hanukkah. There are no shows on my calendar, instead I’ll be lighting candles, eating latkes, spinning dreidels, and listening to “Hanukkah on Andromeda” the new song by Lard Dog & The Band of Shy featuring West Philadelphia’s Nick Millevoi. I suggest you do the same:

Speaking of the holidays and sitting around and listening to songs, it’s time for dueling holiday music marathons on WXPN and WPRB starting the day before Christmas! On 88.5 FM you can hear Robert Drake with his program “The Night Before” and over on 103.3 FM it’s the “25-Hour Holiday Radio Show” with Jon Solomon, who I profiled a couple years ago. Christmas music can be such a drag but both these DJs somehow manage to make it extremely fun and entertaining.

Will either Robert or Jon play the version of “Run Rudolph Run” recorded by Lemmy Kilmister, the absolutely legendary singer and bassist of heavy metal band Motorhead? Just in case they don’t, be sure to head over to The Tusk on the 27th for a tribute night celebrating what would have been the late rocker’s 74th birthday. Also that evening The New Bomb Turks, one of the greatest rock n’ roll bands of the past thirty years, are playing their first Philly date in almost two decades.

If you’re out in the Lehigh Valley or just looking for something a bit more than just a show to go to that night, you’re in luck! At Sokol’s in Bethlehem the LVAC is throwing a holiday party complete with wrestling, bands – as of right now the lineup is just Philly hardcore upstarts Blueprint but I’ve heard rumors that there’s something big about to be announced – and a vegan snack bar. What more do you want?!

On the topic of secret headliners, Saturday night is that David Bazan and “Special Guest” gig at Johnny Brenda’s. This is JB’s main booker Chris Ward’s going away party so I’m a hundred percent sure that guest is going to be very, very special. Taking over the position is current assistant talent buyer Barrett Lindgren, who has been doing an amazing job at booking shows for as long as I’ve known him, which is almost a decade at this point. I didn’t refer to him as “the man, the myth, the mensch” in a previous edition of this column for nothing!

Barrett Lindgren (rear, with beard) high fiving Jake from the Golden Tea House during a Swearin’ set on 4th of July, 2013 | Photo by Yoni Kroll

If you’re into death metal, you’re probably familiar with Washington, DC’s Ilsa. The band has been around for more than a decade and have been consistently one of the best in the biz. They’re coming back to KFN on the 29th with Moros and Evilspeak and you should probably go to that show. The heavy continues the next night with the eternally awesome Jesus Lizard with Plaque Marks at Union Transfer or Little Rock hardcore act Revenge Body with The P’ids and Devil at The Khyber.

Alright, we’ve made it to the end of the month. There are no end to New Year’s Eve shows this year and I picked out five of the best so you can have no excuses but to have fun! Unless you don’t want to have fun. That’s on you.

If it’s that big end-of-the-decade blowout you crave, you’ll find it at Underground Arts with West Philly Orchestra, Johnny Showcase & The Mystic Ticket, Taylor Kelly, and Muscle Tough. WPO already brings the party to all their regular gigs so I can only imagine that it’ll be ramped up a thousand times for this one.

If you prefer a slightly more subdued atmosphere, check out saxophonist Bobby Zankel’s 70th birthday party and NYE show at exuberance, the jazz club on North Mascher in Fishtown. Philly mainstay Zankel will be joined by a cross-generation band including pianist Sumi Tonooka, bassist Richard Hill, and drummer Nazir Ebo for what is definitely going to be a good time.

Up at Jerry’s on Front they’re greeting 2020 the best way they know how: with guitars! Head honcho Chris Forsyth, who got the totally thrilling job of opening for the Sun Ra Arkestra at the Ardmore Music Hall at the beginning of the month, will be sharing the stage with Garcia Peoples and Ryley Walker. If you don’t know Walker, he’s a psych guitarist who has put out stellar albums for Tompkins Square, Dead Oceans, and most recently Thrill Jockey. It’s great stuff.

Over at Johnny Brenda’s it’s a night of really fantastic singer-songwriters with Lucy Dacus, Mal Blum, and Addy, though that show is way sold out. Maybe you know someone with an extra ticket? It’s not me! I’ll be in West Philly for the Dark Thoughts record release show that’s doubling as a NYE celebration. We premiered a track from the new album two weeks ago in this very column and I can’t wait to hear all those songs played live. Also appearing at that one are Smarthearts, Sensual World, and Chained Bliss.

Flyer by Carson McNamara

Alright! That is it for December. I’ll see you all in January. You should make sure to check out all the end of the year content hear at The Key! And as always, feel free to send all hot tips to @talkofthetizzy on Twitter.