Sun Ra Arkestra at Johnny Brendas | Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Watch Sun Ra Arkestra’s full Halloween concert at Johnny Brenda’s from 2016
Since 2015, Philadelphia’s legendary Sun Ra Arkestra has made an annual tradition of playing their hometown on Halloween. Were we not in the middle of a global pandemic, the cosmic jazz ensemble would almost certainly be warming up for another memorable night at Johnny Brenda’s this weekend.
The next best thing? Watch this full-concert recording of the Arkestra’s 2016 run filling the JBs stage to the brim.
The hour-and-41-minute set is atmospheric, epic, and seasonally timely in multiple ways. In addition to the looming presidential election, the show also coincided with a transit strike in Philadelphia. “I hope that the strike with SEPTA works out in the favor of the people,” trumpeter Michael Ray tells the crowd. “I pray that this election [does].” Regarding that, he says, “sometimes you have to call upon some spirits,” and introducing a surprise cover of the Casper theme song, he says “Most of the ghosts that come up, they have their things to say, but this is a friendly ghost.”
That Casper cover lands at the 36-minute mark, followed up the ominous groove of Sun Ra’s “Halloween,” where vocalist Tara Middleton’s voice is petrifyingly fed through a vocal doubler, and Ray contributes maniacal laughter out of a monster movie.
Watch the show below.