The Skeleton Key: Round out November with a Boot & Saddle photo album, a PLOT premier, Dino Jr., and more
Holy cow Philadelphia, it’s been a wild couple of weeks. Can you believe that just two weeks ago was the election and we didn’t even know Four Seasons Landscaping existed?! Or that rabid right wingers didn’t realize that Rage Against The Machine was definitely not a band they should be blasting and screaming along to? Amazing.
Welcome to the mid-November edition of The Skeleton Key, your bi-monthly roundup of all things Philadelphia music. These days that includes new releases, livestreams, podcasts, blog posts, and so on but if all of you do the bare minimum of wearing a mask and socially distancing maybe we can have shows again. Wouldn’t that be nice.
One of the last things I went to before the shutdown was Two Piece Fest, which is every year on or around the 22nd of February. That’s also one of the few things that I can maybe imagine going to next year, since by that point there might be a vaccine in play. I don’t want to get my hopes up but the new song that Peter & Craig – the founders of the long-running event – just dropped for the election has definitely made me think about the ‘what ifs’ for 2021.
Still, it’s hard to imagine what next week will look like, much less next year. One thing that we do know is that the cultural landscape of the city will definitely not look the same, especially with the sad news that Boot & Saddle has closed. This was not surprising, unfortunately, but it was quite crushing, especially knowing that it’s not going to be the last venue that will be shutting down due to the pandemic.
I went through my photo archives looking for stuff I took at Boot and put together this gallery, which includes pictures from the record release shows Mischief Brew did there back in May of 2015.
Also while you’re at it check out this amazing video of the maestro Marshall Allen playing a show there:
To say that Boot & Saddle will be missed is an understatement. It was one of the only rooms in the city that was really for everyone no matter your genre or musical pedigree. I saw amazing jazz shows there, metal, punk, indie, hip hop. That was the spot Ars Nova booked infamous Japanese noise act Hijokaidan when they performed with the Avandoned Idol Group, which was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. It was the right-sized room, it sounded great, and the location a couple blocks south of Washington on Broad was perfect.
While I know this hurts now, it’s going to feel even worse in a few (hopefully?) months when live music returns and so many of these spaces will be gone. One of the only things we can do right now is support these spaces when they have fundraisers but just as importantly send a message to your elected officials urging them to pass the Save Our Stages Act, which will give relief money to independent venues. You can read more about that in this story by The Key’s Sean Fennell on the National Independent Venue Association website and fill out a very quick form that will send a message to your representatives.
Before I get to all of the new music and the livestreams and everything else for the next couple weeks, I wanted to share a bit of a palette cleanser from all that heavy stuff we just talked about. Last week David First from post-punk pioneers Notekillers and a million other projects that are less cool cause they’re based out of NYC and not Philly – I kid, I kid, check out this article we published last year about David’s absolutely incredible career – posted these pictures from what was Notekillers HQ in Oak Lane more than 40 years ago. I think a lot about past spaces and the different identities they have. Sure, a pharmacy is way less cool than a practice space or a de facto recording studio, but I love knowing that the building is still there and for once that sort of history hasn’t been razed and turned into condos.
While there might not be a historical marker going up on Oak Lane Rd. anytime soon — get on it, people! — we did get some positive news on a grand scale this past week with the announcement that the Sigma Sound Studios building in Chinatown has been designated a historical landmark. This has been something people in the music community have been pushing to happen for years and I’m excited it finally happened.
There’s a ton of new music to get to so let’s get started on that:
Wade Wilson – The Mixtape
I wasn’t familiar with Wade Wilson before spotting a video on Facebook but I’ve been trying hard to make up for lost time while getting into everything this Trenton-based rapper has put out over the past decade. This new release, which is baseball-themed, is a great mix of nerdy, complex wordplay and real crunchy beats. It’s for sure fun but it’s not background music: you need to pay attention to what’s going on or else you might miss something cool.
Never Mind the Boomers — S/T
This one was sent to me through some back channels of the internet. I don’t know who’s involved but as someone who appreciates all things Chumbawamba – they’re one of my favorite bands and if all you know is their radio hit you need to dig deeper – I am totally on board with this Philly homage. I mean, how can you go wrong?!
PLOT – Hellhole EP
So in my last column, I wrote about what I thought was a new release from synth punkers PLOT, and as it turns out I was wrong and it was just them posting their debut album to Bandcamp for the first time. A couple of threatening messages later and I was able to coerce them into sending me a track from their actual upcoming release to share with all of you.
Big Quig – Ride Off In The Sun
“Ride Off In The Sun” is the perfect name for this collection of songs from West Philly rocker Big Quig because that’s exactly what you want to do while listening to it. That feels like a bit of a harsh reality these days when we’re settling into pandemic winter but this album is truly a great escape from all that. There’s riffs, some soaring solos, real friendly vocals, and songs about lost love. What more do you want from a rock n’ roll album? The whole thing reminds me of a scuzzier Radiator Hospital and I mean that in the best way possible. Check it out!
Ahza Ahza – Black Power Ambience
The material on Philly-based rapper Ahza Ahza’s new sound collage cassette release was recorded at protests following the death of George Floyd in May. From his description on Bandcamp: “All of this death broadcasted on the internet was a constant stream of trauma and it became heavy fast. It’s nothing new to me, the idea that my life could end violently has always been in my mind. I wonder what it’s like to not think like that?” This is very powerful, honest, and beautiful piece, one that needs to be heard.
Popular Expressions – Popular Expressions II
I didn’t know what to expect when I hit play on the new Popular Expressions album. I knew that the main person involved was in the late, great noisy punk band Rubber but that was about it. This isn’t punk at all, except maybe in attitude. Instead it’s somewhere between minimal electronic and noise, though it’s not particularly harsh just acerbic. There are definite hints of Throbbing Gristle-era Genesis P. Orridge going on, which for me really does it, but it also gets downright catchy in places. I’m into it.
On top of all those new recordings there’s also some recently-resurfaced stuff you owe it to yourself to check out. The good people at Freedom Has No Bounds have been hard at work over the past few months doing some great and necessary archival work and recently posted this amazing recording from 1980 of the Buzzcocks playing at Emerald City in Cherry Hill. I think I’ve talked about this bootleg before: it’s from a series of live shows WMMR used to broadcast from the venue. While it’s not particularly rare, it’s nice to have it up on the site and contextualized within the history of Philly punk. If you poke around the internet you can also find recordings of XTC, The Jam, Stranglers, The Cure, The Go-Gos, and a bunch more from Emerald City around the same time, all of very good quality.
I’ve also been totally enchanted with a Stan Rogers performance that was recorded at the old Cherry Tree Music Co-Op in 1983. I know, I know, I just went from cool punk and new wave to dorky Canadian folk music, but whatever, Stan Rogers was cool. He was a fantastic storyteller, a great musician, and as I found out from this recording: absolutely hilarious.
I first learned about Rogers from the Mischief Brew cover of his iconic song “The Mary Ellen Carter” but there’s so much more to him than just that one track. If you’re a fan of Rogers I’d really encourage you to check this out and if you’re not this is a perfect introduction to his musical career, which unfortunately ended two weeks after this show when he died in a plane accident.
My calendar for the next couple weeks was supposed to start tonight with a Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Marc Cary livestream but that was postponed. I talk about Jamaaladeen a lot in this column, and for good reason, but Cary is someone I’m less familiar with. I started down the YouTube rabbit hole and it’s all so absolutely stunning. I hope his online show with Tacuma gets rescheduled and more importantly than that I can’t wait to actually see him play live.
Tomorrow night it’s the monthly Warp Factor 9 show. I have been so impressed by everything concert curator Erica Corbo has done over the past few months of lockdown. Not only has she been able to keep her series going by shifting it to a livestream but she’s done so much more than just tread water. These shows have consistently been something I’ve looked forward to even when I don’t know the performers.
This month it’s Laura Lizcano and V. Shayne Frederick. Lizcano is a folk, pop, and jazz singer who has performed at the Kimmel Center and World Cafe Live and has also been the featured vocalist for the Temple University Big Band. She’ll be playing in a duo with guitarist Dariel Peniazek. Frederick is a singer, pianist, and composer who is considered a rising star in the city’s jazz scene. You can read our review of his latest album, an EP called Blacklight, over here.
On the 20th and 21st, the fine folks at Cvlt Nation are hosting a slew of performances via their YouTube channel. While only one of the bands playing is from Philly – that’s doom metal act Caged, who will be on night two – this is a great chance to check out a whole bunch of music you might not have heard before.
Also on the 21st, celebrated folk singer Tom Rush will be performing a Philadelphia Folksong Society concert. I’ve always been a big fan of Rush – the big hit was “No Regrets” but it’s all quite good – and I’m happy to see that he’s out performing again after being sick with COVID-19 back in March. There aren’t a ton of people from his generation still around and we need to cherish those voices and their stories. The PFS is another concert promoter that’s done a very good job at switching to live streams, even holding the entire Philadelphia Folk Fest virtually. You can read more about how they pulled that off in this piece we published back in August.
On Monday the 24th, the National Museum of American Jewish History is presenting an online concert by Asher Shasho Levy, an oudist and singer of Syrian-Jewish background who per the description “seeks to spread the beauty of the Sephardic tradition through his writing, recording, research, and concerts.” I love the oud – a recent show I did on WKDU had no fewer than three tracks that featured the Middle Eastern instrument – and have long had an interest in the history of the Jews in Syria so I am very excited for this show.
Later that evening it’s another edition of Mondays With Milford, the series of online events and screenings centered around the Milford Graves exhibit at the ICA that the Ars Nova Workshop curated. Graves is a visionary percussionist, artist, and inventor. While the current lockdown has temporarily closed the gallery, that doesn’t mean the companion programming will stop. This time it’s footage of live shows, including one from Japan in 1977 that is sure to be amazing.
Ars Nova just announced that next month they’ll be hosting a virtual conversation about the 2018 documentary “Milford Graves Full Mantis” with the director Jake Meginsky. That discussion will be done in partnership with the Free Library of Philadelphia, which is now streaming the movie on Kanopy. All you need to watch is a library card. You have a library card, right?? If not, you can sign up for one here.
The final event on my calendar is the live Dinosaur Jr. concert the band is doing from Northampton, Massachusetts. I know what you’re thinking: “But Yoni, that’s not Philly! Nothing about that is Philly! I thought this column was locals only?!” You’re not wrong, dear reader. But also, Dinosaur Jr. are the best, they’ve always loved our city, and most importantly I was just listening to this incredible recording of them playing the 1988 WKDU Band Bash. You can check that out on Freedom Has No Bounds.
Alright! This column has gone on long enough. Before I go I want to remind you that pre-orders for two books on Philly music history went live this week and you should probably pick up both. Our own John Morrison has written a “loving deep-dive” into the classic Roots album “Do You Want More?!!!??!” that goes into not just the recording but also the scene in Philadelphia when that album came out back in 1995.
While that book is firmly entrenched in the 90s, Nancy Barile’s upcoming memoir “I’m Not Holding Your Coat: My Bruises-and-All Memoir of Punk Rock Rebellion” is all about the Reagan years. Barile was involved very early on in the Philly scene – she even helped book the legendary November of 1982 Minor Threat show at Buff Hall in Camden – and I’m very excited to read her stories from that era and also about how her time spent in punk influenced her decision to become a high school teacher, her career of the last few decades.
I got to chat with Barile for my article about Flag of Democracy, who played their very first set at that Buff Hall show 38 years ago this week. Happy birthday FOD! Here’s to many more.
I’ll be back in two weeks for more of the same. If you have any tips or questions or just want to say hi, I can be found on Twitter at @talkofthetizzy. Later!