Sun Ra Arkestra | photo by Yoni Kroll
The Skeleton Key: Get outside and get positive this June with Irreversible Entanglements and Porchfest, new releases from World Gone Mad Records, film screenings, podcasts, and a whole lot more
You know what rules? Getting to the gig. It can be outdoors, socially distanced, whatever, but live music is still live music and at the end of the day there’s no better panacea.
Case in point: last week I was walking around my neighborhood being totally overwhelmed by how utterly repetitive and stagnant everything feels. I mean, it makes sense. We’ve all been in a holding pattern for the past year and a half and right now the milestones we’re experiencing are just based on getting back to those day-to-day things that we considered normal 15 months ago, like seeing our friends, hugging our parents, and having band practice.
That’s obviously all incredibly important – I get to see my mom next week for the first time in almost two years and I am beyond emotional about it – but I also want to experience something new, something different, something unexpected. That’s what’s been missing all this time as our worlds have really shrunk down to immediate friends and family and a commute that for many of us is from the bedroom to the kitchen table.
So I was moping hard, feeling real boring, real dull, real sad, and then just a couple days later I found myself in Woodland Cemetery surrounded by a crowd – an honest-to-goodness crowd, though it certainly wasn’t crowded, as everyone had enough space to spread out– of people all there to celebrate The Sun Ra Arkestra and it’s current bandleader Marshall Allen on the occasion of his 97th birthday.
It was awesome! It was amazing! It was alive! It was, in every way, the antithesis of everything we’ve been experiencing. It wasn’t just Marshall and the band and the joyful noise they were making, though that was obviously a big part of it. It was the space, the fact that there was no stage, no separation between the Arkestra and the audience, and just the aura of positivity at the Woodlands that day. Being there it was impossible not to smile, which is a feeling I haven’t had in a long time. Big thanks to everyone at Ars Nova Workshop for putting this together.
Welcome to the first Skeleton Key of June! I got my regular bit of miserable-but-trying bellyaching out of the way so let’s get into the calendar and try and hone in on even more of that positivity cause it’s obvious that we need it.
Actually before I start I want to share a bit of great news: PhilaMOCA is back!! The venerated venue has been shuttered due to licensing issues with the city for almost two years. They just announced a grand reopening at the end of July and I am so excited. You can read more about that here.
Speaking of things that are exciting, this weekend is completely chock full of outdoor shows. It is definitely the busiest things have been since last March if not before then. The party starts Friday evening at the Garden Bar in the MAAS building at 5th and Master with a West Philly Orchestra performance and DJ sets by Foreign Service.
Saturday is Porchfest, which is returning after taking off 2020. While normally pretty big, this year’s event feels exceptionally busy and I’m pretty sure all of West Philly is going to be drowning in music. I can’t wait! You can find the full lineup over here. Some of the performances you’ll find me at include Nazir Ebo and his jazz ensemble, The Papadopoulos Blues Project featuring Yanni and Alexi from Stinking Lizaveta, and surf rockers I Think Like Midnight, though I’m sure anywhere you end up is going to be great.
Across town at the International Bar in Fishtown it’s day one of their Philly Beer Week celebrations with performances from Heavy Temple, Red Touch Black, Slomo Sapiens, and more. On top of all that Frances Quinlan from Hop Along will be DJing.
Head over to Laurel Hill Cemetery that night for a performance by the always fun Divine Hand Ensemble. I think Divine Hand is one of the coolest bands in Philly – how many cities get to boast about having a theramin-led ensemble that’s played for the Pope?! – so I’m excited they’re back in business and especially stoked to see them in the graveyard again.
Sunday is day two of the Philly Beer Week celebrations at the International, this time with Ruby The Hatchet, St. James & The Apostles, and High Reeper. In Grays Ferry the Derivative Session folks are doing a show for jazz funk weirdos Clayton Carothers, Dave D’Arville, and Steve Kerr. That afternoon is also the first concert of trombonist Dan Blacksberg’s new series at the Trolley Portal Gardens space at 40th and Baltimore. This one will feature his klezmer band Radiant Others. I am seriously loving all these outdoor events and hope they become a summertime staple well beyond this discombobulated year.
This seems like a good spot to pause the calendar and take a look at the slew of new local releases. I actually have a couple of premieres to share with you courtesy of World Gone Mad Records, which is great, but I want to start with this humorous and wonderfully bizarre video from Zinskē for their new single “Disappearing in Yucca Valley” that came out last week:
That was awesome, right? I wasn’t too familiar with Zinskē before, despite the fact that they’ve been around for four years and I’m friends with at least one of the members, but this kind of mid-tempo shoegazy pop stuff is completely in my wheelhouse and I look forward to the chance to see them again.
Dridge – Curing (World Gone Mad)
This is one of the World Gone Mad premieres. Dridge has been a band for a number of years but Curing is their first real LP. This is a great follow up to the band’s Ruby EP that the label put out last December. Dridge plays noisy post-punk ala Christian Death or No Trend with some occasional dips into some real grungy sounding stuff. It’s all very, very catchy. Pre-order a copy of Curing on the World Gone Mad Bandcamp.
Positronix – Bad House (World Gone Mad)
Figured we should go right into the other track World Gone Mad is letting me preview this column! Positronix are unabashed freaks and this tape, their second demo, is incredibly fun. The band has members of Alien Birth and Zorn and do the sort of aggressive-but-bouncy post-punk thing that allows them to fit in well alongside both weird pop bands and noisier punk ones. Which is to say: they’ve opened for bands including Palberta, Supine, Stinking Lizaveta, and Godcaster and were a perfect fit every time. Listening to this EP I am reminded just how much I love this band and how I can’t wait to see them play.
June Bender – Chrysalis (self-released)
I’ve seen violinist June Bender’s full band Unseen Rain play a couple times but was not totally sure what to expect from this solo release. While obviously stripped down, this is by no means minimal as the violin and vocal tracks are layered on top of each other to create very intricate and quite beautiful songs. This would be a perfect soundtrack for a trip to Longwood Gardens or just some time spent sitting in the park and contemplating the wonder of a summer’s day.
Sour Spirit – Aluminum Rainbow (Unknown Tapes)
I can’t get enough Sour Spirit. The two piece industrial punk band is so loud and so cacophonous that even listening to them over my crappy computer speakers makes me want to run around the room and break stuff. They’re that inspirational! This is a physical reissue of the band’s first EP Aluminum Rainbow, which originally came out back in 2014.
Before I get back into this busy calendar I want to quickly mention a few older recordings and some other stuff I came across recently. No, I’m not just talking about that Sweet set from The Spectrum in 1978 that Freedom Has No Bounds posted last month, though if you’re looking for some good summertime tunes you can’t go wrong! Also be sure to take a gander at the 80’s Philly punk zines they just scanned in and posted cause that’s all so cool.
Last week I wrote about the Free Library of Philadelphia, highlighting ten librarians who are either musicians themselves and/or are heavily involved in putting together music-related programming at their branches. One of those programs is the Song-Poems concerts put together by Sam Perduta from the band Elison Jackson, also a librarian in the Literature Department. I didn’t get to include this in the article but Perduta and fellow librarian Alina Josan have been uploading video and audio from all those sessions from musicians including Bill Nace, Magnetic Bells, Anika Pyle, The Great Cackler, and more. You can find that on Archive.org.
Finally, some podcasts: make it a point to subscribe to the new one about Black Lily, the pioneering “femme-forward concert showcase and open mic series” as our John Vettese put it in a must-read interview with podcast creator Stanley Collins. Their first episode isn’t dropping until the 21st and I seriously can’t wait.
If you don’t already listen to Mike Watt’s show regularly and need a reason to pay more attention, in the same week he interviewed both the aforementioned Bill Nace as well as David First from Notekillers. I haven’t had a chance to listen yet but they are definitely on my list.
Speaking of people showing Philly some love, Scream Therapy – “a podcast that explores the link between punk rock and mental health” – had Marisa Dabice from Mannequin Pussy and Jenna Pup from The HIRS Collective on their two most recent episodes. You can check that out wherever you listen to podcasts or just go straight to their website.
Okay, back to the calendar! On Thursday the 10th Fire Museum Presents is hosting the latest in their 20th anniversary series. This one is focused on Iranian classical music and includes performances from Saina Zamanian and Sadaf Amini. You can watch that online.
The Arkestra show isn’t the only thing Ars Nova is up to in the Woodlands. That weekend they’re premiering a piece by saxophonist and sound artist Matana Roberts called “we got time.” about the life and death of Breonna Taylor, the Black woman killed by police in Louisville last year. From the press release: “…Roberts has created a collage of sound that reflects on the world today, positioning the loss of Breonna Taylor at the center of that world, and asks questions about the meaning of familiar words present in historic documents – the United States’ Declaration of Independence and the Preamble and First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution – the 19th-century hymn ‘Pass Over to The Rest,’ event data related to Taylor’s death, and a roll call of the names of Black women lost in similar ways.”
The work will be performed Friday the 11th at 6:30 p.m., Saturday at 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets must be reserved in advance. “we got time.” is being co-presented by The Crossing and the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts as part of The Month of Moderns 2021 festival. More information can be found on the Ars Nova website.
That Friday night in Clark Park there’s a screening of “Sisters With Transistors,” the new documentary about the female pioneers of electronic music.That’s being done by cinéSPEAK and while it’s free they are asking everyone to pre-register. This is just one of many films that cinéSPEAK is showing this month. See the full schedule on their website.
Also on Friday the 11th, the Philadelphia Film Society’s SpringFest – in person at the PFS Bourse – is showing “Summer of Soul,” the recent documentary on the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival that was directed by Questlove. The next day they’re screening “The Sparks Brothers” about the seminal and silly pop band.
On Saturday afternoon at the Trolley Portal Gardens at 40th and Baltimore it’s Ya Chives with Dan Kaplowitz. On the other side of the city the Moor Mother-led jazz collective Irreversible Entanglements are playing their first local gig – and just their sixth in-person one since the pandemic has ebbed in this country, allowing for things like outdoor shows – in more than a year. That concert is part of the Staying Power festival at the Village of Arts & Humanities on Germantown Ave. that also includes performances and presentations by Ursula Rucker, Black Quantum Futurism, Theatre in the X, and many more. You can find out more and register for the event here.
Speaking of Moor Mother, have you watched Camae’s new video? It’s transcendent stuff. Read more about the song and her signing to ANTI- Records in our article.
The last thing I want to talk about are two all-ages online percussion programs that are happening this month. The first is being hosted by Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture and taught by Hafez Kotain. It focuses on the doumbek, a type of drum used in Arabic music. The classes run multiple days a week from June to August. The second program is a bit more concise – only five classes in total – and is about Aztec and other Native Mexican drumming. That’s being taught by Brujo de la Mancha and presented by The Rotunda.
Alright! That is it for this column. I hope to see all of you fully-vaccinated people at an outdoor concert soon! Let’s make some new memories, Philadelphia.
As always I can be reached via Twitter at @talkofthetizzy with any hot gossip.