Zula Wildheart at West Philly Porchfest | Photo by Yoni Kroll
The Skeleton Key: Start summer with more gigs, more films, new releases from Night Raids and Secular Fusionists, a psych rock roundup, and a Porchfest photo gallery
I’m going to be honest with you: it definitely feels weird watching things slowly return to whatever passes for normalcy during the second half of 2021. I’m warming up to the idea, don’t get me wrong, but I’m still checking the city’s vaccine data twice a week because there’s still a pandemic that is absolutely raging around the world. I know we want COVID to be in the rear view mirror but we’re definitely not there yet. Still, here in Philly about 69 percent of the population has received at least one dose, which is amazing, especially when you consider that vaccines have only been available since January. We’re getting there and that’s definitely reflected in the number of events happening in the next couple weeks.
Like that segue? It’s called “Oh my God, I hope he doesn’t spend the whole column bellyaching about the state of the world, AGAIN!” But really, it’s not a lie. We’ve actually reached the point where I can be choosy about what gets covered here, which is incredible. There were a few months where I was grasping at straws to find things to talk about and that is definitely no longer the case. There are about twenty concerts – mostly in-person outside but also some online broadcasts – a bunch of new releases, pictures from events earlier in the month, and so much more to run through in this Skeleton Key so let’s get started with photos I shot of Porchfest and The Divine Hand Ensemble the first weekend of June.
Okay, calendar time: tonight in-person and online it’s the monthly Warp Factor 9 concert at West Philly’s Suzuki Piano Academy. Regular readers know just how excited I get for Erica Corbo’s jazz and avant series and for June she did the classic move and booked her own group, the Space Whale Orchestra. No shame! We’ve all done it. This will be the record release show for the improv band and you can read more about all of that in our interview with Corbo that just got published.
Friday evening Johnny Showcase, fresh off their transcendent national debut on America’s Got Talent, will be playing at the Kidchella 2021 Music Festival at Smith Playground in East Fairmount Park. Yes, he really can do anything. Bring your youngsters and make sure they get something signed! And if you haven’t yet watched the video of the band on TV last week check it out below.
At around the same time over at the Grey’s Ferry Skatepark there’s a little outdoor gig with Minibeast – that’s Peter Prescott from post-punk greats Mission of Burma and Volcano Suns – Queen Elephantine, and Jeffrey Alexander & The Heavy Lidders. That night is also the Philadelphia premiere of the Aretha Franklin documentary “Amazing Grace” with openers DJs Junior and Lil’ Dave of WKDU’s Eavsdrop Radio. That’s being held at Clark Park and is presented by cinéSPEAK and the Paul Robeson House.
Down at the Moshulu, the large ship docked off of Columbus Ave., it’s the triumphant return of the Making Time dance party. This will include sets from DJs Avalon Emerson, Dave P., Phil Yeah, Justin Tripp, and Infinity Machine and will also feature an AV performance by the Klip Collective.
Nazir Ebo, one of Philly’s finest young drummers, is performing three times between now and the end of the month. The first is Saturday night at the Trolley Portal Gardens as part of the Dan Blacksberg-curated series happening at the new spot at 40th and Baltimore. Here he is at Porch Fest two weeks back. He’s been busy!
On Sunday the 20th, renowned bassist William Parker (Cecil Taylor, Matthew Shipp, and many more) is playing at the Woodlands in the afternoon at an Ars Nova summer solstice event. Also that day is a Juneteenth celebration down at Bartram’s Gardens with performances from DJ DuiJi13, poet Ursula Rucker, and more.
This seems like a good time to pause the calendar and talk about some of the releases that have dropped recently, especially considering that Bandcamp is doing their own Juneteenth thing and donating their share of sales on the 18th to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
V/A – Insecurity Hits Volume 1
I’m very excited for this compilation for two reasons: new music from bands I know and new music from bands I’ve never heard before. The Ire is one of my favorites as is Drill and so just on the basis of those two I’m totally sold. Add in tracks from Sunk Heaven and Corey Flood as well as a real funky one from Jazz Adam (Old Maybe, Cheap Meat) and I am all in. I’m also stoked to delve into all the bands on here that I don’t know because I’m sure they’re all fantastic.
Heavenly Bodies – White Dwarf
Heavenly Bodies exists somewhere between psych and post-rock in a sweet spot full of shimmering guitars, heavy percussion, and the kind of sounds that just make you want to close your eyes and take it all in. I’ve been looking forward to White Dwarf for a few months at this point and it does not disappoint. One of the things I like about this album, the band’s first, is that there are two shorter tracks sandwiched between two very long ones which allows them to showcase everything they can do.
Night Raids – Mage Masher
The new one by grindcore duo Night Raids is everything I want right now. It’s totally punishing and so heavy but also very catchy. What I love about Night Raids is that they’re not particularly straightforward, melding influences from metal, grind, thrash, punk, and more. With ten tracks clocking in at about 45 minutes, this is not your normal grind or even death metal album, though it’s very much in that realm. Highly recommended for all fans of extreme music.
Secular Fusionists – S/T
Speaking of things that make me happy, this Secular Fusionists album is fantastic and I want to get a car just so I can drive down the streets blasting it at top volume. The band is made up of George Draguns (Don Caballero, Form & Mess) on guitar, Kyle Press (Impressionist, Love Club) on saxophones, and Michael Quigley (Sisyphus On Ecstasy, Witch Coke) on drum programming.
While they had been playing together for a while pre-pandemic – I saw Press and Draguns perform as a duo both at Warp Factor 9 and Two Piece Fest – this album was recorded remotely. This is some very pleasant stuff but it’s also definitely not background music. The band describes themselves as “Harmolodic Rock” and cite the improv-heavy stuff of Ornette Coleman and I can definitely understand both where they’re coming from and where they’re going.
Kahoutek – Jurad
Apparently this is the column where I write about psych rock! This new one by Kohoutek is a real stunner. It’s heavy, duh. Of course it’s heavy. But there’s a real jazziness to these songs that keep them swinging even as the band is getting deep in the jam. And when I say deep I mean it: the album is almost 45 minutes long but has only three parts to it. If you’re into that sort of thing it’s clearly a winner and if you’re not… well, maybe you should try cause with Jurad you’ll definitely find something to like.
Deliriant – Demo
Deliriant is interesting cause it’s a doom metal band made up of three musicians from the Philly jazz scene. Not to say there isn’t crossover there – paging Dan Blacksberg and his excellent trombone doom band Deveykus – but it’s not exactly the normal musical progression. Still, there’s no law that says that everyone in a doom or stoner metal band has to be a wild longhair with tattoos covering more than half their body. This demo does everything it’s supposed to: guitarist and singer Jared Radichel riffs hard, drummer Salina Kuo hits hard, and Pete Dennis’ bass sounds perfectly menacing. This rules and I can’t wait to see them play live.
As far as the new-to-the-internet stuff that’s gone up over the past few weeks, the real highlight is this video of The Stick Men, Heathens, and Wild Women of Wongo playing at The East Side Club in 1981. I mean, how cool is that?
Also make it a point to check out the most recent finds over on Freedom Has No Bounds, especially the 1989 Scab Cadillac sets from the Khyber and Dobbs they just put up. Scab Cadillac is one of my favorite local punk bands from that era and is definitely not talked about enough. Speaking of Dobbs, the long-running club has new owners. You can read more about that here. And on the subject of the Philly venue circle of life, Italian Market spot Connie’s Ric Rac announced their closure last night. Read some reflections on that below from singer-songwriter Erin Fox and Dan Drago of the 25 O’Clock podcast.
So @ConniesRicRac is no more. Which is sad to many. But it’s been purchased by a neighboring business that was also homegrown and beloved. I spent a lot of time at Connie’s during a period, played many a show, drank and gabbed with friends.— 25 O’Clock (@25oclockPod) June 17, 2021
But it was a place that was part of my story in the Philly music community, as well as so many others. And when it was kicking on all cylinders, it was a pretty electric place to be. Places come, places go, and good memories live on. (End)— 25 O’Clock (@25oclockPod) June 17, 2021
Back to the calendar! On Wednesday the 23rd on the rooftop at Bok Bar it’s the in-person return of the Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret, which is exciting. They have been doing a lot of online shows and I’m sure have been looking forward to being back in front of an audience. Up in Torresdale at the Glen Foerd riverfront park it’s a night of experimental music with Vibrational Breath & Metals and Manna Pourrezaei. Online that evening it’s the next episode of the Fire Museum Presents 20th anniversary series, this one with violinist Mike Khoury from Detroit and Omani oud player Amal Waqar.
The next day Birds of Maya is playing at the new Sunflower outdoor space in North Philly with Vapor Theories, which is members of Bardo Pond. This will be the record release show for the new Birds of Maya album Valdez, coming out on Drag City.
That Friday back in Clark Park there’s a screening of the recent documentary “Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché” about the British post-punk icon and her band X-Ray Spex. The film is being co-presented by cinéSPEAK and YallaPunk. On the topic of cinéSPEAK, be sure to contribute to the organization’s ongoing fundraiser towards opening a movie theater in West Philly cause that would be awesome.
Staying in the neighborhood, Saturday is the West Philly Porch Art Show and those aforementioned two Nazir Ebo gigs: in the afternoon he’s back at the Trolley Park Gardens – this time with Blacksberg on trombone and Matt Engle on bass – and that night he’ll be at the CEC on a lineup that includes Keith Brown and Fareed Simpson.
The final few dates on my calendar are all online shows. While I’m certainly enjoying the return of in-person stuff, I do value virtual events for their accessibility and I hope that’s something that continues into the future. Not everyone can make it out to all the shows and having that option to watch from home feels very win/win. I really appreciated the conversation on this topic that happened over on Sadie from Speedy Ortiz’s Twitter:
everyone saying “last livestream ever!! never again will i livestream!!”—livestreams are a great accessibility accommodation for folks whose disabilities may prevent them from even entering the venue! consider continuing to produce them so concerts can be enjoyed more widely? 🙂— speedy ortiz ÷ haunted painting (@sad13) June 13, 2021
On Sunday the 27th experimental guitarist Loren Connors will be performing as part of the Bowerbird and Rotunda-presented Liminal States series. That’s the one where the music starts late at night in order to “lead listeners to that magic space between awake and asleep.” Should be a good one.
The next night, the Philadelphia Orchestra is showing the final episode of the first season of their Our City, Your Orchestra series, where small ensembles play at non-traditional music spaces around the city. This one will be at the William Way LGBT Community Center and the band will include Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, composer Jennifer Higdon, and other members of the orchestra. Finally, on the 30th, Bowerbird is premiering a video made by the Arcana New Music Ensemble and Moor Mother performing songs from the repertoire of pianist Frederic Rzewski.
Alright, that is it for this column! Before I go I wanted to share this absolutely ridiculous video from the Two Minutes to Late Night folks that certainly put a smile on my face. That’s Randy Blythe from Burn the Priest and Lamb of God, Walter from Gorilla Biscuits, Rachel from Most Precious Blood, Christina from Gouge Away, Shawna Potter from War on Women, and Philadelphia’s own Jenna Pup from HIRS plus a ton of other musicians all doing a cover of “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince. It’s amazing, sure, but it’s also just really, really fun.
As always, feel free to bother me on Twitter at @talkofthetizzy with all your hot tips, weird rumors, and psych rock recommendations. See you in July!