The Skeleton Key: Settle into summer with the return of PhilaMOCA, a Psychic Flowers premier, new black metal and a whole mess of shows
Going to start off this column with a dose of reality because as much as we want to believe everything is back to normal – and I’m totally guilty of this, too – the pandemic is still raging both around the world and also in the unvaccinated parts of this country. While the vaccine provides a huge amount of protection, especially against severe illness, it is still possible to get sick. There are also huge swaths of the population who either can’t get vaccinated yet or are immunocompromised and don’t generate the necessary levels of antibodies in response to the vaccine. This is all something to think about when you’re going out to a show, to a club, to the supermarket, really anywhere you’re around potentially unvaccinated people.
Also, if you know anyone who has not yet gotten a vaccine please yell at them, show them videos of people on ventilators, explain to them patiently why this is all important, whatever it takes. This isn’t going away and we are going to be dealing with COVID for a long time.
That being said, I am eternally optimistic – for better or worse – and I really do believe that a better world is possible. Honest. I wouldn’t be involved in DIY music and I certainly wouldn’t do this column if that wasn’t the case. With that in mind let’s jump into the calendar cause there’s a ton of stuff going on over the next two weeks.
While most of what I talk about is outdoors or online we will be seeing a lot more indoor shows highlighted in the column. Outside of everything I wrote above, I just want to remind people that it is 100 percent okay to wear a mask to the show. In fact I’d recommend it, especially if you don’t know a lot of the people there and you might have doubt about their vaccination status. I recently ended up at my first indoor gig and I kept my mask on the entire time and it was totally okay. Please take care of yourself and your community. It’s imperative.
First up on my list is Wednesday evening’s workshop on movement and poetry presented by Caitlin Green and Ursula Rucker as part of the Wake series at The Woodlands. That is all organized by Ars Nova, who have really been knocking it out of the park these past few months. You can read more about it on their website. Also that night is an online performance by Ladino musician Susan Gaeta that’s being put on by the National Museum of American Jewish History as part of their “Songs of Our Neighbors, Songs of Our People” series.
Thursday the 22nd is the grand reopening of PhilaMOCA, which as you probably remember got shut down due to licensing issues well before the pandemic started. They’ve spent almost the last two years trying to get back on their feet. There are a ton of events scheduled for the space and I’m so excited to have them back in business. The party starts that night with a screening of the 1983 supernatural horror movie “Mausoleum,” of course.
If you don’t already have a ticket to that sold out show maybe consider going to see Curtis Cooper, Daydrunks, and Magic Ghrelin at the Original 13 Ciderworks up on North American Street. I haven’t been to anything at the spot but Curtis assures me it’ll be a great time and I see no reason to not trust them. At the City Winery that night it’s folk hero Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, a real treasure of a singer and story teller.
Friday and Saturday at PhilaMOCA founder and manager Eric Bresler will be speaking about everything the venue has been through since being shut down. From the event description: “[Bresler] meticulously archived the entire journey, from closure to reopening, and will now recount the whole story as a humorous, feature-length slideshow that also serves as a history of the beloved art space.” The resurrection of PhilaMOCA could not have happened without community support and these celebrations certainly reflect that.
Also Friday night DJs Junior & Duiji 13 will be at The International and the Emilo Modeste Quartet are performing at the CEC. Both those events are outside.
On Saturday afternoon Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture is co-presenting Philadelphia Arab Community Day at Penn Treaty Park. Come for the kanafeh and baklava, stay for the drumming performance by percussionist Hafez Kotain. That evening is the first show back at Century Bar in Grays Ferry, a Tesseract Society bash with thotcrime, Zombieshark, Wormtooth, and more.
The following day check out Plow United’s Brian McGee at the Black Cat at 12th and Oregon. He’ll be playing with Josh Alvarez of Crossed Keys and Joe McCarthy from Baracus aka Rusty Pigeon. Late that night is the newest in Bowerbird’s online Liminal States series, this one with multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily who has performed alongside everyone from Yoko Ono to Marc Ribot to Laurie Anderson.
This is a good time to pause the calendar and run through some recent releases. Actually before that I want to share a new track from Psychic Flowers, one of my favorite fuzzed-out pop bands from Philly. This is “Spaceboy” from their album For The Undertow that’s coming out on Living Lost Records at the end of the month. That’s chief songwriter David Settle on guitar and bass and Leo Suarez (Toned, Carnivorous Bells) on drums. The band’s jangly power-pop tunes remind me of Guided By Voices but with a definite West Philly basement show attitude. Just like their previous record, this one was produced by Justin Pizzoferrato who has also worked with Dinosaur Jr., California X, and so many others. Bonafides!
Also be sure to check out Settle’s Under the First Floor home recording podcast that he recently restarted with a set from Sadurn. We wrote about the podcast two years ago in an article you can check out here.
On to the new releases!
Lastima – Maldición de Sangre (self-released)
When it’s done right, black metal is some transcendent and beautiful stuff. And Lastima is definitely doing it right. On this, their third release, the band rips through two tracks that touch on everything from punk to post-rock to shoegaze, all while staying very much within the black metal style. I really appreciate the fact that the violinist Thuy Nguyen is very much front and center in these songs. While strings are not an aberration in the genre they usually feel like a bit of an afterthought. Lastima recently announced their debut show happening in late August. While that immediately sold out I am sure we will be seeing a lot more of this band.
Strapping Fieldhands – Across The Susquehanna (Petty Bunco)
You really just can’t go wrong with the Strapping Fieldhands. The long-running Philly band has been churning out brilliant lo-fi psych songs for almost three decades at this point. On this, their fifth full length, they tackle the mighty Susquehanna river. This album feels very summery, with fuzzed out guitars, sweet and steady percussion, and a certain lazy, blissful cadence that just makes you want to sit on the porch, crack a beer or maybe drink some lemonade, and enjoy the day, responsibilities be damned.
Search for the Infinite Light – Anaphylaxis (self-released)
Bassist Pete Dennis has been getting into a lot of different stuff lately. There’s various jazz combos, a new doom metal band called Deliriant, and this, their second solo release of the year. While they went big on World’s End Welcoming Committee the songs on Anaphylaxis are more minimal but also less contained. The result is a fantastic mess of sounds, from flute to thumb piano to of course lots of upright bass played in many different ways. It’s all quite lovely and interesting. I’m really looking forward to what Dennis comes up with next.
George Korein and the Spleen – No Content Required (self-released)
The new one from George Korein and the Spleen is one of the most absurd albums that has come out all year and quite possibly one of the stranger things the musician has ever done, which is saying something. What’s surprising about No Content Required is not how it was made – the music on the album is composed almost entirely from royalty-free loops and samples found online, a normal enough thing – but that it’s actually both listenable and really fun. I think that is testament to Korein’s talents at putting together ridiculous but catchy tunes, something he’s been doing for years at this point, albeit normally with a backing band.
Madam Data – The Gospel of the Devourer (PTP)
Madam Data might no longer live in Philly but they will always be an honorary Philadelphian. On The Gospel of the Devourer they tackle everything from noise to black metal to drone, ambient, and techno. This is an incredibly dense album that is best listened to over headphones so you can pick up on everything going on. It is, in many ways, a masterpiece, though not necessarily an easy one to get through. Still, if you have any interest in the music it is very much worth it to give this the time and energy it deserves. The songs are mostly about violence against trans people and, perhaps as a result of that, proceeds from cassette sales are going to The Coalition for Black Trans Economic Liberation here in Philly.
Almost all of the contributing musicians on The Gospel of the Devourer are locals. They include Joe Hughes (Quiet Man, Static Brothers), Mental Jewelry (Moor Jewelry), Rodnie King (Sour Spirit), Leah Basarab (Ex By V, Rainbow Crimes), and Moor Mother.
Speaking of Moor Mother, Camae has been super busy recently. You know, as usual. Not only did she just drop a single for her upcoming ANTI- debut but she also broke the news that Black Quantum Futurism, the art and politics collective she is part of, will be creating an art installation at the Hatfield House in Fairmount Park called “Ancestors returning again / this time only to themselves” that will include their new film “Write No History.” You can read more about that here.
As far as recent archive finds go, I was stoked to see Freedom Has No Bounds post a couple of old WKDU band bash sets. While I have watched the YDI footage from ‘83 many, many, many times – their A Place in the Sun 7” from that year is truly one of the best EPs to ever come out of Philadelphia – it was very cool to revisit, especially in the context of the station’s 50th birthday, which happened this past weekend. The other set was from ‘87 and by a little band called Half Japanese who weren’t too bad in their own right.
On the topic of WKDU, the station, of which I’m a member (just mentioning that for the sake of journalistic integrity and just in case you wanted to listen to my radio show), put out a cassette compilation of all Philly bands including Screaming Females, Soul Glo, Northern Liberties, and many, many more. You can read our write-up of that comp over here.
One last thing I want to mention before getting back into the last few calendar dates is this absolutely wonderful and super fun interview with Adam Goren, better known as Atom and His Package. The one man punk band was downright ubiquitous here in Philly from the mid-90s until he called it quits – though not really – in 2003. That was 18 years ago and while Adam has popped up here and there with Armalite, TV Casualty, and even the occasional Atom show, he has been busy pursuing a relatively normal life as a high school science teacher. Well, as normal as it gets for him. Hear all about it on the latest Killed By Desk podcast!
Starting on Wednesday the 28th and running through the 1st, Shakespeare in Clark Park is doing a nightly production ofPericles, Prince of Tyre I’m not too familiar with this one but the plot sounds fun and the company always does a fantastic job.
On the 29th at PhilaMOCA there’s the Philadelphia premier of the new documentary about the extraordinary and tragic life of musician and entertainer Tiny Tim. If you don’t like Tiny Tim – or at the very least appreciate his perfect weirdness – I don’t really know what to tell you. Even more exciting is that the doc, “Tiny Tim: King For A Day,” is narrated by “Weird Al” Yankovic. I mean, how cool is that?!
Friday night there are three good shows happening, which feels like a record for this weird year. Outside of The International local freaks Poison Ruïn are making their long-awaited debut after putting out one of the best post-punk records of the year back in April. They’ll be playing with pop weirdos Palberta, whose recent release Palberta5000will be on those same year-end lists, mark my words. Up at the Meeting House in Mt. Airy the “improvisational music project” Derivative Sessions is, for once, not happening out in the woods somewhere. The lineup this time around is Jessie El Wexler, Kyle Rowe, and Richie Straub, and they’ll be joined by the rock band Dot Gov. Finally at Century it’s a night of heavy metal with Slashers, Necrosexual, Witch Slap, and Basilysk.
The last three shows on my calendar are Mannequin Pussy and Kississippi out at Phantom Power in Millersville on the 31th. That’s right south of Lancaster, maybe 80 miles from Philly and thus totally doable. We’ve all gone to NYC for shows; this is actually less of a trek. A bit closer to home Ghösh, Prolaps, EAT, and Penetrode are playing the first concert at the resurrected PhilaMOCA. The next day at the Grays Ferry skate park it’s a Skateboards for Sioux Kids benefit show with Los Gueys, King Azaz, a traditional Native American dance troupe called Danza Azteca, and more.
Okay, that is it for this column! Before I go I want to share the latest video from the ongoing series that LAVA Space has been putting together with the aid of videographer Bob Sweeney to try and raise funds for the community center and venue. Watch the video of Mitch Esparza below and check out the LAVA GoFundMe over here.
I will all of you next month. Hell, maybe I’ll even see you at a show soon. Say hi! I’ll be the one wearing the WKDU hat. As always, feel free to hit me up on Twitter at @talkofthetizzy!