The Skeleton Key: August sees the return of Union Transfer, Chris Forsyth in open air, new hip hop and death metal, a bunch of music docs, and more
It feels very weird to say this but things are very much approaching normalcy, even if so much feels totally out-of-whack and downright scary. PhilaMOCA has reopened and is hosting a million shows. There’s stuff at Century, Underground Arts, Pharmacy. Even Union Transfer is back at it, with five Japanese Breakfast shows to kick start their return. And everyone is holding their breath, hoping the Delta variant stays at bay and the unvaccinated stay away.
I said this last column and it’s even more true two weeks later: if you’re at an indoor event, if you’re at any event where you’re around people where you don’t know their vaccination status, it’s totally okay to wear a mask. Your safety is what’s most important. At the Ghösh show last weekend, the bands encouraged everyone to wear masks, and there is literally nothing wrong with that. The numbers of positive cases are going up again and even though three quarters of Philadelphians are at least partially vaccinated with the way this new variant is spreading even that isn’t too comforting.
Sidenote: the new Ghösh video is incredible!
At this point I honestly feel that making all indoor shows require proof of vaccination and also strongly suggest mask wearing might be the only way to move forward in a more safe way. Even if almost all of us going to smaller events are vaccinated, it would be important when it comes to bigger events like the Folk Festival later this month, XPoNential in September, and so on. In fact, Union Transfer just sent out an email to Japanese Breakfast ticketholders stating that everybody in attendance must provide either proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID test and wear masks for the duration of the show unless eating or drinking.
Since the pandemic started, we’ve lost a number of key venues, but we’ve also gained a few new ones. Most importantly was Boot & Saddle, of course, which closed due to not being able to have shows for more than a year. Connie’s Ric Rac down in South Philly is now a taco shop and Bourbon & Branch, which often felt a bit forgotten in the Philly pantheon, decided to fold their performance space back into the restaurant.
As far as new spots go, there’s the outdoor stage at the International – they just hosted the debut of post-punkers Poison Ruin and the first local Palberta show in ages – as well as Sunflower, which while it opened in 2019, didn’t really start having live music until recently. And while it’s not in Philly, the Anchor Rock Club down in Atlantic City, run by former Johnny Brenda’s folks Chris Ward and Greg Mungan, looks like it’s going to be real cool. As my Facebook ads have reminded me over and over, they’re hosting an Arkestra show on the 28th that’s being co-presented by Ars Nova.
PhilaMOCA has returned – they actually closed well before the pandemic due to issues with L&I; you can read more about that in our piece here – and they are very busy with both their own events and stuff booked in the spot by R5. Similarly, Space 1026 has finally reopened after being forced out of their Chinatown location by rising rents back in late 2018. They’re hosting an outdoor show on the 14th at their new digs up on North Broad. More on that later in the column. Also Dobbs on South fka The Legendary Dobbs fka The Pontiac Grille fka J.C. Dobbs (I think I got the order right) is back under new owners, so look for more gigs on South Street real soon.
Speaking of Boot, their sound system is now set up at the newly-redesigned Dolphin up the block on Broad. The dance club has been holding some rock ‘n’ roll shows there over the past month or so and I am intrigued by what this space could be in the future. The Khyber is back – upstairs of course – as is Original 13 Ciderworks up on North American, which hosted a few shows by the 4333 Collective before the pandemic. Open Sound, the outdoor concert series out in Lansdowne, will start up again in September after taking 2020 off. Finally I want to shout out Milo – The Meeting House, the Mt. Airy music space and restaurant that has really been stepping it up these past few months. You can get some more indepth info on many of these new spaces in The Key’s six new-ish venues to watch piece.
Okay, enough of that. Let’s get to the shows! The first thing on my calendar is Off With Their Heads at the aforementioned PhilaMOCA on Tuesday the 3rd. I’ve long been a fan of the Minneapolis punk band and I’m sure this sold out show with comedians Ben Roy and The Legendary Wid opening will be a great time. The next day over at Bartram’s Garden in Southwest Philly, it’s the opening night of this year’s BlackStar Movie Festival, which is doing a hybrid thing with screenings both online and in outdoor spots like Eakins Oval. Wednesday’s party, held outside, will include performances from DJs Lil’ Dave, Oluwafemi, and Rashid Zakat. You can read more about that and check out the full BlackStar schedule over on their website.
On Thursday the 5th, you should probably go to Sunflower to see Chris Forsyth. Not only is the guitarist always a total treat to watch, but this time around he’s playing with Doug McCombs of Tortoise on bass, Ryan Jewell from Ryley Walker’s band on bass, and Garcia Peoples’ Tom Malach on second guitar. Also Jeff Zeigler will be doing a modular synth set. How cool is that?! At PhilaMOCA that evening there’s a documentary about one of my favorite recent British post-punk bands IDLES. After you’ve returned home from whatever it is you got into, be sure to tune in to Bowerbird’s online Liminal States series to watch local experimental jazz duo Jupiter Blue do their thing.
That Friday is the grand reopening of Union Transfer, which is kicking off their return with five nights of Japanese Breakfast. The 6th, 7th, and 8th are with Mannequin Pussy and the 10th and 11th have Spirit of the Beehive opening up. They’re all sold out but I see that WKDU, which is presenting the show on the 11th, has a pair of tickets to give away so pay attention to what they’re doing if you don’t already have a way in. While you’re at it, listen to this interview that Michelle Zauner did with restaurateur and author Dave Chang on his podcast, it’s fantastic.
Also on Friday, it’s 1993 all over again at The Pharmacy when Blanks 77 and Submachine come marching into town. They’ll be joined by local punks One Sided and Whiskey Bats. The following night at the Meeting House Dave Fishkin’s “wild party band” David Fantasy & Adult Content will be opening for Erik Kramer’s All-Star Orchestra. Elison Jackson and Eleanor Two are also performing.
This is a good time to pause the calendar and talk about some of the new releases that have dropped over the past couple weeks. There’s really no end of stuff to highlight so I try and pick things that might have flown under the radar just a little but I feel that you should hear. You know, in case you were curious. As a reminder there’s another Bandcamp Friday – where the music hosting site waves their fees so everything goes straight to the artists – coming up on the 6th.
Wail – S/T (Translation Loss Records)
This is going to be quick because I already wrote a very long article about this release a couple weeks ago that you should obviously read! Wail is a new band made up of Yanni and Alexi Papadopoulos from Stinking Lizaveta on guitar and bass respectively, Calvin Weston on drums, and Pete Wilder on second guitar. This is a perfect rock n’ roll album that’s heavy on the funk and I am excited to listen to it over and over again and hopefully get to hear these songs played live at some point.
Nazeer Art’aud – Mister Larry’s Looney Funhouse (Self-released)
We’ve written about Nazeer Art’aud a lot in these pages and it really feels like the inventive MC can do no wrong. On this, his first full length since 2018, he puts himself in the shoes of Lawrence Funhauser, a “fun whacky character that hosts his own children’s TV show called Mister Larry’s Looney Funhouse.” It’s as ridiculous and over-the-top as you might imagine – to give you an idea, in his review of a video for one of the songs our John Vettese referenced Pee-Wee’s Playhouse – but also quite clever. Which is to say that while the album might be funny it’s not some sort of joke act: Art’aud’s music and flow are excellent no matter how absurd the songs get. That he manages to pull it all off is testament to his background in theater and comedy. Bonus: an album release party for Mister Larry’s Looney Funhouse was just announced, and happens at Ortlieb’s on August 14th.
Ecology: HomeStones – For Regarding This, A Covenant Has Been Made (Self-released)
Longtime Skeleton Key readers know I love a good themed album. It doesn’t have to be the most cohesive theme; in fact, sometimes a looser interpretation of things can be even better. The two tracks on For Regarding This, A Covenant Has Been Made, the second release from experimental artist Ecology: HomeStones, combines sounds taken from home video recordings of figure skater Tara Lipinski at the ‘88 Olympics and a couple of found tapes of “magic incantations” according to the Bandcamp. The result is … well, not surprisingly it’s totally bizarre, I’m not going to lie. But it’s also both interesting and quite novel, two things I definitely enjoy.
Kurse – Cursed (Frozen Screams)
Speaking of things I enjoy, Kurse very much ticks all the boxes. The death metal five piece has been together only a few short months and Cursed is their debut release. There are hooks, blast beats, everything you might want from this sort of music, though there’s something special about what Kurse is doing. I attribute it to the band’s West Philly basement pedigree but it might just be because they’re really, really good. It’s all quite catchy and these tapes, put out by Frozen Screams with artwork by Fred Grabosky (Sadgiqacea, Blood Spore), look incredible.
Sebastian Petsu – the between EP (Self-released)
You might know Sebastian Petsu as the host of the Double Decker Music Series, the concerts where musicians played on top of one of those open top double decker buses you see ferrying tourists around the city. Petsu is also a tour guide on those buses. While the series might be in hibernation, Petsu has not stopped engaging with music. For this, what he’s calling the between EP, he’s collected the “short segments of my own tape noise/abstract/casio/found/field recordings” he included on mixtapes over the past year. While that might not sound too exciting, the sounds on this EP, consolidated into five tracks that average around five minutes each, make for a really lovely and dare I say it fun listening experience.
You should also check out the two live sets that the Under the First Floor podcast posted recently, one from hardcore band Nine of Swords – that’s TJ from Soul Glo with members of Greg Electric and more – and the other from one of my favorite Philly punk groups Carnivorous Bells.
Speaking of the Bells, when I saw them play a couple weeks ago they mentioned they’d be heading back into the studio at some point soon to record their second album, which is very exciting. At that show they were joined by a wild saxophone player which made everything they played that night sound even more noisy and deranged. I can’t wait to hear those new songs!
Since we’re already on the topic of horns this seems like a good spot to mention that Marc Wasserman’s Ska Boom! An American Ska & Reggae Oral History came out just a couple weeks back and is already in its second printing. That was done by Philly publishers DiWulf, who are also behind that great history of City Gardens, the Hard Times Magazine anthology, and more.
Finally there’s a new track from hardcore supergroup Open City that is being released Friday on a Triple B compilation. The band has promised this is just the first of many new songs. Follow them on Instagram to keep up with what’s going on:
Alright, let’s get back to the calendar. On Wednesday the 11th – that’s my birthday, in case you were curious and wanted to get me a present or whatever – no wave icon Lydia Lunch will be at PhilaMOCA for a screening of The War is Never Over, a new film about her life and career. Two days later down at the Grays Ferry Skatepark it’s the debut of Chip from Pure Hell’s new group Street Vengeance. There’s a ton of bands on that show so check out the FB event for more info.
That night Tagabow, Total Rubbish, Godcaster, Grace Vonderkuhn, and Catharine Moan are playing Underground Arts. At PhilaMOCA it’s the U.S. premier of the new Haruomi Hosono documentary, chronicling the Japanese pop musician’s life including the decades he’s spent as part of the highly influential Yellow Magic Orchestra. They’re also showing that the next day. Down at Century it’s rock ‘n’ rollers Chino, Sheena and Thee Nosebleeds, Gibbous Moon, and Johnny in the Water. You have options!
Saturday the 14th will be the first show at the new Space 1026, the venerated art collective that got forced out of its longtime Chinatown digs and resurfaced at Broad and Parrish a few months ago. I’m very excited, especially cause the headliners are Mesh, who recently put out one of the best releases of the year. The show is sorta sold out: you can’t get an advanced ticket anymore but they have said they’d have a limited number at the door for this outdoor gig. Also, you are going to be stoked for that special guest. Just saying.
Okay! That is it for this column. Thank you for reading, please wear a mask, yell at your unvaccinated family and friends, and if you need something to feel good about watch this video on the Philly house scene that just dropped cause it’s AMAZING.
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