Birds of Maya at Johnny Brenda’s | photo by Scott Troyan for WXPN | scotttroyan.com
The Skeleton Key: September brings the return of Johnny Brenda’s with Birds of Maya, new punk and jazz releases, shows all over the city, and more
This was supposed to be the Skeleton Key where I told everybody about how great it was to go to a real show inside where they checked my vaccination card and where everybody was wearing a mask and how awesome that was. But you know what? That show – Sheer Mag, Dark Thoughts, and Poison Ruin at PhilaMOCA – got canceled because a member of one of the bands had a positive test despite being totally vaccinated. As bummed out as I am, this was totally the right move and I’m happy, at least from a public health standpoint, that they decided to postpone the show. Most importantly: the affected person is asymptomatic and is reported to be feeling totally okay.
Live music is totally a privilege. I said that in my last column and I have the sense I’ll be repeating myself again and again over the coming months. Just because you’re a music fan doesn’t mean you’re owed a concert. That’s not how it works. That being said, I’m very happy that all these shows are happening for many different reasons, including the fact that it’s a lot easier to put together this column when I have too many things to write about rather than too few. Mostly, however, I’m happy that they seem to be happening as safely as possible with venues requiring proof of vaccination and in many cases masks on top of that.
With that in mind, let’s get started on the calendar because there are an obscene number of shows happening in the next couple weeks. Actually, real quick both because this is important and because it affects a bunch of events, I want to share this confusing and aggravating bit of breaking news from PhilaMOCA: the venue has been hit with yet another violation notice by L&I, though as of press time it’s unclear what’s going on and if it will be fixed quickly.
As I’m sure you all know, the space had gone through with a ton of renovations to get up to code and was actually closed for the better part of two years, just reopening last month. You can read more about that here. On the venue’s GoFundMe page, PhilaMOCA’s Eric Bresler writes that the notice came without further explination, and says “Please do not donate money, spreading the word is the important thing right now, that 30 day demolition threat is pretty intimidating. I’ll post updates when I have them!” Fingers crossed this gets resolved soon and without much of a headache.
Okay, on to the calendar. Tonight is the premier of the final installment of Fire Museum Presents’ 20th anniversary video series. Featuring performances by sound artist Carmina Escobar and sax duo Sam Newsome and Dave Liebman, this will be the promoter’s final online event – fingers crossed – as they segue back into in-person stuff. More on that later.
Tomorrow night indie rockers Lindsay Reamer and Soggy Paws are playing the first show of Open Sound Lansdowne’s 2021 season, which is every Thursday in September. The outdoor concert series took last year off due to the pandemic and I am very excited that they decided to return. Read more about that in our article here and follow them on Instagram to stay up to date about everything they’re doing. Also happening that night – and also, thankfully, outside – hip hop groups Mobbluz and S.A.G.E.S are at Sunflower up on North Fifth. Just hope the decent weather holds.
Friday night is the first show at Johnny Brenda’s in a year and a half, which is very exciting. They could have booked a bunch of Grateful Dead cover bands and I’d still be stoked but the actual lineup for (re)opening night is excellent: Honey Radar, Birds of Maya, and Writhing Squares. Can’t wait! That evening is also High Reeper and Red Touch Black at Kung Fu Necktie, the sold out Tatsuya Nakatani and Pete Dennis at a Fire Museum Presents show at the Icebox Project Space, and LMI, Grey CELL, Pithair, and more at Century.
On Saturday there are two different block parties to choose from: in South Philly it’s Itchy Kisses, Kate Ferencz (Evil Sword), Three-Brained Robot, and Mx. Dash and in Fishtown outside of Love City Brewing it’s the Altslut69 x Pleasuredome party with a bunch of bands, DJs, drag performances, and vendors. That afternoon up at Amalgam Comics the Vinyl Tap 215 crew will be spinning records at the space’s first event back.
Also that day at the Pinelands Preservation Alliance in Southamptom, NJ it’s the first of two September showings of David Scott Kessler’s 2018 documentary The Pine Barrens with live score by The Ruins of Friendship Orchestra and performances by Koof and Glenn Jones. This is part of the “Middle of Nowhere: a Chosen Place” series that “explores, examines, interprets, and celebrates the natural world, not only as something to be protected but something to be experienced” according to their website. They will be at Long Beach Island on the 10th and back in Philly at the Academy of Natural Sciences in October.
On Labor Day you can hang out at the pool all day and blast the annual Laborwave marathon on WPRB – when the weird DJs there get even weirder during what is really one of my favorite local radio events of the year – or you can head over to Hawthorne Park in South Philly to see legendary saxophonist Odeon Pope and his band play a free evening show. Truth be told, you can probably do both.
The always amazing Mdou Moctar are at Johnny Brenda’s Wednesday night with Luke Stewart’s Blacks’ Myths. I hope you have a ticket cause that show is quite sold out. The next evening post-punk babes Mesh, fresh off their first show in two years (pictures of which were in the previous column), are playing with Philly faves Hotline TNT and a couple other bands over at Original 13 Ciderworks. Also out at Open Sound Lansdowne it’s Anika Pyle, Geology, and Maxwell Stern.
This is a good spot to stop and talk about some new releases that have dropped recently and a whole mess of other stuff. Top of the list of things that have gotten me super pumped this past week are the new album announcements from Irreversible Entanglements and Ghösh, two of my favorite local bands. While we’re going to have to wait for a while – November for the former and October for the latter – both were kind enough to drop a single or two to whet our collective appetites. Check that out on their respective Bandcamps. Watch the video for Irreversible Entanglements’ “Open the Gates” and then read more about the album in our write-up over here:
But why focus on future releases when you can get excited about music that’s out now?
Under the First Floor – Mixtape Vol 3 (Self-released)
David Settle is a true treasure of Philly DIY music. Not only is he in a bunch of good acts – Big Heet, The Fragiles, Psychic Flowers – but over the last few years he has been recording bands for his Under the First Floor podcast. On this, the third mixtape he’s put together from those sessions, you can hear tracks from some truly awesome bands including Soul Glo, Nina Ryser of Palberta, The Goodbye Party, and Mesh, almost all of them from the past year.
The Dissidents – Demo (Self-released)
I’ve been looking forward to this demo for a while and it does not disappoint. Made up of members of Mischief Brew, Witch Hunt, The Pist, and other notable bands, The Dissidents play bouncy, melodic political punk that is absolutely catchy as all get out. Hoping they’re able to figure out some live shows in the future cause I’m sure this would be awesome in person.
McKain / Murray / Radichel / Suarez / Weeks – The Running of the Bulls (Radical Documents)
This album is just teeming with energy. Recorded the day after the cross-country jazz band – Jared Radichel (bass), Leo Suarez (percussion), and James McKain (tenor sax) are all based here, Tom Weeks (alto sax) is in Oakland, and Kevin Murray (percussion) is in NYC – played their first show, The Running of the Bulls captures that feeling of brand new innovation perfectly. It’s loud, a bit brash in all the right ways, interesting, and very fun.
Mad Cow Disease – 1997 Demo (plus extra songs) (self-released)
Justin Duerr from the band Northern Liberties recently uploaded this demo from a crusty punk group he was in more than two decades ago called Mad Cow Disease with Joe from Eulogy and Kevin “Ari Kevin” Burns. While the band didn’t play more than a handful of shows, these songs are a perfect time capsule of West Philly in the late 90s, something that Justin contextualizes wonderfully in his liner notes. While I’m excited this stuff was put online, the reason it happened now is tragic: Ari Kevin died suddenly last month. He had just reconnected with Justin and Joe recently and had sent over a new song for them to work on. That track, which Justin entitled “Untitled, In Progress, Interrupted”, is included as an addendum on this release. All proceeds from the album are going to Prevention Point Philadelphia. You can also listen to Ari Kevin’s solo recordings here.
Alex – Floppy (self-released)
Look, I’ll admit it: I’m both old and a sucker for gimmicks. That might be why I found Floppy, Alex’s newest release, so intriguing. It is literally a collection of lo-fi beats recorded on a floppy disk – 3.5, not 5.25 – though of course you can also listen to it online. From the description: “This album is inspired by entertainment media of the 90’s through early 2000’s, where limits on technology became defining characteristics of a work. It’s my own take on nostalgic (lo-fi) beats, meant to be evocative of that time period.” All gimmicks aside, this is actually good. I’m planning on picking up a copy of the physical release so I can put it next to the other couple of albums I have on diskette … that I got more than twenty years ago.
Speaking of things from twenty years ago – or more – check out what Philly punk history blog Freedom Has No Bounds has posted recently! That includes live recordings from Brother JT, Derelict Hotel, and one of my favorites Baby Flamehead, which featured Dean Clean from The Dead Milkmen. I’ve long been a fan and I’m excited to dig into these new-to-me songs. Also, if you have any interest in local music history, you should do yourself a favor and listen to Nancy Barile talk about punk and being a schoolteacher on the Turned Out a Punk podcast. If you haven’t yet read Barile’s memoir “I’m Not Holding Your Coat” you are missing out!
Okay, let’s get back to the calendar cause there are still a bunch of dates to get to before I wrap this up. On Friday the 10th it’s Some Kind of Nightmare, Tail Light Rebellion, new self-described “Lookoutcore” band Blood Geyser, and more down at the Grays Ferry Skate Park. The next day you have the choice between two different outdoor markets: West Craft Fest at The Woodlands in West Philly and the Market of the Macabre – “a curated collection of unusual antiques, assorted oddities, vintage items, artwork, and handmade wares” – at Laurel Hill Cemetery, a good reminder that Halloween is right around the corner.
That night the ultra-talented Americana singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Valerie June is at the Keswick, Hurry and Slaughter Beach, Dog are at Union Transfer with Gladie, and out at Rigby Mansion the Monthly Fund is hosting Koof, Upholestry, Visionary the Poet, and more. That last show is a fundraiser for Community Legal Services Philadelphia.
Also happening is the cinéSPEAK screening at the Pentridge Station Pop-Up of Ethiopian-Mexican filmmaker Jessica Beshir’s documentary Faya Dayi about the khat trade. The score for that film was done in part by William Basinski so if you’re a bit sad he canceled his tour – the Philly show was supposed to be on the 13th of September – this might be a good salve.
Sunday afternoon Kath Bloom and Karl Blau are playing in the backyard of Common Beat Records on Baltimore Ave. That evening over at PhilaMOCA – hopefully – it’s the Brooklyn-based West African experimental art-folk band The Narcotix with Qualiatik, Mitamu, and St. John’s Wort at what is sure to be a fun show.
The final two dates on my calendar for the first half of the month are both on Thursday the 16th. At PhilaMOCA it’s an all-locals, all-rockers gig with Chino, Poppy, and Magic Cobra and online that night singer-songwriter Birdie Busch is playing one of Bowerbird’s Liminal States shows.
Alright, that does it for this edition of the Skeleton Key. Last thing I want to quickly highlight is the ongoing fundraiser for the Skid Row Garage in York, a DIY venue that’s hosted many, many bands from Philly as well as from around the country and the world. There aren’t a lot of places like Skid Row Garage in York and the surrounding area and so it feels important to support them in their rebuilding efforts.
As always feel free to hit me up on Twitter with all your hot tips! I can be found at @talkfothetizzy. See you next time!