Yo La Tengo – Courtesy of the artst. | Photo by Carlie Armstrong
The Skeleton Key: round out September with XPoNential Music Festival, a John Coltrane birthday celebration, new punk and indie music, and a very full calendar of shows
Can you believe that just two weeks ago we were boogie boarding down 676 to the music of Philadelphia’s premier surf rock band Dry Feet? Time flies when you’re purposely exposing yourself to horrible bacterial infections!
Hello and welcome to The Skeleton Key, your source for all the hot gossip about the local scene. And by gossip I mean me running through the calendar and telling you about some hot new releases. Less exciting, maybe, but certainly more useful. Also, my DMs are always open if you have something to share …
I know some of you have been back at shows for a while now but most of us are still dipping our toes back into live music. I went to what was my first vaccine-required, for the love of God please keep your mask on indoor show last week and I gotta say that it was pretty nice. This was the Johnny Brenda’s reopening with Honey Radar, Birds of Maya, and Writhing Squares.
I was in my normal spot at JB’s – stage right, up front and in the corner – so I couldn’t see the entire audience but from my vantage point it seemed like most everyone kept their masks on unless they were drinking. Of course the percentage of people drinking went up as the night went on but overall it did not feel too uncomfortable, especially knowing, again, that you had to show proof of vaccination to get in. Most of all, you need to feel comfortable doing whatever it is you’re doing. Live music will always be there and it’s totally okay to just go to outside stuff or just continue watching things from home.
That’s a good spot to get started with the very, very busy calendar for the rest of the month. There’s so much going on that it almost feels overwhelming. Was everything this busy in September of 2019? Either way, it’s great. I love having choices. Let’s kick things off with the XPoNential Music Fest, which is happening all weekend long on the Camden Waterfront. The lineup this year is absolutely killer, with Los Lobos – featuring Philly’s own Steve Berlin on saxophone! – headlining Friday’s concert at Wiggins Park. You can read more about the festival in our preview here.
Also that night at Kung Fu Necktie it’s the aforementioned Honey Radar with Sani Brains and Smoke Bellow. If you’re heading to that I’d suggest getting to the neighborhood a bit early and checking out the Paved Paradise “traveling outdoor label expo” in the parking lot of The International. That’s folks from Dead Oceans, Ghostly International, Jagjaguwar, Numero Group, and Secretly Canadian all talking shop and selling their wares. Blunt Bangs – members of Woods and Deep State – are at Ortlieb’s and over at Underground Arts it’s 1991 all over again with industrial pioneers Front 242. For once, a show where a mask will make you look even cooler!
Up at Lehigh and Coral all day Saturday it’s Weirdo: The East Kensington Arts and Oddities Festival with artists, vendors, and music from St. John’s Wort, Tetsuo The Iron Band, Shy Boyz, The Kensington Rhythms, and more. Check the Facebook invite for the full lineup. That day and Sunday is also the Punk Rock Flea Market, this year being held at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 waterfront outdoor space on Columbus. Russo Music, the new instrument shop next to Union Transfer, is having its grand opening that afternoon with a bunch of raffles and who knows what else going on. In the evening check out the awesome psych and garage rock gig at Ortlieb’s with Brother JT, Heaven Man, and the debut of Joe Black and the Wights, a new band featuring Jamie Mahon from The Three 4 Tens.
Speaking of Union Transfer, there is so much going on there over the next couple weeks. On Sunday the 19th it’s Bob Mould and his band playing songs from their most recent album Blue Hearts – truly one of the best releases of last year, hands down – as well as selections from throughout the guitarist’s storied career as a member of Husker Du and Sugar. Two days later it’s Yo La Tengo and on the 26ththe always inventive and fun Osees. Also on the 21st there’s a great death metal show at KFN with Knoll, Blood Spore, and Cavern Womb.
That Wednesday is the kickoff of Ars Nova Workshop’s John Coltrane birthday celebrations which is running from the 22nd to the 25th at spots all around the city. At the Woodlands in West Philly that night it’s a concert with the Odean Pope, Immanuel Wilkins, Chad Taylor Trio, a performance of Karen Smith’s Spiritual Atmosferic Cleansing, and more. The next day at the Discover Center in East Fairmount Park they’re holding a party for what would be the famed saxophonist’s 95th birthday complete with a musical procession and a band playing some of his more famous compositions. Read more about that and the rest of the programming connected to the John Coltrane Symposium on the Ars Nova website.
Remember what I was saying earlier about the calendar being really packed? On top of all that jazz there are five very good shows that Thursday. Let’s run through them real quick and then I’m going to break from the calendar so we can talk about some new releases. There’s the folk and folk punk bill at Ortlieb’s with Frankly Lost, Apes of the State, A Day Without Love, and Mx Wander. Out at the Open Sound series in Lansdowne it’s Paper Bee and 2nd Grade as well as some readings from local writers. KFN is hosting garage rockers The Fleshtones and Nixon’s Head, PhilaMoca has Shanghai Beach, Veda Rays, and Ren Flowers, and at the Maas Building in Fishtown rapper and actor Nazeer Art’aud will be performing as part of the Fringe Fest. Related: there are a bunch of Fringe shows that look interesting but we don’t have the space to talk about all of them so you should make it a point check out the ‘music’ tag on their schedule.
Getting to premier a track from an upcoming album is always exciting, especially since this is from a brand new band. Scorpion Mouth plays fast and heavy hardcore that’s very strongly influenced by power violence and metal. This is some perfectly ignorant, over-the-top stuff and I am all about it. Give me riffs, mosh parts, and well-done guitar solos and I am very happy and Scorpion Mouth provide all three in abundance. Members come from bands including Christopher Walken, Concrete Caveman, Zyme, Gross, Blueprint, Hallucination, and more. They will have tapes out soon – the music was recorded by GG from Soul Glo and mastered by Pat Quigley, who is also in the band – and are playing their first show on the 9th out at The Nail in (H)ardmore.
A Country Western – birdfeeder (Self-released)
I’ve known of A Country Western for a while – like your humble columnist, the two main members of the band are also WKDU DJs – but I never really sat down to listen to them until birdfeeder, their debut LP, came out last week. On paper I’d describe this music as chill electronic-tinged lo-fi indie rock but it goes a lot deeper than that. These are songs born of the pandemic, of quarantine, and under that easygoing exterior there’s a lot more going on and it isn’t all that positive. You can hear it in the lyrics, which take that indie rock indifference and walk it right off a cliff, but it’s also something that permeates the music itself. Check out our interview with the band here and give this a listen somewhere where you can be by yourself and really take it all in.
Cindy Doe – a thousand dreams that would awake me (Spleen Core)
For something described as “a tortured and raw sonic exploration of addiction, mental illness, trauma, and love” this new one from Cindy Doe – mostly known for her York-based shoegaze project Janedriver – is both incredibly beautiful and really just lovely to listen to. A bit more experimental than some of her other stuff, much of a thousand dreams that would awake me feels very much out of a dream, with minimal synthesizer sounds butting heads against vocal samples on songs that would not have felt out of place on a later Psychic TV record or one of those really weird and interesting Sonic Youth albums. Read an interview with Cindy Doe about this release on the label’s Instagram.
Cult Objects – “Seafoam” (Self-released)
I usually stay away from talking about singles in The Skeleton Key but when it comes to Cult Objects all rules are out the window. I’ve been waiting for new stuff from this post-punk band forever – this is only the fourth recorded song they’ve given us in more than four years, which is total nonsense – and “Seafoam” is everything I want out of this sort of thing. It’s super, super catchy and incredibly well-crafted. This is some transcendent stuff and I hope the band is able to release a whole album soon because it’ll undoubtedly become an instant classic.
Quiet Sunday – “Another Quiet Sunday” (Self-released)
I don’t listen to a lot of jangly pop stuff but Quiet Sunday is very much making me rethink that. The two piece has bona fides stretching back to the early 80s with Todd Shuster’s time spent in The Jags and The Impossible Years. I’m not sure about Alan Abrams, the other half, but I’m sure it’s something quite similar. Sure this is incredibly pleasant and fun music – incredibly! – but I think what puts it over the top is the fact that so much effort was put into making this album, especially with only two people playing all the instruments. It all feels very intentional and very special.
I also want to highlight some of the stuff Mike Eidle from the Philly punk archive Freedom Has No Bounds has uploaded recently because he is constantly blowing my mind. There’s a really cool demo from Trilogy of Terror – “Philadelphia all-girl punk band from the late 80s” – a Lee Paris interview on XPN with psychobilly weirdos Sic Kidz, and a bootleg of surf freaks More Fiends playing at the Kennel Club. It’s all so neat! History nerds take note: I’m currently working on an article about the history of St. Mary’s Church as a decades-long music space which will be published sometime next month.
Okay, let’s get back to the calendar, starting with Friday the 24th and the dueling metal shows that night – the Sunburster tape release is at Ortlieb’s with Caged, Cancer Priest, and Honey while down at The Pharmacy in South Philly it’s Existentia, Worldsucks, Vivisect, and The Council on American Regicide. I suspect this is more than a mere coincidence as the (very sold out) Decibel Magazine Metal & Beer Fest is happening that Saturday and Sunday outside at the Fillmore. Late Saturday Jarhead Fertilizer, Genocide Pact, and Backslider are playing an aftershow at Foto Club. Heavy metal weekend! If metal isn’t your thing, Austin psychers Holy Wave are at PhilaMOCA that night with Peel Dream Magazine and Colin while local rockers Full Bush, Larlene, and Mary Veils are at Ortlieb’s.
Sunday evening Joe Jack Talcum from The Dead Milkmen is playing a virtual concert via his Instagram. While Joe has started gigging again, I am happy he is continuing to do occasional stuff online too. Not everyone feels comfortable attending stuff in person just yet and they should not feel pressured to do so. In addition to all that, these online shows allow people not from the area to tune in and I think that’s really cool. Also that night Haldol, the West Philly post-punk band that was responsible for one of the best albums of the year, is finally going to get to play some songs from it. They’ll be at Ortlieb’s – I don’t think the venue has ever shown up this often in my column before so shout out to them for booking some bangers – with Fearing, The Infinity Ring, and Nicky Palermo from Nothing DJing.
Tuesday the 28th at Johnny Brenda’s it’s Mac McCaughan from Superchunk with 75 Dollar Bill at what is sure to be a fantastic show. The next evening outside at Foto it’s punk night with NSA, Fuckin’ Lovers, Positronix, and the debut of Hallucination, something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. The final two dates on my calendar are both on that Thursday: Get Dead, Teenage Bigfoot, The Bad Up’s, and Brandon Richie are playing at The Fire while at Open Sound Lansdowne it’s Radiator Hospital (solo) with F Woods and Anjel.
Before I end this column I want to quickly note the recent and very sudden passing of my fellow music reporter Jonathan Valania. I didn’t know him personally but was always really enjoyed his writing. Even before I knew about that, I remember absolutely loving his old punk band The Psyclone Rangers. Their 1993 debut Feel Nice is incredibly catchy and fun and it’s a shame it isn’t better known. Crank this song, check out some of Valania’s old articles – it’s all great but I’m really a fan of everything he wrote about Guided By Voices, like this classic piece in Magnet – and while you’re at it read this very sweet obit that was published in The Inquirer.
I’ll see you all in October. As always, feel free to bug me on Twitter at @talkofthetizzy.