The Skeleton Key: Just a normal November with ska, weird movies, Soul Glo, new folk and psych, and Yngwie Malmsteen
Just like SEPTA’s old slogan boldly proclaimed: we’re getting there, Philadelphia. Sure, not everything is “normal” or whatever, but compared to six months ago, compared to a year ago, the fact that Friday I spent bouncing from the grand opening of Lot 49 – that’s the new bookstore and record shop in South Philly – to my friend’s senior thesis show at Tyler to a rocking record release show for Quarantine at Foto Club, that all feels pretty great. I know that normalcy or some variation on that theme will eventually come back but for right now we gotta make due while staying safe. Thankfully we live in a city where just about everyone has been doing a pretty good job taking this seriously.
This is the second Skeleton Key of November, and despite the Thanksgiving holiday giving us a short break, there’s actually no end to the number of shows happening over the next couple weeks. With that in mind, let’s start the calendar! Tonight at PhilaMOCA it’s the triumphant in-person return of the Philadelphia Psychotronic Film Society, the monthly screening of cult movies that had been sidelined for more than two years. I’ve always meant to get involved with the group and am using this restart as motivation. Maybe I’ll see you there?
Staying at PhilaMOCA, Tuesday night it’s Bat Fangs (members of Ex Hex and Flesh Wounds, Don Giovanni Records) with All Away Lou and a solo Thin Lips set. That should be an excellent and very fun show. Over at Johnny Brenda’s you can go see Tobin Sprout from Guided By Voices with Mavis the Dog.
On Wednesday make sure to tune in to the American Composers Forum’s online artist-to-artist chat between musician, writer, and journalist Alex Smith – an occasional contributor to this very publication! – and Camae Ayewa from Moor Mother, Irreversible Entanglements, and more. That’s at 5 p.m. so you’ll be able to zip over to Underground Arts after to see the always fantastic post-punk band Protomartyr and one of my Philly favorites Amanda X opening up.
There are six really cool shows happening on Thursday. Six! On a Thursday! If you have tickets to the sold out Dinosaur Jr. gig at Union Transfer I guess you can stop reading here but let’s assume that’s not the case for most of you. If you’re feeling that indie rock, Titus Andronicus and Disq at Underground Arts is certainly not a bad consolation prize. If it’s more jazz or avant garde that strikes your fancy, you have a couple choices. At Glen Foerd on the Delaware there’s an ensemble made up of Bismuth Quartet with bassist Matt Engle and saxophonist Nicholas McNamara are performing a “a self-composed electro-acoustic auditory experience” they’re calling static/flow. At the Commodore Barry Club up in Mt. Airy percussionist Kevin Diehl has assembled an excellent band with Elliott Levin (New Ghost), Matt Lavelle (Bern Nix), DM Hotep (The Sun Ra Arkestra), and Bert Harris (Philly Gumbo).
Snacktime and Out of the Beardspace will be bringing the jams to World Cafe that night with an explosion of brass and funk. My final show for Thursday is a doozy: Yngwie freakin’ Malmsteen, one of the greatest technical guitarists in heavy metal history, is playing at the Keswick Theatre. Can you believe it? He’s going to unleash the fury and if you know what’s good for you – and you’re into guitar solos that feel like magic tricks – you’ll get your butt to Glenside to take it all in.
Friday might be a bit lacking in the neoclassical guitar solo department, at least in comparison, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on. The Lightbox Film Center at 401 S. Broad is hosting a screening of “Delta Space Mission,” an animated Romanian science fiction film made in 1984 that sounds amazing. I mean, check out the description from Lightbox: “An incredibly strange and strangely beautiful work of galactic eye candy, ‘Delta Space Mission’ defies all rules of perspective and logic, like M.C. Escher and Moebius teaming up on a Romanian Saturday morning cartoon.” The synthy soundtrack sounds incredible and I bet this will be an absolute treat to watch on the big screen.
Also that night is the first of two back-to-back shows for Fire Museum Presents at 2223.fish, the venue located at 2223 E Dauphin St. I haven’t been yet but the pictures I’ve seen from there all look fantastic. We’ve definitely been losing more spaces than we’ve gained recently – especially if you count those that have yet to reopen – so it’s always exciting when a new one gets added into the mix.
Friday it’s a duo made up of percussionist Nava Dunkelman, who has performed with everyone from John Zorn to Meredith Monk and more, with violinist gabby fluke-mogul. Dancer Asimina Chremos and the aviation-obsessed quartet BORBS are also performing. On Saturday they’re presenting a sold out record release show for Mephisto Halebi, the new-ish project from Julius Masri (Night Raids, Serious Juju) that’s been getting a ton of press including a write-up in The Wire, which is awesome. He’ll be sharing the bill with the brilliant Daniel Levin and Mat Maneri strings duo.
At Foto Club that night it’s an absolutely stacked screamo and hardcore lineup with Sonagi, Burial Dance, Scorpion Mouth, Hundreds of AU, and A Paramount, A Love Supreme. Grave Bathers, RedTouchBlack, and Gristmill are at Kung Fu Necktie, Dan Deacon is playing Underground Arts, and at PhilaMOCA it’s a rare show from Philly ska progenitors Ruder Than You. Gringo Motel and Flymo and The Vershons are also playing that one. Finally at Johnny Brenda’s it’s the Vernes’ record release with Zinskē and Julian.
Sunday is just as packed, kicking off with the flea market and fundraiser they’re doing at Century in South Philly. Later that day industrial greats Nitzer Ebb are playing Underground Arts – that venue has really been pulling in some heavyweights in that genre recently, which is awesome – and at Franklin Music Hall it’s the 3 Chambers Tour with Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, and the GZA. While I can’t imagine either of those will be anything short of spectacular, the show I’m most looking forward to is Soul Glo, Zulu, Action News, Buggin, and Move, with words from Russell Shoatz III. whose father Russell Maroon Shoatz is a former political prisoner who was recently released from prison. That’s at Kung Fu Necktie and will almost surely sell out.
This is a good time to pause the calendar and talk about some of the recent Philadelphia releases that crossed my desk along with whatever bits of local history I’ve been obsessed with over the past couple weeks.
First up is that new song from West Philly Orchestra because I feel like if there’s anything we need right now it’s more brass and horns. See, also: the new album from Irreversible Entanglements that’s finally, finally out on International Anthem and Don Giovanni.
Here’s some more:
River Full of Fruit– S/T (Self-released)
This duo of Salina Kuo on guzheng – a type of zither popular in traditional Chinese music – and Gabriel Garcia-Leeds on guitar with the two of them sharing vocal duties is some really lovely stuff. Think lo-fi folk with a touch of the weirdness of Devandra Banhart and Vashti Bunyan. The guzheng sounds so perfect for this kind of music and Leeds’ primitive guitar style goes perfectly alongside it.
Sparrow Steeple – Return To Universe (Self-released)
Staying in that part of the music world, the new one from longtime psych weirdos Sparrow Steeple is a double LP called Return To Universe. On the ten tracks on this album, the band has done a good job at creating something that’s both catchy and interesting, which is really what they’re good at. Also check out that awesome drawing of Philly punk stalwart Chuck Meehan gracing the cover.
Savage Mystic – Active Crime EP (Self-released)
This new band from members of Devil Master is a great mix of hardcore and metal. All killer no filler, which is exactly what you want from this sort of thing. I like all sorts of music – duh, obviously – but I really like riffs and stuff you can bang your head to and Savage Mystic is precisely that.
As far as older stuff, I recently came across this set of pictures on Flickr from a photo album of Philly punks from the 80s somebody found and put online back in 2006. I think I remember something about it at the time but it wasn’t until last week that I actually sat down and looked through them all. What an incredible piece of history! Most of the band shots are of the notorious punk act Circle of Shit – you can listen to their demo over here – but there’s also pictures of the 1983 Crucifix and Government Issue shows and just lots of people hanging out. It’s all great.
Another great thing you should get into is the Dust + Dignity Podcast done by Dr. Bruce Campbell Jr., a longtime soul, jazz, and hip hop DJ on WKDU. The whole thing is really great but I was definitely taken with the most recent episode “We Shall Overcome: Songs of the Freedom Riders and the Sit-Ins” about the 1961 album of the same name that was put on on Folkways. I mean, how can you go wrong with any of that?
Okay, let’s get back to the calendar before I wrap this up. On Monday the 22nd at Franky Bradley’s in Center City it’s The Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret with Johnny Showcase. If you know, you know. And if you don’t, what are you waiting for? They are both Philadelphia institutions and this will be a very fun night of music and debauchery.
Indie rockers Hurry are doing a set Tuesday as part of an online festival put together by the Disposable America label. I know that we haven’t really been talking about Twitch and webcasts and the like as things have been transitioning back to in-person events but I still really appreciate being able to tune in from home and watch some great music, especially when it comes to bands who might not be coming through Philly anytime soon. It might not work for every genre but it definitely has its place for a multiple of reasons and I hope it becomes the norm.
The night before Thanksgiving you have a choice between The Lemonheads at Underground Arts – who is in Evan Dando’s live band these days, anyway? I couldn’t figure it out and I’m pretty curious – and up-and-coming rapper and comedian Nazeer Art’aud with Outer Grace at Ortlieb’s. These are both excellent options if you’re trying to get your mind off of the impending doom of the holiday OR if you have some friends in town and are looking for something to do.
I don’t know what your plans are for Black Friday but instead of bum rushing Walmart maybe you should head over to World Cafe Live to watch Richard Barone of The Bongos and Glenn Mercer from The Feelies. Just a suggestion! With a backing band including Feelies Dave Weckerman and Bob Torsello, they’ll be playing songs from their respective catalogs as well as selections from David Bowie, Roxy Music, Lou Reed, and more in a program they’re calling “Hazy Cosmic Jive” after the Bowie lyric.
Come back to World Cafe the next night for the return of hometown hero Ben Vaughn and his quintet. This show was postponed twice and I’m stoked they were finally able to make it happen. Joining Vaughn on this one will be his Pink Slip Daddy bandmate Palmyra Delran, another Philly ex-pat, and her group The Doppel Gang. Did you know that the two of them recently collaborated with no wave icon Alan Vega on an album that came out in July? I didn’t know until I was writing this column but it’s great.
Also Saturday local metalheads Honey are at Johnny Brenda’s with Zorn, and Pithair while over at Underground Arts it’s the first of two sold out Menzingers shows. The following afternoon Secret Cinema’s Jay Schwartz will be DJing over at the International Bar. That evening there’s a really cool punk and noise rock gig at KFN with NYC’s Human Impact – that’s Chris Spencer from Unsane, Jim Coleman and Phil Puleo of Cop Shoot Cop, and Christopher Pravdica from Swans – BOOZEWA, and L.M.I. Finally at PhilaMOCA there’s a night of weird, fun pop music with Brown Rainbow, Nyxy Nyx, and Bungler.
The last two dates on my calendar for November are both on the 29th. In the sanctuary of the First Unitarian Church, R5 is presenting a concert by the amazing harpist Mary Lattimore who just made the New York Times for her new album. She’ll be playing with ambient musician Ana Roxanne. Any show in the sanctuary is automatically a great time – one of the greatest sonic experiences of my life was when drone kings Sunn O))) played in that room back in 2009 with Attila from black metal mavens Mayhem on vocals and the entire place lit up only by candles and the laser beams he was shooting out of his light-up gloves – and you should probably go to this one even if you’re not that familiar with Lattimore cause it’s going to be a good one.
Also that night ACF Philly is hosting an online talk about artist statements and what it takes to write something that resonates. Speaking as someone who reads a lot of these statements: this is a very necessary skill to have and if you’re in a band or make art or whatever it would behoove you to figure this sort of thing out. Thankfully the ACF is there to help! Read more about it on their website.
Alright, that is it for this column. You can always reach me via Twitter at @talkofthetizzy with any hot tips or anything else. See you in December!