Philadelphia Spirits Parade 2019 | still from video
The Skeleton Key: Warm up this December with heavy metal, Hasidic hip hop, new noise rock, and “Eraserhead” in the Eraserhood
Hello Philadelphia! Welcome to the first December edition of The Skeleton Key, your bi-monthly column about all the things happening in our fair city.
While I normally use this intro to talk about, well, mostly the pandemic to be honest, this time around I want to talk about heavy metal. Why? Well, first and foremost metal rules. Like every other weirdo who grew up outside the United States – ask anyone, it really is that universal – the first loud music I ever got into was Guns N’ Roses and Metallica.
The second and more important reason is because when I looked over my calendar of upcoming gigs, I realized that at least half of the shows I’m excited about are metal ones. That’s awesome! I’m not saying that Philly metal is having a resurgence or anything cause it’s always been strong but it’s nice to see so much going on from across the genre. There’s black metal, doom, thrash, grindcore, and everything in-between. What’s the difference? Go to a show and find out!
December kicks off tonight at the Rid of Me record release show at Silk City with Mesh – their catchy self-titled debut was my pick for The Key’s album of the year – and Sun Organ. If you’re going to Underground Arts to see Surfbort be sure to get there early and catch post-punkers Smirk cause they’re great. The Dolphin is hosting a punk and minimal synth night with Plastic Ivy, The Angies, and Alien Birth.
Friday is totally jam-packed and very metal, which is exciting. Cave In and Cleric (self-described “avant-doom-grind-jazz”) are at Underground Arts and Spiter (black metal/punk), Zorn (same), Coffin Dust (death/thrash), Tartarus Horde (death), and Bastard Cross (black/thrash) are playing a benefit show at Century. Don’t worry, I’m not going to describe every single metal band I talk about in this column, though it is tempting.
Like with all other genres and subgenres, the nomenclature is an inexact science and people love to argue about it. My go-to advice with anything like this is to just listen to some artists and figure out what you like about what they’re doing. It’s a lot easier than getting bogged down in stuff like THE TOP 10 BEST BLACK METAL BANDS FROM NORWAY IN DECEMBER 1992. I made that headline up but knowing the scene I’m sure that list exists somewhere on the internet.
Also that evening NYC no wave-adjacent punks Live Skull are at Kung Fu Necktie with Thalia Zedek and Kohoutek while upstairs at The Khyber there’s a bit of a throwback to downstairs at The Khyber (circa 1995) with Foxycontin, Chino, Creem Circus, The Koosmans, and DJ Jay Schwartz from Secret Cinema. Oh, and if you’re near Port Richmond check out opening night at Launderette Records, a brand new shop at 3142 Richmond Street. They’ll have art on the walls, bands performing, the whole shebang. Read more about it on their Instagram.
Easily the coolest thing happening this weekend is Saturday’s outdoor screening of Eraserhead that PhilaMOCA is hosting in the Carlton Street Tunnel between 11th and 12th. Also that night indie four piece Cheers Elephant are playing a reunion show at World Cafe with The Extraordinaires and Kingsley Ibeneche, at Johnny Brenda’s it’s American Trappist with Grace Vonderkuhn and Lily McKown, Devil Master and a bunch of other metal bands are at KFN, and out in West Philly WXPN’s own Chuck van Zyl is performing songs from his brand new album at The Rotunda. Sunday is yet another metal show at KFN: southern sludge masters Black Tusk with Restless Spirit and Terroreign.
Next week kicks off with an amazing show at Ortlieb’s Monday night with noisy psych rockers Blues Ambush and Heavenly Bodies and Feeding Tube Records’ Powers / Rolin Duo. Can’t wait for that one! The following evening Hiss Golden Messenger is playing World Cafe with Rosali opening, a totally stellar pairing. Wednesday you have a choice between Frozen Soul, Sanguisugabogg, Vomit Forth, and Inoculation at KFN – death metal, if you haven’t figured that out by the names – a Bowerbird-curated selection of experimental films from avant-garde artist Nam June Paik at University Lutheran, and the always electric punk band Show Me the Body with Candy and more at the First Unitarian Church. Options are great!
Speaking of which, there are five different shows happening Thursday night the 9th. At KFN it’s Nissim Black, an Israeli-American rapper who started his career 20 years ago in the Seattle hip hop community before converting to Judaism and … well, I mean, just check this video out and tell me you’re not intrigued:
Spellbound and DJSC are presenting gothy post-punks Bootblacks, Void Vision, and Wingtips at Warehouse On Watts, glam rockers Sixteen Jackies are at Underground Arts with Party Muscles and Cosmic Guilt, and at World Cafe it’s one of my favorite current folk musicians William Elliot Whitmore with Walter Debarr and Driftwood Soldier. If you’d like to leave the house but you’re not feeling a concert, maybe check out Secret Cinema’s “Lost Television” program at The Rotunda that “consists of rare and forgotten shows from the early era of television, which only survive thanks to now-aging 16mm film prints.”
This is a good time to break from the calendar and run through some recent releases and more.
Eye Flys – Exigent Circumstance (Closed Casket Activities)
Eye Flys delivers the goods right out of the gates on Exigent Circumstance, the noise rock quartet’s new 12” record. Big, juicy riffs, catchy guitar solos, pummeling drums. Basically everything you want from this sort of thing. If I didn’t know that this was recent, I could easily place the four tracks on this EP directly into the mid-90s noise rock timeline dominated by bands like Helmet, Melvins, Unsane, and more.
PLOT – What Happened to Your Face (Self-released)
There is a certain sense of foreboding present throughout What Happened to Your Face, the new album from industrial post-punk band PLOT. It’s right there in the title, sure, but that feeling of dread just seeps into everything from the synth-heavy music to the lyrics. It feels quite perfect for the current state of the world where disease and death lurk behind every single dark corner and a single headline – take your pick from the pandemic to the environment to mass shootings – could spell disaster for us all.
Big Heet – Playing The Bug (Living Lost Records)
David Settle is on a tear lately. And by ‘lately’ I’m pretty sure he’s always been like this. Not only is he churning out some great music with bands Big Heet, Psychic Flowers, and The Fragiles – they’re all more-or-less solo projects where Settle plays almost all the instruments – but he’s also responsible for the Under the First Floor podcast that we’ve talked about extensively in this column. Big Heet is Settle’s longest-running band, having brought it with him when he moved from Tallahassee a few years back, and the new record is chock full of that scuzzy, lo-fi indie rock that sounds perfect the first time you listen to it and even better the third time around.
Swath Of… – Lament (Self-released)
This demo from brand new South Jersey goth duo Swath Of… is a super catchy mix of stoner rock, death rock, and some Gits-esque rock n’ roll. Sense a theme? There’s a lot to like here and I’m looking forward to what they do next.
Emily Robb – How To Moonwalk (Petty Bunco)
Emily Robb is a true rocker. The guitarist has been in some excellent bands including Louie Louie, Lantern, Storks, and most recently Astute Palate alongside fellow rockers David Nance and Richie Charles. On How To Moonwalk, her debut solo album, she totally brings it for almost 30 minutes straight of some absolutely fuzzed-out and deranged playing that’ll take you straight from the gutter to redemption and back.
As far as other stuff to listen to, I’d of course recommend checking out what Philly punk archive Freedom Has No Bounds has posted recently. I’m partial to those live sets from Austin legends the Dicks and Lehigh Valley legends Follow Fashion Monkeys but there’s just so much cool stuff that’s been uploaded to the website recently.
Also on my radar is the recent reissue of former Philadelphian Ramona Cordova’s debut the boy who floated freely, an absolutely beautiful album that completely blew my mind when I happened across it by chance 15 years ago. Cordova has put out a ton of music since then – her most recent, naïve, was released last year and is a wonderful exploration of sound – but the songs from the boy are still stuck in my head and I’m looking forward to revisiting them.
When it comes to podcasts, you should definitely tune into the most recent episodes of The Superweaks Superweekly Supercast, the program put together by Evan Bernard and Chris Baglivo. I was especially into the one with Bear Regisford from Mannequin Pussy where they talked about that band’s recent tour and all the nonsense they’ve been dealing with trying to recover their stolen gear.
Mike Watt has been all up in our business recently on his podcast, which is honestly really neat. In the past month he’s interviewed Reid Hoffman (The Invasive Species, International Anthems for Irrational Numbers, and more), Rosali Middleman (of the aforementioned Rosali, as well as Long Hots), and Mary Lattimore. Look for more about Hoffman’s new solo project hrumquivers quanta in these pages soon.
Okay, let’s get back into the upcoming shows cause there’s still a ton to talk about. On Friday the 10th Exhumed Films is presenting a sold out screening of the classic Christmas horror filmPsycho Santa at PhilaMOCA. At Space 1026 that night – both online and in-person at their spot on North Broad – there’s the annual art action which is consistently one of the coolest events of its kind in Philadelphia. On that same tip, check out the West Craft Fest happening the next day at their new spot at 37th and Filbert.
At sunset on Saturday it’s the 2021 edition of the Parade of Spirits or Der Geischderschtrutz, a totally fantastic pageant and procession through Northern Liberties. Expect costumes, fire, music, dance, and Krampus — all celebrating “the shadow side of the self, of the murky times in shortest days of the year, and of shady entities and liminal deities.”
Keep that energy going into the night with The Divine Hand Ensemble’s holiday concert at PhilaMOCA. I love the fact that we have a theremin orchestra here in Philadelphia and I’m very excited for their debut album, which should be coming out early next year! Also that evening Runnner and Daneshevskaya are at JB’s, Canadian noise rock / post-punk three piece METZ is at The Fillmore with Preoccupations, and at KFN it’s the first of three consecutive dates with metal heavyweights Baroness. Oh, and YehonahTRON, Emospacebird, Magnetic the Shaman, Hodgepodge, and K.C. Raniero are playing a Monthly Fund benefit for Juntos.
Head back at PhilaMOCA Sunday night for up-and-coming avant guitarist Hayden Pedigo who just released an album on Mexican Summer to rave reviews. He’ll be joined by Desertion Trio’s Nick Millevoi, who I’m sure will be doing some real rad stuff on this solo gig. At around the same time over at Underground Arts it’s Bully with Graham Hunt Band and Slomo Sapiens.
On Monday the 14th Curtis Cooper, Grant Pavol, Ben Roberts, and Rigby Picnic are at PhilaMOCA for what is sure to be a very pleasant and fun time. My calendar for this period comes to a close the next day with two rather different but equally awesome shows: at World Cafe it’s ska stalwarts The Slackers with Crazy & the Brains and The Scotch Bonnets while at Underground Arts they’re using both stages for a day-long metal fest featuring Blood Incantation, Primitive Man, Sissy Spacek, Withered, Jarhead Fertilizer, Yautja, Chepang, and Backslider.
Thanks for checking this out and I’ll see you at the show! If you have any questions about the differences between brutal black metal and brutal death metal feel free to send me a message on Twitter at @talkofthetizzy and I will explain.