The Skeleton Key: End the year right with Cakes Da Killa, two 24-hour Christmas radio marathons, new releases from Rid of Me and Chuck van Zyl, and so many NYE shows - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

It’s my last Skeleton Key of the year and the one thing I can say is that 2021 was a weird time to be a music columnist. We’ve gone from … well, I just looked back on the archives and in December of 2020 we were knee-deep in online shows and vaccines were just beginning to be introduced. My columns at the time were a mix of ramblings about the state of things – like, more than usual, I swear – and me attempting to fill the space normally occupied by the show calendar. Fast forward twelve months and I have to figure out how to fit more than three dozen cool events into something that you’ll want to read while at the same time worrying about what’s going to be cancelled. I guess this is progress!

Nevertheless, we are obviously far from out of the woods. There’s a new, potentially more transmissible variant just waiting to wallop us. We’ve hit milestone after awful milestone after awful milestone. But on a plus side, we live in Philadelphia, where 95 percent of adults have gotten at least one shot and where the city just announced that indoor dining and more will be open only to those who can show proof of vaccination. This rule has been in place at almost every venue in the city since shows restarted and as far as I know there have been no serious outbreaks connected to those concerts.

That doesn’t mean it won’t happen; with Omicron it seems like anything is possible. But I believe that as of right now, all these safety measures are doing what needs to be done, which at the end of the day is to prevent people from getting seriously sick and landing in the hospital or worse. We always have to err on the side of caution and no gig is worth your health. While I don’t think we need to enter back into the lockdowns of a year ago, a short pause to assess the level of risk and figure out further mitigation protocols does make sense and I think we’re seeing that.

With that in mind, let’s get started with the calendar cause like I said a lot is going on between now and the new year. Tonight there’s a Korean percussion ensemble performing a Fire Museum Presents show at, an industrial gig at Kung Fu Necktie with Trace Amount and Black Magnet, and a whole bunch of death metal at Century. The Maas Building at 1325 N Randolph St. is hosting a great jazz show with noted NYC quartet Bloar alongside a local trio made up of trombonist Dan Blacksberg with drummer Leo Suarez and bassist Matt Engle. Jared Radichel will be opening that one with a solo upright set that I’m sure will be fantastic.

Speaking of fantastic, at FringeArts that night it’s Martha Graham Cracker and the Paul Green Rock Academy Students doing something they’re calling Jesus Drag Superstar. I’m sure it’ll be the reason for the season and then some! There’s also Musings and Music: Al-Bustan’s Homey Holiday Concert, an online show organized by the West Philadelphia-based non-profit that promotes Arab-American culture and identity.

That Pissed Jeans show Saturday night at Underground Arts with TVO and Action News should be required for all rockers in Philadelphia. You really can’t go wrong with anyone on that lineup, that’s for sure, and I honestly believe that Pissed Jeans has gotten better and better over the years. It’s weird to think of any Lehigh Valley punk band from that era making it big – no offense to Government Satire, Robot Attack, Hypatia, Carpenter Ant, or anyone else I saw multiple times at the Pirates Cove in Allentown in 2003 – but I’m really stoked on everything Pissed Jeans has done over the past almost two decades.

Equally exciting is the first show back in person at the Philadelphia Folksong Society’s headquarters in Roxborough that evening. The PFS switched to virtual concerts pretty early on in the pandemic and even held two years of the Folk Fest online. I hope this concert with Bethlehem & Sad Patrick and Sug Daniels is a harbinger of things to come. At Ortlieb’s there’s a goth and post-punk gig with Korine and Johnny Dynamite while noise acts Lazy Magnet, MARV, Lucy Liyou, and Alec Livaditis at Pageant Solaveev at 6th and Bainbridge.

I don’t celebrate Christmas but if I did all I’d want is records. I know, big surprise. If that’s you or maybe someone you need to get a last minute gift for, check out the record fair at The Lunar Inn in Port Richmond Sunday afternoon. That night there’s a plethora of shows including jazz and experimental at The Rotunda with Sirius Juju and Grex, a Winter Solstice Music Festival at The Fire with Ghetto Songbird and more, and rappers Cakes Da Killa, DJ Delish, Abdu Ali, and Nu Mafia at Underground Arts. Later in the evening it’s another installment of Bowerbird’s online series Liminal States, this one with psychedelic folk performer Helena Espvall.

Monday the 20th is the monthly meeting of the Philadelphhia Psychotronic Film Society at PhilaMOCA. I am 100 percent sure it’s going to be Christmas-themed, which will be amazing. The merriment continues on Wednesday at MilkBoy with the Philly Holiday Album Showcase featuring Party Muscles, Miss Cantaloupe, and many more. The next day at World Cafe Live it’s Rev. TJ & Friends’ Holiday Tribute to Jim Henson & Company while over at Century there’s a metal show with High School Weed, Serpent Blight, Profligate, and Red Brick.

On Christmas Eve be sure to get some takeout and crowd around the radio for the annual tradition of dueling 24-hour holiday marathons. Over on XPN it’s Robert Drake’s The Night Before, now in its 29th year, while on WPRB Jon Solomon’s 25-Hour Holiday Radio Show is happening for the 33rd year in a row. That is all quite wonderful.

This is a good spot to take a break from the calendar and run through some new releases and other things that have piqued my interest lately. Let’s start off with those recent drops:

Brain Clouds – S/T (Self-released)

This is some real pleasant kinda psychedelic country western stuff from the minds that brought you Mesh, Dark Web, Ghosh, The Whips, and more. Definite music for acid trips, cowboy shirts, long drives to the middle of nowhere, and really just getting lost in your own mind but coming out okay on the other side. It’s not exactly bleak but it’s definitely dark and I am loving it.

Honey Radar – Play​-​Box Relay + The Legendary Guitar Amp Voice Memos (Self-released)

Honey Radar is quickly approaching a point where we can refer to them as a ‘Philadelphia institution.’ Truth be told, they might already be there. The guitar rock quintet – at least on the first of those recordings they were a five piece, though they’ve been known to pack even more people onto the stage or into the recording booth – has been going strong for 15 years, churning out album after album of sweet, catchy, interesting psych-tinged pop music. Think Guided By Voices channeling The Byrds at their weirdest.

Old fans and new would do themselves a favor by checking out these two recent releases. Play-Box Relay was released as a 12” earlier this month and The Legendary Guitar Amp Voice Memos is a live album recorded at Johnny Brenda’s in September.

Rid of Me – Traveling (The Ghost Is Clear)

Even though I hadn’t really sat down with any of Rid Of Me’s previous EPs and demos, the tracks on their debut LP Traveling still feel incredibly familiar. I think it’s because so much of their overall sound is tuned into the best parts of 90s grungy alt-rock. As someone who graduated high school in 1997, I’m definitely at home here. Thankfully Rid Of Me is more than just some sort of cover band. They take those influences and distill them down into something all their own.

Dead Best – S/T (Don Giovanni)

Speaking of 1997, Dead Best, the duo of Adam Goren (Atom and His Package, Armalite) and Brian Sokol (AM/FM, Franklin), feels like a god damn time machine to so many parts of my past. I’ve been listening to Atom’s voice for almost 25 years at this point and if anything I’m even more excited when he starts something new. According to the email Don Giovanni sent out, this band coalesced during quarantine when the two longtime friends and neighbors decided to see what would happen if they made some music together, “just to see what it would sound like.” These 13 blistering poppy punk tracks speaks to the fact that this was a very, very good idea.

Chuck van Zyl — Votive (Synkronos Music)

I got to see XPN DJ and electronic musician Chuck van Zyl play tracks from his new album Votive at The Rotunda earlier this month and it was one of the most beautiful shows I’ve been to since things restarted. As he constantly points out when talking about this so-called space music he champions, it’s something that allows the listener – and from watching van Zyl perform I can easily tell this extends to the creator, too – an escape from the world and the chance to focus inward.

This three track, almost an hour and a half long album is very much a meditation on sound. As he wrote in the description: “Each movement comes at you in a trek of tone, a hunt of harmony, a torrent of timbre. Yet, informed listeners will hear unity in the arrangement and the meaningful message it means to convey.” So turn off the lights, grab some headphones, and listen closely. You might just learn a thing or two about yourself.

As far as other stuff you should check out, I’d really recommend this interview with Nancy Barile on the Pop, the Question Podcast about her book “I’m Not Holding Your Coat” and the years she spent in the burgeoning Philly punk scene of the early 80s and later as a schoolteacher in Boston, a job she still has to this day.

Staying in that era, I wanted to quickly talk about the Philly punk archive Freedom Has No Bounds not just for what they’ve been posting recently – visit the website often and be sure to loiter in the regularly-updated zine section – but also for being such a great resource. Last week when I heard about the death of Philly producer Mike Tarsia I realized I had just seen his name on the site when reading up on the pre-Ruin band No Milk. Not only is that very useful but it’s also pretty cool. My interview with website creator Mike Eidle can be found here.

There is also a new-ish site dedicated to the old Philadelphia hardcore fanzine Threatening Society that includes a ton of very, very rad content. This 1988 interview with Flag of Democracy is a good place to start but really just spend some time digging into it all.

Last thing I want to mention before we head back into the show schedule is the recently-announced Get Better Records Cassette Club, where for a low, low monthly fee you will get exclusive releases sent directly to … I sound like I’m part of an infomercial but for real this is a super awesome idea and you should probably sign up.

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The calendar restarts with those last four dates of Dr. Dog’s Last Tour, starting on Tuesday the 28th. They’re not breaking up or anything and they did say they’ll probably play one-off shows and festivals but this is it when it comes to those grueling months on the road. The first two shows are at the TLA and the final two are at Union Transfer. Read more about it in our article over here.

On Wednesday Gregg Mervine from West Philly Orchestra is playing his first show with his eponymous indie rock band, opening up for Clockwise on Fire. Also that night is The Burning Sun, emospacebird., and Twin Princess at World Cafe Live.

One of the best gigs of the week is happening on Thursday the 30th: The Superweaks Superyearly Supershow with your pals and mine Lame-O Records heavyweights The Superweaks plus some super special guests. There will also be some pies made by the band’s Chris Baglivo, who I interviewed on that very topic a year ago. See you there!

Going to close this column with a run through some of the New Year’s Eve shows and parties happening all around the city. At PhilaMOCA it’s Colleen Green, DanJoMar – that’s Joe Jack Talcum and Dandrew from The Dead Milkmen with their friend Marshall on drums – Crazy and the Brains, and Froggy. West Philadelphia Orchestra, Johnny Showcase, and Snacktime are ringing in 2022 at Underground Arts.

There’s a great goth night at Ruba with DJ Baby Berlin from A Black Celebration, Nightwitch of Spellbound, and Void Vision’s Shari Vari. Up at Foto Club there’s a NYE punk show with Poison Ruin, Scalple, Scarecrow, and Hallucination while at Century you can party the traditional way, with death metal. If I can’t headbang to Bloodspore while watching the ball drop is it even worth going out?

Before I end this, I just want to quickly acknowledge the passing of music critic and brilliant writer Greg Tate. He was a powerhouse in every way and I’m not even going to try to memorialize him in the small space I have left. Do yourself a favor and check out his old Village Voice articles or just sit down with this masterful conversation he had with Rhea Combs and the late Milford Graves about a year ago as part of the Ars Nova Workshop exhibit of Graves’ life and work.

Until next time, Philadelphia. Be safe, enjoy yourself, and hopefully I’ll see you at a show very soon. As always feel free to hit me up on Twitter with any praise or complaints at @talkofthetizzy.

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