Before it was a delicious and cozy Old City gastropub, The Khyber Pass was a dingy and vaguely frightening Philly rock dive. Actually, no: it was the dingy and vaguely frightening Philly rock dive.
In the early aughties, when I started covering the music scene, The Khyber was an essential hang for indie rock heads and live music lovers in general. Many drunken nights were had there, green Yeungling empties lining up on the tables and stomped-out cigarette butts collecting on the ground. Oh, the cigarette butts. When Philadelphia banned smoking in bars and restaurants in 2008, and I left a gig for the first time not reeking like an ashtry, with no musty coat to contend with the next day, my mind was effectively blown. We used to live like this? I wondered. We used to go hoarse from smoke and liquor and screaming? But of course we did. Because music.
Some of the gigs I caught during the Khyber’s heyday: a holy-shit-this-actually-happened double bill of The Strokes and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in 2001. The former was in the midst of a weekly residency at The Khyber while they were recording their debut LP Is This It, and the shows were packed houses. In 2002, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead played a last-minute gig at The Khyber when their Electric Factory appearance with Queens of the Stone Age was cancelled. They wreaked havoc on the room, using their guitars to bust out the drop ceiling above the stage and knock the smashed tiles into the front row. I have a (very) foggy recollection of bummed-as-hell, 25-year-old John sitting on the floor several vodkas deep in late 2003 as Azure Ray sang from their beautiful and aching LP Hold On Love. I was unsteady, but transfixed. And of course the countless locals that rocked the house: Bardo Pond circa 2004, which is still to this date the loudest concert I’ve ever seen … The Capitol Years, The Snow Fairies, Rarebirds, Trouble Everyday, Laguardia … pretty sure The Swimmers played there at least once … and of course Joey Sweeney was a Khyber mainstay in various musical incarnations.
Thing is: this was just my era of The Khyber. That was just the aughties, which many purists / old heads would argue was the decline, the shit years, the jump-the-shark era.
The venue had been in place since the late 80s, and during the fruitful indie rock 90s, it was like a parade of awesome. For example, check out this Khyber schedule from August of 1992 that the folks at Secret Cinema posted on Facebook earlier this year.
After July wrapped up with a Pavement gig – were you there? Come on, really? – August kicked in with DC underground faves Tsunami, and the sick psych double-bill of Swirlies and Smashing Orange a couple days later. The following week, some Sub Pop Records band called The Afghan Whigs played (this would have been on tour in support of Congregation) the night after asskicking Olympia trio Bratmobile, who (if you don’t know them) were influential players in the riot grrrl periphery. Things got heavy in the latter end of the month with Drive Like Jehu one week and The Jesus Lizard the next. And, again, the locals: Baby Flamehead, The Low Road, Ben Vaughn and of course Bardo Pond.
Get a detailed look at the August ’92 Khyber schedule here, and leave your memories of the venue in the comments. Below, watch Pavement’s ’92 Khyber appearance in full.
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