The Skeleton Key: Ring in 2019 with Tuareg desert jams, the return of chiptune legends Chromelodeon, Kenyan benga rock n’ roll, and so much more

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Hank Wood | photo by Yoni Kroll

I forget, are we supposed to take flying cars to the gig or just view it on our VR goggles? The future is so complicated.

Welcome to 2019! I hope you’re all totally recovered from whatever you did to yourself on Tuesday and Wednesday and ready to tackle the new year. There’s a lot to look forward to over the next twelve months. Hell, there’s a lot to look forward to just between now and February. So let’s get started with the year’s first Skeleton Key, your monthly news and gossip column covering all things Philadelphia DIY.

At the end of the year a lot of us here at The Key put together our year end lists. Because I’m more than a little difficult, instead of writing about whatever my favorite albums of the year are – though, duh, it’s The Guests, School Damage, Native Cats, and everything The Body did in 2018 – I wrote about my favorite new bands and put together a list of everything I’m looking forward to in 2019. If you’re a fan of this column or even if this is your first time reading it, you should check those two articles out along with all the rest of the Year End Mania content over here.

The aforementioned Guests are playing with another one of my local favorites of this past year, the freaky punks Juice, at Boot & Saddle tonight. This is a benefit for Philadelphia Tenants Union, a “tenant-led organization dedicated to winning safe, decent, and affordable housing for every renter in Philly,” and also features Madalean Gauze and Jesse D. This is going to be awesome and you shouldn’t miss it. Also, Juice just announced it’s going to be one of their final shows, which is a total bummer and another reason to come out.

The very next night over at Johnny Brenda’s is the return of Tuareg guitar great Mdou Moctar. The brilliant desert rock guitarist on the Sahal Sounds label has been to Philly a couple times over the past few years and every time it’s been beyond amazing. If you’re not familiar, check out the trailer for Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazougha –Rain the Color of Blue With a Little Red In It, a movie he starred in that is a homage to Purple Rain, the 1984 Prince classic. Really. Bonus: opening up the show will be Eric Slick from Dr. Dog and Skyler Skjelset from Fleet Foxes, which is an obnoxiously great lineup.

Mdou Moctar isn’t the only great show at JB’s this month. The following week is the one two punch of Dead Milkmen-related instrumental surf rockers I Think Like Midnight with Mesmeric Haze and Violet Phase on Thursday and on the very next day it’s Jon Spencer – he of the Blues Explosion back in the 90s – with Taiwan Housing Project opening up.

Also that Friday down at Boot & Saddle is the first Philly show for a brand new band out of DC (with a familiar looking long-haired drummer from Fishtown) called Hammered Hulls. They don’t have any recordings yet but check out this absolutely absurd band lineup: Alec MacKaye from The Faith, Warmers, and Ignition on vocals, Mark Cisneros from The Make-Up, Des Demonas, and Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds on guitar, Mary Timony of Helium, Wild Flag, and Ex Hex on bass, and the aforementioned local Chris Wilson from Hound, Ted Leo, and Titus Andronicus on drums. You just know this band is totally going to rip. You can see some live videos and read a bit more about Hammered Hulls in this Brooklyn Vegan piece published last month.

If you looked at my “Best of 2019” article you’d see just how excited I am for the Kahlil Ali record release show on the 12th down at Century in Grays Ferry with Reef the Lost Cauze, Zorn, and the newest FDR skate park house band Under 95. A mixed bill hip hop and heavy metal show is fun enough and should happen much more often than it does but the fact that a) it’s Kahlil’s record release and is by nature going to be off the hook b) Reef just dropped his first album in a while and it’s killer and c) this is all happening in a bar that can fit maybe 65 people means it’s going to be an amazing time. Just remember to get there early! And if you can’t make it to that one, Reef’s record release is a week later at MilkBoy with Skrewtape and the Philadelphia Project.

I’ve written a lot about Common Beat Music since they first opened more than a year ago, taking over the old Marvelous record store at 49the and Baltimore. What I appreciate about the shop is that the owners are heavily invested in the community and are able to use the space for more than just selling records and musical equipment, though obviously that’s what pays the rent. This has meant occasional shows, which is nice, but what I’m really excited about are the more low-key things like the regular mixtape swap they host and stuff like the upcoming class about amplifiers that’s happening the evening of Tuesday the 15th. Called “Tube Amps, A Crash Course” the event will be hosted by Common Beat owner Carlo Frese, who is responsible for all of the repair work done at the shop.

The very next night over at Everybody Hits is NYC’s finest in-your-face garage punks Hank Wood and the Hammerheads. Combining the soulful 60s sounds of the rock n’ roll organ with the churning spectacle of modern hardcore, Hank Wood is first and foremost a very, very fun band. I got to see them play last spring at some unnamed outdoor space and it was one of the best shows I went to all year. Opening up will be Stagger, Zorn, and Dridge, all great local bands running the gamut from raw, noisy hardcore to metal to post-punk.

Hank Wood and the Hammerheads | photo by Yoni Kroll

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: enigmatic American musician of Lebanese origin goes to Egypt to recruit a band to translate and perform his old songs in Arabic and runs straight into the Arab Spring uprising. Sound too ridiculous to be real? That’s the plot of The Invisible Hands documentary about Alan Bishop of Sun City Girls/Sublime Frequencies fame and his trips to Cairo during the early part of this decade that’s showing at The Rotunda on the 17th. Part music doc, part political commentary, this is sure to be a fantastic and very wild ride of a film. As a bonus, the co-director/producer of the movie Georges Salameh will be in attendance making this a truly can’t-miss event.

Maybe they’re not as intentionally weird as Sun City Girls, but Philadelphia’s Chromelodeon certainly had their moments. The eight piece 8bit-inspired indie rock band called it quits back in 2007 but are back for two nights at PhilaMOCA on the 19th and 20th of this month. What started off as a bunch of nerds doing synth-heavy versions of their favorite video game tunes – and I mean that in all the best ways – turned into a band that put out multiple albums of both originals and those covers and toured the country. These two shows, the first with Korine and nmlstyl and the second with Exmaid and Chipocrite, won’t be anything short of fantastic, especially when you consider that PhilaMOCA has a huge screen behind the stage which will be perfect for all the visuals the band is known for.

Even before these reunions were announced, Chromelodeon has always had a pretty die-hard following. There’s a website called The Chromelodeon Archive with a ton of live recordings and old flyers that is pretty fun to look through even as a more casual fan of the band if just because it’s such a great snapshot of Philadelphia in the first decade of the 2000s. Which is to say, it’s a lot of me going, “Oh man, I remember Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start and Need New Body and Hail Social!” I’m not big on nostalgia but I love history and archives, especially when it comes to music.

Northern Liberties is another band with a good internet presence when it comes to things like that. The West Philly self-described “ghost punk” three-piece is putting out their sixth full length album this year, which is very exciting. If you take a look at their website you’ll see a whole section of old shows and old flyers, lots of which were done by noted Philadelphia outsider artist Justin Duerr, the band’s lead singer. To celebrate their new album the band put together a “Monthly Single Series” on their Bandcamp leading up to the eventual record release show. This will include covers, like their powerful interpretation of “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” that’s up now, as well as remixes, never-released collaborations, and alternative versions of songs from their almost two decades of existence.

On the 25th there’s one of those classic Philadelphia nights where I’d like to be in at least three places at once. At The Rotunda it’s an evening of Kenyan benga rock n’ roll with LV Benga Africa. Fire Museum Presents is putting this one together and according to them, “Benga is a guitar-driven dance music that emerged in the 1960s fusing Kenyan folksongs with the Latin-American rumba.” Sounds awesome.

Across town that Friday Curtis Cooper is playing with Material Girls, Secret Nudist Friends, and Puppy Angst at the batting cages and down the block from there Danielson, Sparrow Steeple, Hermit Thrushes, and Majorosaurus are raging at Johnny Brenda’s. It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen Danielson – FKA Danielson Famile, the always brilliant and entertaining Clarksboro, NJ-based indie rock band that is almost certainly the only group recorded by Steve Albini that’s also released albums on Christian label Tooth & Nail – and I’m super excited for their return to Philly for the first time since I believe the show they did with Jad Fair of Half Japanese at Boot & Saddle in 2014.

There you go, Philadelphia! Your (skeleton) key to all things on and off your radar this month. As always, hit me up on Twitter at @talkofthetizzy with any hot tips or sordid gossip!

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