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Benefit for a doc about influential folk guitarist Robbie Basho hits Johnny Brenda’s tomorrow

Robbie Basho
Robbie Basho | via Boll Weevel Records

Despite his influence on the current crop of avant-folk guitarists inspired by the releases of John Fahey’s renowned Takoma label from the 1960s, Robbie Basho’s name is less familiar today than that of esteemed labelmates like Fahey and Leo Kottke. In part that’s due to his freakish and premature death at the age of 45, when an artery in Basho’s neck burst during a visit with his chiropractor. His legacy is indelible, however, in the work of modern-day guitarists who emulate Bashos’ fusion of American blues and folk styles with Indian classical traditions. Continue reading →

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Philly native Orrin Evans talks about paying tribute to a friend in Liberation Blues

Orin Evans | Photo by Jimmy Katz
Orrin Evans | Photo by Jimmy Katz

It was a time before cell phones when Orrin Evans moved to New York City in 1996 with friend and trumpeter Duane Eubanks. So when he’d meet other musicians on the scene he’d simply tell them, “Call me at Duane’s crib if you need to find me.” The only problem was that Evans and Eubanks had been preceded by another Philadelphian named Dwayne a few years earlier – bassist Dwayne Burno. Evans realized his mistake when he received a phone call from the none-too-pleased bassist, who skipped past the pleasantries and proceeded to play an answering machine full of messages intended for the young pianist. Continue reading →

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West Philly drummer Justin Faulkner brings Community Unity Music Festival to Clark Park

Justin Faulkner and his family organized West Philly's first Community Unity Festival, slated for Sunday. | Photo by Shaun Brady
Justin Faulkner and his family organized West Philly’s first Community Unity Festival, slated for Sunday. | Photo by Shaun Brady

Growing up in the Cedar Park section of West Philly, Justin Faulkner spent so much time with his nearby cousins that they felt more like brothers. So it hit particularly hard when one of those cousins fell victim to gun violence, killed just outside West Philadelphia High School when Faulkner was in his early teens. Not long after, another cousin met the same fate, followed by several of Faulkner’s childhood friends. Continue reading →

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Tim Motzer celebrates improvisational Live From Stars End at Johnny Brenda’s

Tim Motzer
Tim Motzer | photo courtesy of the artist

Tim Motzer’s guitar is an infinitely adaptable piece of machinery. He regularly wields the instrument in a staggering variety of contexts, always fitting in with whatever genre he finds himself recruited for, while also warping it just the right amount to spotlight his inventive individuality without muscling his way into the spotlight. Of course, it helps that the artists he chooses to collaborate with are all on the eccentric or at least envelope-pushing end of the spectrum in their own fields, from Ursula Rucker to King Britt to Kurt Rosenwinkel.

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Amir ElSaffar and Omar Dewachi bring traditional Iraqi music to the Random Tea Room tomorrow night

Amir ElSaffar | photo courtesy of the artist
Amir ElSaffar | photo courtesy of the artist

On their own, there’s nothing traditional about the music made by Amir ElSaffar or Omar Dewachi. An Iraqi-American trumpeter born in Oak Park, Illinois, ElSaffar has integrated Iraqi maqam with jazz in a series of stunning and unique hybrid projects. Dewachi is an Iraqi-born anthropologist and professor at the American University of Beirut who plays the oud in the free-improv and experimental band City of Salt.

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The Winery Dogs make their Philadelphia debut tonight at the Keswick Theater

The Winery Dogs | photo via www.facebook.com/TheWineryDogs
The Winery Dogs | photo via www.facebook.com/TheWineryDogs

Given the road-tested virtuosity of all three members, hard rock supergroup The Winery Dogs could easily have been overwhelmed by instrumental pyrotechnics. After all, the band consists of guitarist and vocalist Richie Kotzen, a charter member of the shred-centric Shrapnel Records roster in the early ‘90s before stepping in as the replacement for C.C. DeVille in Poison and Paul Gilbert in Mr. Big; bassist Billy Sheehan, who went fret for fret with Steve Vai in David Lee Roth’s first solo band and co-founded Mr. Big; and drummer Mike Portnoy, who anchored prog-metal masters Dream Theater for 25 years until his departure from the band in 2010.

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The shape-shifting OOIOO plays a transcendent set at Johnny Brenda’s

OOIOO | Photo by Shaun Brady
OOIOO | Photo by Shaun Brady

Hearing OOIOO live is an experience akin to staring at one of those illustrated illusions, where a seemingly simple picture appears to be first one thing, then another – a duck that turns into a rabbit, or an old lady into a young girl. When the Japanese band plays, they lock into long, repetitive grooves that undergo similar transitions – you sway for a while to their tribal grooves when suddenly your focus shifts and they become an eccentric prog band, or you grin at their infectiously skewed take on girl-group pop before you’re suddenly taken aback by their raw punk energy. Continue reading →

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Getting behind the mask with UltraMantis Black

photo by Jamie Heim
photo by Jamie Heim

Both punk rock and professional wrestling have their hardcore sects, but rarely do the two cross paths. Enter UltraMantis Black, a mainstay of the Easton-based Chikara Pro independent wrestling promotion, who can now add punk frontman to his list of accomplishments. Earlier this month, the masked UltraMantis teamed up with members of Pissed Jeans to release his debut EP, and will celebrate the release at Voltage Lounge on Thursday as part of Relapse Records’ This Is Hardcore Afterparty. The leader of the Spectral Envoy discussed his efforts in the squared circle and on the stage from his home base in the mysterious, storied Parts Unknown.

The Key: How did you move from pro wrestling to punk rock?

UltraMantis Black: I’d been doing music prior to my professional wrestling career, but decided in the past year or two that I wanted to bring that part of UltraMantis Black out. Some of the members of Pissed Jeans approached me about doing something a few years ago and I was a bit hesitant at first because I was concentrating on professional wrestling at the time and didn’t really see a way to balance the two. Now I’ve found a way to bring them together.

TK: How do the two relate in your mind?

UMB: I think they’re very similar. Punk rock and professional wrestling have more in common than most people might think. Both the communities and fanbases involved in each are niche audiences. I feel like performing in front of a crowd onstage or within a
wrestling ring, you’re trying to entertain, trying to convey a message, trying to display your art form, so I see them both coming together in that way.

UltraMantis Black in the ring.
UltraMantis Black in the ring.

TK: Who is UltraMantis Black?

UMB: Ultramantis Black is known as the Mayor of Parts Unknown, a part-human, part-insectoid overlord of professional wrestling. A little bit of evil, a little bit of deviousness, but at the same time bringing a little consciousness back to professional wrestling.

TK: Does the character put forward the same message in both arenas?

UMB: I think so. I’ve always tried to bring something different to professional wrestling, something that probably wasn’t always there. I speak my mind, I speak what I feel will open other people’s eyes to my own personal beliefs and philosophies and they way I look at life, and that’s probably unorthodox in professional wrestling but I think it’s worked. I’ve developed a fan base in wrestling that’s not the typical professional wrestling crowd, and with the band I wanted to bring social and political aspects of punk rock back to hardcore, where I think it’s been lacking in recent years.

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New documentary highlights NYC recording space BC studio, making its Philly debut at PhilaMOCA

Martin Bisi | photo via www.facebook.com/soundandchaos
Martin Bisi | photo via www.facebook.com/soundandchaos

Back in the early ‘80s in New York, the early hip-hop scene was evolving in the Bronx while no wave and experimental jazz groups were making noise in the East Village. But the only place where those two disparate worlds met was in the labyrinthine basement of an old factory building along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. For more than thirty years, this space has been the home of BC Studio, where producer Martin Bisi has charted the evolution of NYC’s underground music scene(s), recording such disparate artists as Sonic Youth, Afrika Bambaataa, Swans, Cop Shoot Cop, Herbie Hancock, John Zorn, and Helmet.

The space is the subject of a new documentary, Sound and Chaos: The Story of BC Studio, which will have its Philadelphia premiere on Monday at PhilaMOCA. The screening will be followed by a Q&A and liver performance by Bisi.

Bisi co-founded the studio with bassist/producer Bill Laswell in 1980 as a home for Laswell’s amorphous band/project/production team Material, with funds contributed by Brian Eno. It has since become a destination for artists of a more experimental bent and can be found in the credits for albums that would seem to have nothing else in common other than Bisi’s presence – Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising and Evol, Naked City’s Torture Garden, and most of Swans’ best work.

“I don’t turn down any opportunity to talk about what I do or what I have done,” says Bisi about agreeing to the documentary. “A lot of musicians have an entrenched taboo about self-promotion. Fame is sort of a bad word for artists, but unless I’m a little more famous than I was three weeks ago, then I’m not having a career.”

Directors Sara Leavitt and Ryan C. Douglass were working on short internet videos and in the market for a longer project when they met Bisi through a mutual friend. “When we heard about all the stuff that had happened at his studio and all the albums that had been recorded there, it seemed like a good story,” Leavitt explains.

Many of the artists who have recorded in the studio over the years are interviewed for the film, including Laswell and members of Sonic Youth, Dresden Dolls, Swans, and Foetus. But more than the history of a single studio, Bisi insists, “This is a story about New York City. I feel very passionate about New York City and believe that it has an amazing chemistry for a lot of complex reasons. I’ve been saying for a decade and a half that it takes more to break New York City than closing down a punk rock bar on Bowery.” Continue reading →

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Teenage metalheads Unlocking the Truth make Philadelphia debut tonight with Queens of the Stone Age

Unlocking the Truth | photo courtesy of the artist
Unlocking the Truth | photo courtesy of the artist

Nearly every kid that gets hooked on heavy metal has at some point slung a guitar onto their shoulders and bashed out a few songs with their friends. Hell, glance back at the late 1980s and I was one of them. But like me, most of them never get out of the basement. Barely teenagers, Unlocking the Truth have already become a viral sensation, opened for rock gods like Guns N’Roses and Motörhead, played a set at this year’s Coachella Festival, and earlier this week inked a $1.7 million dollar deal with Sony for their debut album.

Tonight, Unlocking the Truth will open for Queens of the Stone Age at the Mann Center, just the latest highlight in what has been an unlikely and meteoric career for the three African-American middle-school metalheads from Flatbush. “It’s surreal,” says guitarist Malcolm Brickhouse, 13. “When we were younger, we used to have dreams of being this big when we were older, like 21 or something like that.”

It’s strange to hear a 13-year-old look back on the dreams of his youth, but Brickhouse and his bandmates have packed a lot of experience into a few years. He and drummer Jarad Dawkins, 12, got exposed to metal via the soundtracks to Japanese anime like Naruto and Bleach and the entrance music for WWE superstars. “The background for both was heavy metal,” Brickhouse says, “and I guess as we watched it a lot we got addicted to that kind of music.”

Brickhouse started playing guitar at the age of 7 with the encouragement of his parents, who supported any endeavor that their son was interested in. “My whole thing was, if you turn the TV off, you can pretty much do anything you want in my house,” says Brickhouse’s mother, Annette Jackson, who now co-manages the band with Alan Sacks, co-creator of Welcome Back, Kotter. “At one point they were ninjas, they were superheroes, they were wrestlers, and the next thing you know now they want to be a band.”

Bassist Alec Atkins, 13, joined a couple of years later and the band, then known as Tears of Blood, made it to the second round in the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night competition in 2012. They carried that momentum into their outdoor performances in Times Square. Eric Clapton drummer Steve Jordan discovered them playing in Washington Square Park later that year.

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