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Let’s Get Physical: The Jesus Lizard plays a relentless set at a sold-out Union Transfer

The Jesus Lizard | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

“I CAN SWIM! I CAN’T SWIM! I CAN SWIM! I CAN’T SWIM!”

As he barked the chorus aloud, The Jesus Lizard grinding through a scorching rendition of “Seasick” to the delight of the evening’s attendants at the Union Transfer, vocalist David Yow was the body-surfing engine that could. A stage tech feeding the cord for his microphone into the crowd, Yow was passed along as far as he could go before making his journey back to the rest of his band. That night, it wasn’t the first time Yow found himself writhing atop a sea of roaming hands. It certainly wasn’t the last.

Saturday, September 8th, The Jesus Lizard, one of the most notorious rock bands of the 1990s, performed for a sold-out audience, tearing through reaction-inducing selections from their catalogue to grateful applause or enthusiastic physicality. The third night in a series of shows spurned by an invitation to this year’s Riot Fest, the band’s distinct mix of hostility and coarseness as intact as it ever was, the noise was terrific, the playing was solid, and the theater at hand was captivating to say the least. Continue reading →

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Out Of Hand: In conversation with The Jesus Lizard’s David Yow

The Jesus Lizard | photo by Joshua Black Wilkins | courtesy of the artist

“David, very nice to talk to you.”

“Oh, well, you say that now.”

When I think of the days of the so-called Alternative revolution, memories of a musical underground poised to take center stage after Nirvana’s major label colossus Nevermind finally cracked the very polished veneer of the 1980s, I remember being in a state of constant epiphany. Entering relevancy were bands that had been working tirelessly throughout the prior decade, stretching their music across the country via a self-made and self-sustaining network of venues, fanzines, and record stores, and the record labels that saw fit to produce their music. Around this time, The Jesus Lizard was one of the era’s most threatening rock bands.

The Jesus Lizard, whose origin can be traced back to Austin, Texas in 1987, were nihilism personified, a beautifully antagonistic and often vulgar foursome who, in their early days as artists for Touch and Go Records, earned the title of Best Live Band. Unfiltered, blistering, and energized, it was vocalist David Yow who matched every decibel that the other band members (guitarist Duane Denison, bassist David Wm. Sims, and drummer Mac McNeilly) could conjure with sweat and (likely) blood, his clothing-optional and confrontational style the stuff of legend. “Well, I like it when things get out of hand,” Yow explains. “I always hoped that things would get out of hand because it’s a lot more fun that way. I mean, pretty much for everybody except David and Duane. Other than maybe dressing up in a funny costume or something like that, I rarely if ever had a pre-conceived notion of what I was going to do other than just play the show.”

Following a successful run of performances last December, and an invitation to perform at this year’s Riot Fest in Chicago, The Jesus Lizard decided to hit the road again, adding eight more shows to the series — including one tonight at Union Transfer. Prior to December, the band hadn’t toured since 2009. Continue reading →

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Big Lizard In Clark Park: Watch The Dead Milkmen play outdoors in West Philly in August of 1993

The Dead Milkmen in Clark Park | still from video

As somebody who enthusiastically subscribes to the “West Philly / Best Philly” mantra, there is so much to love about this vintage video of Philadelphia icons The Dead Milkmen headlining an outdoor show in Clark Park. The verdant greenery from all angles, the audience watching from the slope of the dog bowl, the grizzly folks packing the front row with handicams and enthusiastic energy.

The video was shot on VHS way back on August 7th, 1993. The gig also featured a set from neighborhood oddballs EDO — “everybody loves EDO,” says the MC introducing the band — and features the Milkmen in classic irreverent form, punctuated by a long-haired, ponytailed, goatee’d Rodney Anonymous pacing the stage franticly, spitting into the mic, rocking a cutoff Butthole Surfers t-shirt. Continue reading →

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Items Tagged Philadelphia: Smash the decks, smash the system

Sieve
Sieve | photo by Tiny Haddad | courtesy of the artist

Here at The Key, we spend a lot of time digging through every new release from Philadelphia that shows up on Bandcamp. Periodically, we’ll check in to present you with the most interesting, most unusual and overall best of the bunch: this is Items Tagged Philadelphia.

I’m coming off of a month of more DJing-in-public gigs than I ever expected to have in my life, and I’ve reached the conclusion that I have a lot of work to do towards becoming a better DJ.

I’m not particularly showoffy about it. I don’t beat match, I don’t do mash mixes. The closest I get to clever during my sets is when I line up two songs that echo one another — like Friday night before Dr. Dog’s Free At Midnight concert when I played TV On the Radio’s “Golden Age” into Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Starting Something.” And even then, I’ll only do something like that maybe once per song pairing, because I hear Prince’s “Kiss” out of Janelle Monae’s “Make Me Feel” one more time, it won’t be a pretty sight. (Yes, yes, Prince worked with Janelle, the songs are similar, WE GET IT ALREADY!! Next, please.)

Basically, my criterion for a DJ set is simple: I play songs that I think are good. That might mean widely accessible, upbeat ones like Arcade Fire’s “Keep The Car Running” and Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing).” Or it might mean songs that totally test the room’s patience, like a seven minute club mix of Madonna’s “Vogue” into a punishing, dissonant take on Puff Daddy’s “Victory,” remixed by Nine Inch Nails. I’ve totally looked up from the decks at moments like this to a sea of perplexed faces. Continue reading →

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Here’s what was happening at The Khyber 24 years ago this month

Pavement
Pavement in front of the Khyber Pass | photo from the Spiral Stairs archives | courtesy of the artist

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. Continue reading →

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When The Districts aren’t busy being The Districts, they punk out in Straw Hats

Straw Hats | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | http://jeremy-zim.com/
Straw Hats tearing it up at KFN | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

The scene at Friday night’s headlining Electric Factory show from The Districts was definitively more punk than usual. Slam dancing and crowd surfing abounded in a way I’d expect at a Menzingers show, and more than a handful of stage dives were observed throughout the night. Our friends from Lititz rock hard, no doubt, but this? This was unexpected. Flash forward 24 hours to Kung Fu Necktie, and the punk energy came into clearer focus via Straw Hats, a blistering power trio / side project featuring Rob Grote and Braden Lawrence from The Districts, as well as their friend Breshon Martzall. Continue reading →

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Watch Dead Milkmen cover David Bowie, Blue Öyster Cult in Laurel Hill Cemetery

#DeadMilkmen playing at @laurelhillcemetery. Perfect!

A photo posted by johnpaul golaski (@johnpaul215) on

This past Friday night, Philly punk scene icons Dead Milkmen embraced the grey skies and brisk temperatures of autumn to play a concert at a crypt. Seriously.

For the second time in recent years, the Milkmen performed a benefit gig for East Falls haunt (har har) Laurel Hill Cemetery by using the Receiving Tomb Mausoleum just off of Hunting Park Avenue as their stage. The show was sold out, the crowd turned out in force despite the misty skies, and the band rocked a set of classics, new jams and a couple well-chosen cover songs. Continue reading →

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Time Capsule: Kurt Vile on channeling blue-collar blues into “Space Forklift”

Kurt Vile
Kurt Vile | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

In Time Capsule, we ask artists to revisit songs they may have forgotten: pieces they wrote, released, and packed away—until now. Each month, we’ll pick one band who will pick one song and tell us the story behind where they were and what they were thinking when they wrote it.

It’s not news that Kurt Vile used to drive a forklift for a living; a lot of his work is influenced by a blue-collar attitude — from folky fingerpicking to his gravely voice and lyrics. In this city, to gain any respect, you better have worked a dead-end job shoveling shit, fixing radiators, or some day in, day out task that propels you to dream of something better — and deserve it when you get it.

Kurt spent two years handling a mini tractor, rising its giant prongs up and down, over and over, 9 to 5, between lunch and dinner. He lived in Boston at the time. Then, he quit and moved home.

Which is how “Space Forklift” came about. Continue reading →

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Dead Milkmen at Laurel Hill Cemetery, Lorde at the Mann Center, and Bob Mould at the TLA

The Dead Milkmen
Photo via deadmilkmen.com

The City of Brotherly Love’s satirical punk-rock band Dead Milkmen headline a fundraiser at Laurel Hill Cemetery tonight; the band joked on its Facebook that the last time it played in a cemetery, the result was the “Big Time Operator” video. Formed in 1983 at Temple University, the Milkmen found success on college radio with their debut album, Big Lizard in My Backyard. Their songs ranged from tunes with nonsensical spoken intros like “Bitchin’ Camaro,” to “Takin Retards to the Zoo”, a less-than-50-second punk-joke song. Goofy lyrics dripping with a Philly accent spread their success internationally with “Punk Rock Girl,” the hit off of their sophomore album Beelzebubba, which landed with a sturdy spot on MTV’s video rotation. After reuniting in 2008 under the pseudonym Les Enfants Du Prague, the band decided to become an active group once again and set to record album The King in Yellow, which dropped March 2011. They have since released four singles including “Welcome to Undertown”, and “Big Words Make the Baby Jesus Cry”. Tickets and information on the show can be found at here. Below, watch the music video to “Punk Rock Girl.” Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Pissed Jeans

It’s kind of astounding, actually. Four mild-mannered, friendly guys walked into WXPN studios this past Sunday, gathered around microphones and set up their instruments. And then, like as if I’d gone and flipped a switch or something, Philly punks Pissed Jeans suddenly became total freaking demons. Brad Fry started off, coaxing a half a minute of mind-bending sounds out of his guitar amp and effects pedals. Sean McGuinness followed, pummelling away at his drums, backed next by Randy Huth, hammering away at a searing, fuzzy bassline. Enter Matt Korvette, safely ensconced in a vocal booth (pictured) – he’s somewhat soft-spoken in conversation, but once the music got moving, his voice took a total Captain Beefheart by-way-of Jesus Lizard departure. But it’s all part of the classic, thrilling tension-and-release that’s at the core of Pissed Jeans’ music. You can dig further into that mindset a few different places this week – Brian Wilensky interviewed McGuinness for The Key on Monday, and Elliott Sharp wrote a cover story on the band in last week’s City Paper. Pissed Jeans released its fourth LP, Honeys, on Sub Pop Records on Tuesday, and it’s a rager. Four of the songs they performed in our studio are drawn from it – “Pleasure Race” dips back to 2009’s King of Jeans. Grab a download of the wrecking ball of an opener, “Bathroom Laughter,” and stream the rest of the set below. And to join in on the catharsis in an active kind of way, the band celebrates the release of Honeys at Underground Arts this Friday night. Get amped.

Continue reading →