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The Skeleton Key: Pilam is dead, long live Pilam

A flyer for Pi Lam’s notorious Human BBQ, circa 1987

Starting off August’s edition of the Skeleton Key with some breaking news, which for the record is a strange thing when it comes to a column that comes out once a month. Pilam, the venerated “freak frat” at the University of Pennsylvania, is closed, at least temporarily. After more than four decades of being a space for DIY music in Philadelphia, the organization has lost its home. Details are still emerging as to what’s going on but for the time being I’d much rather just focus on the positive. Which, to repeat what I just said, is more than four decades of serving as a home for music in our city. That’s just incredible.

If you were to compile a list of every band that ever played Pilam we’d be here for a very long time. Hell, just looking at the listings of who performed at Human BBQ, the annual all-day concert at the house, is wildly impressive in both quality and quantity. This past year was the 40th BBQ with bands including Old Maybe, Norwegian Arms, Slingshot Dakota, and EDO. Screaming Females and Sadie from Speedy Ortiz played last year, along with a ton of other great bands. Two years ago it was Moor Mother, HIRS, and Japanese Breakfast. We could seriously go on like this forever.

The first time I specifically remember being at the festival was way back in 2001 to see An Albatross, Stinking Lizaveta, and … EDO. Some things never change. Also, I somehow missed Wesley Willis. Maybe I was getting pizza? Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: Multitudes of new music for July, a First Time’s The Charm recap, and gigs from black metal to beatmakers to punk wrestlers

First Time’s The Charm | photo by Yoni Kroll for WXPN

This is a special Skeleton Key and not just because I’m checking in with you a bit later than usual. Don’t worry, my neighbors are still shooting off fireworks all day every day so it’s basically still the 4th and will probably stay that way at least until August. For this column I want to talk about all the new music coming out this month because there’s seriously just so much of it. And check this out: last weekend was First Time’s the Charm which was the debut of eight bands playing their very first sets ever. So much new music! Let’s start with a list because you should always start with a list: Dark Thoughts, Smarthearts, Rosali, Lester, Dark Web, Rabbits to Riches, Empath, and Fleabite. Oh, and a just-announced split between Jenna & The Pups – the solo pop punk band from HIRS frontwoman Jenna Pup – and, well, herself. The PUP/HIRS album will be out in August. Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: June is jumping with Kids of the Black Hole film series, Harmony Woods on the river, theremins in Laurel Hill cemetery, and Philly Still F’n Shreds fest

Out of the Blue screens at International House’s Kids of the Black Hole series this month

I am an unapologetic cheerleader for summer. There’s water ice, hang outs down the shore, you can ride your bike everywhere, and most importantly there are outside shows! I mean, say what you will about the beauty of West Philly in winter – and it really is quite nice, don’t get me wrong – but given the choice between sledding down the rock-strewn hills of Clark Park on a ripped pizza box I just found in a trash or sitting around and watching a bunch of bands play while eating ice cream during the annual music festival there, I know where I’ll be. Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: A jam-packed May, from Get Better Fest to Break Free Fest, Tuareg guitar to NYC no-wave, and so much sunshine

design by Erik Ruin | courtesy of the artist

No matter if you spent it out in the streets at the May Day protest or circling a Maypole or just soaking up all that sunshine, I hope you had a wonderful beginning of the month. It’s finally spring, so slap on some shorts, ride that bike you’ve been neglecting all winter, and get your butt to the gig.

You can start tonight. There are not one but two truly excellent shows happening and if you time it correctly you can go to both! Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: Bottle rockets, Satanic Panic, Record Store Day and gigs from Screaming Females to Robyn Hitchcock

Screaming Females | photo by Farrah Skeiky | courtesy of artist
Screaming Females | photo by Farrah Skeiky | courtesy of artist

April Fool’s updates:

Swearin’ is back. HIRS is putting out an album with Shirley Manson from Garbage. Erik B. and Rakim are at the TLA. Oh, and Lou Barlow is playing a small show in a park on the Schuylkill in Southwest Philly. Did I mention that Sheer Mag is recording an album with Hall and Oates? Because that is totally happening.

Okay, so maybe one of those is a lie. I’ll let you figure it out on your own. But as usual in this great city of ours, there’s so much awesome stuff happening that even the absurd seems plausible. I mean, the Eagles won the Super Bowl! Anything can happen. Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: A Blizzard of gigs for March including Creten lutes, London postpunks, and a Bugg

Palm | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Palm performs at the First Unitarian Church on March 26th | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

You heard that story about Barbara Streisand getting her dog cloned, twice? I’ve been thinking about getting the same thing done to myself, just so I maybe can go to all the awesome shows happening this month. Unfortunately I went to school for journalism and not biomedical engineering so instead of having a mad scientist lair full of half-baked clones walking into walls while screaming, “I can’t wait for Superchunk and Swearin’ next month!” … I’m writing this column saying the same.

Welcome to the March edition of the Skeleton Key, your friendly neighborhood gossip column. As I sit here working on this, the weather report is calling for nonstop rain and possibly even snow for the next 24 hours. But just because it’s gross out doesn’t mean you should stay inside! It doesn’t keep bands home and so it shouldn’t keep you home. So bundle up and get to the gig. Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: Moor Mother exhibition, Bowerbird series, Two Piece Fest XI, and more new music than you can shake a greased pole at.

Slutever plays Two Piece Fest in 2013 | Photo by Kate McCann | katemccannphotography.com

While the post-Superbowl riot might be the DIY event of the season, there’s a lot more going on this month than just a bunch of greased poles on Broad Street

Hi! Welcome to the second edition of The Skeleton Key, your friendly neighborhood gossip column just fighting the good fight against mediocrity and boredom. While we might (still) be in the middle of winter, warm weather –  and with it, touring season –  is on the horizon. I promise!

There was no better reminder of that than the recent announcement by R5 that Lighting Bolt and Moor Mother would be playing the First Unitarian Church at the end of March. While Lighting Bolt could sell out the Church all on their own, the fact that the good people at R5 are having Moor Mother open makes for a truly amazing and electric night. Which is to say: I really hope you got tickets because it sold out almost immediately. Continue reading →

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Introducing The Skeleton Key: Our new DIY scene gossip column covering Bowie donuts to a Dead Moon tribute this month

via dischord.com

Philadelphia is a really huge city. Like, absolutely massive. Next time you have the chance to fly into or out of PHL, take a good long look out the window: it really is the sixth largest city in the country, and that’s not even counting what’s referred to as the Greater Philadelphia Area AKA the ‘burbs and South Jersey. For most people, the city is limited geographically to where you live, where you work or go to school, and maybe some other landmarks around town. There are plenty of people who rarely find themselves in Center City and others who have never stepped foot in the suburbs.

As the place for Philadelphia music news, The Key strives to reach all citizens of our great city, no matter where they live. To that end, we present our newest column, The Skeleton Key. Our aim with this is not just to supply all of you with the latest news and rumors about everything going on in the city but also to better promote some of the bands that might be a bit more under the radar.

Before I move on to this month’s edition, a quick bit of housekeeping: I want to make sure that it’s quite clear that the idea for this is very much in homage to – that’s the nice way of saying ripping off, right? – the great work my fellow Key contributor A.D. Amorosi did for more than two decades at The City Paper, specifically the regular column he wrote called The Icepack. Also, a quick bit about me! I am a music journalist and photographer, a college radio DJ at WKDU 91.7FM, and someone who has been going to shows for way too long. I’ve also started booking bands over the past few years, which is both wonderfully rewarding and the biggest pain in the ass known to man.

Here are some of the topics this column will cover: upcoming shows, news about bands going into the studio or putting out albums, promotion of other bits of music journalism you might have missed, talk about old bands, rumors about new ones, and everything in between. If you want to send in some HOT TIPS or COOL RUMORS – I know you do! – you can reach me via e-mail or find me on Twitter at @talkofthetizzy. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Sophie Coran

Making music is a process of constant re-invention. Meticulously crafted studio recordings are re-shaped onstage, the onstage energy influences the direction of the next studio recordings, and the cycle continues back and forth over an artist’s lifespan.

Sophie Coran has already experienced quite a bit of that in her four years as a singer and songwriter working around Philadelphia. Her earliest work, the Better EP from 2015, took on a piano-driven identity in the vein of Carly Simon and Paula Cole. Last year, her follow-up, All that Matters, folded in elements of jazz and soul. And as Coran began playing shows around town in support of that release, she connected with Logan Roth and Arjun Dube of the experimental instrumental band Trap Rabbit. They became her live band, and the chemistry she developed with them — as well as bassist Mike Morrongiello — pushed her music into new realms.

The recent “Duller Star” single is the first example we’re hearing of collaboration. It’s a song that breathes in a husky tenor, its melodic skeleton fusing with Roth’s layers of synthesizer soundbanks and melodic leads to create an arty pop air reminiscent of Fiona Apple. There’s also a rhythmic pulse, care of Dube, that isn’t too far off from the crowd-galvanizing concepts of EDM.

Watch the video below as the song opens on a solitary Coran, playing her Nord and singing about a cigarette abandoned on the nightstand. As the verse progress, Morrongiello’s bass enters along with Roth’s keys, gently at first, and then becoming more defined. They unite with Dube’s drum stand pings and light rhythms, until the cymbals emphatically swish, then breathlessly cut to silence at the end of the pre-chorus. The beat drops. The song is under way. And as I said in an NPR blurb about Coran earlier this week, it will “in its own, downtempo jazz-pop kind of way, get you moving.”

Continue reading →