Translating pop music in Dr. Dog and Pig Iron’s SWAMP (IS ON)

Dr. Dog and Pig Iron Theatre Company rehearsing for SWAMP (IS ON) | Photo by John Vettese
Dr. Dog and Pig Iron Theatre Company rehearsing for SWAMP (IS ON) | Photo by John Vettese

Dan Rothenberg remembers being utterly baffled the first time he sat down with Dr. Dog to listen to their “lost” debut, The Psychedelic Swamp.

The album is something of a holy grail for superfans of the Philly psych-rock faves, and it’s bizarre – no question about it. Released on cassette in 2001, it features warbly sounds and trippy textures, slap-back echo and tape delay, chopped-up audio collages mostly constructed by founding bandmates Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman in their West Philly halcyon days. Swamp has subsequently made the rounds on various unofficial YouTube playlists, and most recently arrived at the doorstep of renowned Philly troupe Pig Iron Theatre Company, where Rothenberg is artistic director.

“Scott and Toby were playing it for me and saying ‘trust us, there’s amazing songs in here,’ and I really couldn’t hear them,” Rothernberg recalls, laughing. “Then they would tell me it’s not meant to be listened to. And I don’t know what to do with that!”

Ultimately they arrived at an answer: translate the songs. Which is the mission of SWAMP (IS ON), the new collaborative production from Pig Iron and Dr. Dog premiering tonight at Union Transfer as part of this year’s Philly Fringe Festival. Continue reading →


Rahzel on pushing boundaries with Open Air (opens tonight on the Ben Franklin Parkway)

Rahzel performing at Bitforms Gallery |

Tonight, lights over the Benjamin Franklin Parkway will arc and pulse to many voices from below – including an affiliate of The Legendary Roots Crew.

Rahzel Brown, aka Rahzel The Godfather of Noyze, will perform his signature beatbox stylings at the launch of Open Air, an installation of 24 searchlights that respond and react to human voices. The will sweep and blink, brighten and fade, and crisscross the night sky to form intricate patterns and shapes when viewed from afar.

The grand-scale outdoor exhibit, which runs through October 14, was designed by Mexico City-based conceptual artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, who also worked with Rahzel on an installation in New York City called Voice Array. This exhibit, on display in Manhattan’s Bitforms gallery, also uses voice to control a light display.

“It’s been a mindblowing experience,” Rahzel says when we caught up with him by phone earlier this week. “I had been working and researching how to do thing like that anyway, to push the envelope of my performance. And then Rafeal got in touch – he has been a fan, and wanted to work together. You wish for something and it comes together mysteriously. It’s a little spooky.”

Pushing the envelope is a big part of Rahzel’s approach to music. Continue reading →


Food Court, featuring live music by The Necks, makes U.S. debut at Philadelphia Live Arts Festival

Photo by Tim Williams

Food Court, a theater and live music collaboration between Australia’s Back To Back Theater and the Australian experimental music group The Necks, makes its U.S. debut as part of the Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe. Opening on Thursday, September 20, the performance has a three-night run at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater.

Founded in 1987, Back To Back has earned a reputation as being a politically, and morally, challenging theater company consisting of actors who, as Artistic Director Bruce Gladwin says, “are perceived to have intellectual disabilities.” For Food Court, a brutal, discomforting play about an emotionally and physically abused woman that takes place in a series of visually disorienting settings, Gladwin envisioned a less structured musical component to accompany the script-driven performance. The Necks, a long-running improvising trio that has recorded over a dozen albums, were a perfect match. Continue reading →


Dead rock stars get surreal in New Paradise Laboratories’ 27 (at Plays and Players through Sept. 16)

Call it a theater piece for the rock and roll crowd. 27, a curious production at Rittenhouse Square-area theater Plays and Players for this year’s Live Arts / Fringe Festival, raises questions about fame, immortality and the pressures of public scrutiny by crashing an after-life party of members of music’s infamous “27 club.” In it, we get to spend some 75 surreal minutes with Jim Morrison (played by Kevin Meehan), Janis Joplin (Allison Caw), Kurt Cobain (Matteo Scammell) and Amy Winehouse (Julia Frey). They clamor about a vertigo-inducing set – a large blinking radio tower stretched over the audience’s heads from the green terrain of the theater’s back wall, the stage underneath a bare apartment, floating in the ether, at an angle to earth.

We have no idea how long the musicians have been here together in this rock purgatory – could be years, could be decades – but their similar fates have bound them together for eternity, and they each process and react to the situation in their own way.  It’s a heavy load, but presented very abstractly by Philly-based experimental theater troupe New Paradise Laboratories, where we’re given ample distance to form our impressions and draw conclusions. Continue reading →


Find out about the music events on the fringe of Fringe (feat. Johnny Showcase, T.J. Kong and more)

The 16th annual Live Arts / Fringe Festival is largely known as an interdisciplinary performing arts showcase – and lest we forget, music falls under the umbrella of “performing arts.” To just note a few happenings: Philadelphia electronic duo Gemini Wolf will perform a live accompaniment to the dance-based production WAMB, while versatile local harpist Mary Lattimore scored the documentary Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present, which screens on September 19 at The International House. This weekend, The Key will run a review of 27, a surreal performance piece about the infamous “dead rock stars’ club”, and next week we’ll talk to Australian avant-jazz group The Necks about their involvement in the festival showcase performance Food Court.

Speaking of showcases, one Johnny Showcase, and his Lefty Lucy Cabaret (pictured), performs a Fringe Festival Opening Dance Party at South Philadelphia club Connie’s Ric Rac. Get your sensual swerve on beginning at 10 p.m. with DJ Carl Sexton; the cabaret brings the funk at 11:30; it’s free to hang for the 21-and-over.

And throughout the festival, the folks at Underground Arts will be hosting the annual after-hours festival hang, Late Nite Cabaret, for the first time.  They’ve got a stacked schedule for the next two weeks, including raucous folksters T.J. Kong and the Atomic Bomb on Saturday the 8th, noisemakers The Absinthe Drinkers on Sunday the 16th, and a Brat Productions interpretation of The White Stripes’ album Get Behind Me, Satan to close out the festival on Saturday the 22nd. Full schedule is available here – get ready to get weird.


Watch the psychedelic Bands in the Backyard video from Gemini Wolf (performing at Philly Fringe Festival)

The Roxborough-based experimental electronic duo Gemini Wolf kicks off season two of Bands in the Backyard‘s monthly videos with a twist. Instead of a straight-up performance amid the toy castle and shrubbery in Kyle Costill’s Oaklyn, N.J. backyard, the duo’s appearance is layered with footage of city streets, skyscrapers and other ephemera, giving the look of a very psychedelic 90s music video – check it out here. For more musical surrealism from Gemini Wolf, check out their appearance in the Philadelphia Fringe Festival – they’ll provide a live score to the dance-based performance WAMB. The performance takes place at Broken Arrow Workshop at The Hatchatory (2628 Martha Street in Kensington) on September 7, 8, 14 and 15, and tickets are available here.