Saturday, April 30, 2005

Out Hud, Need New Hella Arkestra / First Unitarian Church, Philadelphia, PA / April 22, 2005

The basement rec room of the First Unitarian Church, on the corner of 22nd and Chestnut in Philly, is my favorite live music venue in the world. All ages. No smoking. Re-entry. Clean, plentiful bathrooms. Slippery linoleum floor, great for dancing. Three-foot-high stage for maximum intimacy (when the band isn’t playing on the floor, that is.) Totally D.I.Y. In recent years, a local record store has been setting up shop in the hallway, so you can shop in between sets. (Genius, right? Every venue should do this.) I have so many great memories from there: witnessing one of the first Atom & His Package performances, meeting my high-school boyfriend at a Franklin show, seeing KARP, Rainer Maria, Delta 72, Wesley Willis, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars…

I hadn’t been back to the Church in a couple of years, and I had to miss the NYC stop of the Out Hud / Hella tour due to Passover, so I was super duper excited for this show. But man oh man, nothing could have prepared me for what was about to happen. After an opening set by some boring band featuring former members Ink and Dagger, an army of scruffy, shaggy hobo freak-folk people took the stage, some of whom I recognized as being in Need New Body. Then a quartet of old jazz outcat dudes joined them. Hella drummer Zach Hill and roadie extraordinaire Joe Meade stood in the center of the fray, directing traffic. WTF? This was not what I expected. Zach clued me in: his other half, guitarist Spencer Seim, had left the tour because his father had a heart attack, so Zach was recruiting local musicians in each city to do improv sets. Whoa! The jazz dudes were from the Sun Ra Arkestra. Double whoa!

They then proceeded to melt my face off for a half-hour. The Arkestra folks were cool, calm and collected while everybody else went apeshit trying to keep up with Zach’s Incredible-Hulk-meets-Speedy-Gonzalez drumming. At one point, Joe started dancing around the stage while wearing an elaborate headdress made of newspaper, crepe paper and an orange baseball cap. A long-haired hippie chick (the only woman on stage) made orgasm noises into the mic. That bothered me, I think for the same inexplicable reason it pisses me off when a band only has one female member and she plays keyboards.

After that half-hour, one of the Arkestra guys said something about working with Trey Anastasio, and that pretty much killed the mood. The second half-hour jam was just boring.

Like the Need New Hella Arkestra, Out Hud took for-fuckin-ever to set up, so it was after midnight by the time they started. I was falling asleep on my feet waiting for them, but as soon as they launched into “One Life to Leave,” I was on. Brian Howe accurately captures the futility of trying to take notes during an Out Hud set here, and man, did I take some shitty notes. The room wasn’t crowded at all, probably because the Philly hipster population was spread thin due to the simultaneous Dizzee Rascal and Bonnie “Prince” Billie/Superwolf shows, so there was plenty of room to dance. I and all the other un-self-conscious white people (which were many) awkwardly thrust our limbs and midsections about in an approximation of what some would refer to as “gettin’ funky,” working up a nice smelly sweat. Nic Offer was King Dork, goofballin’ it up with jokes (“S.T.R.E.E.T.D.A.D.? More like Street Dead! Seriously, have you listened to that shit lately?” “I heard WaWa merged with Walgreens to form WaWalgreens.”) and uninhibited, overdramatic motion, which eventually landed him in the middle of the crowd. Phyllis Forbes continues to be one of the most gorgeous creatures on the planet. Molly Schnick had bags the size of golf balls under her eyes. Their vocals weren’t nearly as smooth and pretty as they are on the record, but it didn’t matter. We were all too busy dancing to care.

Read my Inky review here.