I was entering a glittering time warp as I sped through Philadelphia’s Southside. It was a view I had looked back on intently three years prior when I moved back to Baltimore, and one I had intended to lay eyes on again. But plans always seemed to fall through. Festivals had turned into fallouts. Trips had turned into tonic. So, this time, I took a different approach. During some digging, I stumbled upon a modestly promoted Philly date for another recent stumble upon, It’s Not Night: It’s Space (or, as I call them in my head as a very sad inside joke with myself, It’s Not GOAT: It’s your MOM). As an atmospheric drone outfit that is simultaneously both domestic and unblackened, I wanted to learn more. So, I didn’t giving map construction or second thoughts any mental air time. I just drove.
Another day, another show under an overpass. The SEPTA track roared up above, but I was more concerned with the roar coming from down below. During the first opener, I thought I had made a grave miscalculation. I’m not going to name names when it comes to giving questionable reviews to locals because 1) that’s a dick move (unless it’s Luminosity from Frederick, Maryland) and 2) I’m not exactly writing bestsellers myself. But, I will say this; Portlandia is not based on nothing, and this something extends way past Oregon and into its own state of mind in club shows from sea to shining sea. In other words, I was more surprised that Kevin the cat /didn’t/ come out and start putting paw to tambourine. Maybe next time.
Opener number two, a two piece with INNIS’s experimental yet followable style, redeemed matters a bit. The drumming was charismatic, the guitar, cool, but the only detail I couldn’t get on board with were the vocals. Unfortunately, it was a case of instrumental talent being so intense that any vocals, unless it was literally King Diamond up there, would prove themselves to be lackluster in comparison. When it doubt, throw it out — a piece of wisdom which INNIS showed themselves to be in tune with by going strictly instrumental.
The threesome took the stage quite literally through their commandingly affable presence. Sound like an oxymoron? Let me explain. INNIS didn’t fall into the traps of its predecessors. The laidback attitude they exuded bladed through the intimidation of the first set; a key tool to negotiating a subgenre that can easily totter into pretension. Conversely, no facet of their performance was laden in weakness, with guitar, drums, and bass living and breathing harmoniously. Despite my initial hesitation of INNIS’s association with the word drone, which, thanks to Sunn O(((, has become synonymous in my mind with bore, their set seemed to go by faster than a batt of Kevin’s crescent-shaped pupil — something I didn’t believe to be possible with a decisively un-black point of view given my own personal biases. As bassist Tommy Guerrero left stage, I made note of his Pink Floyd shirt, filing them under another pre-90’s act who I can only tolerate in the form of bands that were later birthed out of their reverb.
Wanting to quit while while I was ahead, I took off for a few bars down for a beer and a seat. According to my scientific research, any place that is described on Yelp as a dive also has an 80% chance of serving farm to table vegan chorizo roll ups, and a 50-50 shot of ambiguity surrounding a permanent Nightmare Before Christmas theme versus obliviousness towards the relationship between holiday decor and designated marks on the calendar.
Nevertheless, I took the last seat at the circular bar where two chicks to the left were chatting intermittently over golden drafts. It was as if I had never left. Wild hair, Columbine coats, chunky sweaters, and cat lady crafts brought together through thick hips best used for smothering the patriarchy. Every revolutionary circle I frequented had drawn the same crowd. Even having grown much more haggard since then, it was a scene that still made me feel all of about 12 in comparison. Acrylic nails and Hollister jeans — I had to be some sort of FBI plant coming to squash the movement at best, or just a piece of trash blown in from Bucks County at worse. I recalled looking up my best friend from that era a few months prior to find that she had unfriended me. I had wondered what I had posted to trigger such a response, unless my mere existence was enough. I didn’t waste too much time speculating, though. The pieces of that dismantled life had long since scattered.
The train rattled the can of PBR the greasy sunglassed bartender placed in front of me. I batted an eye and placed a dollar on the wooden edge.
“You look bored,” I heard a masculine voice with a distinct upward inflection say to my right.
I clutched my drink and braced myself for impact. Between my sleep deprivation, long drive, and standing endurance test all I wanted to do was stew. But as I turned and saw an individual with pin straight hair and a skull scarf of ambiguous gender, I didn’t tense up as much as usual. I had been expecting the worst; my solo venture the previous weekend had yielded a conversation trap with my box wine-addicted neighbor and two Russian used car salesmen. Their smooth hands clutched a pink phone while their arms draped elegantly over the tattered leather satchel resting on the bar top.
We began chatting about Philly, friends, flings. I managed to name drop Baltimore without getting any mention of The Wire in return. Surely in a previous life we must have occupied the same ant colony.
Perhaps inevitably, we stumbled upon the topic of gender and her pronouns finally became clear. She. Hormones had begun last year. After years of not feeling like she was living as her true self, one woman pushed her to go for the gold, and no, it wasn’t Caitlyn Jenner as she so admittedly protested, citing the shame that the chosen trans was far too privileged to be the accessible figure the movement needs.
“Laura Jane Grace,” she said dreamily with one hand tucked underneath her chin, her grin too massive to go unsupported. As I inconspicuously peered at her tattooed arms and worn handbag, it became clear that for better or for worse, the symbolic power of role models mold the strongest bases for sentiment.
She recalled a time before Against Me!’s female front, before we were born this way, when things weren’t as bright. While she had always enjoyed living transiently from city to city, her time in Miami dipped into a low end on her life map. Living as a man at the time, she described her living situation as a gay fraternity dusted in blow and funded by twink-obsessed sugar daddies. One night, she had her fill, ignoring daddy’s calls in favor of a night at a local gay bar. But by chance, fate, or whatever you want to call it, she ended up meeting her current boyfriend, and the rest was history.
“You can choose when enough is enough,” she said coolly with the swirl of her KG shot.
I let those words sit with me until a chick that resembled Joan Jett and Tina Belcher’s unholy lovechild busted through.
“OH MY GOD, I NEED A DRINK” she screamed as she took the now vacant seat on the other side of my new friend, who had mentioned she had been waiting for an old. It was when we went to do introductions that we realized names were the one topic we had left undiscussed.
“Well, I’m Kailey,” new friend sang proudly. “And this is Sam.” She threw me a brief hey and then returned to slapping the bar to get Elvis’ attention.
“MAKE IT A DOUBLE.”
After a fairly mellow night it seemed as though I had finally hooked a live one.
“So what are you up to?” Sam asked me when she was pacified with her drink. I could barely finish getting “experimental” out of my mouth before she nearly fell off her stool.
“Fuck, do you guys listen to Moon Hooch?”
Kailey and I stared back blankly.
“MOON HOOCH,” she yelled, ripping at her leather jacket to expose the logo of her hoodie underneath. I admitted that I had never heard of them, so naturally, she pulled out her phone and started cranking one of their live videos. Elvis gave us the stank eye as the three of us huddled around. Two saxes, one with a parking cone stuck in its hole, and a drummer who looked coked out of his skull. I was confused. Kailey was unimpressed. It was all so Philly. Too out of left field for Baltimore, but not quite self-aware enough for New York.
As the conversation between the girls turned to each other, I took it as my cue to leave, but to my surprise, I heard a “MOON HOOOOCH: THAT’S M-O-O-N H-O-O-C-H,” call out to me from behind. Sweet Kailey was adamant that I take her number in case I ever found myself in town again.
Into the night I went, but not for too long. I got in my car and considered our hidden super power: taking stagnation and turning it into something more profound, more meaningful. It’s not night; it’s space. It’s not he; it’s she. It’s not darkness; it’s the illuminated edge of a hollow distance.