Brian Howard has a great piece in this week’s City Paper on the long-rumored and now-confirmed closing down of Philly mainstay The Khyber as a music venue. It’ll still be open as (hopefully not too) scrubbed beer bar, with a new food concept. Which, given its history as one of Philly’s earliest craft bars, is some consolation.
That I haven’t seen all that many shows at The Khyber says a lot about its recent past. By the time I was living in Philly and of drinking age, 2005, The Khyber was a shadow of the place that hosted early shows by Beck, Guided by Voices, a secret gig by Iggy Pop, and, as booker Bryan Dilworth puts it, “the bulk of the Sub Pop, the Amphetamine Reptile, the Touch and Go, the beginning of Merge, the beginning of Simple Machines, the middle of K., the bulk of Dischord.” Which itself was a far cry from the Middle Eastern freak jazz bar named “The Khyber Pass” it started as. Philly has changed a lot since then. Old City’s gentrification has flooded into a Jersey backwater, and other, further north, parts of the city have risen up. Venues like The Fire, Kung Fu Necktie, Johnny Brenda’s, and others have sprung up like gentrifying weeds. And local booker Sean Agnew, who started R5 as a more humble DIY outfit, has expanded into the Pitchfork-friendly territory that the Khyber previously held. And, since R5 booked shows at other bars but never the Khyber, I’d say R5 quickened (unintentionally, of course) The Khyber’s passing. Not to knock R5, which has been a boon for this city.
My favorite quote from the piece, a variation on the everything’s gone to hell trope for the punk generation:
The rock scene nowadays is too organized. No surprises. Very controlled. Venues have air conditioning now. Bands seem to show up on time. Onstage monitors apparently work more often than not. It’s been a long while since I’ve seen actual vomit and/or nudity at a rock show. Most bands seem to know how to play their instruments. This is boring. I blame the computer.
-Rich Fravel, ex-booker, present real estate agent
I can’t remember the last show I saw at The Khyber. Many of them were energetic, the sound frequently lackluster. I do remember leaving one show on the second song of the first opening act. The last good show I do remember was a wonderful set by Little Joy in November of 2008. I got drunk and aggressively set my brother up with a girl from Jersey.
Adieu, Khyber. Not even being part of the Gray Lady’s sixth borough could save you. Wish I had seen you in your heyday. Next time around, promise. Oh, and of course, I’ll still drink in you. So, you know, there’s that.