Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra

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Photo by Candice Eley

If you’re trying to start your own weird band, it’s a good move to include a robot member or two. As we’ve repeatedly established on this here blog, robots are weird. Especially ones that have glass heads with brains floating in them.

In the case of Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra, they have only one robot, but he’s a good one. SPO-20 has the aforementioned glass head and suspended brain, and he sings the band’s jaunty electro-pop ditties in a voice that’s two parts Stephen Hawking and one part retired Cylon warrior crooning pop standards in the rec room at the Cylon old folks’ home. The Dave Stewart to SPO-20’s Annie Lennox, Professor B. Miller, accompanies the robot on keyboards with more sweaty enthusiasm than Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra’s light-hearted tunes require, but he’s probably overcompensating for SPO-20’s stiffness air of enigmatic aloofness.

SPO are from San Diego, which is a weirder music town than you might expect; it’s also home to Cattle Decapitation, masked powerviolence perpetrators The Locust, and at least one other, much scarier robot band. They’ve been doing their thing since 1996 and their biggest claim to fame is they released the bestselling 4-disc debut album of all time — featuring “probably over 50 songs!” according to their website. You’re probably wondering, “Yeah, but how many 4-disc debut albums can there possibly be?” And I’m here to tell you that I have no idea, but I’m sure it’s a lot or they wouldn’t be bragging about it.

Here’s one of those 50-odd tracks, “Haunted Rental Car,” which I figured is an appropriate choice since it’s almost Halloween and all:

After a follow-up 2014 album called Experiments With Auto-Croon, SPO return next month with the first in what Prof B tell us will be a series of 20 (twenty!) EPs, each centered around a different theme. The first one is all about supermarkets, which I guess is appropriate because robots are already starting to run our supermarkets, so why not have one sing songs about it? Here’s a just-released video for that Orwellian shopping nightmare known as the “Price Check”:

After Stop by the Supermarket, SPO’s next three EPs will be about Christmas (timely!), the paranormal (less timely, but awesome!) and being lost at sea (never goes out of style). What the next 16 EPs after that will be about is anyone’s guess, but I’m sure they’ll all be trenchant parables for our dystopian times.

Side note: Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra was actually one of the three bands that played at our first (and to date, only) Weird Band Night back in 2014. How we went four years after that event without ever adding them to the Weird List I’m not sure, but it was probably down to some stupid human error and further proof that robots are better at everything. I’m sure one directed this video for another SPO tune, “Frankenstein’s Laundromat,” because it’s great. (As is their live show — if you happen to live in San Diego, they’re having a record release gig on Nov. 24th, which you should definitely check out.)

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Happy Halloween to all you “Bats” from Bloody Death Skull

Bloody Death Skull Bats

Here’s a riddle for the ages: How is it that no one until 1978 ever thought to title a horror movie Halloween? Feature-length horror films were over 50 years old by then, so John Carpenter really caught everyone else asleep at the switch there.

Bloody Death Skull‘s “Bats” isn’t the first song to use that title, but it has surprisingly little competition — mainly in the form of Tori Amos and My Little Pony, neither of whom, in this writer’s humble opinion, really captured bats in all their creepy glory. One fell on my head once on the way back from a camping trip — it had apparently flown into our RV and taken up temporary residence in one of the overhead storage compartments — and let me tell you, those little fuckers are freaky. They’re like rats with big leathery skin flaps that get caught under your collar and you’re shrieking for your friend Dora to pull over and everyone else thinks it’s so hilarious even though now you’re gonna need a rabies shot and years of therapy. But I digress.

“Bats” represents a new direction for Bloody Death Skull, according to BDS leader Daiana Feuer, who sent us the video for the new song (which you can see below) a few days ago. She assures me that there’s still some of her trademark ukulele buried in the mix somewhere, but mostly this is an electronic song, with big, squelchy synths and drum machine beats. “As an Argentinean raised in South Florida, I grew up on club music of all kinds and I’m trying to bring some of that flavor into the mix,” she reports. The synths are courtesy of Gerard Olson, beats by Andres Renteria, and mixing by the great DJ Nobody of Low End Theory (R.I.P.) fame.

Daiana also notes that the song is actually sung from the perspective of a demon who consumes bats. The video chronicles the hungry demon’s pursuit of a particularly insouciant bat with a taste for swimming pools and disco balls. “The bat has no idea it’s so delicious,” she explains. “To the demon, it’s like a walking slice of pizza.”

So enjoy a little early Halloween merriment, courtesy of Bloody Death Skull. Best song ever titled “Bats”? With apologies to Tori Amos, I say yes.

P.S. While TWBITW was in hypersleep, Bloody Death Skull appeared on The Gong Show — and got a perfect score! You can watch their triumphant performance here.

Little Big’s “Skibidi” video explained by … Inside Edition?

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When we first wrote about Little Big’s “Skibidi” video and its accompanying dance — a cross between the Chicken, the Macarena and a splay-legged, fist-thrusting walk I’m gonna propose we call the Funky Stormtrooper — we suggested it had the potential to achieve “Harlem Shake” and “Gangnam Style” heights of dank memeness. And I think we were right; just three weeks since its release, the “Skibidi” video has racked up over 38 million YouTube views and thousands of video responses to the group’s #SkibidiChallenge (here’s a sample).

It’s also beginning to generate some interest outside of LB’s home country of Russia. So far most Western media, understandably, aren’t quite sure what to make of the whole thing. Mixmag, for example, just posted the “Skibidi” video to their Facebook page with the note, “WTF just happened?” (Here’s what happened, Mixmag: You got skibididdled. You got skibididdled so hard. Also, I just Googled “skibididdled” and this is officially the first online use of that word — so you’re welcome, internet.)

For Anglo audiences still bewildered by the sight of all these Russians jerk-stepping through the streets to bad techno, help has arrived in the form of an explanatory video from, of all places, Inside Edition, the long-running American “newsmagazine” show that I thought was mainly in the business of digging up celebrity scandals and hard-hitting investigative reports like “How Dirty Is Your Gym Bag?” Turns out they also have a segment called “Inside Edition Explains” in which they get experts to break down various pop culture phenomena whose appeal might otherwise elude the average Inside Edition viewer. Usually they set their sights on more mainstream fare, like Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” video and New York Fashion Week. But not even the primetime ratings-chasing folks at Inside Edition could resist the siren call (or is that a chicken call?) of “Skibidi.”

Full disclosure: An Inside Edition producer actually reached out to me at one point to see if I’d serve as their “Skibidi” expert, and I totally blew it and didn’t get back to them in time. But I’m kind of glad I didn’t, because never in a million years could I have explained “Skibidi” as well as the expert they did get, New York-based Russian musician Tessa Lena of Tessa Fights Robots. Tessa seems to be new to Little Big, so I guess I could’ve given a little more context for who Little Big are and their place in the growing global canon of artists who filter a mishmash of EDM, hip-hop and Western pop music through their own cultural touchpoints to surreal effect (keep that in mind for next time, Inside Edition!). But I was clueless about some of the video’s specifically Russian in-jokes, like turning the traditionally dour cashier of a Soviet-style grocery store into a grinning, “Sikibidi” strutting fool, and the dance’s resemblance to the chicken dance, which has apparently been very popular in Russia going back to the Soviet days and is probably at least partially responsible for the peculiarly spastic way Russian lager louts dance to techno (which, in turn, has clearly inspired many of Little Big’s videos, like this one).

Anyway, here’s Tessa Lena dropping some “Skibidi” knowledge. Spoiler alert: She confirms my suspicion that “‘Skibidi’ in Russian means absolutely nothing” — it’s just a made-up word, which kind of makes me love the song even more. I’ve heard that The Clash’s Joe Strummer, when asked what the greatest rock lyric of all time was, replied, “Awopbopaloobop alopbamboom.” OK, so maybe “Skibidi wa-pa-pa” isn’t quite that inspired, but it’s in the same ballpark.

Jandek

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Outsider musicians don’t get any more outsidery than the mysterious Texas singer-songwriter who, for years, was known to the world only as Jandek. Over the course of 40 years and 91 albums — all released through his own label, Corwood Industries — he’s done everything from minimalist, atonal folk to minimalist, Velvet Underground-ish psych-rock to minimalist piano nocturnes to — do you sense a theme here? Well, you can forget it, because sometimes he also likes to get funky. About the only thing you can expect from Jandek is that he will defy your expectations — including your expectations of what “outsider music” is supposed to sound like.

Jandek first surfaced in 1978 with Ready for the House, an album of nine ghostly dirges performed on a detuned (or, according to Jandek, alternately tuned) acoustic guitar and sung in an oddly affectless murmur, as though all the vocals were recorded at 3 a.m. while trying not to wake a sleeping infant in the next room. The tone throughout is melancholy and claustrophobic; you get the sense that whoever recorded these songs doesn’t get out much. Relief seems to come on the album’s final track, “European Jewel (Incomplete),” when Jandek breaks out a slightly more tuneful electric guitar — until he sings, “There’s bugs in my brain/I can’t feel any pain,” right before the tape abruptly cuts off (hence, one presumes, the “Incomplete” in the song title) and you realize you might be listening to the ramblings of an actual crazy person.

Even though it’s clearly the work of a lone individual, Ready for the House was originally attributed to a band called The Units — until another band of the same name sent Jandek a cease-and-desist. I’m not sure how they even learned of Ready for the House‘s existence, since Corwood Industries apparently had zero distribution at the time. In his classic book on outsider music, Songs in the Key of Z, Irwin Chusid describes writing to Jandek in 1980, two years after Ready for the House‘s initial release, and receiving a letter back noting that the album had only sold two copies. Further correspondence yielded 25 free copies of the LP; “I need to move them,” their creator explained. (For years, this was part of Jandek’s appeal; you could mail-order his records from him directly, via a P.O. box in Houston, and he’d often send more records than you requested, swamping his tiny fan base with product.)

Even though subsequent Jandek albums, including 1981’s Six and Six and 1982’s Chair Beside a Window, featured cover photos of a pale young man with a bowl cut and a piercing stare, the project remained essentially anonymous. None of the records included any liner notes, and whatever press Jandek did seemed to be almost inadvertent. He agreed to a 1985 interview with John Trubee, a writer for a then brand-new magazine called Spin, but listening to the full audio of the recording (which has been widely disseminated by Jandek fans eager for any insight into their reclusive hero), it’s not clear that he understood he was being recorded and might be quoted in Trubee’s article. “You don’t want any personal information printed?” Trubee asks at one point. “Rather not,” Jandek tersely replies. “You can quote any of the lyrics,” he adds, sounding like he’s trying to be helpful. Then, true to form, he offers to send Trubee more copies of all his records.

It’s since been revealed, through copyright information and other public records, that Jandek is the work of one Sterling R. Smith, who lives in the Houston area and is believed to now be in his late 60s or early 70s. However, out of respect for his extremely private nature, many fans still refer to him only as Jandek — or, to distinguish him from the musical project, which over the years has occasionally incorporated other musicians, as “the representative from Corwood Industries” or simply “the representative.”

For a taste of early, acoustic Jandek, here’s “The Janitor,” from his third album, Later On, Corwood Industries catalog no. 741. Oh, did I mention that he gave Ready for the House catalog no. 739, for no particular reason? Unless he’s got 738 albums’ worth of unreleased songs like this, which seems entirely possible.

Reactions to Jandek’s early music ranged, predictably, from confusion to disgust and even terror; Chusid called Ready for the House “one of the most frightening records I’ve ever heard.” I don’t find it quite that chilling, but there is something undeniably unsettling about it. There has to be something not quite right, you think as you listen to Jandek, with any man who’d churn out these atonal dirges so prolifically.

Jandek wasn’t a total tinfoil-on-the-windows loner, however. His 1982 album, Chair Beside a Window, featured a guest female vocalist named Nancy on a track helpfully titled “Nancy Sings.” And by 1985, he had even assembled a band and gone electric, though the results — still featuring the aforementioned Nancy — were less Dylan at Newport and more The Shaggs at Lou Reed’s garage sale.

Not all of Jandek’s early work was out-of-tune caterwauling. By the late ’80s, his guitar work could occasionally be bluesy and elegiac, and his deadpan murmur had been largely replaced by a breathy delivery that carried just the hint of a melody and suggested he might own a Nick Drake record or two. Either he was learning on the job, or the earlier, more atonal stuff was a deliberate move and not the mere amateurism his many detractors have long accused him of (and though he has fans like Thurston Moore, Ben Gibbard and Conor Oberst, he has many, many more detractors).

“Upon the Grandeur,” a rambling, eight-minute guitar idyll from 1991’s One Foot in the North, is especially beautiful, with inscrutable lyrics that may or may not be about religious salvation. It sounds like he’s singing, “Join hands another way/Be born again today,” but it’s hard to tell — and, as always, there are no lyric sheets or liner notes to help decipher his slurred delivery.

In the ’90s, Jandek returned to acoustic solo recordings. By this time he had acquired a sizable cult following who embraced his quirky, lo-fi approach — but even that following was not prepared for 2000’s Put My Dream on This Planet, on which he ditched the guitar and just sang shakily into what sounded like a cheap, voice-activated tape recorder. Two of the album’s three tracks stretched on for over 20 minutes, testing all but the most dedicated fans’ patience. (Don’t worry, if you don’t make it through all 28 minutes of “I Need Your Life,” we won’t report you to the Jandek police.)

Not content to stop there, Jandek released two more a cappella/spoken word albums — the third and (for now) final of which is called Worthless Recluse, a title he probably lifted from a dismissive review in some underground rock zine that could only hang with Jandek if there was a weirdly tuned guitar involved.

In 2004, Jandek got a little less mysterious when he began performing live. At first, he would only appear unannounced, on the bill at larger festivals. But by 2005 he was headlining the occasional show, first in the U.K. and later in Austin, New York and elsewhere around the U.S. and Europe. He also began releasing live albums based on these still-infrequent appearances, each named after the location and day of the week of the show: Glasgow Sunday, Newcastle Monday, Manhattan Tuesday. At these shows, a man who looked unmistakably like an older version of the pale kid on the cover of early Jandek albums took the stage, usually playing guitar but occasionally piano, bass or keyboard, with a rotating cast of backing musicians. Musicians who have played with him at these gigs report that he invariably refers to himself as “the representative from Corwood Industries.”

Playing live seems to have inspired Jandek to expand his sonic palette, dabbling in everything from noise-rock to avant-garde classical to free jazz, sometimes all in the same show. Here, for example, is “Part Three” of Manhattan Tuesday, recorded on Sept. 6, 2005 with several leading musicians from New York’s experimental rock scene and released in 2007.

This new phase of sonic experimentation has affected Jandek’s studio recordings as well. In 2013, he released The Song of Morgan, a 9-disc set featuring nine numbered “Nocturnes” for piano, each about an hour in length. There are no accompanying vocals or other instrumentation — just Jandek’s spare, simple piano chords, which somehow manage to simultaneously evoke George Winston, Erik Satie and a child noodling away after a year or two of lessons (an association seemingly made explicit by the cover photo, the youngest image he’s ever released of the “Corwood representative”). He followed that up a year later with Ghost Passing, a 6-disc set of more hour-long piano-only compositions.

At least two documentaries have been made about Jandek: 2003’s Jandek on Corwood, in which “the representative” never appears (and for which the filmmakers explicitly avoided interviewing him, preferring to tell his story through commentary from various musicians and journalists) and 2015’s I Know You Well, which follows Jandek’s forays into live performing. Though he appears onscreen in the latter film, he remains no less enigmatic. Explaining at one point why he prefers playing to seated audiences, he says, “It’s easier for them to dream. And to feel like, ‘I hate it, but I can’t leave.'”

The debate over Jandek tends to polarize into two extremes: Is he a genius or a charlatan? Personally, I think he’s neither. Like all good outsider musicians, Jandek forces his listeners to decide where they draw the line between “real” music and aimless noise, between art and doodling, meaning and nonsense. Doing that doesn’t take any particular genius, but it does take a singular, selfish vision and a willingness to completely ignore all considerations of convention and commercialism — or even the expectations of your own fans and the precedent of your own catalog. You could made a strong case that no other musician has done this longer, or more consistently, than Jandek. Like I said, when it comes to outsider musicians, he’s the outsider-iest.

I’ll leave you with more late ’80s Jandek — not because I claim it’s his best period, or his weirdest, but just because it happens to be my favorite. Liking this version of Jandek — when his aimless songwriting alit on something that was part blues shaman, part discount-bin Dylan and part Velvet Underground circa “Pale Blue Eyes” — is probably the equivalent of liking Picasso before he discovered cubism, but I don’t care. I love that something can simultaneously sound so transcendent and so like it’s in danger of falling apart at any moment. I think that’s the promise implicit in all outsider music — that coloring so far outside the lines can lead to moments that can’t be reached through conventional means.

P.S. Thanks to every reader who has patiently suggested for years that we add Jandek to the Weird List. Your patience has finally been rewarded. Hope that, like Jandek’s captive live audiences, you didn’t hate the wait too much.

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Babymetal have a new video and one less singer

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A band like Babymetal isn’t really built to last. Three adorable teen Japanese girls fronting a metal band only works as long as the girls stay young and adorable. Four years after they blew up internationally, those girls are now young women — and as of Friday, there’s one less of them, as the band announced that Mizuno Yui, aka Yuimetal, has left the group, apparently due to a combination of health reasons and a desire to pursue her own solo career. (You can read statements from the band and Yuimetal here.)

Su-Metal and Moametal are carrying on without their former bandmate — and judging from the new single they released Friday, “Starlight,” they’re taking their music and image in a more mature, less kawaii (cute) direction. Which makes sense — Moametal is 19 and Su-Metal is 20, so it would be weird if they were still traipsing around in matching tutus and singing about the joys of chocolate over blast beats. Then again, being weird was what Babymetal was about from the jump — and now they’re, well, less weird. So I’m feeling a little conflicted about this new, less gimmicky direction for the band.

That being said, “Starlight” is a solid slab of pop-tinged power metal, with a catchy chorus and some genuinely heavy instrumental passages. (Even in their early, super-kawaii days, Babymetal’s backing band was always legit.) The video (embedded below) is kind of “meh” in my opinion, but it’s apparently setting up a narrative that will continue in future videos about something called the Chosen Seven that we get a glimpse of at the very end. And that part sounds like it could be really cool. So I’ll withhold judgment until they’ve revealed the full storyline.

Speaking of storylines, Babymetal are also gearing up for the release of their first graphic novel, Apocrypha: The Legend of Babymetal, which looks awesome. It’s due out Oct. 30 and supposedly will explain the story behind the Fox God, a mythical deity the group often cites in interviews as the creator of Babymetal. So hey, they haven’t completely abandoned their weird roots.

David Liebe Hart joins forces with members of Half Japanese and the results are amazing

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We’ve made no secret before in these virtual pages of our love for outsider musician, puppeteer and alien abductee David Liebe Hart. But we’ve neglected to sing the praises of Half Japanese, the long-running lo-fi rock act fronted by brothers Jad and David Fair. Since the late ’70s, they’ve churned out a massive catalog of tunes that manage to be deliriously catchy even when the guitars are out of tune (which they usually are). Kurt Cobain was a fan, as is Daniel Johnston. They’re great, and definitely weird enough to eventually earn a spot on our ever-expanding list.

So what do you get when you cross David Liebe Hart with Jad Fair and another frequent Half Japanese member, Baltimore multi-instrumentalist and all-around weirdness connoisseur Jason Willett? Possibly the best album DLH has ever recorded: For Everyone, which sets Hart’s rants and digressions to music as endearingly off-kilter as his half-sung, half-guy-on-the-bus-talking-to-no-one-in-particular vocals. There are paeans to Valerie Harper and Beatrice Arthur, an ode to a dead pet fish, an electro-funk screed against fake dating profiles (“Robot Girls”), and controversial diatribes on everything from Disney characters (“I Like Donald Duck Better Than Mickey Mouse”) to classic sitcoms (“I Like Vivian Vance Better Than Lucille Ball”).

The album’s Hartiest moment, for my money, is “Lentil Beans,” on which the singer professes his romantic (and occasionally carnal) love for the titular legume. “If you were a lady, I’d marry you,” DLH declares. “You’re better than black-eyed peas.” Personally, lentils give me gas, but I admire the man’s passion for his food. Here, have a listen:

For Everyone is out today via Joyful Noise Recordings and available for stream or purchase (on limited edition orange vinyl — only 100 copies left as of this writing) from Bandcamp. With respect to Jonah Mociun — whose loopy electro-pop has provided DLH with excellent musical accompaniment for the past several years — Jad Fair and Jason Willett have provided the perfect soundtrack for David Liebe Hart’s peculiar brand of endearingly eccentric songwriting. It’s occasionally hilarious, occasionally creepy — poppy, atonal, avant-garde and accessible all at once. It reminds me a little of what might happen if Wesley Willis, Tom Waits and Fun Boy Three (remember them?) joined forces, but really, it’s one of the most original things you’ll hear all year.

I have an uncontrollable urge to leave you with another track, so here’s “Haunted by Frankenstein.” Bump this at your Halloween party and give extra candy to the folks willing to dance to it.

Cattle Decapitation vomit forth rarities and hit the road for North American tour

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Photo by Pablo Montano

Many of you readers have pointed out that our favorite meat-is-murder goregrind band, Cattle Decapitation, aren’t actually all that weird anymore, since most of their more recent material is no longer quite so specifically about the evils of factory farming and turning cows into cannibals. (And yes, that last part is a thing that actually happens, not just some twisted fantasy of Cattle Decapitation.) But they’re still awesome, so who cares? We’ll continue providing updates on their activities until somebody finds us another deathgrind band with a weirder back catalog and a frontman more unhinged than Travis Ryan.

Besides, their latest release, Medium Rarities, goes all the way back to Cattle Decap’s early days, when Travis would sometimes wear a mask made out of beef jerky and their songs had titles like “Diarrhea for Dahmer” and “Flesh-Eating Disease.” In addition to those early demos, the collection also includes several hard-to-find bonus tracks and all the songs from their 2005 split EP with another of our favorite weird metal bands, Caninus, the dog-fronted grindcore group. Also, the LP comes in special “rare” and “well done” meat-colored versions, as well as European versions that, according to Ryan, “resemble diseased meats.” Those, needless to say, will be highly sought-after collector’s items, at least until the cows rise up from their feedlots and kill us all in an orgy of bovine-on-human torture porn.

Here’s a promotional video for Medium Rarities, featuring its gross-out album art and the 2012 track “An Exposition of Insides,” previously only available in Japan. Oh, and did I mention that Cattle Decap will be on tour starting Oct. 21st, supporting technical death metalers Suffocation? Well, they will be. Full dates after the clip.

CATTLE DECAPITATION w/ Suffocation, Krisiun, Visceral Disgorge:
10/21/2018 Mulcahy’s Concert Hall – Wantagh, NY
10/22/2018 Middle East Down – Cambridge, MA
10/23/2018 Les Foufounes Electriques – Montreal, QC
10/24/2018 Lee’s Place – Toronto, ON
10/25/2018 Magic Stick – Detroit, MI
10/26/2018 The Forge – Joliet, IL
10/27/2018 Amsterdam Bar And Grill – St. Paul, MN
10/29/2018 Riot Room – Kansas City, MO
10/30/2018 Gothic Theatre – Denver, CO
10/31/2018 Metro Music Hall – Salt Lake City, UT
11/01/2018 Diamondz Event Center – Jerome, ID
11/02/2018 Club Sur Rocks – Seattle, WA
11/03/2018 Lola’s Room – Portland, OR
11/04/2018 Oakland Metro – Oakland, CA
11/05/2018 Whisky A Go-Go – West Hollywood, CA
11/06/2018 Brick By Brick – San Diego, CA
11/07/2018 Club Red – Mesa, AZ
11/09/2018 Paper Tiger – San Antonio, TX
11/10/2018 Gas Monkey Bar ‘N’ Grill – Dallas, TX
11/11/2018 White Oak Music Hall – Houston, TX
11/13/2018 The Masquerade – Atlanta, GA
11/14/2018 The Cone Denim Entertainment Center – Greensboro, NC
11/15/2018 Ottobar – Baltimore, MD
11/16/2018 Gramercy Theatre – New York, NY
11/17/2018 Reverb – Reading, PA