The first warm evening of Spring is traditionally a fantastic day to attend a show, and this was no exception. Taking place on the outskirts of the Chinatown district in Philadelphia (in a venue that bears some sort of fiduciary connection to the infamous Diplo), the odds were in favor of Escape-Ism, Kilynn Lunsford and Annie Achron. I met a friend outside the venue, sporting black sunglasses, a beanie and a winter beard so bushy that it required two glances before I could confirm his identity, and we ventured in, eager to shed our winter layers.

South Philadelphia’s Annie Achron opened the show, standing up straight behind her table of cord-laden synths and related accoutrement. No worries if you haven’t heard of her – I don’t think she’s played more than ten shows in her life, and seeing as I missed all of them up to this point, I was pleased to have arrived on time. While her 2021 cassette release Silver​-​Handed In Subterranea reveled in the grimier, post-punk side of homespun electronic dance music, her live set landed closer to upbeat tech-house in a club setting. With imperceptible breaks between tracks, her songs buzzed with double-time loops and high-pitched effects, as if she was testing the highest keys on her sampler keyboard at least once per track. A nice touch! While Achron herself was stoic, even when adding her reverberant vocals to the mix, her music was buzzing with energy, like the dog that hops around excited to greet his owner when they come home from work. It’s my understanding that a highly reputable underground label has signed on to release her next album, and I can’t wait to hear it.

Up next was Kilynn Lunsford and her band, as she announced them in their matching mechanic suits. I’ve seen her perform a number of times now, not to mention her shows with the no-longer-active Taiwan Housing Project, and was eager to experience her junk-store voodoo no-wave amongst this crowd of friends and strangers. Lunsford sported a new shaved-head ponytail style, looking like a glamorous new member of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 1991 lineup, and her band were particularly inspired this evening, drummer Thomas Storck throwing his hunched, lanky body into every skeletal beat alongside that rack of misbehaving synths, rubber-band bass and Lunsford’s echo-loop vocals. She played all the hits off her 2022 debut, Custodians Of Human Succession, as well as some I didn’t immediately recognize, giving hope for another new recording in the works. “Sewerland” and “Reality Testing” hit particularly hard with a live band. There’s a reverence for classic no-wave inherent to the funky bass / death-disco drums / vocals n’ noise configuration, but Lunsford is an expert student of the genre, knowing full well the most important thing is to put your own personal stamp on things, which in her case also includes wearing a large phallic pendant as a necklace and smushing her cool hair all around. We are lucky to have her with us.

Escape-Ism was the headlining act, a group I had yet to hear in any form but was particularly excited to see. Having been a fan of Ian Svenonius since discovering The Nation Of Ulysses as a teenager and hearing the stories of their wilder-than-wild live shows (they bring a rack of black suits to the show and throw it into the crowd like maniacs???), he’s been a low-level legendary force, the type of guy who accidentally reveals himself to be extra smart by behaving extra stupid. It can be hard for any performer to live up to the hype we build up in our heads, but I am relieved to share that my expectations of this DIY punk luminary were surpassed.

Escape-Ism is as stripped-down as a Svenonius group can get, this one featuring him on vocals and guitar, backed up by Sandi Denton on bass and keys. Sporting matching fire-engine-red suits, Denton played it straight while Svenonius remained locked in half-character at all times, introducing songs humorously and off-the-cuff, always lightly pushing for audience interaction. (Lots of “can I get a”s and “are you with me?”s inserted into every song where other singers would normally take a breath.)

I had not previously known Svenonius as a guitarist, and after witnessing Escape-Ism I can’t say that I know him as one now. His was some of the most technically-unskilled guitar playing I’ve seen play out in front of a live audience, which of course means it ranks near some of the best. In a delightful and confounding twist, he insisted on holding a second microphone in addition to the normal one on the stand, struggling to find chords with the added difficulty of holding a skinny retro mic with those same fingers. While the songs were staunchly primitive rock n’ roll, all public-domain riffs delivered without shame or pretense, Svenonius’s sharp lyrical mind was on proud display, skewering the capitalist rich in a variety of entertaining and funny ways. “Fire In Malibu” is still lodged in my head from hearing it only that once, an ode to the property-destroying blazes that continually pop up in the richest counties of Southern California. As Denton’s two-note grooves and Svenonius’s one-rhythm drum-machine hold down the fort, he jumps up, scatters across the stage and gesticulates uncontrollably, his guitar switching between silent and brash as he struggles to hold that extra mic, almost reminiscent of Neil Hamburger fumbling with four gin-and-tonics in his grip.

Considering the low overall wattage of Escape-Ism’s setup, it was surprising when the venue’s power dropped out for a few minutes. Such a sad turn of events has killed the energy of many a live performer, this writer sadly included, but Svenonius didn’t seem remotely phased, instead jumping into an unplugged sing-along, still strumming his electric guitar and wildly emoting with nary a care as to the lack of amplification. The power came back the exact second they finished that song, almost as if it was part of the show. But really, it was Svenonius affirming the fact that, had all of his limbs fallen off instead, he would’ve simply taken to spinning on his torso with the mic lodged in his throat, a vivacious performer incapable of ceding to anything besides the grim reaper’s eventual call. After the show, another friend remarked that much of the crowd smelled really good, a rare inversion of the typical underground gig. It was just one of those nights.