Play on, Khyber, play on: Live music returns to 2nd Street

It was a downtown indie rock mecca in the 1990s. After a decade-long hiatus, the Khyber Pass is booking bands again.

Khyber Pass Pub on Second Street in Old City. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Khyber Pass Pub on Second Street in Old City. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

After almost 10 years of keeping quiet, the Khyber Pass Pub is turning on the amps again.

Philadelphia’s indie-rock mecca in the 1990s and early 2000s —  a tiny room off a bar on Second Street in Old City — will return to regularly booking music and comedy beginning this weekend.

Co-owner Stephen Simons said the music stopped in 2010 because the commercial corridor of mostly bars and restaurants was becoming less friendly to live music.

He blames, in particular, parking. Bands could not park close enough to the club to easily load in and out.

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“It definitely adversely affected us, and made bands not want to play there,” said Simons. “That’s all changed now. Since Old City is getting back to the way it was — I won’t say the way it was, but moving in a different direction — it’s a good time to do it again.”

Citing the opening of popular spots such as Royal Boucherie, High Street on Market, and Franklin Fountain, Simons believes the time is ripe to bring back music. Josh Agran was hired to book acts, which Simons wants to be, once again, in an indie-rock vein. The Khyber will also feature comedy.

To launch this new chapter, a photo exhibition of its past has been hung on the Khyber’s walls. While photographer Paul Havelin worked at the Khyber as a doorman/bartender from 2001 to 2008, he took thousands of pictures of bands in performance, including Iggy Pop, My Morning Jacket, Mike Watt, and the Japanese hard-rock act Electric Eel Shock.

“Some of them were pretty wild,” said Havelin. “The images that I’m showing capture the energy of those bands. The energy of a small room like this. The intimacy of being as close as we are, it was pretty neat.”

The pictures have never been shown or published before (outside of a few on social media).  Havelin whittled down the cache to about 30, which he matted, framed, and hung on the Khyber’s stone walls.

There will be a First Friday opening of the exhibition early in the evening, then the drumstick drops at 9 p.m. The Goddamn Gallows headlines the three-act bill, with openers Forsooth and Crazy and the Brains.

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