(Milk) & Cupcakes: Hank & Cupcakes and the Opening of Philly’s own Milkboy

So this entry is a little late because I had a little bit too much fun this past weekend. I’m not usually one for formal celebrations… or informal celebrations…...

So this entry is a little late because I had a little bit too much fun this past weekend. I’m not usually one for formal celebrations… or informal celebrations… or exuberance in any form.  However, this past Saturday, I stumbled ass-backwards into the inaugural night of music at Milkboy, Philthy’s newest venue… and I fucking loved it.

If you’re anything like me, you’re regularly asking “When is Philly going to get some new venues?  I mean, we need at least ten 1,000+-capacity rooms and fifty 100-300-capacity bars.  I mean, the bottom line is, there should be enough venues in Philadelphia that no single show ever has more than ten people in attendance.   Oh, and if it’s been around for more than two years, don’t fuckin’ go there, it’s passé (Just turn it into a family-friendly Irish pub.)  I mean, only losers would ever play the fucking North Star.  Oh, yeah, speaking of the North Star, with Union Transfer now open, Johnny Brenda’s, I’d like to introduce you to your new best friend.”

Okay, so I didn’t quite mean to go off on a rant there but, yeah, Philadelphia needs a new crappy venue about as badly as it needs an added hint of racial tension.  So how I ended up at Milkboy’s inaugural party was actually quite accidental.  I got an E-mail on Thursday regarding one of my favorite new bands (more on that later), informing me that in two days they were going to be playing Milkboy in Philadelphia (supporting a band with a member that a friend once casually tried to set me up with.  Should that have been awkward?), a venue I wasn’t aware was even open yet.  I was aware that a new Milkboy was going to be opening in Center City.  However, what I had in mind turns out to be about 10,000 light years from what I got.

For those of you reasonably in the know of local music happenings, the full name of Milkboy is actually Milkboy Coffee (Yes, it is a coffee shop that opens at 6 AM and serves obnoxious and hard-to-spell warm drinks to the “hardworking” upper-middle class.)  There are already two locations (Bryn Mawr and Ardmore), who serve up Joe during the day and play host to open-mics and local singer/songwriter douchery at night (I’m assuming… I never leave CC).  Okay, when I’m back in DC I like going to Jammin’ Java on occasion, but it’s certainly not exactly a “cool” hangout.  So I had these expectations going into it (Apparently all of the rest of the city did too… except Philthy’s own Elizabeth, who had assumed it was a gay bar…  That wouldn’t have occurred to me, but totally makes sense.)

So upon arriving, I’m a bit surprised to enter Swanksville.  The place resembles any given Stephen Starr restaurant, with obscure and completely unnecessary fixtures that you hate to admit you appreciate, a polish that you hate to admit makes you feel important, and a waitstaff that makes you feel like you should probably add an additional hour to your morning routine.  Downstairs, the coffee bar/bar/restaurant did feel a bit normative, although in a way begging to be tainted (I was eye-fucked by quite a few post-sorority-girls and a guy out of How I Met Your Mother did engage me in a bro-tastic conversation about the Phillies, despite the fact that I looked like I was in Depeche Mode.)

Advertised as “Standing room for approximately 200 people, two full bars, and a ShowCo PA system with Allen & Heath console,” I expected the upstairs performance space to be along the lines of the welcomingly divey former Khyber.  However, the swank just kept on coming.  The size and shape of the room did resemble the Khyber, but glazed over with a Studio 54 gloss of exclusivity.  Plus, the narrowness of the room provided a cramping of bodies that helped make it feel as though those of us who were lucky enough to squeeze into that space were actually somewhat important.

This was clearly something between a legit “club” opening and a bastion of alternative chic.  Yes, there were small piles of Doc Marten novelty guitar picks to be found every couple of feet, Milkboy-branded beer cozies given out with ever purchased can, and normal-hot/slutty promotion girls serving up trays of free booze (At one point, one of the girls spilled an entire tray of drinks onto the middle of the dance floor… one of the night’s many highlights.)  However, it was clearly the weirdos running the show.  The bands seemed to bring their fabulous friends out in droves.

The evening was headlined by local noise poppers Gang.  Anyone who knows me knows that I avoid all local acts on principle however, I wish I had previously given these three girls and a guy a little more of a chance.  There’s something really sexy about girls who can make your ears bleed (They did send a number of people to the back of the venue.)  They even closed out the night with an (I hope) ironic, but legitimately transgressively brilliant cover of Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name” (Alec, you are totally amazing and I know these are your buddies but, Rage Against the Machine sucks.)

However, it wasn’t Gang who provided the evening’s musical highlight.  That was all Hank & CupcakesHank & Cupcakes are a husband/wife duo who met in Tel Aviv and have spent the past three years in Brooklyn.  Five months ago they played the North Star Bar to an enthusiastic, but sparse (to put it mildly) crowd.  Since then they returned to Philthy to play the Roots’ Picnic in front of 2,000. This past Saturday night the bassist (Hank) and drummer/vocalist (Cupcakes) put on an anti-pop spectacle that felt like revolution in the most gloriously lighthearted manner.  Decked out in sequins and gold bling, Cupcakes didn’t hesitate to climb her bass drum at the climax of every tune and the couple displayed amazing dance moves throughout, suspiciously similar to those of Stefan Olsdal of Placebo (whom they had the pleasure of opening for quite early in their career).   Reminiscent of The Ting Tings, yet owing this evening’s enthusiasm not to chart success, but to the fact that they came off as a badass brand of dance pop that made everyone in the room feel as though they were witnessing something that would eventually “matter.”

Their set was comprised of numbers from their debut EP, such as the admirably forthright “Hit” and the funky-to-the-nth-degree-especially-for-white-people “Ain’t No Love” (although lacking their cover of “She’s Lost Control,” the most inventive and intriguing Joy Division cover of the past decade). This was accompanied with additional numbers, both new and old, such as the anthemically abrasive “Beat,” “Jimmy,” a critique of the obnoxiousness of D-list celebs, and “New Day,” which is half-way between palatable radio rock and sexily subversive synth-pop.  I was not quite sober by the time they took the stage, but I’m pretty sure they really did feel and appear as legit pop stars that night.

So how did this lovely night end?  Well, I was attempting to say goodnight to my new behind-the-bar buddy (whom I’ll get to in a moment) when I was pleasantly accosted by the stars of the night… for the sake of my mismatched Chuck’s (They told me that they were going to respectively borrow my habit of wearing Converse sneakers of two different colours at any given time… So if they go on to be mega stars and you see this… just remember their/your humble friend.)  Although I am “a professional,” who refrains from doing “interviews” when I’ve been consuming alcohol for the previous twelve hours, I did have quite an intriguing conversation with Hank & Cupcakes.  We began with their feelings (which were positive) of living in America and moved on to Cupcakes’ unawareness of Morrissey and concluded with her newfound fascination with J.M. Barrie’s pedophilia… it was one of those nights.

*I would also like to thank, profusely, my new buddy, Bill Hanson, Operations Partner of Milkboy Philadelphia, who hooked me up with several drinks and actually made me feel at home (“I haven’t got one…”).  Make sure to tip him well.



During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.