Hoagie heroes 

Philadelphia’s Excelsior! plays for munchies

Philadelphia has plenty to offer every taste. For folks with a historical turn of mind, it’s got a spanking new Constitution Center, plus the usual ambient charm lingering in the wake of a lot of history that actually happened there. Those drawn to attractions a bit off the beaten path can check out the Mütter Museum, which boasts among its extensive collection of medical anomalies the body of a woman naturally preserved by soap and a special cabinet full of foreign objects extracted from people’s stomachs.

And if there’s a city where civic pride revolves around the stomach, it’s Philadelphia, birthplace of the cheese steak, Frank’s Black Cherry Wishniak, Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews and a unique breakfast variety meat called scrapple, which is most assuredly not made from the best stuff on earth. No other American city boasts of its culinary contributions as loudly as the City of Brotherly Love. There are even mail-order services that specialize in catering comfort food to homesick Philadelphians around the world, with vacuum-sealed cheese steaks and slabs of scrapple ready to “smash ‘n’ burn” in Missoula or Melbourne or Marseilles. The place has got food.

“Philadelphia was voted fattest city in the United States a couple years ago,” says Excelsior! guitarist Rod, “but we’ve since been surpassed by some shitty Midwest cities like Cleveland and Indianapolis. Philadelphia is the city you love to hate. We do love most food items unique to Philly, however. And the Mütter Museum. There’s nothing better than dead babies in jars.”

Excelsior! has been cranking out obliterating riffage with spastic vocals for about six years. A new retrospective of sorts on Philadelphia label Planaria Records, the Hot Shit Sandwich CD, compiles the band’s previously released Land of Enchantment and Battle Dudes Unite vinyls and a rash of unreleased songs spanning the band’s first four years. Hot Shit Sandwich shows leanings toward the Teutonic technical precision of the Champs and the sheer muscle of KARP, but holds on to a red-raw edge that gives stoner-boogie stompers like “Harnessing the Power of the Elements” and “A Fun-Filled Escapade” the authentic sound of a basement rock show leaking up the stairwell.

Hot Shit Sandwich is “mostly old yet somewhat new,” according to Excelsior! member Rod. An all-new album titled Can We Get Some Satisfaction Up in This Piece?, he says, finds the band, recently reunited with a new lineup after a lengthy hiatus, moving in more of a stoner-rock direction and ready to take on some beefier touring now that the “pussies” in the old lineup have been left in the dust. Fittingly, in a hometown that lends its name to a scooped out cigar shell stuffed with marijuana, Rod says Excelsior’s scene basically revolves around weed and massive quantities of cheap beer. You could pretty much surmise this by looking at the cover of Hot Shit Sandwich, which looks a little like one of those oddly proportioned tapestries depicting a siege from the Hundred Years War, only with mummies and unicorns and leprechauns and a host of Dungeons & Dragons combatants.

A crazy amount of energy is what sets Excelsior! apart from its stoner-rock ilk, its members’ munchies sated by cheese steaks and hoagies—can’t forget hoagies when talking about Philadelphia. Next month, Excelsior! will appear on a new compilation of 25 Philly bands called Hoags.

“Hoag is short for hoagie,” Rod explains, “a delicious sandwich essential to the diet of every Philadelphian. You guys out there might know them as heroes, submarines, grinders, etc. There’s also a specific Philly accent which goes along with saying this and numerous other Philly terms. Remember the Dead Milkmen? Best band ever! They have the Philly accent.”

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