REPORT: Sister Ray Slam at the Institute of Contemporary Art

This past Wednesday, August 3, the Institute of Contemporary Art held the Sister Ray Slam.  The event was a closing party for their exhibition “That’s How We Escaped”: Reflections on Warhol, which examined Warhol’s first museum exhibition that occurred in 1965 at the ICA, then located in the Fisher Fine Arts Library at the University of Pennsylvania.  The raucous opening caused such a fervor that Warhol and superstar Edie Sedgwick had to escape through the roof of the building.  Mirroring this historic event, the museum was packed for the celebration.

As guests were milling in and enjoying free Little Baby’s Ice Cream, the program began with Secret Cinema‘s presentation of a 16mm print of Andy Warhol’s short Restaurant.  The 1965 short was a dry half-hour of Sedgwick and others having a ball drinking their dinner at a restaurant, with half the film zoomed in on an ashtray displaying a Cinzano logo.  Typical Warhol fare for anyone familiar with his films, but nice to see in 16mm format from the MoMA collection.  More films (Warhol’s screen tests starring Nico, Lou Reed and others) kept rolling during the next portion of the event, where three different bands performed covers of the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray.”

Dry Feet (from “Philadelphia Beach”) were up first, with the most high-octane rendition.  Singer Perry Shall even admitted mid-song that he couldn’t read the lyrics he printed out, but that didn’t stop them.  Dry Feet are a garage-punk band whose own compositions rarely reach the two minute mark, but their reverbed-out take on the classic was the most inventive and fun version of the night and would not have been out of place among the roster of the Goner and Hozac labels.

Perennial ICA opening favorites the Megajam Booze Band followed. A supergroup comprised of local rockers from bands like Birds of Maya, The Spooks, Violent Students and Purling Hiss, the two-bass and many-guitar group set into an epic dirge.  Punctuated by local legend Harmonica Dan and the vocals of ex-Clockcleaner Richie Charles, they turned in a fine, wailing performance.

Finally, the Sweet Sister Ray Band (who have done this kind of thing before) took the stage to work it out. The group featured Dan Murphy of Megawords (whose exhibit currently in the second floor gallery contained a wide array of items including video pieces, Easy Subculture zines and even the Cupid Car Club 7″!) and local improv guitarist Steve Gunn.  But honestly, the night was a little hazy by this point.  Between the post-ice cream sugar rush, cheap beers, pouring rain and the audio-visual overload, any audience member could have left the Sister Ray Slam in a euphoric state.  Thanks to the ICA and project curator Grace Ambrose for the excellent event!

Top photo credit: Institute of Contemporary Art.

Author: Herbie Shellenberger

Herbie Shellenberger lives in West Philadelphia where he works at the Ibrahim Theater @ International House. His interests include film preservation, avant garde film and video, and the history of cinema spaces. His favorite actress is Juliet Berto and if you can get him a copy of any of the three films she directed, please contact

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