When asked to share his earliest concert memory, Paul Havelin does not hesitate. “December 17, 1985. I was 11 years old. Kiss at the Spectrum.”
The arena spectacle, one of nearly 100 dates on the band’s makeup-free Asylum Tour, made an impression, sparking his lifelong love of live music. And though Havelin didn’t get to commit that first time to film, he’s carried a camera with him for nearly all the rest.
After spending the past year unearthing the rock-and-roll images stashed away in his Delco attic, Havelin will present “From the Vault,” a long-buried collection of his Philadelphia concert photos from the 1990s and 2000s. Hosting the First Friday, Sept. 6, show is the venue where most of the retrospective was actually shot — the Khyber Pass Pub, Havelin’s former employer, which just reintroduced live music after a nearly decadelong hiatus.
Growing up, Havelin was part of the all-ages punk and hardcore scenes in and around Trenton and Philly. Turning 21 meant access to more venues — and there was one he’d long had on his list. “You always heard about this place, the Khyber,” he recalls. “It already had this storied history.”
Established as a saloon in 1876, the Khyber came by that name in 1973, when it was purchased by Serrill Headley, running it as a South Asian restaurant. It was known for its vast beer selection and live music slate, which remain hallmarks today.
David Simons acquired the Khyber in 1988 and reoriented it as a rock club — spicy curries giving way to Smashing Pumpkins. He hired his brother to handle the talent. “I booked what I liked,” says Stephen Simons, responsible for landing both Billy Corgan’s band and Courtney Love’s Hole on a single bill in 1991.
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Stephen, along with partner Dave Frank, took over in 1997. Havelin, who’d taken in his first Khyber show (the Canadian band Nomeansno) two years prior, became such a regular that the owners hired him in 2001. Starting as the doorman, he ended as the Khyber’s daytime manager in 2008.
This was a dream office for Havelin, who earned a B.F.A. in photography from Beaver College (now Arcadia University) in 1998. “I’d be there to work," he says, "and I’d have a couple minutes to hop out from behind the bar and snap a couple pictures.”
Working with a low-resolution Nikon point-and-shoot he borrowed from a friend, Havelin immortalized a diverse lineup during his Khyber run — influential bassist Mike Watt, and a pre-blowup My Morning Jacket (2002); gypsy punks Gogol Bordello (2003); campy metal legend Thor (2005), whom Havelin captured seconds after he bent a metal bar in his teeth to the delight of the voracious crowd.
Havelin’s most memorable Khyber gig: an impromptu Monday afternoon set by Iggy Pop in December 2003, organized by alternative rock station Y100. “I think a lot of people who weren’t actually there say they were there,” says Havelin, who has the intimate black-and-white snapshots to substantiate his attendance.
In 2010, recognizing shifting tastes, Simons and Frank reconceptualized the Khyber into its current form, a New Orleans-inspired restaurant, upsetting those who grew up going to shows there. “I would have continued doing music there forever, had that been possible,” says Simons. “But things changed.”
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But after upgrades to the stage and sound system of the roughly 100-capacity second level, Khyber Pass Pub is back in the concert business. Booking is handled by Josh Agran, a Philly music fixture best-known as the guitarist of Paint It Black. “The nostalgia factor is clearly through the roof,” he says. Director of sales and marketing Jenny Hobbs is organizing stand-up comedy, dance parties, art shows and other programming.
As the Khyber moves into a new era, “From the Vault” is an opportunity to look in the opposite sonic direction. Though Havelin doesn’t document as many concerts as he used to, he’s been shopping around for a new camera. His opening on Friday, soundtracked by DJ Sideswipe, will be followed by a set from Detroit “gutterbillies” the Goddamn Gallows, who are known for their raucous live performances. “The band playing that night is pretty awesome,” he says. “I would love to photograph that show.”