Chandra Oppenheim was a child star like no other. As the daughter of famed conceptual artist Dennis Oppenheim, she was born into the New York City of the late 1970s that spawned punk, hip-hop, no wave, mutant disco, and Madonna. By age nine, Chandra was staying up late at her parents’ art-world parties, collaborating in her father’s projects, and appearing in her own performance art pieces at downtown hotspots, once opening for avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson. This set the stage for Chandra’s collaboration with members of the cheekily named Model Citizens, a band that had become fixtures at CBGB with a release out on John Cale’s label, who found their muse in 10-year-old Chandra. Chandra wrote lyrics and vocal melodies while her band forged the jagged, off-kilter grooves underneath, resulting in the playful yet dissonant, funky yet frightening, and instantly transfixing four-track Transportation EP.
At age 12, the post-punk pre-teen took the stage for the first time at New York’s legendary Mudd Club. A whirlwind of press coverage ensued from glossy magazines like Vogue, to New York underground zines. A review in NME waxed poetic on that first show: “Chandra, a mature mind in an adolescent body, arouses something akin to worship from grown-ups. She takes them on a mystery tour of her imagination.”
Nearly 40 years after that first show, a now fully-matured Chandra is back on stage performing those same songs written at age 12 at Black Squirrel Books this Friday November 16, joined by Toronto experimental electronic artist New Chance, and Ottawa synth krautrocker Klapshmock. It is one of only three shows that Chandra is performing this month after announcing the reissue of the Transportation EP by Toronto’s Telephone Explosion Records.
After re-entering the studio to record in 1983, Chandra ceased performing to focus on her education and shelved an EP’s worth of material. Those songs would not see the light of day for decades until in 2009, record collector and Weird Canada founder Aaron Levin dug up a copy and reissued Transportation on his label Cantor Records with the second set of songs finally included as the b-side of a 12” compilation. This led to a groundswell of interest from fans of the obscure, including a couple of Toronto musicians, Jesse Locke and Julie Reich (members of bands such as Tough Age and Bile Sister), who offered to form a band to back-up the now band-less Chandra so that the songs could be performed live. The new Chandra band did their first tour in 2015 with dates in New York, Toronto, Hamilton, and Portland, Maine, before performing at Ottawa’s now defunct DIY venue Gabba Hey in the spring of 2016.
Returning her debut EP to its original four-song, single-record release at a dance floor-ready 45 RPM, the Telephone Explosion expanded edition, which comes out on December 7, also adds to the second EP with two never released songs from the 1983 sessions.
Chandra’s Transportation re-release show takes place this Friday November 16 at Black Squirrel Books (1073 Bank Street), starting at 9pm. The show is all ages and licensed. The entrance to Black Squirrel Books is accessible by ramp. Bathrooms are gender neutral, and located down a flight of stairs. The show is lovingly co-presented by two Chandra superfans at First Crush Promotion and Debaser. Advance tickets are $10 + service fees, and can be purchased online.