It’s not often you’re standing under a fancy old railroad rotunda, watching a crazy marching band perform, and you look to your left and Thurston Moore is next to you videotaping the show on his smartphone.
But so it was last night at Downtown’s Union Station and the second stop of artist Doug Aitken’s rail-based “liquid platform for artistic expression.” Pittsburgh is one of just nine announced cities for the touring, somewhat carnivalesque amalgam of bands, visual and performance art, with different performers in each city.
With tickets at just $25 for four hours of entertainment, Station to Station (whose corporate sponsor is Levi’s) sold out. About 700 folks attended. Some milled around the rotunda, with its yurts containing art installations and a Wild Purveyors booth. (Inside one yurt, you donned a headband-light and were treated to a brief illustrated lecture on the theory of relativity.)
Most attendees, however, spent most of the evening inside Union Station’s ornate and cavernous old lobby, which used to be where people waited for trains. Now it’s part of the landmark building’s condo complex, though transformed into a concert hall for the night.
All the bands played before a huge triptych of video-projection screens, featuring trippy moving images (the lion’s share being of trains). Between sets, the screens offered new and classic art film and video, like Nam June Paik’s “Global Groove” and Dana Birnbaum’s “Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman.”
Moore — the former Sonic Youth was ubiquitous throughout the evening, roaming the venue — was likely the biggest-name musical performer. (Chloe Sevigny, in town to shoot a TV show, was also spotted.) Though he and powerhouse drummer John Moloney played a strong set as Caught on Tape, Moore was far from the evening’s lone star.
With an admirable sense of theater, the evening’s performances kicked off when, drums blasting and spangles flying, the Kansas City Marching Cobras appeared under the rotunda, seemingly out of nowhere.
The group of 20 or so youth performers combines booming drum-and-whistle marching band sounds with high-energy African-American step-dancing. The kids rocked the rotunda before marching inside, where their percussion segued into a pummeling set by noise-punk do No Age.
Still, the evening’s most-buzzed performance seemed to be the set by TRIO, consisting of YOSHIMIO and Hisham Akira Bharoocha (both of The Boredoms) and Ryan Sawyer (of Lonewolf). The percussion-heavy numbers were keyed by YOSHIMIO’s adventuresome vocals.
Meanwhile, throughout the evening audience members who timed it right were allowed out on the platform to view the exterior of the full-length train on which the show came to town. The string of mismatched vintage cars mostly appeared to have been leased from the remains old Midwestern lines, and bore names like “Wisconsin Valley,” “Superdome” and (on the caboose) “Hiawatha.”
Nice touch: The evening’s offical closing set, by Ariel Pink & Haunted Graffiti, segued into a stripped-down, percussion-only performance by TRIO, in the old station lobby. And that segued into another short performance by the Cobras.
The Station to Station train, which had begun its journey Friday, in New York, heads on to Chicago tomorrow, and ultimately wraps with a Sept. 28 stop in Oakland, Calif.