You may not have heard of Jero before -- I didn't until just yesterday -- but he's a rising singing sensation who grew up here in town. He just happens to be bigger in Japan than he is around here -- but not in the way countless rock bands are, when they want to make ridiculous claims of grandeur. He's big in Japan because he sings in Japanese.
Jero was born Jerome White, Jr. and raised in Pittsburgh and attended Pitt, getting a degree in Information Science. While all that was happening, though, he was working on something else -- a singing career in his grandmother's native tongue. Now he's releasing high-ranking singles in Japan as an enka singer. Word has it -- and who are we to argue -- he's the first well-known black enka singer.
Most performances I've seen in the Andy Warhol Museum's small theater space have been of high quality, but mostly compelling in a chin-scratching kind of way. Like, say, Joanna Newsom, Matmos, Richard Hell reading his poetry, Girl Talk making a handful of CMU students studiously approximate dirty dancing -- you get the idea. None of these experiences prepared me for last night's performance at the Warhol by St. Vincent, a.k.a. multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark and her band.
Opening with "Now Now" from her 2007 Beggar's Banquet release Marry Me, Clark tore into the song with a force the recorded version barely approximates, and left audiences agape from that point on. Joining her onstage amid the "psychedelic forest" props were a drummer, a bassist, and a violinist, all of whom also navigated additional instruments and triggered myriad samples and effects. For her part, Clark mainly coaxed alien sounds and ornate counterpoint from her red hotrod of a guitar; for "Marry Me," she swept into Elton territory on the keys. And crooned. And batted those eyelashes.
With her scrappy guitar heroics, dual microphone approach (one offering a more old timey sound), complex arrangements and indie cred, it's tempting to think of St. Vincent as Feist, Jr. (Feist put on a similarly impressive show a few months back at the Oakland's Carnegie Music Hall.) But for my money, St. Vincent offers a more eccentric vision and virtuosic accomplishment -- if I had to cast a vote for one of them as the next Bjork, it would be for St. Vincent.
My only complaint, if you can even call it that, is that while Clark never seemed to break a sweat despite the ambitious production taking place, you still occasionally saw the nuts and bolts. And despite her wide-eyed, charming-story-telling persona, there was plenty of showbiz magic helping things along, not least of which is the simple fact that she's gorgeous. (And yes, I'm reasonably sure she knows that we know that she knows that we know she's stunning.) But if the standing ovation and shit-eating grins on the audience's faces afterwards were any indication, nobody minded a bit.
The opener, Foreign Born, didn't fare quite so well, but put up a helluva fight. Playing hearty guitar-based folk-pop with the occasional Richard Ashcroft wail and David Byrnian dance-moves, they attempted to update their throwback sound with some prerecorded samples and tracks deployed by their drummer's laptop (who appeared to be a former member of Alabama.) Whereas St. Vincent's obvious backing tracks and triggered samples blended in for the most part with her set's overall arty aesthetic, Foreign Born's combination of archetypal guitar-rock purity with a fucking laptop was a bit jarring. More that that-- it just wasn't cool, dudes.
Check out these upcoming performances at the Warhol's Sound Series (seating is limited, so get tickets in advance):
Fri., March 7 Akron/Family with Megafaun
Fri., March 21 The Slits (legendary riot grrrl, punk/dub) with Shellshag
Fri., March 28 Beatrix Jar (Minneapolis-based circuit bending duo), with Margaret Cox & Michael Johnsen
Fri., April 11 John Vanderslice with Spanish Prisoners
Tue. April 15 American Music Club
Fri., April 25 Stars of the Lid with Christopher Willits
She's got a tiny, nearly naive voice like Joanna Newsom only not as painfully affected, or maybe like a more childlike Jolie Holland with less twang. Her songs are less naive, though, dealing with the ins and outs of close relationships -- fans of, say, Lovers might dig.
So, local lefty singer/songwriter Anne Feeney dropped me a line to say she's putting the finishing touches on her new album this weekend, with help from a special musical guest: founding country-rock folkie Commander Cody, who's passing through town on a mini-tour. The CD, to be released as Dump the Bosses Off Your Back, is being recorded at Wilkin Audio in Regent Square; apparently a bunch of the local musicians who are playing on it are gonna be around to hob-nob with each other and Cody … and would I like to stop by? And would I perhaps like to bring a photographer?
It does actually sound interesting, and if I were free, I'd gladly poke my head in. But if you've ever spent much time at a recording studio, you'll know it's mostly pretty boring unless it's your music, you're heavily medicated or you're a total gear nerd. But maybe Feeney knows something I don't in this regard, like some magical means of making studios a good time. I'm totally open to that possibility.
In any case, if you can't wait for her new CD, you can catch her on Fri., Feb. 22, performing with husband-and-wife duo Four Shillings Short. Comprised of Aodh Og O Tuama and Christy Martin, the group combines Celtic, Indian, and American folk music. Anne Feeney with Four Shillings Short. 8 p.m. Fri., Feb. 22. Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church, 416 W. North Ave., North Side. All ages. $15 (children free). 412-877-6480.
As the dead-of-winter dearth of tours hits its home stretch, we're discovering some things to get excited about -- spring already promises a few sweet tours that, perhaps surprisingly, are hitting Pittsburgh:
- The Slits, legendary '70s British punk band, pull through the Warhol on March 21 with Shellshag. We all know how that place books show that should be at bigger venues, and therefore sell out quickly, so get your tickets while they last.
- The very next night, March 22, another bunch of UK punks/post-punks -- New Model Army -- appear at the 31st Street Pub. They had to cancel their late 2007 tour due to visa problems.
- April 12 brings The New Pornographers (word is that Neko Case will be present on this tour; Bejar likely will not) with Okkervill River in the indie rock double bill of the (early part of the) year. That's at the Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead, and will set you back $30 (or $27 if you want balcony seats).
Only a week before Hot Metal, the art show Ed Parrish, Jr. is currently curating, opened at SPACE Gallery, his family's home and studio were destroyed in a morning fire in Etna. Only two weeks later, Saturday, Feb. 1, some local musicians got together for a benefit for the family, who lost nearly everything they owned in the Jan. 18 fire.
The apartment where Parrish lived with his wife, Carley, and their 6-year-old daughter, Gaia, adjoined the studio space where Ed and Carley, both artists, did much of their work. Ed and Carley collaborate on a an art installation and performance project called Hot Metal Happening.
Several friends and associates of the Parrishes jumped to help out when they heard the news; art-scene staple Suzanne Pace organized an on-the-fly drive to collect household items to donate to the family, and Centipede Eest, The Working Poor and ukulele lady Liz Hammond organized the Friday night benefit show at Gooski's on short notice. The show packed the rock bar and raised over $1,000 for the family; in addition to the $5 cover at the show, a pass-the-hat collection was taken up. Employees of the Sprout Fund, a local arts funding organization, also took up a collection.
A donation box is set up at SPACE Gallery right now for those who would still like to contribute. You may also get in touch with the Parrishes directly via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.