Time for this week's MP3 Monday. This one comes from epic metal guitarist Xander Demos, who even has an epic name. He and his band open for Adrenaline Mob on Saturday, May 12, at Altar Bar. This week he's sharing the song "White Knuckle Driving"; stream and/or download it below!
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Walking down Broadway, having passed the intersection at West 53rd, I came to the end of a growing line of people, many of whom were dressed in neon colors and Most Dope or Macadelic branded wear. I was in search of the Roseland Ballroom, where Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller was set to perform, and I knew I was close.
When in New York City or just about any other travel destination, I never ask for directions or help finding a particular location – for fear of looking like the tourist that I am. So, knowing that I was nearing the venue, I decided to follow the long, wide line of people. The line guided me to the front door of the Roseland Ballroom, where a lit-up Benedum Center-style overheard sign stated "MAC MILLER – SOLD OUT."
It was my first time seeing the charismatic rapper in a city other than his hometown. Emotions were heavy outside, where friends shared laughs as they entered the ballroom and others shed tears as they were escorted out for reasons I’m unsure of. What’s certain is that Mac Miller has had a huge impact on these teenage and young adult fans’ lives.
As I made my way into the Roseland, the layout reminded me of Pittsburgh’s Stage AE, where I had seen Miller perform as he concluded his Blue Slide Park Tour in November of last year. About twice the size of AE, Roseland’s floor area would soon be filled and the balcony the same.
Woodland Hills graduates, and Local Beat alums, The Come Up opened the show promptly at 8 p.m. as the restless crowd flooded through the front doors. The duo of MCs Franchise and Vinny Radio has developed a widespread following as opening performers for Miller’s Blue Slide Park and Macadelic tours. In February, Miller told MTV that The Come Up would be the next big hip-hop act out of Pittsburgh. As their early summer album release approaches, they plan to prove these claims true.
Later in the night, it was time for Miller to take the stage. The screams from the audience grew louder as DJ Clockwork opened the set playing Miller’s "English Lane." As he moved on to drop the title song to Miller’s #1 album, Blue Slide Park, Miller and his long-time friend/hype-man TreeJay stepped out on stage to appease the sold out audience of thousands. Miller’s hi-top Nike’s lit-up blue as the crowd rocked along with hit songs "Party On 5th Ave." and "Knock, Knock."
"Tonight goes down as the greatest show of all-time," proclaimed Miller, who seemed happy as ever to be performing for the NYC crowd.
As the lights dimmed, DJ Clockwork maintained the attention of the audience for the brief transition from Mac’s previous work to his newest music from his Macadelic mixtape. The first single from the mixtape and one of the hypest songs from Miller’s now extensive catalogue, "Loud," dropped and the crowd went wild. Glowing mushrooms covered the back half of the stage and lit up in different colors as Miller re-appeared and jumped to the front of the stage.
Miller went from the rambunctious "Loud" to the introspective "Thoughts From a Balcony." It didn’t take long for fans to learn Miller’s newest music, as one of youngest-looking members of the youthful audience synchronously mouthed every word of the song with Miller.
Another memorable moment was when a video showed on the display screen that played background to the stage, showing Miller in his childhood years rapping Sugar Hill’s classic "Rapper’s Delight." The video continued showing different moments in Miller’s early life as he performed his song "Best Day Ever."
Reflecting on the Blue Slide Park Tour, Miller’s performance included many on-stage appearances from his Most Dope crew as they hyped up the audience throughout Miller’s set. The Macadelic Tour and Miller’s performance at Roseland was different. Many of the stand-out moments were intimate, with Miller standing alone on stage, only his DJ behind him.
As the audience sang along and waved their hands, Miller showcased one of the greatest strengths a performing artist can have – the ability to connect with your audience.
The Macadelic Tour continues, making stops at colleges along the northeast coast. Beginning in July, Miller joins Wiz Khalifa on the Under the Influence Tour. The tour stops at the First Niagara Pavilion on August 4.
This week’s Local Beat column is about jazz singer Spanky Wilson, who is performing at the Pittsburgh Vinyl Convention, Saturday, April 28 at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. Since all the cool stuff Wilson had to say couldn’t fit in a column, here’s a longer version of the conversation.
You have such a great name. Was it a nickname?
(Laughs) Well, actually, yeah. My father gave it to me when I was about three. I was a bad little kid. I liked the name so much and I really despised my real name, so I just took that, and the only thing my real name is on is my birth certificate.
So, you came back to Pittsburgh a couple years ago, and took a break from performing?
Oh, well, it wasn’t like a break, as I had just recovered from cancer. That’s the reason I came back to Pittsburgh, I had two operations and it was very serious. I have four children but two of them are here, and they have children, and I have great grandchildren. I thought maybe should come home, because you never know about cancer, it does what it wants to do. I’d been away so much traveling, I lived in Paris for 16 years, and I wanted my grandkids and my great grandkids to get to know me better. And if anything happened to me I’d be home.
You’re doing better now?
I just had my last checkup and I’m cancer-free, so thank God for that. I just finished my treatment like two weeks before I came back here.
Can you tell me a bit about how you first got in to performing?
I’ve been singing as long as I can remember. My mother said I was singing before I could talk. My father played guitar and sang. He was always playing guitar, and my earliest memory was singing with my dad. So I knew what I wanted to be when I was three, I think. I sang in grade school. My first job here was singing with Stanley and Tommy Turrentine, then I stopped and had children and then I started back. I left here in 1967 with Jimmy McGriff, and that tour ended in California. That’s where I met the producer of my first album. I lived there until 1985, then I went to Paris to do a jazz festival and I ended up staying 16 years.
I read you were on Johnny Carson, and some other shows.
Oh yeah, I did a lot of those when I first started recording. All the talk shows. That was like 1969-1970.
What have been some of the most memorable points in your career?
I think the most outstanding for me was when I went to Brazil in 1970. It was an international song festival, and I had just recorded a theme song for Lalo Schifrin. He happened to be on the committee that was judging the songs. Dionne Warwick was supposed to do a guest spot, and she couldn’t do it. For some reason Schifrin mentioned me to them, and I went there to take her place. In Pittsburgh I was used to singing in the corner bar. And I’d just been in California maybe a year, so I wasn’t used to big crowds. It was in a stadium that held two hundred thousand people. And I thought I was going to die. The thing about it was, when people didn’t like your performance they threw rolls of toilet paper in the air, and all you would see were these white things coming down. I was just standing there thinking “oh god, please lord, please, please let them like me” because my career would be over, I would be so embarrassed if they threw this toilet paper while I was singing. I was already scared out of my wits; I’m a beginner, basically, in this big showbiz thing. So it turns out that they all gave me a standing ovation, and I just stood there and cried.
That’s my most traumatic experience. And it ended up being wonderful. And I used to bite my fingernails something terrible, because I was always very nervous before I sang. And after that, I stopped biting my fingernails. After that I was no longer afraid to sing in front of people. I was definitely afraid [before], but I wanted to sing so badly that I said, “well this is just going to be a war,” and I didn’t know who was going to win. On Johnny Carson I thought I was going to faint, I was so scared, thinking of all the people who were watching.
You’re performing with Roger Humphries. Have you known each other for a while?
I think we both started around the same time. We were talking and I asked, “Have we ever worked together Roger?” and he said, “I don’t remember” He’s been my knight in shining armor, because a lot of people don’t know about me. Because I left so early, all my fans are very old, older than myself. It’s like a whole new group of people who have basically never heard of me. The people at the Fairmont hotel asked me “where are you from and where have you been?” And I said, I’m from Pittsburgh and I’ve been to a lot of places, but I left early and I never came back!
What was your career like in Paris?
My records never got to London, or Europe. In Paris nobody had ever heard of me. There were a few record collectors who knew of me, but as far as the general public, they had never heard of me. I started from scratch there, and I just started getting one job after another. It was a resurgence of my career.
Jazz is a lot stronger in Europe than in the United States, though it’s shame to have to say that. I met so many record collectors. I didn’t even know record collectors existed when I was here. They’re serious about jazz over there. Coming from Pittsburgh was a big help to me. Everyone was impressed when you say you’re from Pittsburgh, because some great musicians came out of Pittsburgh. People in Paris and Europe are more hip to who came from Pittsburgh, because they’re collectors and they know their history. It’s like, it’s our music, but we don’t give it the attention that it should get. Like, when people live in Paris, they never go to the Eiffel Tower. We have this music and it came from us, but it’s never had the respect that it deserves.
Indie powerhouses Young the Giant and The Apache Relay visited Stage AE on Friday, delivering vivacious performances of well-constructed set lists.
Hailing from Nashville, TN, The Apache Relay brought with them an eclectic mix of instruments, such as a violin and mandolin. They kicked the evening off with a very relaxed song that featured a gradual build-up. As they approached the climax of the tune, the audience positively reacted to the six-piece band, as though they were surprised to hear such refreshing music from an opener.
"American Nomad" really got the crowd moving with lead singer Michael Ford's velvety smooth vocals and the instrumentation's edgy folk appeal. "State Trooper" had a more mysterious vibe, the heavy bass giving the tune a haunting sound. With each song, the band loosened up more and more, appearing noticeably more relaxed with their surroundings.
When they played "Watering Hole," the band's soulful side crawled out from beneath their indie influences to give the crowd a sensual jam, which sounded like Maxwell's "Pretty Wings" mixed with a Ray LaMontagne vibe. It was during this song that The Apache Relay flexed their muscles as instrumentalists, showing they really know how to make a song progress in an ear-pleasing manner.
The Apache Relay, who performed at The Club at Stage AE a year ago, proved to be an excellent pairing for Young the Giant, due to their song structures and high energy.
In appropriate 4/20 fashion, Young the Giant entered the stage after red, green and yellow lights illuminated the room and reggae music began to blare from the speakers. Vocalist Sameer Gadhia stepped up to the mic, smiling ear to ear, and murmured, "Hey...happy 4/20. I hope you all had a special day." The crowd went wild as the band began to play, and Gadhia jumped around the stage like a toddler on Christmas morning.
"Guns Out" had a smooth, beach-esque energy, and established Young the Giant's monstrous sound. "Shake My Hand" featured grandiose guitar riffs and a lot of tambourine action from Gadhia. Most of Young the Giant's songs seemed to start off very relaxed and quiet and built up to an explosive climax, which helped to hold the audience's attention throughout the set.
The band's set list had an emphasis on new material, such as "What You Get," a simplistic tune with rough, in-your-face guitar parts. They also performed fan favorites like "Apartment" and "Cough Syrup," both of which garnered boisterous screams from the crowd. They dedicated "Camera" to hockey fans, as audience members had been screaming every time they caught word the Pittsburgh Penguins scored during the evening.
After a few more tunes, Young the Giant left the stage but returned to give an outstanding performance of R. Kelly's "Ignition (Remix)." Gadhia's falsetto sounded impeccable, and his sensual dance moves drove the crowd crazy. The band ended the show with their popular single "My Body," and Gadhia assured the crowd they would return to Stage AE someday very soon.
Young the Giant and The Apache Relay were a perfect match-up. Their distinct forms of indie music accented each other well and consistently gave a liveliness to the venue all night.
Altar Bar hosted a night of locally and nationally known talent last night as My Cardboard Spaceship Adventure and Punchline's Steve Soboslai shared the stage with Bayside's Anthony Raneri for an acoustic show. While each performer's style of music varied from the others, their sets complemented each other and flowed together well.
My Cardboard Spaceship Adventure's set featured great harmonies, tight guitar riffs and the kind of friendly on-stage wit that can win over any crowd. "Farewell" showcased Dan Becker's belting skills and vocal clarity, while "So Loud," included spectacular work on the keys courtesy of Alex Robertson. Mikey Meiers let his vocal talent shine in "Never Coming Back" and also provided entertaining banter between songs that kept the crowd interested. Meiers' shtick incited a wealth of laughter in the audience when he encouraged the audience to buy the T-shirts at their merchandise table for just about anyone they knew, saying, "Dress up your cats! That could be cool." The band displayed an obvious camaraderie as musicians and appreciation for the opportunity to open for two talented singer-songwriters.
The witty banter just kept on coming when Steve Soboslai, a master of awkward sarcasm and puns, entered the stage. The lead singer and guitarist of Punchline welcomed the crowd with an uncomfortably long wave of his hand, breaking the ice and showing that his set would be more like a friendly conversation between musician and crowd than a stiff, one-sided performance.
Soboslai's crisp vocals and volume control really stood out in "Goodbye Stranger" and "Your Face." He encouraged requests from the audience, responding to several shouts for "Heart Transplant." Many fans sang the tune word for word, with Soboslai jokingly adding at the end, "If I could just teach you guys all the songs, I could just drink. I wouldn't even have to play anything. That's called outsourcing."
The high point of his set came when cellist Katie Morrow joined for "Coordinates." The added instrument gave the song more dimension and made for a nice change of pace in the set. Soboslai closed with the very powerful "Universe" and left the stage graciously thanking the crowd and announcing, "I will remember this moment for the rest of my very short life."
The pop rock vibe of the evening took a punk turn when Anthony Raneri opened his set with the angst-riddled anthem "Blame It on Bad Luck." He quickly announced his excitement for his recently released first solo EP, New Cathedrals. The five tracks just "didn't really work as Bayside songs," according to Raneri, who performed the EP's first track "Sandra Partial." The song, which had "just been sitting on a cassette tape for eight years" before it was recorded, showed off his range and revealed his folk side.
Much like the other performers, Raneri shared his dry sense of humor between songs, saying "Don't listen to me too intently because I'm probably not going to say anything too profound," with a chuckle. He often shared anecdotes related to his day in Pittsburgh and the songs he performed, such as how the bathroom attendant services he was met with throughout the day at the venue convinced him not to take a leak before the show for fear of having to leave another tip.
Raneri performed several Bayside fan favorites such as "Don't Call Me Peanut," which caused the crowd to squeal immediately after its first three notes. He also played "Killing Time," sharing a tale about a fan being inspired to "go AWOL from the army" after asking Raneri about the song's meaning. "I and I" also excited the crowd, as well as "Landing Feet First." When he played "Duality," he mentioned how the music video was filmed in Pittsburgh, stating that having an entire street closed down for it was one of his coolest moments as a band member and adding, "That was pretty fucking badass."
When a fan requested Raneri's signature Matt Skiba cover of "Good Fucking Bye," he instead played Alkaline Trio's "Do you Wanna Know?"
After dozens of screams for "Montauk," Raneri explained that he felt the song sounded horrible live but caved in and said, "I'm gonna give you what you want." The performance ignited shrieks of delight throughout the room.
Raneri played his expected cover of Smoking Popes' "Megan," but succeeded in making it sound just as beautiful as the last three times I heard him perform it. After bidding the crowd adieu, Raneri reluctantly returned to the stage to play Death Cab for Cutie's "I Will Follow You into the Dark." His set contained a cohesive mix of new and old material that contrasted well with the much more pop sound of the other acts.
It’s been a busy, expensive month for metalheads. Aside from all the many bar shows which have been popping up like some wonderful Whac-a-Mole game where everyone wins, mid-April brought Decibel Magazine’s Behemoth-headlined tour to Mr. Small's, and Mastodon, Opeth, and Ghost to Stage AE.
I’ve gotta hand it to Decibel: they know how to curate a tour — joining stylistic variety with a common thread of Satanism — though Pittsburgh’s April 12th show was not without disappointment. Thanks to visa issues, Watain missed the beginning of the tour, thus denying us, and three other cities, what was sure to be a truly frightening pageant of animal blood and evil.
Sweden’s In Solitude set the tone for the night with their 6+ minute epic “Demons,” their dark, catchy rock n’ roll — and singer Hornper’s facepaint — bringing to mind King Diamond, by way of the zombie Strokes (fashionably speaking), and a theatrical flair which sets them somewhere between Refused and My Chemical Romance. Hornper, wrapped in his trademark filthy fox stole, isn’t afraid to risk self harm for the sake of a good show, whether by banging himself in the forehead with the microphone or tumbling into the drum kit. His performance outran their music in terms of entertainment, which is really no easy task.
The Devil’s Blood, from Holland, weave their heavy, spooky, retro-psych together with three guitarists, including band spiritual leader Selin Lemouchi. Lemouchi considers himself “saved “ by Satanism, and they’ve been protested by the Pentecostal church in their country, but they don't exactly ham it up in their music. The gentlemen of the band did their sound check t-shirts and jeans. When they returned to the foggy stage, they were bare-chested and soaked in blood. I don’t remember ever actually being scared at a show, but when I looked into Lemouchi’s eyes, my heart actually leapt into my throat. Singer F(The Mouth of Satan) emerged looking like a priestess from R. Crumb’s Book of Genesis, her hair wild, her blood-soaked bodice hanging on for dear life. She sang like a possessed Ann Wilson. The band threw up horns, as serous and worshipful as any Christian band, and — in a total Young Goodman Brown moment— the crowd responded in kind, entranced.
After The Devil's Blood made me fear for my soul, Behemoth made me fear for my life, as they broke Lemouchi’s spell, and people began to lose their shit. Behemoth’s brutal death metal is practically testosterone and muscle in musical form — though the girl who occasionally darted into the harrowing pit for some interpretive dance might disagree with me. It’s their first tour since singer/guitarist Adam “Nergal” Darski beat leukemia and, though it clearly took a toll on his voice and his body, his proclamation that “It’s feels good to be alive!” inspired goosebumps.
The Stage AE show on April 15th began with a slightly less bitter disappointment: Ghost started at 7 on the dot, played a short set, and was missed by anyone who showed up late — myself, sadly, included.
Opeth, a one-time death-ish metal band, who now seem to only make prog rock, played next and for a very long time. Mikale Akerfeldt’s voice sounded great, in a forest balladeer sort of way, but he also displayed a Spinal Tap level lack of self awareness and awkward rock star showmanship. They did get to some older material towards the end — e.g., “Demon of the Fall” — but by then, all but the diehard fans (of which there are many, actually) seemed to be milling about, not playing much attention.
I kind of expected Mastodon — the only American band of the lot — to be the pièce de résistance of the entire week and, while were more entertaining than Opeth, they were less entertaining than In Solitude. It quickly became clear that they were only playing songs from their new record, The Hunter — a move I both respect and hate. They sounded satisfyingly huge, if just a little too perfect. Singer /bassist Troy Saunders, as crazed and handsome as you could ask a mainstream metal vocalist to be, howled through wild grins and grimaces. The band kept its distance, never speaking between songs. They broke their Hunter streak only once to play “Blood and Thunder,” from Leviathan, and closed with The Hunter’s woozy but forgettable last track, “The Sparrow.” Then drummer Brann Dailor thanked us as though we had just watched a school talent show, and promised the ‘Don would be returning soon. And then the lights came up and stagehands started tearing down equipment and with a collective “Damn” the audience realized he didn’t mean in a couple of minutes. No “The Czar,” no “Where Strides the Behemoth,” no “Colony of the Birchmen.” Not even “Iron Tusk.” Ah well. You know what they say about the Devil and good music. The same is apparently true of great shows.
A few weeks back, I gave a quick shout in Critics' Picks to the local band Whiskey Holler, which was releasing a new EP called HiveSongs. I was impressed with what I heard, so I thought I'd give you a taste of it to, by inviting them to share an MP3 for MP3 Monday. And they agreed! *applause*
Below, stream and/or download the song "Let's Dance, Let's Scream." And if you like it, check them out at Draw Us Lines' acoustic show at Club Cafe this Friday night. (Meeting of Important People and Zachary Cale play as well.)
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Some of Pittsburgh's up-and-coming hip-hop acts are taking to New York City all at once this week. Here's a quick breakdown:
April 24 - The mayhem begins Tuesday when Chevy Woods and Boaz link up for "A Pittsburgh Affair". Taylor Gang recording artist and Wiz Khalifa's partner-in-rhyme, Woods headlines the event at S.O.B.'s. In recent years, that venue's stage has hosted performances by Drake, Kanye West and Rick Ross. On this night, S.O.B.’s showcases two Pittsburgh rap vets. Woods’ music video, "Home Run", has been viewed over 200,000 times as he prepares the release of his new mixtape, Gangland. Joining Woods for the showcase event is Larimer native Boaz. Woods and Boaz are familiar with working together, as Woods was a heavily featured rapper on Boaz and his Govament crew’s 2007 mixtape release, Election Day.
April 24 - Rhyme Calisthenics: The Official MC Competition hosts the fourth show of its NYC Series at Bamboo. The series of five shows began in January as four first-time competitors performed several rap challenges from the large, game show-style wheel, with the hopes of winning and advancing. Tuesday night’s final qualifier round will decide the fourth MC to compete in the subsequent championship round. This month's competing MCs are Baxter Wordsworth, Atlas', Skittlez, and Jess Jaymez. The competition makes its anticipated return to Pittsburgh in early summer.
April 25 - Halfway through the Macadelic Tour promoting his newest mixtape, Mac Miller returns to Roseland Ballroom on Wednesday. A year ago, Miller was an opening performer at Wiz Khalifa’s Rolling Papers album release party. Opening for Miller on the Macadelic Tour is rap duo The Come Up. Fellow Pittsburghers, Franchise and Vinny Radio have been performing with Miller for the majority of his most recent tours and are preparing for the release of their new album April 30.
April 26 - Rapper Beedie's Above the Weather Tour began in Pittsburgh on April 14 and continued last week in Philly. This Thursday Beedie takes Manhattan by storm with a performance at the Grisly Pear. The intimate venue should allow the charismatic MC to do what he does best: connect with his audience. Other upcoming tour stops include Erie, Detroit, and a return to Pittsburgh's Altar Bar with Action Bronson.
Three quick items for your perusal on this game-five Friday:
— We've written a few times in the past about locals 1,2,3, the indie-rock band on Frenchkiss. Well, their van is broken and they need a new one. And who are they hoping will help with that? You! Read Nic Snyder's impassioned plea on the band's Kickstarter page and just try to withhold your cash. Come on.
— Yesterday, local punk heroes Code Orange Kids premiered a new video on NPR's All Songs Considered blog. Check it out here.
— The other day we showed you Donora's new vid; the band is currently the first featured album on a new website, albumcorner.com, wherein indie records are featured on the cheap. If you didn't already pick up the band's latest release, Boyfriends, Girlfriends, you can do so for just $5 there!
Freelancer Ian Thomas reviews The Right Now's latest, The Right Now Gets Over You, in advance of the band's show at Thunderbird tomorrow night.
When listeners tune in to a new band whose members bill themselves as performers of music of generations past, they are doing so, at least in part, to see if the band falls on its collective face. There is a great deal of hubris inherent in claiming a place within a genre, such as Chicago soul, whose landmark output is at least two generations removed from the present. For the band, there is little to be gained. To live up to the claims, to perform within the confines of the genre, within the accepted parameters of song structure and subject matter, in most cases, is only a success in the sense of capturing a sense of nostalgia. On the flip side, if a band claims to perform music of the past, but inserts too much of themselves, or too much contemporary subject matter, the claim is reduced to a selling point, a marketing gimmick.
To their great benefit, The Right Now are a Chicago-style soul band who actually hail from Chicago. They can walk the streets of the city where Chess Records was founded and Curtis Mayfield recorded the Superfly soundtrack, steeped in the history of the art form. To the benefit of the listener, The Right Now is content to leave to the critics any discussion of whether they are the real deal. By performing with absolutely earnest sincerity, without a hint of irony, the musicians of The Right Now make a compelling case that they are. As a band performing by-the-book soul music multiple generations after by-the-book soul has left popular culture consciousness, The Right Now gets it right, albeit in broad strokes. Even when they fail to match the passion of classic soul, a difficult task under the best of circumstances, they make up for it with their technical proficiency. It is clear that The Right Now view themselves as students of a craft and they strive for mastery.
The album, The Right Now Gets Over You, plays like a genre retrospective. From the sultry sensuality of “I Could Kiss You (I Could Cry),” to the swinging, brassy arrangement of album-opener “I Can’t Speak for You.” Even in the wake of Amy Winehouse, Adele, and all the other artists that surprised critics and audiences with the authenticity of their takes on storied genres, vocalist Stefanie Berecz’s performance on this album is still something to behold. While her voice is remarkable in its own right, she positions herself as a member of the collective, not the driver of the vehicle. That takes confidence. Everyone in the group gets their turn to shine and, in light of that give and take, the complicated arrangement sounds more natural. In the current mixtape climate, where immediacy is prized above all else, the combination of naturalness and technical know-how is a rare thing.
The Right Now performs at Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville at 9 PM on Friday, April 20.