A first-person essay after Saturday's Springsteen show by sometimes-CP contributor Brian Taylor
It’s rainy and cold and there are people drinking tallboys around the Fifth Avenue side of Consol Energy Center, spilling out of the TGI Friday’s outdoor area and moving down toward the entrances. Apparently a Springsteen show, like a Bloomfield parade or a Steelers game, suspends open-container laws in the immediate vicinity.
I sacrifice a tallboy to my anxiety and my umbrella to the security gods (whose patdowns are much more chill than the TSA) before I’m allowed inside. There are so many people here.
The tallboy isn’t doing its job, so I stop at a concession stand to buy a double rum and coke for $15. I make a mental note not to bother checking the, well, I guess it’s less a merch table and more one of several souvenir shops. The credit card machine beeps an error and the woman reassures me it is not a problem with my card. "These machines have been on vacation, they’re not used to working."
"A lockout will do that to you!" I say. It works. I thank her, take my drink and my card and head for my seat.
There are a lot of dads here.
I feel like a tourist. (I always look for reasons to feel like a tourist — no club that would have me as a member and all that.) A sea of tour t-shirts, past and present, tucked into jeans wrapped by braided belts. A couple red bandanas — one guy’s gone all-out, denim vest and jeans. I’m wearing a western shirt and a down vest that my dad put in his closet in the late 1970s and that I took out around 2003.
Springsteen shows are large — two or three or more hours long, with songs that segue into one another. (The band holds a note, the Boss counts them in and they’re off again.) Fans collect live performances of the songs; people can tell you which songs they’ve seen, which ones they haven’t, where and when. I’ll be happy with any one of my Holy Trinity of Springsteen songs: "Thunder Road," "Rosalita" or "Sherry, Darling." He doesn’t play any of them.
I didn’t expect "Thunder Road" once a friend of mine informed me that when tour dates coincide with Obama stumping appearances (like the one earlier in the afternoon at Soldiers and Sailors), it’s usually missing. I don’t ask for specific statistics, but I’m sure I could get them. (He’s also informed me that, according to an iOS app, Springsteen has never played "A Good Man is Hard to Find (Pittsburgh)" in Pittsburgh.) It’s the kind of manic dedication I associate with jam bands and baseball fans. I wonder if a lot of the people in this audience are accountants.
I’m pretty far from the stage. Not as far as I could be, and (thankfully) not behind it, but most of my experience of the performance comes from watching the three giant monitors suspended over the stage, each displaying well-shot images of the band and the pit. Lots of signs requesting songs or declaring that this is their first E Street Band show. These folks cheer when he asks who is at their first E Street Band show. I am at my first E Street Band show, but I haven’t brought a sign and anyway I am up far too high on a far too steep slope and have been drinking far too much to stand and shout.
I have nothing to compare this to, no frame of reference for this arena rock. Springsteen, to me, is a storyteller. When I was becoming conscious of music, he was putting out Human Touch and Lucky Town and that Jerry Maguire song (I am about six months older than Nebraska). He was a Born in the USA LP next to the Osmonds in my mom’s record collection, Live 1975-1985 on cassette in my parents’ closet (which you WILL NOT touch, young man!) I had almost an entire decade of anti-Springsteen attitude to undo by the time I started looking for things to connect me to this place, this once-a-working-man’s-town (the Springsteen I love comes from the same time as Steel-Curtain-era Steelers, and sports have never been my thing), to the late '70s/early '80s, to my past. I’m not sure massive arena show is conducive to that.
I should have expected some issue, as this is the Wrecking Ball tour and I don’t really like Wrecking Ball all that much. (It’s too new, too now - I need the distance of time to appreciate rawness, maybe I’ve still got a bit of the 1990s in me.) The set is Darkness on the Edge of Town-heavy (five songs from that album, only four from Wrecking Ball), and most of the set’s 27 songs (six of which made up the encore) are from Born in the USA (1984) or earlier.
So I guess the inclusion of "Glory Days" in the encore isn’t that surprising. I’m pretty sure he shouts "Night of the Living Grusheckys!" before bringing out Joe and his son Johnny. At this point, I think there are like six or seven guitars on stage. Are they all plugged in? I guess you need a lot of instruments to fill up that amount of sound space, and, well, everyone looks like they’re having a good time up there.
I think that’s what people are here to see. Old friends having a good time amid that spectacle - that scale. You hope it’s more medicine show than snake oil sales pitch, but it’s not like this is his first tour where thousands of seats sell for around $100 each. Springsteen’s music has always sold redemption. Explicitly in cars and women and music, and later, when his protagonists end up being trapped, too old to run away, there’s always a hook or a poetic lyric that aims to make the shittiness easier to bear.
During the last song of the night, "10th Avenue Freeze-Out," he announces "This is the most important part!" before singing “And the Big Man joined the band." After that lyric, the song goes on hold while the video screens show a montage honoring the Big Man, Clarence Clemmons, and other members of the E Street Band and the Bruce Springsteen entertainment complex who have died in recent years. The montage ends, and the band drives through to the end of the song.
I get the feeling that for a lot of the people in the audience, people who are on first-name basis with the members of the band (I get this feeling that by calling him “Springsteen” rather than “Bruce”, I’m committing some kind of faux pas, of not allowing myself to get attached in the way others have), are really responding to that emotion.
When I interviewed Owen Ashworth of Advance Base last year about, among other things, his love of Springsteen, he said, "it just sounds like family to me." I think he’s onto something there. For some of us, that’s a small group of friends and relatives. I guess for some folks, having that family be thousands-strong isn’t a source of anxiety, it’s a source of strength.
Some stuff's been cancelled in Pittsburgh tonight in light of worsening weather conditions, but there's still some live music to be had if you're a brave one. Here's the current rundown:
— Donavon Frankenreiter at Mr. Small's: cancelled
— Acousticafe Open Mic at Club Cafe: cancelled
If anything changes, we'll let you know via Twitter.
— The Little Feat concert at Jergel's has now also been cancelled.
This week's MP3 Monday comes to you from The Toys Du Jour. Check out their song "You Are Beautiful" for a little local, experimental folk to start your day off right.
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And while you're at it, take a peek at The Toys Du Jour's zombie-themed music video for their song "Tonight is the Night" (just in time for Halloween).
Surprise! Stream This Ish is back. In case you forgot, Friday on FF>> is when we round up the bands in this week's issue for you to stream. Isn't that nice of us?
— Check out the quirky three-piece Uke and Tuba (which features - yup, you guessed it - a ukelele and tuba) in our music feature and head over to Youtube to stream some of their music videos.
— Next up are this week's CD Reviews :
Check out the title track from The Meets' five-track EP here!
Stream Wires and Cables' new EP Toundo on their Facebook, here.
Singer/songwriter Jack McLaughlin doesn't offer any stream-able music, but you can preview (and order) his new album, The Season, here.
— Finally, here are our Critics’ Picks for this week:
Grouplove @ Altar Bar, tonight (10/26)
Walk Off the Earth @ Mr. Small’s this Tuesday (10/30)
RL Grime @ Carnegie Mellon University, tonight (10/26)
Outasight @ Stage AE, Saturday (10/27)
Time to win some shit!
Brooklyn-based MC/producer Oddisee comes to Shadow Lounge tomorrow night, Oct. 26, on a bill with former Pittsburgher MH the Verb and the Rhyme Calisthenics MC contest, which features Jon Quest, 3PFD and Vision this time around, along with some new challengers.
We've written about Rhyme Cal a few times; over the years, it's grown to be much more than a Pittsburgh phenomenon, with the founders moving from city to city with the Wheel of Skills. After this show, the contest moves on to Brooklyn, Boston, Toronto and elsewhere throughout the fall.
Interested in checking out Oddisee, MH the Verb and the Rhyme Cal competition? Leave a comment on this post before 10 a.m. tomorrow (Friday, Oct. 26), and I'll pick one commenter at random to win a pair of tickets. (Be sure to use your real email address when you leave your comment, so that I can get in touch and get your info for the tickets.)
A few weeks back, we featured Beedie on our cover, and in the article we ran, he mentioned an upcoming collaboration with former partner Mac Miller. It's here now, so we're bringing it to you: Yesterday, The Ill Spoken released "Paid Dues"; listen below.
This week's MP3 Monday comes to you from Stillborn Identity. The Pittsburgh rapper recently released a split cassette with Youngstown, Ohio's MC Homeless, which you might have seen in our CD Reviews last week. Now we've got the track "Pitseleh's a Goner," just for you. Catch Stillborn Identity this Friday, Oct. 26, on the first stop of his Halloween Never Say Die tour at The Mr. Roboto Project (5106 Penn Ave.) with Evolve, Cemcom and Cincinnaus C — the show starts at 7 p.m.
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Been super busy readying tomorrow's exciting BEST OF PITTSBURGH 2012 READER'S POLL ISSUE, so I've been remiss on getting you a couple of interesting local-music updates. Here's one quickie:
Gene the Werewolf, whom I profiled about a year ago here in the paper, just signed with Frontiers Records, an Italian label whose other current projects include, like, ELO and Dokken re-issues. The band's INTERNATIONAL DEBUT!!! hits stores next month. Weird, right? Good on them. Read the official release from Frontiers here.
Producing one show is hard work; producing a week-long, citywide, multiple-venue festival is a mountain few have the strength to endure. It’s like an exacting science that balances expenditures with audience opinion, venue logistics and talent requirements. And in its third year, the people behind the VIA Music and New Media Festival proved that they've been doing their science homework.
Unlike previous years, VIA 2012 started on a Monday with art-centered activities — 3D Burns, presented at Fe Gallery, and Azimuth, a project by a group of CMU grad students. But really, no matter how interesting, the stand-alone visual stuff that’s not accompanied by audio tends to draw less of a crowd anyway. Somewhere in there is a truism that VIA is attempting to break down, but for the sake of this year’s festival, one could argue that Monday was just them getting their feet wet. Starting out with a whisper, if you will.
Tuesday night welcomed the LA-based songstress Julia Holter, whose sound falls somewhere between Fiona Apple and Zola Jesus. As one of the few female audio artists in the lineup, her being there was a statement in and of itself. She was accompanied by nothing more than a cello player and a drummer on a small kit, making the performance one of simplicity despite its electronic edge. But every song was like a full narrative, complete with drama, love and a little bit of tragedy. She carried a gothic tone to a classical realm and as it was all housed within the theater inside the Andy Warhol Museum, the entire evening just made perfect sense. She toed that fine line between otherwise opposing elements, much like how VIA itself examines the cross-thread of multiple sensory experiences.
As Wednesday’s events approached, all VIA attendees were again sitting in a theater, now the tiny Melwood Cinema in North Oakland. For an early, very surreal celebration of Halloween, Demdike Stare rescored the soundtrack to “La Vampire Nue,” a 1970’s French film about a suicidal cult. This was one of the more interesting appropriations of VIA’s “music and new media” subtext as it was literal, historical, yet still avant-garde. It would take a really deep knowledge of Demdike Stare’s catalogue on Modern Love to know where exactly the film score ended and their music began. But in actuality, the duo literally used pieces of La Vampire Nue’s audio, channeled them through modern MIDI controllers while re-editing images from the film live. As this wasn’t just about the music, it kind of didn’t matter where the music was sourced from. In fact, it didn’t even matter if you liked music at all as the performance was about a twisted, sexy, suicidal tale of bizarre and epic proportions. The guys of Demdike Stare sat humbly in the pit and simply contributed to the narrative.
The spooky electronic eccentricities continued that evening at Brillobox where attendees got to experience the gamut of left-field, abrasive electronic-noise to hard-edged techno. Drainolith, followed by Nate Young, opened the evening’s performances of noisy barrage. While each artist fostered a packed crowd, the audience stood mostly still, peering through the smoke at whichever mad scientist was crouched over the galaxy of noise machines causing them to shrill and howl in 8-bit agony.
Nate Young’s roaring performance was followed by a slightly more palatable set from Three Legged Race who turned the Brillobox into the core of a turbulent, distant planet with his otherworldly, minimal techno. However, the crowd was returned from the vast unknown thanks to Andy Stott’s hard techno set. He offered up music that begged to be danced to. Actually, the techno was so hard it basically forced you to dance, which was cool ‘cause everyone secretly wanted to get to the dancing anyway.
Wednesday to Thursday was like a black & white cookie as Thursday offered a far brighter array of music. The night began with Slowpitch who played hip-hop that sounded pretty much as you imagine hip-hop from a guy called Slowpitch would sound. His warped layers of beats came in undulated peaks and valleys that had you anxious for more beats. In a trend-driven hip-hop world saturated with trap, his loose and thoughtful take on the genre was refreshing.
Two other artists of note for Thursday’s show at 6119 were Le1F and Girl Unit. Both are highly acclaimed for their skills and simultaneously fun as hell to hear live. Le1F is constantly being lauded as an incredibly talented gay rapper but, in all actuality, he doesn’t need the gay signifier in front of “rapper” for the statement to be true.
Girl Unit’s track selection was at once full of Night Slugs dubs and Pelican Fly favorites as the two buddy labels create the perfect party chemistry. The tracks were seeped in tropical flavors of bass, UK garage, smatterings of sexy 4-on-the-flour house and of course, everyone’s current fave (or the most overplayed), Nicki Minaj’s “Beez in the Trap.”
Girl Unit’s set made for a crowd-pleasing pump up that led perfectly into day five, which was VIA’s real test as they opened the doors to the repurposed PNC bank on Penn Ave. in East Liberty for the first slew of main acts. Tensions were high as a small but impatient crowd began to form outside of the venue. People were clearly just excited and the VIA crew held the doors for a bit to make sure everything was in line. Once opened, everyone began to file in and, while still chaotic, it was the good kind of chaotic.
One of the most memorable sets Friday was brought by SSION, a band that hails from Kansas City’s unexpected art scene. Their set was dance inducing and cheekily crass, making for one of, if not the biggest theatrical performances of the festival.
Another highlight was Chicago’s dons of juke and footwork, Spinn & Rashad, whose inclusion was kind of a statement unto the genre’s current resurgence. Earlier in the day they held a footwork workshop at the Shadow Lounge where they attempted to teach a group of teens and twenty-somethings how to move their feet at a frenetic pace worthy of a footwork battle. Their patience was endearing and everyone who attended at least left with the dribble step in their repertoire of dance moves, that one was easy.
Saturday was the day that most everyone was waiting for as Moodymann took the decks. Even for the people out there who don’t know much about anything when it comes to music, know about Moodymann and the extra bodies in the bank that night were a reflection of his stature. From the Beastie Boys to Omar S and everything in between, he played a crowd-pleasing set. As he had gone on after the acid techno driven deft of Gatekeeper, wrangling the whole crowd in with a few well-known tracks made it easy for him. He almost didn’t even have to try.
After the final main act, Nadastrom, the party relocated to 6119 where Lafdki — who wasn’t able to make his scheduled slot on Wednesday — opened for the 100% Silk team of Laurel Halo, Magic Touch, M. Geddes Gengras and Ital. The party was packed. It went until sometime past 4am. It led to high late-night sales for the Dominos next door. And everyone was inebriated to the point of calling it the best after-party ever, which may or may not have been true. It’s all legend at this point.
In the end, as noted by the description of the last after party, it seemed as if VIA really made changes for the better compared to last year’s fest. Having their own space at which to throw after parties was helpful but having the main acts inside was probably the biggest improvement. Remember Blondes performing outside in a day glow? Yeah, that was strange. But the renegade utilization of the soon-to-be destroyed bank on Penn was pretty cool and definitely ambitious.
While there were several improvements, frustrations still existed. One of the most detrimental for all ticket holders, or interested parties, was the lack of information flow. People may have explored the artists prior to the shows had they known far enough in advance who they would actually be; the same goes for show day set times. It was a tech driven festival whose website, of all things, wasn’t very good at doing its job.
However, most attendees are already anticipating next year’s event. And everyone had so much freaking fun, so we can all grant the little fest some leeway. They may have studied hard and done their homework but Pittsburgh’s still got a few more tests to throw their way.
It's that time again! This week's MP3 Monday comes to you from indie rockers Coronado. They're about to release their debut self-titled album, and we've got a sneak peek at the track "Something Died."
Their CD release — which has changed since we ran our review of the album in this past week's paper — is:
Coronado with Satin Gum, The Color Fleet, Paul Luc. Sat., Oct. 27. Club Cafe, 56 S. 12th St., South Side. $7.
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