Thao Nguyen and her band, the Get Down Stay Down, reminded Pittsburgh of the power that a passionate female frontman can have over an audience this past Saturday night.
First up was local act, Gypsy And His Band of Ghosts, who served up some buoyant folk-rock to get the night started. They harmonize in a way that brings Fleet Foxes to mind but in combination with a high BPM and bouncy drum line, they have a sound all their own.
Up next was Portland sweetheart Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. She stood in the dark and let her mellifluous voice, a fusion of Janis Joplin, Feist, and Jessica Rabbit, take center stage as she sang her first song in a capella. Light, tingy loops of electric guitar provided additional dimension to her vocals, and amped up the audience for guitar goddess Thao Nguyen.
About twenty minutes after Lady Lamb finished up, the Get Down Stay Down took the stage. In a pink chiffon dress and cowboy boots, Thao bounced closely behind her band, swung her acoustic guitar over her head and under her arm and gave the audience a quiet greeting. But once in song, that adorable shyness shifted into full blown sexiness as she and her band threw themselves into the music. She was backed by her drummer, bass player, and keyboard/vocalist while she rotated between electric and acoustic guitar, banjo, and mandolin. There was a point, mid song, when she put down her guitar and joined her drummer on percussion. I’d wondered if that would be the peak of the performance, but then as soon as the thought crossed my mind, Thao broke out in Ludacris’ What’s Your Fantasy, and absolutely every person in the crowd lost it.
It felt like there were no limitations to Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, they were there for just that; to get down and to stay down. This was their first visit to Pittsburgh, but hopefully not their last.
Heyo! It's Monday and that means a new MP3! This week we bring you "Corner Store" by Shaky Shrines.
Pittsburgh music veterans make up this group. The combination of current and former members of the Harlan Twins, October, Worn Out Tigers, Coal Miner, and Science is Dead comprise the grungily good garage drone band we know as Shaky Shrines.
"Corner Store" comes of off their freshly released self-titled debut EP. In October they will release an LP entitled Mausoleum.
If you haven't had a chance yet, check out my interview with Chelsea Baratz in this week's paper: The Upper St. Clair-raised jazz saxophonist is a bandleader and session player in New York, and is doing her hometown's jazz scene proud. By way of a quick update, I wanted to note that in addition to tomorrow's free show at Riverview Park, Chelsea is playing tonight at James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy — which was one of her old haunts when it was James Street Tavern. She let me know she'll be joined by Jevon Rushton, an old collaborator with whom she hasn't played in a while.
Lighting up the Pittsburgh punk scene is Thunder Vest. The five-member group, together for a little over a year, released its debut self-titled album early in June. This week we offer the single, "All About Me," for stream and download, but you can grab the rest of their album on their bandcamp.
Not so dead on a Monday night, Toro y Moi and Toxie rocked Mr. Small's like it was 1999. Well, sort of.
Toxie, an indie band based out of Memphis, opened the show on July 15, setting a dreamy, grungy tone with passive yet pretty vocals and guitar riffs reminiscent of Joy Division. The downtrodden melodies and female front man playing for the sea of girls in high waisted cut offs, same-sex couples discreetly holding hands, and the young couple expecting a baby gave the air of nonchalant cool that I was hoping for at this show.
Not even 15 minutes after Toxie cleared the stage, the crowd was chanting “we want Chaz” over and over as if they had been waiting for him to perform for years. And perhaps they had been, after all it was his first time performing in Pittsburgh.
Toro y Moi, aka Chaz Bundick, is usually a one man act, but to my delight and surprise he was backed by a guitar player, bass player, and drummer while he supplied the vocals, the keyboard, and synthesizer for Monday's show. The songs took on a fuller feel with instrumentation that seamlessly replaced some of the machine made beats and synthesized sounds typical of a DJ set but without completely compromising the original composition of the songs. Not a single person in Mr. Small's could help but move to the funky, chill sounds supplied by Chaz and company.
Toro y Moi came in with the chillwave a couple years ago, and while that music fad has faded, I believe Bundick is here to stay. On tour for his latest album, Anything in Return, he proves that he can still lay down chill tracks but now with some minor house elements thrown in. Somehow things sound fresh yet familiar, a hard feat to pull off. He’s cognizant of what makes for good showmanship and is focused on taking his style to the next level, down to each of the many details.
Merry MP3 Monday! This week we have a track from local rock group Theia Collides.
Nightmare Dressed in White comes off of the band's latest EP, Fragments, released last month.
Brooklyn-based producer and rapper El-P and rapper Killer Mike make up the duo Run the Jewels. El-P produced Killer Mike's latest release, R.A.P. Music, which was released on June 26th, free to the public for download. The pair rolls through town this Saturday to perform a collaborative set.
You can catch them at the Altar Bar Saturday at 8 p.m.. Opening acts include KOOL A.D. and Despot. Tickets are $18-20.
I’m a Swifty, I admit. I know most of Tay’s albums by heart, and have dutifully scoffed at all the jerks and cads and general heartbreakers who populate her songs, songs that I really love.
Then she released Red and I started to think, “I don’t know, Taylor, maybe you’re the problem.” This was the start of my personal T-Swift backlash. And it wasn’t just the endless relationship drama. To my ear, her music had started to take on a less engaging, relatable tone. No longer could I delude myself into thinking that Taylor and I, like, totally got each other — which, of course, is a big part of what has made her a superstar.
Would seeing my pop star frenemy live change my mind?
I missed openers Joel Crouse and Austin Mahone while navigating the hordes of teenage girls, but did catch mildly fratty (and Taylor-approved) British folk-pop-rapper Ed Sheeran, who did a fair job of holding his own alone on stage, and gave the crowd a lesson in looping. His urging of the audience to sing along — nay, scream along — was largely disregarded. He did, however, have at least one tween crying and hyperventilating, which in itself is a testament to the power of the Swift empire.
From the moment Taylor herself appeared in larger-than-life silhouette behind a billowing red curtain, I was sold. And judging by the defining screams which continued throughout the show, so was everyone else at the sold-out show. Her opener, “State of Grace” — a song I didn’t pay much attention to on Red — proved to be a total stadium rocker, especially when punctuated with pyrotechnics. The color red was, naturally, a constant presence throughout the show. Red, Taylor explained, represents the “crazy emotions,” like falling in love and breaking up. “Thank you” she said, “for making my music the soundtrack to your crazy emotions.”
It would take far too long to describe the elaborate costume changes and set changes and dance numbers, the themes of which shifted from Doo Wop girl groups for “You Belong with Me” to the Golden Age of Hollywood for “Lucky One” to a bizarre wind-up toy ballet for “Love Story.” She even did a couple (relatively) solo numbers on a small stage on the other end of the field — but not before being carried through the crowd by two of her dancers ( flanked by some serious-looking bodyguards), high-fiving dozens and dozens of her adoring fans.
The whole thing should have felt a little disjointed and over-the-top, but Taylor’s presence is a palpable, uniting and calming one. Between songs she would gaze into the crowd as though she was really trying to see everyone and she frequently reiterated how unbelievable and special it felt to be performing for a sold-out football stadium. “Come on, Taylor,” I couldn’t help thinking. “You’ve gotta be used to it by now!” But there was no denying a sense of genuine warmth even in the highly controlled context.
For the finale, “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” the stage became an elaborate circus, with Taylor as the ring leader. She conducted the crowd in a sing-along of the chorus, which ended jubilantly in fireworks and confetti. Of course, the idea of paring a song about something so specific — the nitty-gritty of an ended relationship — with that level of pageantry is completely ridiculous. But that’s Taylor Swift. She knows better than most how huge and memorable those small, specific events can feel.
A couple of crowdfunding housecleaning items for you this Monday:
1. We're entering the last few days of an IndieGoGo campaign for the charming local band Balloon Ride Fantasy; the indie-pop five-piece is raising money to put out its first full-length. (The band put out an EP a couple of years ago, but it was just two people at that point; now it's so much bigger!) The campaign ends Wednesday, so if you dig this band, now's the time.
2. In newer news, you've still go plenty of time to contribute to a Pledgemusic campaign to fund a new album from longtime local rocker Joe Grushecky. That campaign just started last Wednesday and is already above 80% funding, but that's what happens when you're the best-known musician in Pittsburgh. Also there are still some "Take Joe to dinner" packages available, in which, at the $450 level, you're given the opportunity to pay for a local legend's meal. So there's that.
Fund what you like!
Heyo, readers! Sorry we missed last week, we must have come down with a case of the Mondays. But don't fret, we've got a high spirited track available for stream and download this week from local Americana band, The Sparrows.
"Amphetamine" comes off of their sophomore release Magnolia Sessions. To download, right-click here and select "save link as."