Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Listen Up! July 6

Posted By on Wed, Jul 6, 2016 at 12:23 PM

Every Wednesday, we make a Spotify playlist containing tracks from artists mentioned in the current music section. Grab a paper and listen along!

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Pittsburgh's XFEST 2016 unites alternative music fans young and old

Posted By on Wed, Jul 6, 2016 at 10:01 AM

XFEST, 105.9 the X’s annual summer concert event, had taken a few years off. After a well-attended resurrection of the event last summer, the station was at it again with an XFEST featuring Weezer, Panic! At the Disco, and Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness, as well as up-and-comers SWMRS and Dorothy.

The line for the sold-out concert wrapped all the way to the North Shore light rail station beside Heinz Field. Although the X’s musical programming generally caters to fans of alternative rock from the late '90s, many attendees were teenagers and young adults decked out in full Panic! At the Disco gear.

Just as the back of the line was rushing in, Dorothy kicked off the gig. The rock ‘n’ roll vixen’s voice was gritty and big, Dorothy Martin’s style emulating a rougher Robert Plant vibe over Southern Rock riffage. While the genre seemed like a weird fit for a show dominated by poppier acts, the group seemed very comfortable on stage for a band only one album into its career. 
Andrew McMahon - MEG FAIR
  • Meg Fair
  • Andrew McMahon

Songs like “Woman” showcased the raw power of Dorothy’s voice, which at times feels a little stifled by the fuzzed out vocal effects on debut record ROCKISDEAD. The LA-based band definitely has breakout potential for its appeal to fans of ZZ Top and J. Roddy Walston.

Up next was SWMRS, a group of fresh-faced young adults who make music that emulates British punk, Dinosaur Jr. and the Violent Femmes in its cheeky lyrical content and vocal delivery. Although the band’s sound is more suited for a beer-sticky bar full of sweaty punks as opposed to that of a large outdoor venue, they still captured the attention of the crowd.

Moments like the full band drop into “Miley” showcased the powerful punk bliss SWMRS produces, as well as the musical prowess of the musicians involved. “Figuring It Out” was the climax of their set, a song suited for the trailer of an indie film about two mischievous roller girls in love, and “Uncool” is the anthem to my personal death to cool/hype 2kforever campaign.

After the rough and tumble punk spirit of SWMRS came the squeaky clean pop magic of heartthrob Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. McMahon of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin origins burst onto the stage with the joyful spirit of a young boy, taking turns playing piano and running around to interact with the crowd. There are few performers on this earth as pure as MVP dad and indie-heartthrob McMahon.

The cancer survivor (whose journey was documented through the excellent film Dear Jack) has nothing but positivity to share with the world, having a crew member bring a giant multi-colored parachute to the lawn crowd during “Synesthesia” and running through the crowd to perform under it. McMahon even performed the Jack’s Mannequin hit “Dark Blue,” eliciting tears and joyful singalongs from the folks standing around me.

The anticipation for P!ATD was palpable, and whenever the curtain lifted to reveal the elaborate visuals and Gatsby-esque stage set-up, screams erupted from the crowd. “Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time” was the opener of choice, and Brendon Urie’s electric showmanship paired brilliantly with a full horns section and dynamic, well-dressed band.

The majority of songs performed were from Death of a Bachelor and Too Rare to Live, Too Weird to Die!, which makes sense since both are the most recent releases, and also cemented the reality that P!ATD is essentially the Urie Show, now that he’s the only original member. The performance was energetic and vitalizing, dispersed with neo-Sinatra antics, backflips and a killer cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Panic! At the Disco - MEG FAIR
  • Meg Fair
  • Panic! At the Disco
Urie is quite aware of his power as a frontman and sex symbol, often (sometimes a little too) generously showing off his ability to hit high notes and even ripping off his shirt to perform a dueling drum solo with the band’s drummer. It was at this point I spent way too much time considering if you can put your shirt back on once you’ve taken it off mid-performance. (The thrilled crowd didn’t have to worry about that—he kept it off.)

During “Victorious,” P!’s final song, the two older gentlemen beside me were chattering excitedly. “I was a skeptic, but I’m not sure how Weezer’s gonna top this,” shouted one gray haired fellow to the other.

Their fears were only a little bit founded, as Weezer still puts on a great show, but it definitely felt flatter compared to the intricate theatrics of P!’s production. Weezer kicked off the show with a new track, “California Kids,” and I tried not to cry as two families dressed in matching Weezer shirts all sang together, young kids bonding with their parents over rock music.

What was weirder was watching a seven-year-old sing along to “Hash Pipe,” the stage’s screen covered in a visual of raining pill and needle emojis. It was a nice blend of new and old, so Weezer Lite fans could appreciate all the hits like “My Name Is Jonas,” “Island in the Sun,” “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You) I Want You To” and “Beverly Hills.” 
Weezer - MEG FAIR
  • Meg Fair
  • Weezer

Weezer continued to be a problematic fave, their culturally oblivious moves like Rivers Cuomo sporting a sombrero making me scratch my head a little, and the ever itchy first line of “El Scorcho” fetishizing the heck out of Japanese girls never ever feels comfortable when I hear it live. 
With all its cultural tone deafness aside, Weezer does consistently prove why they have become such a long-lasting musical icon in the indie rock world. They continue to be excellent musicians with an ear for pop hooks for the nerdy dude in all of us.

Overall, XFEST proved to be a great night of rock entertainment in the city of Pittsburgh. If only the X could compromise its programming to match the tastes and interests showcased at XFEST with the grunge obsession of older fogies, the alt radio world in Pittsburgh would shine so bright.  

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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Suggestions for an improved Kenny Chesney experience in 2017

Posted By on Tue, Jul 5, 2016 at 5:50 PM


On Saturday, country-performer Kenny Chesney country-performed at Heinz Field for his annual summer Pittsburgh appearance. Like his concerts in previous years, much was made in the aftermath of the gratuitous heaps of trash left behind, and the number of fights, hospitalizations and arrests associated with the event. His return in summer 2017 is a safe bet, so here are some suggestions for improving this iconic holiday while minimizing its adverse effects on the region. Let’s turn this thing around!

Cardboard: Build a fake Heinz Field out of cardboard, a la Rock Ridge in Blazing Saddles, and host the concert there. They’d have no idea! We’d probably have to cover the real Heinz Field in a tarp or something.

Sleepover!: Make the theme of next year’s show “pajama party!” (could double up those exclamation points if needed). Tell the fans to bring their pajamas, s’more ingredients, tents and sleeping bags, and stipulate that all attendees MUST have a fun campout in the parking lot after the show. If they have to sleep there, they’ll probably keep it tidy. How can you focus on Brad’s spooky ghost story when there’s 25 pounds of broken glass littering your campsite? Of course we’d need another cleanup solution for the post-campfire arrests and hospitalizations, but that’s one of those “tomorrow-problems.”

Product TBD: This one still needs some kinks worked out, but I’ve been brainstorming some kind of cheap mechanism that turns trash into clean energy with 100% efficiency.

Trashketball!: Everybody knows Kenneth-heads love sports, so we could turn trash removal into a series of games. You could throw, kick and heave (like shot put) all trash into goals, hoops, and end-zones, just like in real sports. So fun! Is that Steph Curry nailing a three-pointer from half-court? Nope, that’s just Jeff, doing his part to keep Pittsburgh clean.

Post-game: Change the tailgates to AFTER the show. If they’re like me, they’ll be pooped after a long show and probably just wanna hit the hay.

Bouncy Concrete: Make the parking lots out of some sort of super-bouncy material, so when concert-goers litter, that shit bounces right back into their hands and they get a second chance to properly dispose of it. Think again, Gary!

Tears: Like “Keep America Beautiful” but without the cultural appropriation. The idea’s pretty simple: we go down to the parking lots mid-tailgate, and just cry all over the place. Just try to enjoy a round of cornhole with your pals when there’s hundreds of weeping adults sulking through your party. So sad!

The Old Switcheroo: Replace Kenny Chesney with another performer, and have them perform at a different venue in a different city. 

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Listen Up! June 29

Posted By on Wed, Jun 29, 2016 at 1:21 PM

Every Wednesday, we make a Spotify playlist containing tracks from artists mentioned in the current music section. Listen while you read!

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Monday, June 27, 2016

MP3 Monday: LoFi Delphi

Posted By on Mon, Jun 27, 2016 at 3:20 PM

  • Courtesy of Douglas Arthur Cole
This Monday's MP3 comes from the band LoFi Delphi, who just released its sophomore EP, Always the Quiet Ones. As our writer Mike Shanley puts it, "LoFi Delphi takes a page from its classic pop influences, meticulously arranging the material to sound more like a group song than a riff with some embellishment." Stream or download the song "Goodbye" from the release, and read more about the band here.

This download link has expired, sorry!

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Friday, June 24, 2016

A conversation with Pere Ubu

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2016 at 10:31 AM

Pere Ubu’s ‘Coed Jail! v.1.1’ tour comes to Club Cafe on July 1, with songs from the enigmatic Cleveland pop band’s early days (1975-82). CP sent some questions to singer David Thomas via email. Here’s that talk.

  • Photo by Kathy Thompson
  • Pere Ubu
I was provided a lengthy FAQ to avoid asking questions you’ve already been asked. How often do you update this list?
Whenever it needs updating

Why do interviews at all if you’re so consistently frustrated by them?
I’m not frustrated by them in the main because, having been asked the same questions for decades, I decided the best thing to do would be to put up a guide to interviewing me so that everyone can do the best job possible.

If me answering the same questions for forty years is not going to be progressed in any way then I cheat the journalist, the journalist cheats the reader, the reader walks away with nothing but the same old facts that anyone Googling can find has been written a hundred times before. I don’t particularly care — that’s not my job — but let’s just make it all a little bit more interesting.

Have you ever enjoyed doing an interview? What was it like?
I enjoy most interviews. Especially with phone interviews or radio interviews, you find they’ve done their homework and you can have a really great analysis and expansion of things. The written interview is less conversational so you react rather than interact. But if the person putting the questions to you is coming from place of genuine interest, it can be beneficial to all.

Do you believe labels have any purpose in music (as in genres, not record labels)? They can be reductive and inconsistent and misleading, but I’d argue that most music fans are aware of that and that labels are simply placeholders, temporary reference points to describe music until it’s heard. So calling Pere Ubu punk or avant garage or pop isn’t a life sentence, just a starting point.
We’re not insulted by avant garage — we invented it! You knew that right? We have always insisted we are the mainstream. We are a pop band — I’ve never argued any different. But for the record, the garage graphic was adopted as a logo to go along with the descriptive ‘avant garage.’ A fan from New York City had sent the band a certificate, bestowing the honorific as an ‘award.' That was how things were then. Punk hadn’t been invented. Journalists were struggling to categorise what was happening at that time — we had journalists coming to see, travelling all the way from Europe, as part of the ‘New Wave’ they’d heard rumor of. ‘Avant garage’ appealed to the band because it conflated the two seemingly contradictory faces of the band — the appreciation of abstract noise and an affection for pop music, particularly of the '60s garage band aesthetic. It was a label that didn't mean anything but seemed like it might mean something. More importantly, it was a way to deflect the media’s obsessive pigeonholing of anything and everything. One of our t-shirts sums it up — And when they ask you what the Avant Garage means, you just stare at them in disbelief — a Johnny Dromette-ism.

Do you ever talk about music using genre-labels?
All music should be folk music. If it’s not true to the origins of your forbears then go be a used car salesman.

How do you spend your time on the last day before a tour? Preparation or relaxation?
We rehearse for anything from 10 to 18 hours each day for a few days before every tour, we load up the van, check the itinerary, try to get a few hours sleep. It’s work and there is no relaxation. We take the job seriously and no-one lets the team down. There is no relaxation until the tour ends and all the band agree that the brutality of touring is offset by everyone knowing what they should be doing, or anticipating what needs to be done for every eventuality. Everyone has a tour role aside from playing an instrument.

You close out the tour in Ohio. Are you received well there, or any differently than other locations? How does it feel to play there after 40 years as a band?
I don’t pay attention to my feelings. All gigs are equal. But Ohio is where we like to end the tours. We go home, get some sleep, get back to work. Pittsburgh is always a good place to come — we’d gigged there a few times throughout this era and it seemed like an essential stop.

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Modern Baseball’s sold-out show confirms pop punk can be inclusive and electric

Posted By on Thu, Jun 23, 2016 at 3:20 PM

I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it a million more. Women are the lifeblood of pop punk and punk music. As the line began to wrap around the block on which Altar Bar sits, I passed a wide mix of people, but it had to be noted that so many excited showgoers were women in groups with their friends, laughing and goofing off.

For those not well-versed in the politics of the pop punk and emo scene, it can be quite trying to be a woman who loves these genres of music. In her essay about emo, “Where the Girls Aren’t”, music critic Jessica Hopper points out that emo can alienate the very fan base that keeps it afloat, and that formula translates directly to pop punk.

While women comprise a great deal of the source material for these artists, it can be somewhat difficult to find women and queer musicians making pop punk, and while many women support music by going to shows, dude-dominated spaces can feel unsafe and are unfortunately rife with harassment.

It’s reasons like these that Modern Baseball created a hotline for this particular tour and why Barry Johnson, vocalist and guitarist of Joyce Manor, notably stood up against hypermasculinity by calling out a stage diver for being too aggressive with other concert attendees. 
  • Courtesy of Jessica Flynn
  • Modern Baseball

At Wednesday's show, Vocalist Chrissy Tashjian of tour opener Thin Lips kicked off their set by dedicating a song to the women in the crowd, later reminding everyone of the gender neutral bathroom open for the show and calling for allies to “step up and be homies” in the wake of the Pulse shooting. As someone who spent their young life playing pop punk and feeling isolated for being both a woman and queer human, it was moving to hear so much emphasis and celebration for those like myself at the show.

On the musical side, Thin Lips set the tone for the evening with their unique brand of pop punk, a mixture of earworm vocal melodies and gnarly riffage. It’s the mix of upbeat punk with moments of darkness and edge that showcase just why Thin Lips is certainly a band to keep your eye on.

Showcasing a great deal from their latest effort, Riff Hard, they held it down with a Mixtapes-y musical leanings (read: not quite pop punk but too saccharine at moments to be straight punk) and That Dog levels of catchiness. It’s like a magical concoction of lots of good things that have happened in punk times past to create something entirely new and enticing.

The second act of the night was Joyce Manor, who was playing its first show in Pittsburgh. Johnson addressed the crowd during the set saying, “Sorry it took us three records to get here.” I’m sure the band had to be aware of their popularity in the ‘Burgh, as some locals had created a “Joyce Manor skips Pittsburgh again!!” event page during its Never Hungover Again support tour.

The crowd definitely didn’t hold it against the band. From the moment that it tore into “Heart Tattoo,” the floor of the venue was literally bowing and bouncing under the pressure of a sold-out crowd getting off its feet.

JM may be a noisy punk band with pop elements, but don’t be fooled by the punk image and distortion pedals; this band is musically tight and incredibly cohesive. The group’s Bassist Matt Ebert fills out the sound so well with the high-end vocals, and the dual riffing, as showcased on songs like “Schley,” comes across magnificently live.

The band members perform most songs a little bit or much faster than the recording, which kept the crowd surging and buzzing as they shouted along. The full band version of “Drainage” was hauntingly heart shattering, leaving me with goosebumps. There were moments in which the crowd almost overpowered the vocals, a sea of emotionally-charged fans crying out “Everything reminds me of you,” during “Beach Community” and belting the final verse in “Constant Headache” with awe inspiring fervor. The set was well worth the three-record wait.

Another magnificent characteristic of pop punk that Joyce Manor and Modern Baseball shows reveal is the ability for this kind of music to dismantle unfeeling machismo in favor of emotionally raw and honest lyrics about having feelings. Folks all the way across the gender spectrum were blatantly moved by Joyce Manor’s set, openly crying as they sang along.

And if Joyce Manor has the power to move people to tears, Modern Baseball has the power to make people let down their walls and be an honest version of themselves. “Holy crap!” Brendan Lukens charmingly exclaimed early in the set, shocked at the passion of the crowd. People were so consumed in the music and singing along to concern themselves with looking cool.

Modern Baseball’s live show has bit of a messier feel, but it suits the style of the music well. It isn’t sloppy, but it reminds you that you’re experiencing live music and not something that has been recorded and re-recorded over and over. Lukens mic definitely could have been louder, but the harmonies still cut through clear and full, soaring over the jangling, infectious riffage.

MoBo’s music is intimate and confessional, and the crowd responded with a raw energy and sincerity. The floor continued to bow, surging back and forth as MoBo barreled through newer tracks from Holy Ghost like “Wedding Singer” and older hits like “Fine, Great,” “The Weekend” and “Rock Bottom.” The set ended with “Your Graduation,” pulling the crowd to operate as one giant wave of passion.

While the pop punk community as a whole definitely has some shit to sort out, Thin Lips, Joyce Manor and Modern Baseball are proving that pop punk is still electric, and pop punk that is genuinely inclusive is invincible. 10/10, would catch this gig again.

More thoughts from Wadada Leo Smith

Posted By on Thu, Jun 23, 2016 at 10:15 AM

Vijay Iyer (left) and Wadada Leo Smith - COURTESY OF JOHN ROGERS AND ECM RECORDS
  • Courtesy of John Rogers and ECM Records
  • Vijay Iyer (left) and Wadada Leo Smith

While talking to trumpeter/composer Wadada Leo Smith about his upcoming performance at the Pittsburgh Jazz Live International Festival, it becomes clear that music means more to him than just a series of notes on a page or a spontaneous solo that reflects his mood at the moment. It incorporates a sense of history and the desire to “create discussions,” as he puts it. This is especially true with Ten Freedom Summers, the massive composition that fills a four-disc set. There were so many thoughts that Smith expressed and which didn’t make it into the feature in this week’s City Paper. So it felt appropriate to include a few more here.

When you’re writing music about national parks or the Great Lakes, how do you channel the subject matter into the music?
Well, essentially music is like air, you know? It pervades the whole space around earth. Air becomes certain kinds of air – condensed air, air conditioned, air pressure. It’s the naming that actually triggers the memory and identifies the object. Even more than that, inside of all of these works that I do, I look to embed some psychological element. Usually that [element] is gained through reflection and research. So I specifically finish my research and I reflect on a particular section. Just like any other kind of reflection or contemplation, ideas come to you. Those ideas are the gems of ideas made specifically of materials to that particular piece or that section of the work.

Do you leave room for improvisation or is the music fully composed?
All my work has some form of unknown property in them — places where each individual of the ensemble has the opportunity to play something there that makes it also unique. The unknown moment, which we call improvisation, is always available in my pieces.

My work always has these kinds of ideas about art being able to imply, implicate and condition change in our society. That change is a purely spiritual one that has to be actualized by individuals who will take the opportunity to understand themselves through art in order to have this chance to do it. Art is a less divisive practice than religion and, let’s say, work ethic and things like that. It allows you to find the better part of yourself and let that better part of yourself become a motivation to change our society to what we’d like it to be.

In that way, I guess it allows the listener to understand you a little more too.
That would be right as well. We both glean a little bit of information from each other. And because a record is a record or a CD is a CD, multiple listening can reveal more information. Multiple live performances can reveal more information.

You keep going back over and over. I find out stuff about Billie Holiday in any of her pieces that I’ve re-listened to. Her music was so powerful and rich in poetic wordplay. You never really truly get a full understanding until you just get embedded over and over and over in it. Usually I get to the point where I get completely saturated and I pull back for maybe a month or two years or something. And then I start all over again! So it’s not about the type of music it is, it’s about the engagement of deeper insight into the art maker and the art that they make.

Ten Freedom Summers – after all that history occurred, had you always hoped to put together a large piece or did it come together at once?
In the beginning, I was born in Mississippi. Several of those artists [named in the sections of the piece] were within shouting distance of my community. Fannie Lou Hamer. Emmet Till was killed 13 miles from where I lived. He was 13 years old and I was 13 years old. Medgar Evers, who also lived in Mississippi, was also killed 48 miles from where I lived.

So I’ve always wondered if I would ever had the opportunity to participate in the Civil Rights movement the same way in which a guy like James Baldwin or a person like Bob Marley or Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder – people like that or going way back to people like Billie Holiday. “Strange Fruit” [the song she sang about a lynching] is one of the most political pieces ever performed. I’ve always wondered as I was developing, “Would I ever be able to that, or would I do it?”

So, 40-some years ago, [violinist] Leroy Jenkins asked me to write a piece for his new ensemble, which had [pianist] Anthony Davis, [drummer] Andrew Cyrille and him. I wrote “Medgar Evers: A Love-Voice for Thousand Years’ Journey for Liberty and Justice.” That was the first piece written for that. Because I remember the day he was killed. I remember the news broadcast of it.

I did it and then 40 years later, the same piano player that played it with Leroy Jenkins – Anthony Davis – recorded it with me. So that work has been born over the years. And I realized after that, I could pursue this course of music not as a protest, but music as an active element in trying to motivate and create discussions about the role of life, liberty and freedom in our society. The goal of [Ten Freedom Summers] was to create a work that would show the impact of the Civil Rights movement on America and America’s reaction to that movement.

I’m still working my way through it.
That is why it’s so big – it should take at least 20 years to understand all of it.

VIJAY IYER & WADADA LEO SMITH. 4 p.m. Sat., June 24. Pittsburgh JazzLive International Jazz Festival, UPMC Stage, Penn Avenue, Downtown. Free.

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Listen Up! June 22

Posted By on Thu, Jun 23, 2016 at 9:45 AM

Every Wednesday, we make a Spotify playlist containing tracks from artists mentioned in the current music section. Listen below!

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Monday, June 20, 2016

August Burns Red, Punchline are the first acts announced for Altar Bar send-off

Posted By on Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 4:02 PM

The beginning of the end is upon us: Today Altar Bar announced the first round of shows for its "Farewell & 10 Year Anniversary Series."

Metalcore outfit August Burns Red will play two nights at the converted church venue, July 25 and 26.

Local acts Greywalker (July 25) and Arcane Haven (July 26) will serve as support. Tickets for those shows go on sale June 22 at noon. Well-loved Pittsburgh-based pop punk band Punchline will play 37 Everywhere in its entirety July 29 with support yet to be announced.

"We're considering the whole remaining schedule at Altar Bar the Farewell Series but are adding a handful of very special performances," Says Drusky vice president/partner Josh Bakaitus. "We're hustling to get as many awesome shows booked as possible within a short period of time."

After a 10-year run, Altar Bar will close it's doors as a music venue at the end of July, with a new tenant lease starting Aug. 1. More concert announcements are still to come for the farewell concert series: you can keep track of them at Drusky's website

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