Monday, November 7, 2016

MP3 Monday: Swampwalk

Posted By on Mon, Nov 7, 2016 at 3:44 PM

PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL ORELLANO
  • Photo courtesy of Michael Orellano
This week's MP3 comes from Swampwalk, a solo project of Anna Hale who performs catchy loop-based tunes with a little help from her Gameboy. Stream or download "Not Yr Commodity," from the new record Us vs. Them, below; Hale celebrates the release with a show at Gooski's on Nov. 11.


This download has expired, sorry!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Music To Sweep To 07: Songs Of A Dead Dreamer

Posted By on Thu, Nov 3, 2016 at 4:31 PM

People are always asking me if I’ve seen Everclear perform with the Black Eyed Peas and I always tell them “yes, I have.”

It was 1999, I was twelve. My parents drove my brother and me to the Electric Factory in Philadelphia to see Everclear, who were touring for their hit album So Much For The Afterglow. Seeing the baggy jeans, dyed hair and chain wallets of the older kids smoking cigarettes in the parking lot, I remarked to my family “these are my people!” They broke into unanimous laughter but I ignored their teasing. I knew the deal: they were squares and I was hardcore.

Once inside the venue, my parents stationed up on the bar side of the floor and my brother and I posted up adjacently on the concert side (possibly the most going-to-a-show-with-your-parents move of all time). I bought an Everclear shirt that said “Punk as fuck” and featured a girl licking a phallic lollipop, which my dad then made me return (in front of all my people!). It was a rough start.

38-ef2-everclear.jpg
Joining Everlcear on the bill were the Black Eyed Peas, Soul Coughing and DJ Spooky. I have no idea how this lineup came together. At the time, the Peas were closer to a straight hip-hop act, Soul Coughing was enjoying modest success with the single “Circles” and DJ Spooky was, according to a young colleague of my dad’s, “really hot in New York.” The acts meshed like peanut butter and tuna fish.

I remember very little of the opening acts’ performances, but once Everclear came out, shit really popped off. Everclear may not seem particularly hardcore, but things got pretty intense when they came out. All the Alexakis-heads started moving up to the front, and Sam and my little bodies started getting crushed against the barrier. My parents were justifiably concerned and tried to get us over to the bar side. Two baggy jeans-ed chain wallet-having dudes saw the whole scene, and lifted the two of us over into our parents’ arms, into safety. Punk as fuck.

While the night was replete with embarrassments and forgettable moments, there is one thing that had a profound effect on my life that night and it was not Will.I.Am. It was the “hot in New York” DJ Spooky and his beautiful, cerebral monster of an album Songs of a Dead Dreamer.

Dreamer came out in 1996. It’s not alone in the realm of trippy, ambient, near-formless trip-hop from the era, but it’s a far cry from stuff like DJ Shadow’s Entroducing… or Preemptive Strike. This was the first instrumental album that I connected with and I connected with it hard. It’s a somewhat challenging album overall, it can pretty abrasive at times, but the fourth track, “Galactic Funk,” is a good way to make an entry. It’s about as close to a single as the thing has, built on dancey bassline and the most straightforward drums the album has to offer.


Spooky (real name Paul Dennis Miller, full stage name DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid) has released ten albums since Dreamer (and written several books). It’s tough to describe his discography overall (jazz, standard ambient, classical, ballet) but I think the versatility that’s defined his career is more than evident in the sixteen songs on Dreamer. A catchy, danceable track like “Galactic Funk” transitions effortlessly into the ominous, seemingly atonal “Hologrammic Dub” to a minimalist interlude called “Dance of the Morlocks.” Every song is different, but they all feel like their happening inside one head, ostensibly a dead person dreaming.

Beside all the things that make this album beautiful and clever and unique, Dreamer is mesmerizing. Long before I started sweeping to music and writing about it, I listened to this album as a way to find focus, to do homework or help me sleep. It’s been a big part of my life ever since. I could write thousands of words on it and not get any closer to why I love it, so I’m just going to recommend it highly if you like reverb, space and hip hop. The song “Nihilismus Dub” is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. I hope you agree.

Best if you work in: space mechanics, space crime forensics investigator, space









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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Listen Up! Nov. 2

Posted By on Wed, Nov 2, 2016 at 1:36 PM

Every Wednesday, we make a Spotify playlist containing tracks from artists mentioned in the current music section. Give it a listen below:


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A Pittsburgh City Paper conversation with Loreena McKennitt

Posted By on Wed, Nov 2, 2016 at 10:03 AM

In 1991, Canadian multi-instrumentalist and singer Loreena McKennitt released her fourth record, The Visit. She'd long had a fascination with Celtic music, but it was around that time that she discovered, via an exhibition of Celtic artifacts in Venice, how far-reaching that Celtic heritage was. This realization led to a kind of geographical expansion of her sound, and she began incorporating stories and sounds of the Middle East, Asia and Spain into her writing. "At its time, it was not 'radio friendly material,'" McKennitt says, " but I think there’s something very infectious in the Celtic music and ... Middle Eastern music ... and then I think there’s something attractive in the visceral nature of my voice, and the combination of those things." Whatever the reason, it connected with audiences: The Visit is certified Gold in the U.S., and quadrupedal Platinum in Canada. 
Loreena McKennitt - PHOTO COURTESY OF ANNE E. CUTTING
  • Photo courtesy of Anne E. Cutting
  • Loreena McKennitt

McKennitt continued to explore the music and literature of the world on subsequent releases, and overall has sold more than 14 million records. This Saturday, the Stratford, Ontario-based artist brings her trio to the Byham Theater. Following the first performance of the tour, in Ann Arbor, Mich., City Paper spoke with McKennitt over the phone about performing, running a label, and revisiting The Visit, 25 years later.

Last night was the first night of your first tour in a while. How did that go?
It went well! For me it’s always a bit nerve-wracking, that first performance, partially because I never dreamed of being a singer/performer. I always wanted to be a veterinarian! So when I’m away from performing for X number of months — it was about 6 months this time around — it’s like, “Oh, yes, this is my night job.”

Do you get stage fright?
No, not so much, there’s a kind of modality that I position in my mind, it’s a bit more like sitting down for dinner with friends and sharing this experience … rather than it being a formal “I’m over here and you folks are over there.”

You’re touring with longtime collaborators, Brian Hughes and Caroline Lavelle so that must make it more comfortable.
Yes, I mean, Brian and Caroline are people who I’ve been working with for quite a number of years. And we now are so familiar with, not just the music, but how we each respond musically, it’s like you become one brain. It’s so great to get to that point with other people rather than worrying, “Ok, do they remember that this is the chorus and this is the key…” we just move. It’s like a dance where you really move together. And they’re great people, they’re great traveling companions.

Are you playing selections from your whole career?

Mostly things from my career, and largely from The Visit, for the 25th anniversary, but also because it’s just the three of us I do more — I spend a bit more time telling people about the experiences and travels and stories behind the songs. Whereas when I’m traveling with the band I don’t talk or relay as much because I feel like I’ve got all these people waiting behind me. So this is a bit more conversational.

And I’ve had people suggest that, in a way, they get to know me better through this more intimate performance. There’s a 15 minute section — I was working on a one- woman show based on the Irish coming to Canada during the time of the famine, which was the 1840s — but I’d woven some spoken word in, there’s some poetry from W.B.Yates, there are eyewitness accounts of the immigrants coming to Canada. I read from some diary notes I made while working on this one-woman show (which I never completed) … It’s a more intimate kind of repertoire.

You mentioned the 25th anniversary of The Visit, what was it like going back to that record?
We were just saying it will be 20 years next year since we released The Book of Secrets and Caroline and I were saying “We can’t believe it’s been that long!” But it’s always interesting … just getting back into that mindset, and where you looked at the world from at that time …But I think [making that record] was very seminal [for me] in that that was the first time that I learned that the Celts were this vast collection of tribes that had fanned out from Europe and into Asia minor. And it was also the first recording that I had licensed to a major label. So I recall, from a non-creative side, it was the leap from going from an independent –- I still am an independent label — but going from working with a portfolio of small distributors to engaging in a licensing deal around the world with a major label.

Listening to that record, do you have any thoughts about the way that your music has progressed over the years?
To some degree. It certainly was one of my most popular, well-loved recordings. But I remember at the time … I felt it was a hodgepodge of pieces, but I realize now over the course of time there is a kind of eclecticism to the music and how I write it or how I curate it.

Obviously you make very beautiful, listenable music, but do you have thoughts about what it is about The Visit and your music in general that connects to people?
Well certainly, at its time, it was not quote radio friendly material … I think there’s something very infectious in the Celtic music and ... in the Middle Eastern music ... and then I think there’s something attractive in the visceral nature of my voice, and the combination of those things. But I think also perhaps the strength of some of those melodies … with that recording in particular it had great resonance around the world, including and especially countries where people just didn’t speak English. Portugal and Spain, for example. So I think there’s something strong in the melodies and the eclecticism of the instruments ... I think that people around the world are drawn to melodies. I’m sure the neuroscientists can explain it [laughs], but the very thing that drew me to Celtic folk music was the strength of the melodies.

You started your label, Quinlan Road, the 1985, right? What lead to that? Was that something other people around you were doing at the time?
No, I think it was more a response to not knowing  —  well, essentially the lineage was that I’d fallen madly in love with Celtic music and I wanted to be involved in it, whether it was professionally or not. I was part of a folk club in Winnipeg in the late '70s, and that’s where I really became infected with the Celtic music. And I moved to Ontario in '81 and performed at the Stratford Shakespearean festival for four years. But I [stayed] involved in Celtic music, just playing it with some friends there.

In ’85 I made my first recording and I would hardly have been able to name the record companies at the time. I just [wanted] to make my own recording of the music that I was loving, and so that was elemental. But … I [didn’t] really know much about the music industry at all.

And after making that first recording in ’85, I started busking on the street, particularly in Toronto and Vancouver, and when I went to visit friends in London, England, I busked there as well. And I’d sell cassettes and make enough money to sell my next recording. It was completely self-taught, and it wouldn’t be until later years that I would learn there were other independent labels working in jazz or folk.

And now it seems like the disintegration of the industry is so complete that almost anybody who is still standing is an independent label, the major labels are so decimated, the distribution system being so destroyed and I don’t think digital has come anywhere close to what one used to be able to achieve through physical [media]. So it’s, yeah, it’s a very interesting time to be in this industry. I’m very glad that my career got established when it did ... I think one of the reasons we’re still standing and able to continue operating is that I have run my own label, there is no manager, and we can run things quite efficiently.

It’s interesting that it happened so organically. You’re really set yourself up to weather all kinds of industry ups and downs.
That’s exactly it. Being a little mum and pop shop, where we know and understand so many of the business ingredients. … I’ve always had [an office] in Stratford, Ontario, but when my career was really starting to take off in the '90s, I set up another office in London ... Then we closed the London office and opened up a Toronto office, then we closed that and we’re just the Stratford office. But we’re still touring around the world and doing pretty much the same venues that we did in the ’90s. 2500-3000-seat venues. And [we’re] seeing many sold out along the way, so clearly there’s still an appetite for what we’re doing. The difficulty that everyone is experiencing is in the distribution and being able to commodity your creations. I’m sure in your world, print and other media people are experiencing very similar things.

You’re still the only artist on the label, right?
Yes! I’m more than I can manage [laughs]

Whats next for you, musically or otherwise?
We’re sort of in a series of touring, we’ve launched another tour in Europe in March, and because I wear many hats, one of them is managing the business. We’re moving to the next phase of administrating that and looking at what other touring might happen next years. But I traveled to India a couple of years ago to research for the next recording of the journey of the Celts, and its been quite tricky to advance, creatively speaking, because of the type of touring that we’ve been doing recently, but I’m still hopeful that there will be some material that will emerge for that project. And that’s about it [laughs]

LOREENA MCKENNITT. 8 p.m. Sat., Nov. 5. The Byham Theater, 101 6th St., Downtown. $49.75-79.75. 412-456-6666 or www.trustarts.org

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Stefan Babcock of PUP on chameleons, soup dumplings and never taking a break, ever

Posted By on Tue, Nov 1, 2016 at 4:29 PM

PUP (Stefan Babcock, second from right) - VANESSA HEINS
  • Vanessa Heins
  • PUP (Stefan Babcock, second from right)

Toronto’s PUP is a scrappy punk band; it creates raw music deeply rooted in honest lyricism and technical riffs. It’s dark, but it’s also fun, and the band’s manic energy is best captured in live performances. Shows are marked by sweaty dancing, stage-diving and passionate singalongs. City Paper called PUP frontman Stefan Babcock on the band's day off in NYC and chatted about touring, maintaining relationships, and who’s the best driver in the band. Sunday, PUP comes to Pittsburgh for a sold-out show with Cayetana and Chastity at Cattivo.

Last time we spoke, a few months ago, you insisted that PUP was going to take it easy. When did you decide you just weren’t going to do that?
We’re on tour for 100 days right now, so three-and-a-half months. This is probably the longest tour we’ve ever done, with only three days off. I swear that next year, next album, we’ll take it way easier.

But it’s hard to say no when good things happen, as much as I’d like to go home at this point and sleep in my own bed. Things are going really good for us right now, and we really appreciate this opportunity.

It feels pretty amazing that we can tour the world and sell out small shows. Are people still going to be excited about us in two years? Two months? I don’t know, so if we got an offer to go to Australia and headline cool shows and play some festivals, we’re not gonna say no. We might as well take advantage of it now.

After your second time in Australia, what are your thoughts on traveling there?
Australia’s the only place with pop-punk commercial radio. We sold out every show, it was all awesome, and it’s such a surreal feeling to be that far away, on the other side of the planet and have people yelling out these weird geographical Canadian locations.

We didn’t get to hold any koalas on this trip, but we did the first time. My girlfriend was angry and jealous because she loves koalas, so I bought her a little koala stuffed animal, but she hates it because it reminds her that I got to hold a real koala [laughs].

Do you ever feel people know too much about you from your personal lyricism?
The first record was pretty personal but less so than The Dream is Over. It didn’t really occur to me as I was writing, I just remember the day that it came out we were playing a show in Montreal and one of my oldest, closest friends who I have a very deep connection with was like, “This is fucked. People are gonna know a lot about you and assume a lot about you.”

I don’t regret writing those lyrics, but it was a weird thing I didn’t think about until it was too late. It’s OK, though, I think that’s just what happens. I think also people get the wrong impression of me. A lot of people coming up to me at shows and are like, “I’ve got a bag of drugs for you in the back,” and I’m like “no!” I guess since I talk about being a piece of shit a lot? [laughs]

I think the sentiment is nice. They want all of us to have a good time. But they really read something between the lines that is not correct [laughs].

The first time I heard “Sleep In the Heat,” I thought it was about a person, but when I saw you perform last you said it was about your pet chameleon who passed, Norman. Somehow that was even more sad to me than the loss of a human being. Is it hard to play such a sorrowful song live?
[Laughs] My girlfriend, Amanda, was in the studio while we recorded this song, and she was like, “There’s one love song on this record, and it’s about a fucking chameleon.”

There’s a certain emotional distance when you are in a show environment and everyone’s going off, so some of the lyrics sort of lose a little meaning to me, but every time we play it I miss Norman. It seems like people are having fun at our shows, so it feels more like a celebration of his life, not a bummer song. I love playing that song live.

Every single one of you has a girlfriend, so how do you manage your relationships while away?
It’s really hard. Dating us is really hard, dating anyone in PUP is hard. Dating anyone who tours is hard. We date really cool understanding girls who are supportive, so you figure out how to make it work. You have to figure out what works best for you, be it texting a lot, or whatever. You figure out how to keep the spark alive when you’re never home. And we get nice days like today, where all our girlfriends flew in for the show last night and we all get to hang out separate for the day. My girlfriend, [photographer] Amanda [Fotes], is coming for three days to shoot and then it’ll be back to boys world [laughs].

You had a vocal-chord injury — since then, how do you treat touring differently?
What happened was my vocal chords hemorrhaged, I couldn’t make a sound for over two weeks. My doctor was like, your two options are surgery or vocal therapy. We’re road dogs, so surgery was not gonna work for us. With vocal therapy, there’s a physical-therapy component, so it’s almost like a throat massage, they realign the muscles around your vocal chords. I was on vocal rest for almost a month. For two weeks I didn’t make a sound at all, for two weeks I whispered, and then I had five months of rest.

Now I warm up for half an hour everyday, I don’t drink as much, and I always do 15 minutes of warm-down. I don’t smoke weed on tour anymore, and there’s a dietary component. Most people don’t really think about the abuse that you put on your vocal chords when you scream. Like any muscle you have to rest it.

Who is the best driver?
The best driver is Nestor, definitely. He’s the band dad. I’m the band mom, I worry about stuff and make all the arrangements and plans (this is based on my own parental experience), and as band dad he fixes all the broken things, he’s calm under heavy pressure, drives us around, takes care of the van, and is pretty much the cool head when we need it.

If your band was a food, what kind of food would it be and why?
Have you ever had soup dumplings? We just had them for the first time in NYC. There is meat and soup inside the dumpling, and they were delicious and spicy, and I feel like PUP’s a little bit like those soup dumplings. We’re like this contained ball of spicy, if anything goes wrong it bursts hot, spicy, stuff all over. [Laughs.] Like a metaphor how we’re always on the verge of a total breakdown. We’re always riding that rail, and that’s what eating soup dumplings is like. Like if you pick it up with chopsticks wrong it bursts and explodes all over the place.

If this tour doesn’t kill you…
We’ll come back to New York and have more soup dumplings.

PUP, CAYETANA, CHASTITY 7 p.m. Fri., Nov. 4. Cattivo, 146 44th St., Lawrenceville. Sold out. 412-687-2157 or www.cattivopgh.com

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The 1975 bring a vibrant sci-fi Halloween party to Stage AE

Posted By on Tue, Nov 1, 2016 at 11:31 AM

The 1975’s first sold out show at Stage AE began like both of their albums — with the band’s swelling, eponymous track and de facto theme song. But this time, it was abruptly interrupted for an even more familiar sound: the opening blares of the Star Wars theme.

Before The 1975 fired off the indelible one-two of “Love Me” and “UGH!,” a modified version of The Force Awakens’ opening crawl was projected on the screen, subbing in Matty Healy for lost Jedi Luke Skywalker and guitarist Adam Hann for Han Solo. When the band finally emerged in costume as Han(n) Solo, a wookiee (bassist Ross MacDonald), and an X-wing pilot (drummer George Daniel), Healy wasn’t a Jedi, but a fully cloaked and masked Kylo Ren.
PHOTO BY SHAWN COOKE
  • Photo by Shawn Cooke

Of course Matty Healy was Kylo Ren, you’re probably thinking. Yeah, it’s an on-the-nose costume choice — the bad-boy rocker you crush on easily, but dread bringing home to mom and dad would come out as the galaxy’s most dangerous problem child. And yet, Healy and Kylo bear more similarities than their misanthropic edge. Much like Vader’s spiritual successor, Healy is deliberately reverent to his forbearers, but in glam rock, dance, and R&B instead of intergalactic terror.

I’d never seen The 1975 before last night, but would comfortably wager that Kylo’s robes were the most clothing Healy has ever worn onstage. Despite some diminished mobility, the costumes didn’t hinder the experience to be less than an ideal 1975 show. If anything, the unpredictability of Healy pulling out a lightsaber during songs, seeing stormtroopers mock-battle in the background or Princess Leia (saxophonist John Waugh) rip through solos made for a looser, more amusing show. Healy even scaled back his commentary about our National Nightmare: “this is normally the part of the show where I say ‘fuck Donald Trump.’ But tonight’s all about Star Wars.”

This was a Halloween party with the glossiest house band imaginable. Not that it took much, but Healy and the gang fully solidified their record I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It (say that 10 times) as the best M83 album of the year. It’s an ambitious and indulgent work, whose chameleonic styles almost made more sense alongside fan favorites from the band’s self-titled record. The encore alone provided the elastic transition from soul balladry (“If I Believe You”) to their straight-ahead midtempo standard (“Chocolate”), which gave way to one of the best dance pop tracks in recent memory (“The Sound”).

It’s still sort of unbelievable to see a band that anonymously burst on the scene with an anthemic, borderline emo track in “Sex” reach the level of arena-grade synth rock. The 1975 just has so much in its toolkit, and you can’t fault Healy for wanting to play with it all on one record, as he does on I Like It When You Sleep. The band certainly didn’t tone anything down for the live show, including just about every ambient interlude from the last record.

And how can you blame them? When your most adventurous album with the most unconventional song structures to date debuts at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 ahead of fucking Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, it sure feels like a mandate to artistically go for whatever you want. In interviews, Healy seems to understand that he owes the freedom to a devout, intelligent, and overwhelmingly female fanbase. A 1975 show can sound like a One Direction concert, like when Healy actually whipped out a cigarette during “A Change of Heart” to rapturous screams. But I swear, some of those same people near me were reacting with similar enthusiasm when “Please Be Naked” began (that’s an ambient interlude off I Like It When You Sleep — nothing for the radio). It’s not hard to see why he’d trust them to follow along wherever his creative impulses might lead.

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Monday, October 31, 2016

MP3 Monday: Empty Beings

Posted By on Mon, Oct 31, 2016 at 2:40 PM

PHOTO BY EM DEMARCO
  • Photo by Em DeMarco
This week's MP3 comes from post-punk band Empty Beings. The five-piece released Confront the Living back in September; It's full of dark riffs and sinister guitar tones, and probably wouldn't sound out of place on your Halloween playlist, assuming your Halloween playlist includes a lot of '80s goth and new wave. Stream or download "Culture Shock," from that record, below.


This download has expired, sorry!

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Phat Man Dee, Liz Berlin hold Social Justice Disco show on Monday

Posted By on Fri, Oct 28, 2016 at 2:06 PM

Social Justice Disco: Songs to Fight Fascists By is the feisty title of a planned album by the two notable local singers.

Phat Man Dee (left) and Liz Berlin
  • Phat Man Dee (left) and Liz Berlin
The Halloween-night performance, at The Funhouse at Mr. Smalls, marks the digital release of the first single and serves as a launch of an Indiegogo campaign to fund the entire project.

Social Justice Disco (which Man Dee says started as an April Fools joke, explained here) will include songs by such musical activists as Woody Guthrie, Billy Bragg, They Might Be Giants and local legend Anne Feeney, as well as original tunes. The band will include top area musicians including Mark Strickland, Carlos Pena, Mike Speranza, Miguel Sague III, Megan Williams and Jeremy Papay.

It’s the first collaboration between Man Dee, a jazz cabaret-style singer, and Berlin, a founding member of Rusted Root (and part-owner of Mr. Smalls).

The Oct. 31 show will include Man Dee and Berlin performing three songs from the CD, including the first single, “Fourth Reich Arising.”

The event is part of Mr. Smalls AcoustiCafe Open Stage series. The Funhouse is an intimate, club-style venue above the larger Mr. Smalls concert hall.

Doors open, and open-stage signup (for 18+) begins, at 6 p.m., with the 21+ open-stage signup at 7 p.m.

The Funhouse@Mr. Smalls is at 400 Lincoln Ave., in Millvale.

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Listen Up! Oct. 27

Posted By on Thu, Oct 27, 2016 at 10:59 AM

Every week we bring you a Spotify playlist featuring songs from bands and artists featured in the current music section (and yeah, ok, usually we do this on Wednesday, but nobody's perfect!) Take a listen below. 

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Pittsburgh hip-hop artist Mars Jackson opens for Lupe Fiasco at Mr. Smalls Theatre

Posted By on Wed, Oct 26, 2016 at 1:45 PM

Mars Jackson on stage at Mr. Smalls - PHOTOS BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
  • Photos by Luke Thor Travis
  • Mars Jackson on stage at Mr. Smalls
Pittsburgh musician Mars Jackson, voted by Pittsburgh City Paper readers as “Best Local Hip-Hop Performer to be the Next Mac Miller” in last week’s Best of Pittsburgh poll, opened up for rapper Lupe Fiasco last night at Mr. Smalls Theatre in Millvale.

Check out our slideshow from the show, including photos of Mars Jackson and Lupe Fiasco, plus special guests Isaiah Small and The Boy Illinois.

Slideshow
Lupe Fiasco
Lupe Fiasco Lupe Fiasco Lupe Fiasco Lupe Fiasco Lupe Fiasco Lupe Fiasco Lupe Fiasco Lupe Fiasco

Lupe Fiasco

CP photos by Luke Thor Travis

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