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Monday, June 29, 2009

Posted By on Mon, Jun 29, 2009 at 11:50 AM

Last year, local accordian shoegazers Aydin released Cyclones and Honey, their second record. I reviewed it, noting that "their poppier moments are dreamy and delicious."

The three-piece continues to kick it with their spacey sounds; they're the subject of our MP3 Monday this week. Take a listen to Silver Surf, off of Cyclones and Honey.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Posted By on Thu, Jun 25, 2009 at 10:44 AM

A few minutes after I clothes-lined my friend to stop him from stepping on an array of Happy-Meal toys, coffee cans, maracas and other unidentifiable noisemakers littering the back of Garfield Artworks, he asked me if I happened to know how many decibels constituted a lethal sound (it's 150), and, did I think Black Dice would take us there?

I'd imagine we got dangerously close last Friday night -- but at a Black Dice show, what doesn't kill you only warps you to another dimension where glitchy feedback rattles your organs and a montage of neon spaghetti footage ever-flickers on the horizon. In other words, the box of earplugs on the merch table was not a joke.

But first in the night's lineup was the far-less abrasive Dean Cercone -- an ambidextrous multi-instrumentalist, with a real Panda-Bear jones. He's got a knack for highly hypnotic loops and a voice that combines ethereal lilt and naked emotion. The trinkets we encountered on arriving proved to be the property of Burnout Warcry, up next. I'm not sure if what the duo made can be called music, but it was fun to watch them manipulate the plastic clappy-hands and rain sticks nonetheless. I can't think of a more energizing appetizer to the Black Dice feast than garage-rocking Awesome Color. Drummer Allison Busch (yeah -- a chick!) gave her drum set a manic beat-down, and vocalist Derek Stanton gave his Jesus-cut as much of a workout as he did his guitar.

The Black Dice set was a single, ever-morphing haze of fry-your-skin static and split-your-ribcage bass, punctuated here and there with vocal hiccups and sirens akin to echolocation signals. "Nite Cream" and "Kokomo" were highlights; I stood in the Black Dice splash zone (front row), where the temperature rose about five degrees with every song, so that by the end of the night if you weren't soaked with your own perspiration you were drenched in Bjorn Copeland's.

The elephantine chug of "Lazy TV" did actually kill a few people -- myself included. But once we came back to life at show's end, we were stronger for having visited such a twisted and incendiary afterlife.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Posted By on Mon, Jun 22, 2009 at 4:12 PM

The city is all abuzz that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has yanked Deboarh Lestitian, the chair of the Stadium Authority -- presumably because she was often a dissenting voice on the five-member board. City Councilor Bill Peduto, a frequent opponent of the mayor, was bounced from the board a year ago.

This isn't a huge surprise: Rumors were rampant that Lestitian was being kept in the dark about plans to develop the North Side. But as is often the case with Ravenstahl, this sort of brazen display seems bound to backfire. Sure, Lestitian was often critical of the Steelers/Continental plan to overhaul the North Shore. But I doubt she could ever have generated as many bad headlines as Ravenstahl will generate by removing her. 

But there's another trend afoot here. Which is that Ravenstahl wouldn't be able to get away with this stuff if it weren't for the sins of his predecessors. 

It's worth remembering why we even HAVE a Stadium Authority in the first place. After all, the only building the Stadium Authority had jurisdiction over -- Three Rivers Stadium -- was torn down in 2001. Heinz Field, PNC Park, the Civic Arena ... all are governed by the Sports and Exhibition Authority. 

We have a Stadium Authority for a simple reason. The SEA is a joint city/county agency -- but the Stadium Authority's board is handpicked by the mayor alone. That's because Ravenstahl's predecessor, Tom Murphy, wanted to be able to call the shots on developing the land Three Rivers once occupied -- and to do so with no outside interference. Ravenstahl pulled the trigger on Lestitian today, but Murphy loaded the gun.

In fact, those two new stadiums wouldn't have been built if Murphy's allies hadn't been willing to yank a recalcitrant board member. Funding for new stadium construction required the support of the Allegheny Regional Assets District board, which was expected to cough up some $13.4 million a year. When one board appointee, Fred Baker, announced his opposition to the plan, Allegheny County Commissioner Bob Cranmer pressured him to resign. 

Outrageous? Sure ... although a Post-Gazette editorial justifying the political steamrolling makes for pretty amusing reading:

To a lot of politicians around Allegheny County, the commissioner's removal of a potential obstacle to an $803 million development program ... is a bald political power play ... an end-run around the public will ... the stuff of Boss Tweed and Davey Lawrence...


But for all the crying they do in their civics books, that's what people hear from any politician who ends up on the short end of a vote.

I've got a feeling the P-G will be a little less dismissive of those criticizing Ravenstahl. 

Why do I bring this stuff up now? It's not to let Ravenstahl off the hook. It's just to point out that in many ways, the city is reaping what it has sowed over decades, by countenancing strong-arm tactics in a city that already has a strong-mayor system.

I've said it before, but Ravenstahl is the best friend reformers ever had ... because his hamfistedness makes the need for reform so apparent. Time and again I've heard people say things like, "How can he expect to get away with this stuff?" But the most disturbing thing about Ravenstahl isn't that he's breaking rules. It's that he almost never has to.


Posted By on Mon, Jun 22, 2009 at 2:59 PM

Rob Zellers' new play at Pittsburgh Public Theatre reminded me of an interview I did with sage local filmmaker Tony Buba some years back. Buba is famed for short films documenting his hard-times hometown of Braddock, Pa., often highlighting postindustrial urban eccentrics: a motor-mouthed ne'er-do-well, a zealously overoptimistic used-furniture salesman. Interviewed a couple decades after completing the films that first made his name, Buba said that sort of person doesn't exist any more; our world just doesn't seem to have room for them.

Zellers' play, though, is set in just that world -- though in the version Zellers grew up with, in Youngstown, Ohio's. Perhaps it's not entirely coincidental that the year is 1977, around the time Buba was most assiduously documenting Braddock's characters.

Zellers' Harry owns a service station only nominally; he's really a bookie, and as the play open he's in a fresh $9,000 hole. Most of the story revolves around his relationship with his daughter, a young woman who turns up unannounced 12 years after he put her in an orphanage following the death of her mother. There's also the matter of his relationship with the local mob, and it's all against the backdrop of the collapse of the steel industry. (Again, shades of Braddock.)

And yes, crusty, angry old Harry (played by Edward James Hyland) is an eccentric: He keeps a beartrap in his office, and as a story one character tells makes clear, he's pretty good at scaring hippy college kids.

What struck me most about this entertaining and heartfelt play was the sense of community that made the story possible. Even its criminal aspects have roots: Harry's relationship to mob boss Carmine is definied less by their growing up together than by the generosity of Harry's mother that kept Carmine's impoverished family from starving during the Great Depression.

Meanwhile, the only constant in Harry's social circle is a pinochle game whose participants include Tina, the flame-haired proprietress of the local strip joint, and John, the struggling young lawyer whom Harry has allowed to set up an office in a corner of his gas station -- and who falls for Harry's daughter, Emily.

One scene depicts the aftermath of a boys' night at the club, played out before the eyes of innocent, earnest Emily. Yet when Harry reminds the calamitously hungover John "You told Heidi you'd call her this weekend," there's a double layer of meaning: The old man's not just nastily taking the young buck down a peg in the eyes of his daughter. After all, he knows the stripper Heidi, too -- and not calling her, you sense, would violate community protocol.

The characters in Harry's Friendly Service fight a lot, but they always fight like family, with a deep attachment to a place and a set of people, some chosen, some not. Never mind about eccentrics. These days, it's harder and harder to find people with that much sense of home.

(Harry's Friendly Service runs through Sun., June 28.)


Posted By on Mon, Jun 22, 2009 at 2:10 PM

After filling a variety of roles in the live music scene in Austin, Tex., former Pittsburgher Brett Staggs returned to his old stomping grounds and reignited his band The Long Time Darlings with a new lineup. Andy Mulkerin has described their music as "straightforward rock 'n' roll somewhere between classic rock and the '90s alt scene," noting that it "might not have been out of place on the harder edge of the local scene that brought us The Clarks and The Gathering Field over a decade ago."

Live, the band lays out the occasional Americana-tinged ballad, but mainly gravitates to fist-pumping good-time rock, such as today's featured mp3 "Fire It Up." The Long Time Darlings' next local show is July 8 at Lawrenceville's Thunderbird Café.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Posted By on Thu, Jun 18, 2009 at 2:03 PM

Last May, we ran a feature story on local record label Sort Of Records, responsible for some of the more interesting music coming out of these parts in recent years. The label, run by Raymond Morin, celebrates its third anniversary this weekend, with three of the label's flagship acts performing this Sat., June 20 at Brillobox (4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield).

The performers are Daryl Fleming & The Public Domain, Morin's acoustic duo Pairdown, and David Bernabo + Assembly. All three have releases on the label: Fleming's 2008 album The Blockhouse & Bloodhound Sessions; Pairdown's several CDR releases and new Holykyle vinyl LP; and Bernabo's extensive catalog, soon to include Happener-Magicker, which will be released in July.

Visit Sort Of Records' main Web site for details.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Posted By on Wed, Jun 17, 2009 at 10:28 AM

Improv fans, a heads-up: a fairly late-notice show that didn't make it into the paper takes place tomorrow night at Remedy (5121 Butler St., Lawrenceville). Headlining is supertrio Instant Coffee, featuring Canadian experimenter Lisle Ellis, ex-Half Japanese personnel Jason Willet, and Martin Schmidt of MATMOS. Expect electronics, bass, and weirdness.

Opening will be local luthier and improv dude Josh Beyer, David Bernabo Vocal Assembly (a vocals/laptop project from the local virtuoso's Assembly project), Plainswalkers and the duo of Michael Johnsen and Margaret Cox.

Show starts promtly at 10 p.m. and costs $5-10, sliding scale.


Posted By on Wed, Jun 17, 2009 at 10:14 AM

Cross-gender casting is less controversial (and sometimes more interesting) than cross-racial casting. Pittsburgh's own August Wilson inveighed against the latter, and he had a point: Works like his, set in very specific times and places, are largely about the culture that grew from America's history of racial oppression. They simply wouldn't make sense with white people playing black roles, and vice versa. (The issue's arisen again with an all-black Broadway Death of a Salesman, which some argue can't work for the same reason.)

Unseam'd's stripped-down, three-actor take on the Scottish play, meanwhile, isn't the first time the troupe's gone cross-gender. In fact, the first Unseam'd show I ever saw was a drag version of The Importance of Being Earnest. Not that Wilde's classic needs much help, but having Cecily, Gwendolen and Lady Bracknell (as played by men) tower over the nattering Algernon and Jack (played by women) certainly added a new spin, not least in its critique of traditional "gender-appropriate" behavior as role-playing.

I recalled the technique some years later on reading of a new production of A Doll's House in which the stifled women were all portayed by the tallest actresses they could find, the oppressive men by dwarfish men.

Doing Shakespeare cross-gender, of course, is nothing new. (And originally, all the women's roles were played by men anyway.) Moreover, unlike August Wilson (or Arthur Miller), Shakespeare's plays are little enough about delineating specific social histories that we've long felt free to recast them in any setting we like.

Yet what's interesting about Unseam'd's fine Macbeth 3 (based on an original adaptation by L.A.-based theater-maker Lisa Wolpe) is how not-weird it feels to cast a woman as Macbeth and a man as Lady Macbeth.

If "fair is foul, and foul is fair," after all, why not "girls will be boys and boys will be girls," as another British bard had it? Moreover, as director Michael Hood noted when I interviewed him before the show opened, Shakespeare's dialogue is rife with plays on gender stereotypes.

Take Lady Macbeth's famous Act I monologue: "Come you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughs, unsex me here, / And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full / Of direst cruelty! ... Come to my woman's breasts, / And take my milk for gall ..." In proper Elizabethan fashion, she sees remorse and mercy as womanly traits that must be overthrown if regicidal ambition is to be fulfilled.

Likewise, in argument with Lady Macbeth over their scheme, Macbeth's moral qualms are seen as unmanly. "I dare do all that may become a man; Who dares do more is none," he contends. She replies: "When you durst do it, then you were a man; / And to be more than what you were, you would / Be so much more the man."

It's all played "straight," as it were, with strong performances by Lisa Ann Goldsmith as Macbeth; Rich Venezia as Lady Macbeth (and also, rather pointedly, as the added character of Satan); and the seemingly shape-shifting Jennifer Tober in a variety of mostly male roles.

Still, I think what I like most about the Wolpe/Unseam'd meta-commentary is resetting Macbeth not anywhere on earth, or in time, at all. The whole thing takes place in hell, Macbeth forced to relive his violent sorrows endlessly (on a wonderfully creepy set by Gordon Phetteplace, with lighting by Michael Boone and sound by Mark Whitehead).

So when the witches ask, "When shall we three meet again," the answer is, literally, "tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow."

(Macbeth 3 has five more performances through Sat., June 20.)


Monday, June 15, 2009

Posted By on Mon, Jun 15, 2009 at 12:55 PM

Welcome to Championship Monday in Pittsburgh!

In honor of the unprecedented sporting year of 2009 here in town, we bring you a special, themed MP3 Monday: some champs of the rock scene, Dirty Faces, saluting a champ of Steelers history, Rocky Bleier. You know, the guy who took a grenade in Vietnam then promptly returned to Pittsburgh to play for the Steelers until 1980, becoming one of their leading rushers of all time. The song is off the Faces' 2006 release on Brah Records, Get Right With God. (Definitely click on that Brah link -- it'll take you to a short video of the Faces' Bloody Powers learning to cooking amazing Mexican food with Modey Lemon's Paul Quattrone. It's a worthwhile lesson!)

Please enjoy, and congrats, Penguins! (Also, good job beating the Tigers in two of three this weekend, Pirates. We know you try.)

Dirty Faces: Rocky Bleier


Posted By on Mon, Jun 15, 2009 at 8:32 AM

I live on the South Side, and my wife and I watched Game 7 at a favorite East Carson watering hole. We started our walk home in the middle of the on-ice Cup-hoisting ritual, but got only as far as the corner of 17th before we stopped to watch the ruckus in fan-clogged streets. It wasn't nearly as large, or as carnivalesque, as the Super Bowl victory melee a scant four months ago -- that one had a guy in a kilt, after all -- but it was still quite diverting.

Yet, despite the brandishing of ersatz water-bottle Stanley Cups silvered with duct tape; the sore-winner cries of "Fuck you, Hossa!"; the rather-moot-by-now chants of "Let's go, Pens"; the senseless twirling of hand-towels at police; the riot-geared cops shaking up cans of Mace (but apparently not using them); the seeming good humor of the poor farkers on the 51C that on a nominally open-to-traffic street took 45 minutes to get from 17th to 14th streets; and the lady rather poetically blowing soap bubbles from the third-floor window over Slacker, I have just one question:

Why do the two guys who trundle the Cup onto the ice after the final game wear white gloves to deliver it for kisses and man-hugs to a bunch of sweaty, heavily bearded hockey players? It's like having butlers at a keg party.