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Friday, July 31, 2009

Posted By on Fri, Jul 31, 2009 at 3:33 PM

The thrill of this package tour was hearing guitarist extraordinaire Steve Howe float effortlessly from his self-described "hard pounding guitar" in AOR gods Asia to the fluent, progressive rock orchestrations of Yes. Asia had its original core lineup intact (something Yes missed by a couple members) and were more than a perfect warm up, but this night definitely belonged to Howe's other baby.

For Yes, Howe took over the entire stage right with his world of guitars, gadgets and noisemakers. Longtime keyboard legend Rick Wakeman had sent in a replacement for the show -- his son Oliver. Chris Squire gracefully alternated between solid bass foundations and four-string lead counter melodies. Besides Squire's trademark growling low end, the defining sound of Yes has always been the high-pitched vocals of Jon Anderson. So it was with baited breath that the high-paying and hopeful crowd sat, shall we say, close to the edge of their seats waiting to hear how newcomer, Canadian Benoit David, would fill Anderson's shoes.

The strain and illness that sidelined the founding member last year lead to the dream job for David. When the former Yes tribute-band singer belted his first lines in the adventurous "Siberian Khatru," those in the audience who knew it wasn't Anderson sat back and breathed a sigh of pleasure as they heard their band sound more fresh and inspired than they have in ages. Those who didn't know the band had a new front man could just as easily clap along obliviously. Benoit hit every high and pranced around the stage with his tambourine and a smile befitting of the luckiest cover band singer to hit the gig lottery ... at least since Journey and Boston's current leading men did the same last year.

The most pleasant surprise of this night wasn't how accurate and passionate the vocals sounded, or even the perfect outdoor festival weather with Pittsburgh's skyline as backdrop. The best surprise of the evening was an outstanding set list that struck a perfect balance between radio staples like "I've Seen All Good People" and "Roundabout," and underground proto-metal classics that haven't been performed in eons, like the musician's paradise "Tempus Fugit" and doomy epic "Machine Messiah." The latter pair resurfacing as a silver lining in the sans-Anderson lineup, since he never sang on those songs, nor has he been keen to "allow" them into subsequent set lists in the years that followed his first, brief hiatus from the band. Howe may not relish playing the band's biggest hit, "Owner Of A Lonely Heart," since it occurred during his mid-career departure era, but he makes it his, keeping the riffs straight, and customizing the leads to his bizarre fashion.

Were it not enough that Howe opened and closed the show, he also served as its intermission: the acoustic came out, and this guitar hero payed homage to his own idol, Chet Atkins, as well as mingling in his own command of the six string for a relaxing recital. The rest of the band returned to the stage after their break and continued to own the night, ending with an encore of "Starship Trooper" that unleashed young Wakeman's nimble fingers for a mid-song synthesizer flourish. The finale's swirling, phaser-drenched crescendo was a perfect exclamation point on a statement echoed by many a satisfied fan filing out of the riverfront event:

Did the ol' Brits still have what it takes to retain their crown as kings of the art rock pantheon? The answer -- a resounding yes!

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Posted By on Thu, Jul 30, 2009 at 2:42 PM

Because Americans frequently think about death only in terms of consumer products (funerals, tombstones, caskets), Mazziotti's cheekily direct approach in this little show at Lawrenceville's Borelli-Edwards Gallery is especially notable. Using humble embroidery, she's repurposed kitschy vintage domestic linens – most, I'd guess, from the middle 1900s -- as medieval-style reminders of mortality. Call it her bridge to the 17th century. (She was, after all, inspired by "Death Crier" engravings of the era.)

Mostly, Mazziotti does this by artfully stitching in death's heads, and other skeleton parts, into existing scenes. Thus, on "Baby Quilt," a chubby puppy's thought balloon houses Death himself; a teddy bear blowing a horn looks warily over his shoulder, where merry Death mirrors him. As it says along the hem of the little pink dress in the gallery's front window, just below the skull with knife and fork: "Time Devours All."

Zelig-like, Death pops up everywhere in these pieces, most displayed as wall-hangings. On a pair of Elvis pillowcases, the King (looking, one must admit, a little hydroencephalic) wails away with a white-pompadoured skeleton backup singer (skinnier than any Jordanaire) cavorting over his shoulder. "1935-1977," indeed. On another piece, a butterfly and caged bird take on new meaning when the big pocket watch between them sports a skeleton sitting merrily astride its hands.

Mazziotti plays especially well with the line between the thunderous foreboding and the playfulness of all this iconography, fairly summoning the carefree-cum-doomed spirit of her Dark Ages inspirations. "No man knows where the castle of King Death is," goes the inscription on a crimson cocktail dress. A little white sailor suit, embroidered with Death as a mermaid: "The sea is other-death and she is a mighty female the one who wins, the one who sucks us all up."

Mazziotti's technique is deceptively simple: It never becomes a one-liner. That's partly due to her sense of craft, the new ways she keeps finding to incorporate Death into these found objects. In "Dancing Peasants," for instance, a repeated floral pattern becomes a kicky red-and-green headpiece for a circuit of skulls.

Perhaps better still, she plays off the innocent (ignorant?) reference points of the kitsch works' originators. Interestingly, the technique is somewhat less comical when used in reference to cultures more distant from ours in time and space. Newly decked with bony denizens, the tablecloth "Mexico" (quite independently of the intentions with which it might have been purchased) can't help recalling that country's ongoing Day of the Dead celebration. Likewise with a Victorian-era barroom scene, and even an Old West-themed apron ("Chuckwagon"): We can imagine people of those times feeling closer to mortality, more cognizant of it -- as though by learning how to postpone death a little (or perhaps just to deny it a little more loudly), we had actually banished it.

Mazziotti (whose studio is in Lawrenceville, too) has long explored this topic. The first such exhibit I recall was a haunting piece (it was at Future Tenant, I think) that, also employing linens, recontextualized century-old photos of unclaimed corpses from the Allegheny County morgue. More in line with the newest offering, her contribution to the last-but-one Carnegie International was an hilarious comic strip starring Death.

The Borelli-Edwards show formally closes Sat., Aug 1 (though the owner says that after the gallery's week-long summer break, it will be viewable again in mid-Augst). Its kicker is Mazziotti's "Homage to Damien Hirst," a series of model skulls decked out in costume jewlery. The baubles dripping from the eyesockets, like the tears of a repentant dying miser, are an especially nice touch nodding to the artist who once made a jeweled creation that fetched the highest price for an artwork ever. Sic transit, Damien baby.

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Posted By on Thu, Jul 30, 2009 at 2:04 PM

About a month ago, CP's own Marty Levine wrote about what local activists could expect prior to the September G-20 summit. Among other things, one protest veteran warned:

Pittsburghers will soon hear wildly inflated estimates about the number of protesters expected. That, he says, will increase public perceptions of a threat. And, he predicts, so will efforts to demonize protesters by both the police and press.

So here we are, at the end of July, and that prophecy seems to be fulfilling itself. This week's issue of City Paper contains not one but two stories about the local media's treatment of public protest.

In one of those stories, we touch on a KDKA-TV report concerning a recent protest on the North Side. That story, filed by John Shumway, is merely patronizing and smug (and is deconstructed in much greater detail here). It treats the protesters -- who were seeking better pay and benefits at city development sites -- as charlatans, intent on producing nothing more than a bit of political theater. 

The other piece, by WTAE-TV, is much more insidious, despite its laughable Reefer Madness-style hysteria.

The WTAE story, in fact, actually isn't about a protest at all. It's about police fears that a month-old minor crime -- trespassing in a former Polish Hill school building -- could lead to protest activity in the future.

Listen for yourself as Shannon Perrine murmurs darkly about the fact that it was "young people" committing the trespass. Note how she and the anchorpeople fret over the "European connections" of some of the trespassers (who appear to have been members of a Swedish rock band on tour). And bear in mind that this incident -- about which the police supposedly still have "questions" -- took place a month ago.

This story pretty much sums up the reason Pittsburgh's TV media has a reputation for small-mindedness. I mean -- holy shit! Young people in Pittsburgh? Clearly, they can't be up to any good. (After all, when Kevin Bacon wanted to dance in Footloose, where did he go? That's right -- a vacant building!)

And for God's sake ... what would Europeans be doing in Polish Hill?

On the bright side, it's nice to see Scandanavians being the target of racial profiling for a change. It gives the 6 o'clock news a little diversity. 

What isn't so funny, though, is what this portends for media coverage when the G-20 does come to town. 

Perrine's report doesn't quote any of the trespassers -- though one of them lives across the street from the "crime scene." But we were told the trespassers' only agenda was exploring a neat old vacant building. Now, maybe that isn't true, but Perrine's report gives us no evidence to think it's false.

The story itself acknowledges that the trespassers didn't have any "protest materials," so why all the fearmongering about G-20? Perrine doesn't say. She doesn't even identify the source of these fears -- other than nameless "police" and "authorities." The G-20 connection is pure speculation. 

It makes you wonder about how Perrine will react when there really are protesters in town. And what about Shumway? His whole story seems to take umbrage at the idea that protesters called police in advance, and explained their intention to be arrested. So if the G-20 protesters do something spontaneous, does that mean he'll take them more seriously? I doubt it. ("Say what you want about the smashed windows and burning automobiles, Patrice ... but at least it's real!")

And make no mistake: When the G-20 comes to town, there will be need for skepticism directed toward both sides. Just today, in fact, we have news from Washington that law-enforcment there may have suppressed evidence stemming from a mass arrest in 2002.

Those arrests involved hundreds of people, who were protesting against the global financial system. (Among those taken into custody was a demonstrator who later became a CP staffer, perhaps as a form of penance.) The police overreacted so badly that the police chief later apologized for the department's actions. Protesters filed a lawsuit against the city for violating their civil rights, and today we learn that

Some evidence [in the case] including a key report and portions of radio transmissions, has vanished. In recent days, the D.C. government has also turned over thousands of pages of records and videotapes to protesters' lawyers, some of which should have been produced years ago.

Attorneys for the protesters are, not surprisingly, accusing local law-enforcement of destroying evidence. The federal judge in the case called the disappearance of key records "abysmal" and "not acceptable." 

All of this ought to be a timely lesson for reporters: In large-scale protests, the cops too can get out of hand ... and law-enforcement accounts deserve to be questioned as well. Especially considering that many of the cops who come to Pittsburgh will be from out of town -- just like the protesters.

So keep your eyes open, Ms. Perrine: Some of those cops might even be from Europe.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Posted By on Mon, Jul 27, 2009 at 1:53 PM

Welcome to another installment of MP3 Monday! This week we've got Knot Feeder for ya. You might remember last winter, when the band released their first LP -- I wrote about it here. The band, made up of ex members of Don Caballero, Tabula Rasa, and Southpaw, is a must-listen for fans of guitar rock -- heavy, complex, interesting.

Download Knot Feeder's track, "The Long Lens," here.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Posted By on Thu, Jul 23, 2009 at 3:21 PM

One thing you won't find on the CP Web site is much commentary on the rape allegations made against Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger. Since I don't have the resources to head off to Tahoe, I'm just watching the same news broadcasts and reading the same stories that you are. 

Which is what this blog post is about: the way our media outlets are covering this case -- and how much they are divulging about Roethlisberger's accuser. 

Both the Post-Gazette and the Tribune-Review are keeping the accuser's name under wraps, even though it is listed on the lawsuit itself. From what I can tell, meanwhile, our three local TV stations are reporting her name. At least one TV report I've seen, aired by KDKA's Andy Sheehan, has also shown her photograph. 

I think Sheehan's one of the best TV reporters in town, but showing that picture, at least, seems utterly gratuitous. Its news value is nill, and is guaranteed to prompt a lot of really shitty commentary about  the accuser's looks. That is, in fact, exactly what happened at the TMZ.com, which first published the photo -- and whose comments section gives you a pretty good illustration of why rape victims often want to be anonymous. (I'd provide you a link, but  a lot of that commentary will likely damage your faith in humanity, and I don't want that on my conscience.)

Disclosing the accuser's name? That's a trickier call.

Withholding the name of an alleged rape victim is a widely accepted journalistic practice, of course. But in a high-profile case like this one, its shortcomings become apparent pretty quickly.

For one thing, the name is already is all over the web -- a Google search for "Roethlisberger rape" produced it in the first news story. And the P-G's own forays into online media complicate matters as well: The paper posted a video of Roethlisberger denying the charges on its Web site, but blanked out the sound when Roethlisberger named his accuser. At some point, you wonder how far this thing should be carried: If you're going to tinker with the sound, why show the video at all? And if you're going to edit the audio, why not go the extra mile and pixilize Roethlisberger's face -- so lip-readers, too, will have to go somewhere else to find the name?

Another complicating factor: This is a civil case -- where the accuser is seeking monetary damages -- rather than a criminal complaint. And it seems pretty clear that no criminal complaint will be filed, given that the alleged rape happened more than a year ago. 

Some would say that it shouldn't make any difference whether the case is civil or criminal. The accuser, after all, says she feared her employer would retaliate against her if she went to the police. If that's true, a civil suit might be her only shot at justice.

But that assumes she really was raped, something none of us know, and that we're not very likely to ever find out for certain. Let's remember that the burden of proof in a civil court is much lower. In a criminal case, Roethlisberger would need to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt -- a very high standard. In a civil suit, the burden is a simple majority of the evidence. So even if there's a verdict against him, we couldn't have the same confidence in his guilt as we might otherwise.

The P-G, for one, wrestled with some of these questions a year ago, in a story that's worth a second look now. That story was about a woman who'd been raped in the Waterworks mall parking lot: She later sued the mall's owners on the grounds that they'd provided inadequate security. But in order to protect her own anonymity, she sued as a "Jane Doe" -- something the mall operator challenged in court.

The P-G's story presented a nuanced look at the issue from a variety of perspectives. It also quoted the paper's managing editor, Susan Smith, saying the paper "continue[s] to believe that more harm than good would come from routinely naming rape victims. It's a violent crime of a very personal nature and that puts its victims in a class by themselves." Indeed, the P-G refrained from naming the woman (who later settled her suit with the mall owner).

But the circumstances then were much different. For one thing, unlike in the Roethlisberger scenario, the woman was suing a third party, not the person accused of assaulting her. And in the Waterworks case, there was no question that the woman HAD been raped -- her attacker had already been found guilty in a criminal trial. In this case, the facts are much murkier: No criminal trial was held, nor is likely to be. And definitive evidence either way will likely be very difficult to come by.  

And what happens if the case is tossed out by a judge? Or proof emerges that the lawsuit was an attempt to extort money from Roethlisberger? Should journalists continue to protect someone's identity, even if there's no evidence that "a violent crime of a very personal nature" ever took place? And if they do, at what point does anonymity simply become a shield for one person to tear down the reputation of another? 

Steelers fans will recall that Jerome Bettis faced rape accusations back in 2002. In that case, no charges were ever filed: In fact, the district attorney pondered whether to charge Bettis' accuser. The DA told the P-G that "there was 'clear' evidence that the accuser's uncle planned to use the allegation to extort money from Bettis." Even then, though, the P-G did not name Bettis' accuser (though the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review did). The P-G spared the accuser the very shame and embarrassment her allegations inflicted on Bettis, perhaps for ulterior motives.

All that said, I think the right call here is to maintain the accuser's anonymity. 

Yes, Roethlisberger has been and will be harmed by the accusations, even if they are proven to be scurrilous lies. And yes, that would be deeply unfair. But how would that injustice be mitigated by stripping away the accuser's anonymity?

As we've seen, her anonymity has already been taken away, thanks to the folks at TMZ and our local news stations. She's a celebrity now too -- and she's probably come in for as much public abuse as the man she's accused. Still, I doubt Roethlisberger is taking much comfort in that fact. And her suit wasn't filed under "Jane Doe," so it's not as if she was counting on anonymity when she filed it. So far, at least, the Roethlisberger case is showing how little difference it makes to the defendent whether his accuser's name is known or not. 

There are, I know, people horrible enough to falsely cry rape, in hopes of enriching themselves or harming others. But if we're supposed to assume Roethlisberger is innocent until proven guilty, surely we should extend the same presumption to his accuser. And, moreover, to any other woman who comes forward with an allegation of rape.

The only consolation for Roethlisberger, I guess, is that until the accusations surfaced against him, I had forgotten all about the Bettis case. Everyone else seems to have forgotten about it too: The allegations obviously didn't keep him from doing a halftime show on NBC. I'm sure Roethlisberger doesn't think so right now, but you CAN get your reputation back.

Meanwhile, the name of Bettis' accuser hasn't been concealed, merely forgotten. I'm pretty sure that's as it should be. If Roethlisberger did nothing wrong -- which I'm fervently hoping is the case -- then the same thing will happen here.

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Posted By on Thu, Jul 23, 2009 at 10:35 AM

Natural gas is the miracle fuel we've been waiting for -- at least if Robert W. Watson is to be believed. In his op-ed in the July 19 Post-Gazette, "The bottom line on Marcellus Shale," the Penn State professor promotes exploitation of Pennsylvania's natural gas with classic double-talk ... while leaving out important information to the contrary.

Drilling for oil and gas, Watson writes, is both the way we've always done things ("It's been going on since before the Civil War") and the wave of the future ("the bridge fuel for the next several decades between fossil fuels and new alternatives"). He even notes that it's "the cleanest-burning fossil fuel." Given concerns about greenhouse gasses -- which are produced by burning all fossil fuels -- that's a rhetorical turn in a league with "slimmest sumo wrestler."

What Watson doesn't acknowledge -- indeed, what his piece seems designed to banish any thought of -- is that drilling for natural gas harms the environment, and might harm people, too. He focuses on exploitation of the Marcellus Shale, the huge deep rock formation underlying most of Pennsylvania. "[M]ost concerns raised about drilling Marcellus wells are of little consequence," he writes. Even those we should pay attention to "all are essentially minor and short-term challenges."

Watson correctly notes that many of these concerns revolve around water use in one form of Marcellus drilling: deep-well hydraulic fracturing. (However, he incorrectly leaves the impression that the deep-well and horizontal drilling techniques frequently used to extract shale gas are decades old; in fact, in their current incarnation they date only to the late '90s.)

In this process, large volumes of liquid are forced at high pressure down a well a mile or more deep, and up to half a mile laterally through the shale. The water fractures the rock and extracts the gas. The "fracking" liquid typically includes toxic chemicals to facilitate the process, sometimes including known carcinogens like formaldehyde and butoxyethanol. Underground, the water can pick up salts and heavy metals (also including known carcinogens). Some of this frack water stays underground; some is retrieved by drillers. (We wrote about this issue in our story, "There Will Be Crud" earlier this year.)

Environmental activists, pointing to documented cases of water contamination from gas drilling, have called for a moratorium on deep-well fracking, or at least for better regulation.

But the status quo is OK with Watson. Noting that each frack (there can be several per well) requires 3 to 5 million gallons of water, he calls the volume "not appreciable when compared to daily water consumption across Pennsylvania."

Is that our standard? (A gas-industry PR person used similar language when I asked him about water usage this past spring, comparing drill-water usage to water used on Pennsylvania golf courses.) How many millions of gallons constitute "appreciable" -- especially when 450 permits for Marcellus wells were issued last year alone?

Watson further dismisses the "additives" to frack water (whose toxicity he never acknowledges) as "used in very small quantities and concentrations." He also says because of the depth at which the shale lies, "fracturing does not affect groundwater." He seems not to have heard that methane (i.e., natural gas) has been reported newly contaminating wells near drilling sites, especially in Western gas fields, but also in Pennsylvania.

Finally, Watson says we shouldn't worry about the "flowback water," the contaminated frackwater drillers retrieve, because it all goes to permitted treatment facilities. Yet until recently, the state's Department of Environmental Protection let drillers hand the water over to municipal sewage plants, who simply diluted it before dumping it in the river. And though Marcellus wells are drilled nearly statewide (mostly in the Southwestern and Northeastern regions), Pennsylvania is home to only three such treatment plants.

In fact, Watson says the whole drilling and extraction process is sufficiently well-regulated to forestall any concerns.

Watson is not disinterested in these matters. The P-G's bio notes that "he is an emeritus associate professor of petroleum and natural-gas engineering and of environmental systems engineering," and that he chairs the technical advisory board for the state's Bureau of Oil and Gas Management

But as such, he must know that plenty of informed folks -- from property owners to advocacy groups like Clean Water Action -- have serious questions about how strictly the state is overseeing this multibillion-dollar industry. For instance, DEP has mere dozens of inspectors to oversee the state's tens of thousands of wells. This despite recent hires, many of whom will be kept busy simply processing drilling permits (of which there were 8,000 last year alone) for both Marcellus and non-Marcellus wells.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Posted By on Wed, Jul 22, 2009 at 1:33 PM

Sat in on a somewhat unusual conference call with Joe Sestak, who will be running against Arlen Specter in next year's Senate race, though he hasn't said so officially yet.

I've posted an audio clip to give you a flavor of Sestak's talk with reporters from around the state. (Audio quailty is poor, sorry.) As you'll hear, Sestak said he was running to give voters a choice, instead of just compelling them to go along with the "establishment" that is backing Specter. Sestak repeatedly dinged Specter for being a reliable vote for George Bush, and thereby helping to create the country's current "savage recession."

Sestak acknowledged that most voters don't know him -- a Quinnipiac poll shows that fully 70 Pennsylvanians don't have an opinion of him one way or the other. But Sestak said he was better positioned than Ned Lamont had been at this point in his campaign: Lamont, you may recall, ran against Connecticut's Joe Lieberman -- largely on the basis of Lieberman's pro-Bush stance on defense matters.

Like Lamont, Sestak has become the candidate of choice for Netroots folks who are sick of Specter's machinations. Still, this was maybe not a great analogy for Sestak to use: Lamont beat Lieberman in the Democratic primary, but lost to him in the general election, when Lieberman ran as an Independent.

I don't know much about Sestak, who's from out east. (Though on a couple of occasions during the conference call, he did kindly remind everyone on the call that he served in the Navy.) I gathered, however, that some Philly-area reporters are less than entirely enamored of how this campaign is rolling out. In fact, one of my favorite moments in the call came when a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter said the race felt "personal between you and Arlen."

Reading over earlier statements, she said, "feels and sounds to me like mid-campaign mudslinging. And sir, you haven't even filed. Aren't you putting the cart before the horse?"

"I don't know; I've only been in politics for three years," Sestak replied. "So you better ask somebody like Arlen; he's been in for 30 years. He's probably a better assessor about where we are in the campaign." 

If nothing else, Sestak promises to make next year fun.

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Posted By on Wed, Jul 22, 2009 at 12:24 PM

Last night's show at Mr. Small's may have been the only live-music performance I've attended wherein an opening band played longer than the headliner. I understand it's tough to put together a generous set list when you've got a one-LP repertoire, but geez, Yeasayer -- that was short! So short that an encore would have been awkward.

I'd like to say that opener Ponytail had a really innovative sound, but I was too busy flinching at the piercing acoustics to tell for sure. The electrifying guitar parts, jungle-bird vocals and chaotic crescendos probably would have made for some seriously danceable mayhem had it just been turned down a few notches.

Nobody in Ponytail wore a ponytail, including its lead singer Molly Seigel, but she did wear a tie-died Americn Idol T-shirt and pink soccer shorts. Seigel is an interesting specimen all around: She stands about 4'10”; her eyes roll back in her head when she shouts and squawks into the mic; and she bounces around like she's wearing anti-gravity sneakers. During the last number, she stepped down from her perch and danced with some of the more enthusiastic audience members.

And then it was Yeasayer time. I counted eight songs and I don't think I'm missing any. Duration qualms aside, Yeasayer was a great band to see live, because it satisfied the cravings of two very different breeds of show-goers, often within the same song. Like "Wait for the Summer" -- it had swaying, spacey vocals for those cagey types that express enjoyment by hugging themselves, but it also had funky hand claps and tambourine for those show-goers who came to freakin' dance, man!

Yeasayer played several unidentified new tracks, all very '80s-sounding, all with shiver-inducing harmonies and jaunty Celtic undertones. Fans should kick off the countdown to the band's sophomore release immediately.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Posted By on Tue, Jul 21, 2009 at 10:03 AM

If you've been following the arts portion of the state budget debate, it finally appears to have come down to brass tacks -- if you haven't spoken out, arts advocates say, now's the time.

Last night, the Republican-controlled State Senate approved a version of the budget which includes no funding for the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. The PCA's funding of groups and individual artists is important, but as the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council notes, it goes beyond that: No PCA funding would also mean cuts in National Endowment for the Arts funding, which only materializes with matching funds from state arts agencies.

This is an especially bad time for the arts locally, with ticket sales down, grants down and funding from the Allegheny Regional Asset District down due to declines in sales-tax revenue. The loss of PCA funding would critically injure many arts groups, forcing layoffs and program cutbacks.

The budget bill, HB 1416, is now before the State House. GPAC and other arts advocates are urging people to contact their legislators to tell them to "nonconcur" with HB 1416 as amended. This will give arts supporters a chance to restore some $14 million in PCA funding (a tiny fraction of the overall budget). But the vote is coming soon, so call today.

To find contact info for your legislator, see Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania's Legislative Action Center at http://capwiz.com/artsusa/pa. Type in your ZIP code in the box at the top of the page.

For more information, contact the GPAC or e-mail rfreytag@pittsburghartscouncil.org.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Posted By on Mon, Jul 20, 2009 at 3:47 PM

The county's free summer concerts, especially those at Hartwood Acres and South Park, are great amenities. But I've gone to relatively few, at least in part because I hate driving that far, then sitting in traffic to park, sitting in traffic to leave, and burning all that gas besides.

Last Friday's Steve Earle concert gave me an excuse to try out a new-to-me way. A companion and I loaded our bikes on the T, got off at the Lytle stop, then peddled to the amphitheater to see the politically outspoken singer-songwriter do a solo show.

It worked pretty well. You do have to schedule carefully: You can't bring your bike on the T during rush hour, for instance, and cyclists can disembark only at certain stations (the high-platform ones). But, leaving the Gallery Crawl early, we caught the first post-rush-hour train out of Downtown's Wood Street Station, at 6:30 p.m., and were sitting on the amphitheater's rain-dampened lawn by 7:30.

Yup, we got soggy on the rainy, 15-minute bike ride from Lytle to the amphitheater -- though the rainbow that greeted us at the park entrance compensated. And the uphill on the way home was a bear at 10 p.m. But I'd do it again, whether for another concert or just to tool around the park. Especially because I suspect a more southerly T stop -- perhaps even the end of the line, at Library -- might be closer to the amphitheater itself without sacrificing nearness to a park entrance (which is desirable because South Hills roads aren't especially bike-friendly).

All told, it didn't take much longer than driving there from my home on the South Side, though T fare for two ($10.40 round trip) was somewhat pricier than the gallon of gas it would have taken us to get there.

Oh, yeah, Earle was pretty good, too. I'd seen him before only with a band; solo, he's rough and ready on acoustic six-string, harmonica and mandolin, with an agreeably bearish stage presence. Fresh off his tribute album for Townes Van Zandt, he played several of his songwriting hero's numbers, including "Colorado Girl" and "Pancho and Lefty." He did spirited versions of his own stuff: "Galway Girl," "Someday," "Fort Worth Blues."

Two-thirds of the way in to a 90-minute-plus set, Earle talked politics some, with a qualified "hurrah" for Obama and a word against the oxymoron that is "clean coal," followed by an anti-mountaintop-removal song. (Crafted, like most of his work, as a story rather than a screed.) And there was a passionate rendition of his moving antiwar number "Jerusalem." The encore was a rousing "Guitar Town" -- he said it was probably the first song he ever played in Pittsburgh, opening for George Jones at the Syria Mosque, in 1986 -- and his hit "Copperhead Road." 

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