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Friday, July 30, 2010

Posted By on Fri, Jul 30, 2010 at 4:57 PM

In lieu of a regular ol' weekend overview this week, I'm highlighting two weekend events that benefit good, and bookish, causes. Ready?

Tonight at Howlers is Literazzi, a benefit for the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council. The $5 cover nets you performances by an array of local spoken-word/performace types: Ashly Nagrant, Jenn Dallas, Nikki Allen, Jocelyn Hillen, Michael McGovern, Lance Cheuvront, Patti Emory. Plus there'll be a raffle and a Howlers favorite, live-band punk rock karaoke. It's all hosted by local writer Kristin Ross, whose birthday it is, so give her punches.

Then tomorrow (Saturday) night at Remedy is Bookstock II, the sequel to last September's benefit to raise money and awareness of the Carnegie Libraries' financial crisis. Performers include TypewriterGirls, JonBro, Dean Cercone, and the Fake Sinatras; additionally, there will be art auctions, library trading cards(?!) and some DJ's (Mary Mack, ja(m) (bo)x, and JoeyJ, friends of libraries all). It's a sliding-scale deal, $5-10, no one turned away for lack of funds.

That's TWO chances in one weekend to check out some quality local talent and support readerly causes. And you don't even have to do any reading yourself. What could be better?


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Posted By on Thu, Jul 29, 2010 at 6:17 PM

Ludwig, a star of the local jazz scene, was to have performed at this Sunday's opening night of Citiparks' Reservoir of Jazz concert series. It would have been a nice launch for this year's series, and probably heavy on the veteran organist's familiar favorites, like "It's You or No One."

But the show will have to go on without Ludwig, of Monroeville: This pillar of Pittsburgh jazz died July 14, at age 72. Instead, the Reservoir of Jazz (a Highland Park tradition) will open with a Tribute to Gene Ludwig. A quintet including Ludwig collaborators will honor him with a set including other favorites, like "Birk's Works," and such Ludwig originals as "Louie & Jazz" and "Duff's Blues."

The band will include Jay Willis (tenor sax), Mark Strickland (guitar), Tim Jenkins (piano), Jeff Grubbs (bass) and Thomas Wendt (drums).

Missing will be Ludwig's own tones, which the Cambria County native (who grew up in Wilkinsburg and Swissvale) honed for a half-century, playing jazz and R&B, locally, on the chitlin' circuit, and in Atlantic City, among other places. He was best known for his stylings on the classic Hammond B-3 organ.

The free tribute show is 5-7 p.m. Sun., Aug. 1 (412-255-2391 or visit


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Posted By on Wed, Jul 28, 2010 at 11:42 AM

Under artistic director Kevin Noe, PNME has for years been a musical initiative that warrants performing in a place like its longtime home, City Theatre's main state. The July 23-24 program went particularly far in utilizing the stage as would a theater company -- one that also performs adventuresome and devilishly complex music.

At the center was pianist Conor Hanick, performing all dozen movements of György Ligeti's "Musica Ricercata." (It's a partly structural work, with the first piece limited to just two notes, and each succeeding section adding one note to the palette.) But between each movement, other members of the ensemble emerged from the wings to perform some other short work, each occupying a different part of the stage in a circle around Hanick.

Some of the pieces were designed to be theatrical. Thierry de Mey's "Musique de Tables," for instance, consists of three performers whose only instruments are one butcher-block of wood each and the hands and fingers they variously slapped, thumped and rapped upon the wood, a marvelous bit of percussive play. More stage-friendly still was Emmanuel Séjourné's "Vous Avez de Feu?" -- four musicians playing cigarette lighters, the noise of the spark-wheel the only sound, the brief little flames dramatically echoing the "notes" on the darkened stage.

(Most of the works, of course, were performed on conventional instruments: violin, marbimba, cello, clarinet.)

Sometimes, PNME's staging can get a little corny or labored, and the visual impact of the third movement of "Tables" was somewhat blunted for being performed way upstage (behind pianist Hanick). But because this show -- like most PNME programs -- was composed of several short works, it was a fast-moving hour whose highlights only began with Hanick's terrific work.

There's one more chance this season to see PNME, whose musicians hail from around the country and the world. (Violinist Natalie Shaw, for instance, lives in Paris, and Noe himself is based in Austin, Texas.)

The fourth and final 2010 PNME program takes place July 30 and 31 ( The show features five works, including the world-premiere commission "Radiance," by Ned McGowan, and Radiohead's "Like Spinning Plates."


Monday, July 26, 2010

Posted By on Mon, Jul 26, 2010 at 4:00 PM

In Pittsburgh, the Boulevard of the Allies isn't just a road running through Downtown that backs up every day at five o'clock. It's also the name of a local alternative band that sounds straight out of the '90s. Hopefully this week's MP3 Monday track, called "Man in the Photograph," will keep your rolling, even through rush hour.

"The Man in the Photograph" is a pretty upbeat tune with nice breezy guitar parts and a catchy refrain. It's the title track off Boulevard of the Allies' debut album, and you can hear why for yourself by clicking here!

Joel Lindsey, the band's singer, will be hosting Club Café's AcoustiCafe open mic tonight, starting at 7 p.m. And on Wed., July 28, the band will play Espresso Amano's new "Tip Jar" acoustic music series, with fellow performers Dream Job and Clinton Clegg. The event runs from 7-10:30 p.m., with an open mic segment beginning at 9:30 p.m. For more info, visit the Boulevard of the Allies website.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Posted By on Thu, Jul 22, 2010 at 5:16 PM

Sometimes you do an interview and it's kind of long, but good. And you only have 750 words of room in the paper, so you have to cut the interview down -- plus there's the matter of making the interview fit some kind of arc that will actually make sense in that space. But you know that the interview is a fun and interesting read in its entirety, or at least in a less abridged version.

So, you put it online, where there is an infinite amount of space.

That's what I'm doing with my interview this week with Josh Verbanets of Meeting of Important People. The edited version that ran in the paper is here, along with the release show(s) information. The mostly uncut version follows.


Tell me about the new record. How did you hook up with Authentik Artists?
I remember telling you specifically [at the time] – “I'm going to be really annoying and keep telling you about [the self-titled LP], and tell lots of people about it, not because it's that great but because we did it, it's done.” I contacted so many people about it – some people I'd met in previous bands, some people of actual “importance,” some just friends. They heard a couple tracks from the record and got in touch with this really cool distribution deal – meaning they have nothing to do with the physical record, but they control the digital domain. And it was a great deal. It was amazing. The head of the label, Scott Austin, was the head of Madonna's label, Maverick, in the mid-'90s, which went under. It's a small label and they've been incredibly supportive, and they've been into every idea we've had. They're not a really “cool” label of any prestige, but they've done quite a bit, but they've helped pay for us to make records.

It's hard to call them a label – they don't have ties to traditional media and they don't have anything to do with physical distribution. They're just really energetic former music executives who really like to hype music online. They have tie-ins with iTunes, they got us featured on iTunes.

Do you think that's a satisfactory route to go, at this juncture, with the business being what it is – is that the meat of what a band really needs?
I think it's great because we've been able to live several lives at once. On one hand we've been able to appear like a modern pop band, where they've hyped us on blogs, put glossy photographs of us up, made us look like a glossy modern Pitchfork band. That hasn't really worked for us, because the kind of music we have isn't really experimental enough to fit in with that. But it's been great because they've gotten some really great placements for us. As you know, one of the only places people find out about music these days is through song placements, and they've gotten some incredible song placements for us.

We've been able to live a dual life of doing that and also being a band that travels, we've played a good 30 to 40 shows out of town, and plays to people what appears to be kind of throwback garage rock. We played with The Cynics and people loved it. When we play with a modern indie band – when we open for an OK Go or David Bazan or whatever, people don't really care. It's when we play a garage rock bill where people want to talk about old Alice Cooper bootlegs that it really seems to work.

You've been doing the model of going out for a weekend, rather than touring.
Yeah. We've played regionally. And the reason that we've done that – it's not because we're lazy or anything like that. It's that the stuff we do doesn't seem to fit into any clear genre. It's really difficult – like, a pop-punk band, a pop-punk listener will immediately say, I recognize these inputs and this distortion and this way of singing and I'm into this. There's nothing about this that tells you to like it. Because it's just some goofy little songs. We've done the weekend trips because we love to play and we like to give our music away. But I'd say it hasn't done very much for us. We played Northampton, Brooklyn, Columbus, Cincinnati, all the way to Wisconsin, we played Madison, we played Chicago, Philadelphia, Morgantown. Those kinds of regional things. Nothing more than 5 to 8 hours away.

But you've got a pretty significant local following. You might not fit into a subgenre or “scene,” but you fit into a scene on a personal basis here.
Totally. My whole life, I rallied – when I was in my early 20s starting to play, I hated all of those bands that had their friends, just 200 of their friends would come out, I hated it, it made me so mad. “Just because you were on the soccer team in high school, now all your buddies come out --” know what I mean? Then I find myself – the Lohio thing was such a positive thing, it did turn into a little scene. It turned into that thing I always made fun of, when we started playing in Lohio; I don't know why, but it reached some little critical mass where WYEP was playing the song, so enough of the public knew about it, and friends would come and it was just a nice thing, to be in your mid-20s and to come out and see your friends. So I realized the thing I always thought was negative was actually really positive.

One thing I've been curious about is “The Jesus Song.” I know some of you are Christian, some of you maybe less so – what degree of sincerity of irony is involved, or does it matter, does it transcend that?
The only person in the band who's religion is [bass player Aaron Bubenheim]. We're not outing him in any way – he's always defined himself as a Christian. But that has nothing to do with our music, with our band, with our friendship. It's something he's embraced a lot more in the past few years, and it's a pretty significant part of his life. “The Jesus Song” was written by me, as a little bit of a reaction to Aaron – to me, the idea was to write a song that was really impassioned. I wanted to write a song that would lay out a straight gospel song lyrically. Of course there's something about doing drugs, there's something about “shooting up hymns” in there, but basically to me the idea was just, could I write a gospel song that could be taken either way? There's that thing where – the snide kids are going to say “This is awesome, they're making fun of religion,” and the religious kids are going to say “This is interesting, they're making a real call” -- for me as a songwriter, it has nothing to do with that. It's just a character singing an impassioned song. It was inspired, I'd say, just from what was on my mind from discussions with Aaron. And if you lay it out, it's really similar to what a “real” religious song would look like.

Is that what your approach to songwriting here was like – picking a character, a perspective, writing a song based on that?
This one, definitely more – the last album was songs kicking around and we got together and recorded them. You hear these words all the time, so I don't even want to say them, but: this is more of a band record. We did it together. I'll try to get off of that.

Two of these songs are really old. The two in the middle, “Leap the Dips” and “They Love Me In the City,” I wrote when I was probably 19, but they seemed to fit with this stuff. Each song has a specific voice, a specific character. There's less “silly” than the last record. Plus, to me it's less annoying. For example, the first song – it started because I wanted to write a song cycle about an amusement park. I love old amusement parks. I wanted to write a concept record, as silly as that is, where every song would be about a different aspect of the park over the day. So the first song was going to be “Training Song,” and it was the owner of the park telling the employees who not to let in that day: “Don't let anybody with a chain wallet,” know what I mean? It turned into a song that was basically like any employer telling you who not to let in. They're all kind of that. And little references – “Leap the Dips” is about a roller coaster in Altoona, stuff like that. It's pieces of an aborted concept record.

You could probably revisit that with some grant money from someone. The American Coaster Enthusiasts.
ACE! I was a member for a while. That's my big nerdy thing. Old roller coasters.

You picked a cover, “Come On Down To My Boat” (by Every Mother's Son). Why did you choose that, and are you going to get sued?
We're not going to push it nationally. That's not going to happen. I'm just being realistic – we're not in a place where we're going to go out and play seven million shows. If Authentik Artists places one of our songs in a Coke commercial and suddenly people love us and want us to come play, I'd love that, but for me – the idea of this record was just to make something that sounds more like our live band, it's short, and just give it away, to people who come out to see us around Pittsburgh. If something nice comes of it, that would be great. If not, no problem.

When it comes to “Come On Down to My Boat” – we only pressed 500 CD's. And our label isn't putting out this cover. The cover's only on the disc. The label's putting out four or five bonus songs, some demos that we did. They're putting that all on iTunes. We're just putting [the physical CD] out as our version of the record.

The song's great – it used to be on 3WS when we were kids. We recorded it because it's the creepiest – it uses the most violent imagery. He's talking about cutting her loose with his knife; it doesn't sound like a very nice way of asking a girl out. It sounds like he wants to abduct her into international waters.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Posted By on Wed, Jul 21, 2010 at 1:39 PM

Pittsburgh-based Lewis is among the contributors to this pretty cool, possibly unique new Fulcrum Books publication that takes a graphic-novel approach to Native American tales.

Editor Matt Dembicki, a Fairfax, Va.-based artist, paired native writers from tribes around the U.S. with artists like Lewis (a Shadyside resident).

The book ($22.95) is a handsome, full-color, 232-page paperback on glossy stock. The 21 tales cover everything from why there are stars in the sky ("Coyote and the Pebbles") to a song about an ursine grouch ("The Bear Who Stole the Chinook").

While some of the stories impart lessons about nature, or getting along with others, one of the real pleasures is their cheekiness. As in other classic fables and folk tales, the human characters and animal characters have a lot in common, and they're seldom terribly noble. Like us, they're often impatient, greedy, lazy and ungrateful. The trickster is the critter who uses others' traits against them -- sometimes so the victims get what they deserve, but often just because he can (or because a good meal is involved). Many of the stories resolve in a fairly open-ended, shaggy-dog kind of way.

The artwork, meanwhile, has something for everyone, from gorgeous realism and the stripped-down, stylized angularity you might expect from a "graphic novel" to stuff that wouldn't look out of place in Ren & Stimpy or even Pokemon.

Lewis contribution is to "Rabbit's Choctaw Tail Tale," about why rabbits (some of whom are apparently very talkative) don't have long tails like they used to. A fox is involved, along with the suggestion that rabbit's long tail would make the perfect fishing line.

The storyteller is Tim Tingle, an Oklahoma Choctaw and a touring story-teller and writer who speaks and performs at tribal gatherings, universities and more.

Lewis's style falls on the classic-cartoon side of things -- you can really see such avowed influences as MAD Magazine and Tex Avery.

Lewis, a freelance cartoonist, illustrator and designer, specializes in editorial, children's books, greeting cards and more, with clients like McGraw-Hill, Science Magazine, Johns Hopkins University and the New York Press. He has solo work out too, including the graphic novel The Claws Come Out (IDW Publishing).

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Posted By on Wed, Jul 21, 2010 at 10:08 AM

In May, Port Authority CEO Steve Bland said potential budget woes could lead to "draconian" cuts in service. That time may be here. The Port Authority of Allegheny County plans to roll out today a proposal for system-wide cuts. If approved, the cuts would go into effect in January, and would make up for a $47.1 million shortfall.

"It's going to be drastic," says spokesman Jim Ritchie. He says the proposal will affect every route in the system and leave 55 neighborhoods with eliminated or severely reduced service.

The cuts will result in a 35 percent service reduction in bus and light rail service. More than 50 routes will be eliminated, including event services to Steelers' games; the 1F to Millvale; 41G to Dormont; 65 to Squirrel Hill; and the 77A to Oakland Others will lose weekend service, like the 6A Troy Hill and neighborhoods like Lincoln-Lemington and Homestead. Others, like the EBA, will see reductions in weekday and weekend service.

Among the neighborhoods that could see a total service loss are: Banksville, White Oak, the Beechwood Boulevard corridor in Squirrel Hill; Marshall-Shadeland; Franklin Park; Edgewood Town Center; Garden City in Monroeville; and parts of Mount Lebanon around Cedar Boulevard and Old Farm Road.

Base rates for urban and suburban routes, and transfer, will increase by a quarter. The agency is also considering a "premium price" of $4 for express and flyer routes in suburban areas.

In terms of staffing, Ritchie says between 300-500 employees from union-represented operators and maintenance workers to non-represented employees could be laid off.

The plan goes before the Port Authority planning and development committee today then onto the full board on Friday. If approved, the agency will undergo a public hearing process required by law. The changes are slated for January.

PAT officials point to the rejection of a plan to toll Intestate 80 -- revenue already included in Act 44, the state law establishing funding for transit projects -- for the budget shortfall. And even with all of the proposed changes, Ritchie says the plan, at best, is a one-year fix.

"The problem for us isn't the expense of operating the system," Ritchie say. "The problem is the state didn't come through with transit funding established under state law."

Ritchie says agency brass are working with local legislators to re-establish state funding, and transit activists like Jonathan Robison are encouraging riders to contact their own local representatives. Robison fears that if state money doesn't come through and even more cuts come down the pike, "this could mean the end of the Port Authority as we know it."


Monday, July 19, 2010

Posted By on Mon, Jul 19, 2010 at 7:05 PM

Okay. If you're like me, your Monday's been killing you. So let's cut straight to the good stuff.

This week's MP3 comes to us from Marcus, aka MH the Verb, of The BNVz. The electro-pop-hip hop group came out of Pitt a few years back and has refined its sound since then -- and is now relocating to Philly to be closer to the music-industrial complex. Which is cool, I guess, as long as they keep repping the Pittsburgh scene like the promise too, and also keep repping the Steelers.

The MP3 they've supplied is "Burnin' Up," a party track that'll likely blow Peter's Pub up on Saturday (the 24th) when The BNVz play their last show as Pittsburgh residents.

Download it here!


Friday, July 16, 2010

Posted By on Fri, Jul 16, 2010 at 4:10 PM

Blog-people! Good to see you. I have a lot to tell you of. Let's get down to business.

It's Friday, which means weekend, which, most weeks, means I give you some ideas as to what shows you might go see.

Tonight is the Cultural Trust's Gallery Crawl, and unfortunately as of the writing of this, the Cultural Trust website isn't loading for me. Regardless, it starts at 5:30, runs officially until 9:00, and involves a bunch of music performances: Local faves Delicious Pastries lend levity to a pretty serious exhibition about gender-based violence, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at SPACE (812 Liberty). A band I know little about called The Wrong Airport is playing at the Crazy Mocha on Liberty across from Wood (trivia: that space was where Future Tenant used to be -- I played music there once!) Elsewhere, The FutuRisticz and Shinobi perform at the August Wilson Center, Mark Lucas Trio plays Little E's (where there's always jazz on Friday night), Chelsea Baratz sings at Seventh Street & Ft. Duquesne Blvd. (I'm told there'll be a stage) 805 Liberty, and DJ's appear throughout, including at a block party at Penn & Ninth the Convention Center Underpass at 7:30, where Mike Canton of WYEP and DJ Nate da Phat Barber spin.

Elsewhere tonight, On Fillmore plays the Warhol, Brillobox hosts Shapiro, Chalk Dinosaur and Yours Truly (the band, not me), and Good for Cows split a bill with Audrey Chen at Garfield Artworks. A bill, I should add, that is presented by frequent CP contributor Manny Theiner.

Saturday and Sunday is the Free4All Music Festival in Polish Hill at the pool, coinciding with the Polish Hill Arts Festival: Organized by Project 53, a musician resource center, it features all manner of local and out-of-town bands, and is all free. Mike Tamburo, Gangwish, Secret Tombs, The Runaway Circus and more play on Saturday, and Midge Crickett, Buddy Nutt, Good Game, Evil Twin and others play Sunday.

Tomorrow (Saturday) night: the 31st Street Pub hosts the Battle of the Worst Bands in Pittsburgh, which basically sounds like a night dealing with what I deal with every day at work. At Brillobox, Justin Andrew Band headlines a bill with Paul Luc on it. Texas mates Dignan populate Garfield Artworks along with Sainthood Reps, The Felix Culpa, and The King and the Thief. Elsewhere, Bear Cub, Harrison Wargo and The Wreckids play an all-locals bill at the Rex.

Sunday night, Joan Armatrading plays the New Hazlett, The Old 97s bring their always-popular show to Mr. Smalls, and Ola Podrida, whom you know because I both Short Listed them (him) this week and played them (him) on my spot on WYEP a couple weeks ago, plays Garfield Artworks.

Whew! Is that enough for you?


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Posted By on Thu, Jul 15, 2010 at 6:33 PM

In the summertime, what better way to cool off than with an icy treat? Two artists bring that cool feeling to summer with their exhibit Slush Puppies.

The exhibit combines music and a summer feel with a little taste of the chill of winter. Slush Puppies, which closes July 25, will be part of Downtown's Fri., July 16, Gallery Crawl.

Artists Chris Beauregard and Jonathan Chamberlain met while working at Wood Street Galleries. They teamed up to create Slush Puppies after discovering they shared a taste in humor and art.

The exhibit's title speaks to all the cool things that summer has to offer, with a humorous take on the season. Indeed, as a viewer first enters the gallery door, it's actually winter that's best represented: The temperature drastically drops. The walls are covered in white, with fake ice, and the theme of cold is present throughout.

Slush Puppies tries to freeze the memorable moments of summer and make them last forever. Though the exhibit is silent, about half of it displays musical influence. Another piece, "Endless Summer on Ice," consists of the sleeve of the soundtrack LP to the classic surfing movie Endless Summer -- frozen in fake ice two inches thick. Another highlight is "Snow Cone" -- a replica of a traffic cone, except colored blue and also encased in fake ice.

But while the artists introduce winter into summer, summer remains in the form of the season's stereotypical delights. "Three Ice Princesses," an acrylic painting, pays homage to the clothing of summer: beautiful women, colorful clothes, summer fads. These sit alongside the slushies, ice cream and Klondike bars that fill the thoughts of many minds on a warm day in Pittsburgh.

Slush Puppies reminds anyone who complains about the summer heat that no matter how hot it is outside, that there is always an icy treat to enjoy.

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