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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Posted By on Wed, Jul 14, 2010 at 5:44 PM

Throughout the four days of All Good Music Festival last weekend, many of the 20,000 hippies, hipsters, bros, flower children, aging vacationers, ravers and college folks were seeing things. They just weren't sure if it was the psychedelics or the heat. Aside from a late afternoon shower on Friday, the festival, held on wildly remote Marvin's Mountaintop near Masontown, W.Va., was a dry, hot affair. But music fans persevered, sweat and heatstroke be damned.

Dark Star Orchestra played the first killer set of the fest Thursday night as most attendees were still filtering into the campground; with mostly dirt roads leading to the site, traffic was backed up for hours. By Friday morning, though, All Good was exactly what its name states: The Bridge blazed through bluesy guitar rock in an early afternoon set, paving the way for the jerky afro-beat of Femi Kuti and laidback bluegrass of Old Crow Medicine Show. But the afternoon belonged to Pimps of Joytime, a largely unknown funk act that owned its only-30-minutes set, treating the crowd to Prince-gone-jammin' music. Look out for this band rising on the festival horizon soon.

By Friday night, All Good's music was unstoppable. Furthur, the band featuring Phil Lesh and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, noodled through a 3-hour set that got the crowd spinning, leading into a late night set from big bass electro producer Bassnectar to knock 'em down. His set was nothing short of explosive -- loud, corrosive beats that pushed the crowd to a dance-mosh frenzy. How no one was completely crushed is beyond me. Throw in a few thousand glow sticks flying through the air, and the whole thing turned into a spectacle from any vantage point. Electronic jammers Lotus closed out the night (finishing up by 4 a.m.) with propulsive grooves and a laser show ensuring that anyone not already on a trip would soon leave earth.

Saturday saw All Good's only taste of indie rock when Dr. Dog attempted to convert the throngs of jam fans with its Beatles-y pop. Mission (at least sort of) accomplished. My mostly-hippie friends, none of whom had ever heard of Dr. Dog, bobbed along approvingly. Like Friday, though, the afternoon belonged to one act: the Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi Band tore through classic rock-leaning jams and confirmed to any doubters that Trucks is the pre-eminent guitarist of his generation.

Saturday night headliner Widespread Panic proved slightly divisive, though -- beloved by older, Allman-loving jam heads, the band is somewhat foreign to younger fans. Still, the band's marathon set kept the fest dancing.

Jamband lifer Keller Williams kicked off Sunday morning to a mostly sleepy crowd with his "Moonshine Breakfast" set of bluegrass covers (dude made "Sex and Candy" sound less old!), waking them up by actually passing around jars of moonshine. Tasty.

Promoters said this year's All Good was the biggest ever. Might've been the best, too.

 

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Posted By on Wed, Jul 14, 2010 at 12:57 AM

"It's a terrible thing to hate someone you love so much."

The honey of this play's title is literally an hallucenogenic, potentially toxic stuff that first one character,then a second, nicks from the Iliad. But this is an Amy Hartman play -- a darkly comic, tragic romance -- so "mad honey"is also a metaphor for love.

"I want to eat his letters. I'm so hungry for them."

Hartman's characters are usually lonely -- desperately so. In The Chicken Snake, Disinfecting Edwinand Mad Honey, they're so desperate that they lie, kidnap, steal babies and kill; they blackmail the objects of their love for requital.

"The perfume of his sour breath made me drunkand greedy."

Hartman is a poet of this sort of naked desire, and her poetry is fully on display in this world premiere, directed by Robin Walsh. The whole cast -- Autumn Ayers, Paul Ford, Laurie Klatscher, Matt McNear, Maggie Ryan -- is fine. But one small detail really struck me. Watch Klatscher's character, a repressed schoolteacher whose only family was a boy dropped on her doorstep whom she can't bear to surrender. Klatscher plays comic neuroses with wonderful precision, but there's real pain here: Her character never looks at another character, even when she's talking to him or her. The moment that finally changes is striking, but it's a long and painful road.

"I was in love once -- a love so fierce it stole my life away."

The Chicken Snake, at Pitt's Studio Theatre, concludes with four more performances, nightly through Sat., July 17 (www.unseamd.com).

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Posted By on Tue, Jul 13, 2010 at 5:09 PM

A few weeks back, a fellow named Jim emailed me about the new music blog he was launching. As we (still) don't have a blogroll here (yet), I figure I should pass that information along to you in a post!

The blog is called Draw Us Lines. Like so many local music blogs, it cuts a broad swath: a little local coverage, some write-ups of national-level bands, and a feature they call The New Classics, which focuses on records from the past 10 years or so that have settled quickly into the canon. While I'm generally ambivalent toward writing at length on the records that have already sealed their place in the pantheon (unless it's a serious reconsideration of some sort), the writing here is good, and makes these worthwhile reads. Immature boy that I am, I laughed out loud as out-of-town contributor described In the Aeroplane Over the Sea for what we all really like it for: its many gratuitous references to semen.

Thus far, the blog's been well-kept-up, and for that I applaud these fellers. Also, we've been eerily on the same wavelength of late ("Hey, I was just jammin' that Secret Cities LP!" "You like that Ola Podrida album too?!" "Samantha Crain, I was just thinking of revisiting that record!"). This all makes Draw Us Lines worth adding to the ol' RSS reader.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Posted By on Mon, Jul 12, 2010 at 9:22 PM

This week's MP3 Monday comes right from local alt-pop rockers Yours Truly. The track, "The Crown," starts out with some Strokes-like rhythmic guitars before throwing in some horns and transitioning into a more Jason Mraz-sounding track.

You can check out music editor Aaron Jentzen's review of the band's EP in this week's City Paper. Aaron writes, "Yours Truly's groovy modern rock should find an appreciative audience among musicians and non-musicians alike."

If you dig it, you can see them play this Fri., July 16, at Lawrenceville's Brillobox.

And if you really, really dig it, you can buy a ticket to see them on Aug. 6 at Diesel and get your ticket to Brillobox fo' free. And if you're an absolute fanatic, the ticket can also get 50 percent off Yours Truly merchandise as well. For more info, visit the band's MySpace page.

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Posted By on Mon, Jul 12, 2010 at 1:43 AM

The company's debut got stronger as the brief but intense July 9 program, titled PUPA: new ... again, proceeded.

The title work, the first of four segments, featured some interesting insect-like movement by the six dancers, and some nice duets and group sequences. But it still felt a little underdeveloped (pun intended). A large projected video that accompanied the dancers -- mostly closeups of leaves, though an ant makes a cameo -- might have been thematically apt, but its execution was desultory.

"Static" was stronger, starting with the attention-grabbing opening tableaux vivant of writhing bodies. "Static" was also where you began to notice the sound design by Herman "Soy Sos" Pearl (the choreographer's husband). One sequence featured a cicada-like montage of voices, with low, aquatic undertones; toward the end, the soundtrack broke into "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

The highlight, though, was "Resolution." (Not surprising; in the post-show talkback, Staycee Pearl said she thought it was the most successful piece, too, and one the troupe had workshopped for months.)

Here the inspiration was actually a Soy Sos sound project, constructed around a reading of a list of victims of the Iraq War, soldiers and civilians both. The most memorable sequence had the dancers in a line moving stage right to stage left, as if on a conveyor belt. As the names were read, dancers would vanish into the wings at stage left one at a time, only to rejoin the endless, ever-moving line at stage right. It seemed the spaces between the performers grew wider (as if even the ranks of potential victims were being thinned). Meanwhile, variations such as dancers crawling backward toward their fates emphasized the tone of resignation and despair.

The hour-long program's closer was "Introducing ... SPdp," in which individual dancers took solos while the soundtrack spun out a snippet of an interview with each, about something important that had happened to her. It was cute, though the general light-heartedness of the movement belied the typically heavier nature of the recorded confessionals.

Pearl is best known for her years as artistic director of Xpreessions Contemporary Dance Company. Her choreography has been less visible of late. (She's been wrapping up studies at Pitt, for one thing.) But with SPdp, she's assembled six young dancers -- Kerra Alexander, Jamie Murphy, Cassie Shafer, Renee Smith, Amanda Vavra and Laura Warren, all Point Park grads -- whose talents seem well-suited to continued exploration of her vision.

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Posted By on Fri, Jul 9, 2010 at 2:05 PM

Maybe it's fitting that a city associated mainly with a huge tragedy would manage to put forth one of the world's more famous death metal bands? Incantation is a long-lasting legend of metal that hails from Johnstown, a town not so far from here that's known mainly for a killer flood caused by rich people. The band, over 20 years old now, has seen plenty of lineup changes, but frontman John McEntee has been the constant.

They play Saturday (July 10) at Belvedere's in what's a pretty massive metal bill: Ibex Moon Records Fest features six bands associated with the label. Also hailing from Johnstown is Funerus; Pittsburgh's Abysme (who contributed an MP3 Monday once) represents Pittsburgh.

In from out of town: Gravehill, Hod, and Cardiac Arrest.

It's $10 and over-21 only, sorry. Show starts right at 8 because, y'know, that's a lot of metal for one night!

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Posted By on Fri, Jul 9, 2010 at 1:23 PM

Exactly a month ago, I wrote about the controversial subject of "pooling" -- a legal mechanism whereby natural-gas drilling companies may be able to remove gas from beneath your property without your consent.

The issue promises to be controversial in Pennsylvania, where gas deposits in the mile-deep Marcellus Shale are attracting considerable interest. At the time I wrote that post, no pooling legislation had formally been proposed in Harrisburg ... but apparently, it's on the way.

In states with pooling laws, once a supermajority of property owners in a given area sign drilling leases, gas companies are given drilling rights to the whole area -- with or without the consent of the people whose land they are burrowing beneath. Holdouts lose the ability to prevent drilling beneath their property -- though they are compensated by the gas companies for the value of gas. As an industry group says, such residents are assured of getting "a check in their mailbox each month" either way.

As an industry spokesperson told me last month, Pennsylvania is the only state with large-scale natural-gas drilling operations that doesn't have a pooling law. But that may change soon. I've received a partial copy of a letter dated last month from state representatives Marc Gergely (D-White Oak) and Garth Everett (R- Muncy), in which the bipartisan pair is seeking cosponsors for pooling legislation here.

To drill effectively, the letter asserts,  natural-gas companies "must be able to form effective and efficient drilling units" -- and those units "must include all of the mineral interests within the boundaries."

How might such legislation end up looking? Those concerned about pooling are circulating a copy of a proposed bill with the letter. I can't be sure if this is the exact bill Gergely and Everett are proposing -- the title is slightly different, for one thing -- but it is consistent with the goals they outline in their letter, and with the overall pooling concept. 

Under the terms of the bill, potential drilling areas will be divided up into "units." Most of these can be no more than 640 acres, and should be "configured generally in a regular square or other rectangular form."  The bill does allow some flexibilty, however -- a unit can be "any size or shape," for example, if the drillier "reasonably believes" the gas beneath it can be extracted by a single well pad. 

In any case, if a natural-gas company obtains drilling rights from three-quarters of property owners (or others with control over the gas) in a given "unit," that developer may gain the rights on "all interests owned and not owned or controlled by that person ... for the development and production" of Marcellus natural-gas reserves. (The emphasis there is mine.)

The bill would create an "Oil and Gas Fair Pooling Office," to monitor the creation and administration of these units, and to adjudicate disputes within them. The bill also protects property owners who don't sign leases from any surface disruptions of their property. In other words, you can have the gas drilled out from underneath you ... but you can't have a drilling well built in your backyard without your consent. 

Gergely and Everett's letter portrays all this as an environmental safeguard. If drillers aren't allowed to get at all the gas in an area, they argue, "[l]eaving recoverable gas in the ground would be a physical waste of the valuable resource. Worse yet, it makes absolutely no sense to require the construction of multiple well pads ... when a single pad may be sufficient." 

The letter also asserts that the law "Allows the greatest number of willing mineral interest owners to realize the value of their resource." (According to the bill, royalties for gas taken out of a unit will be paid "based upon the relative surface acreage of the interests in each unit.")

Folks in a "unit" who don't sign leases have a couple options: They can agree to be treated as if they had signed a lease, or they can elect to be treated as a "non-consenting party" -- in which case they get a share of the profits minus a "risk fee." But as near as I can tell, the drilling is happening with or without them -- right beneath their feet. 

I've got calls into Gergely's office, and will post updates here as events warrant. In the meantime, while I've seen little coverage of pooling from the local press, it has gotten some attention in recent days from media elsewhere.

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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Posted By on Wed, Jul 7, 2010 at 12:53 PM

This early play by Tracy Letts is, at first glance, a little immorality tale, set in a nest of scoundrels. The plot's shoved into motion by a young man cold-hearted enough to want his own mother killed, but not bold-hearted enough to do the job himself.

In that sense, the play harks to film noir -- the genre that starting mid-century told Americans they were less a bunch of idealists than a crew of remorseless individuals, driven by venal (or just concupiscient) desires, and wholly out for themselvess.

Indeed, when I chatted up actor Lissa Brennan after last Thursday's performance of this sharply visceral barebones staging, the noir afficionado said she considered the play's second act a direct descendent of that great early noir Double Indemnity, right down to its unraveling of a crooked life-insurance scheme.

Yet something that's interesting about the play dramatically is that, to make the evil doings resonate, Letts has crafted at least a couple characters who have sparks of genuine compassion. They are not "sympathetic," mind you. But they're not monsters.

The young man with the murder scheme is Chris (played by John Steffenauer). He's an aimless fellow, but what drives the play isn't so much that he hires a contract killer to off his mom but his relationship with his younger sister, Dotty (Hayley Nielsen). He sees himself, and is seen by Dotty in turn, as her protector, a relationship that goes back to their childhood (and has in no small part to do with what appears to be the brain injury she lives with -- ever since her own mother tried to smother her, in infancy).

Of course, Chris is nonetheless willing to hand over Dotty as a "retainer" to contract-killer Joe (Patrick Jordan). Yet perhaps more intriguingly complex is Joe's relationship to Dotty.

It might at first seem purely sexual, an interpretation that their hair-raising first "date" does little to dispel. But Jordan ultimately emphasizes a reading of the script that makes Joe, too, sympathetic, at least in his relationship to Dotty.

We can almost forget, for minutes at a time, that he's a police detective who kills people on the side.

Killer Joe has four more performances, tonight through Sat., July 10 (www.barebonesproductions.com).

The production's novel and quite captivating twist of having local rock legend Joe Grushecky perform live (solo and acoustic) between scenes is in effect all four shows; he and his Houserockers do a closing-night concert.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Posted By on Tue, Jul 6, 2010 at 8:34 PM

If you're among the handful of people paying attention to the Great Review Board Saga, you probably know that council voted to delay a vote on replacing five out of seven new members to the Citizens Police Review Board. 

For the most part, though, council spent its day arguing over trivia, while the real issue went almost entirely ignored. Surprise!

I mean, sure ... there was a spirited argument over whether city council President Darlene Harris acted properly when she first took the nominations off the agenda. There was an equally spirited -- and by "spirited" I mean "painfully long" -- debate about whether the nominations should be "tabled," "postponed" or merely "held." The whole thing was a powerful reminder over just how much a marriage of convenience was Harris' ascension to council's presidency in the first place. Lots of bad mojo between Harris and the folks -- Bill Peduto, et al -- whose votes put her in that position.

But I'm going to ignore that debate because very little of it matters. Council did agree to clean up murky language governing review board appointments -- addressing some of the weaknesses first pointed out here last month. But on the five new appointments that precipitated the crisis? Council did nothing except kick the can down the road a couple weeks, deciding to postpone a vote until just before taking its customary August recess.

Harris' move seemed to cheer the board's supporters at council today -- and some bloggers too. Based on what I heard at today's meeting, though, a crisis is still likely on the way.

Here's the problem: Nearly two weeks ago, I wrote the following:

You could probably get council to agree on changing the rules going forward, such that this sort of thing won't happen again. I think it's pretty apparent to all concerned that the existing rules don't make much sense. The problem is that there is so much controversy about what is happening now, with the board members currently on the table ... And I don't see either side backing down. 

Nothing that happened today seems to have changed that. Yeah, council may rewrite its appointment procedures going forward. But in the meantime ... there is still this controversy about the board members currently on the table. (Or rather off the table held postponed.) And fixing rules for future appointees doesn't fix the flawed process that produced the current group.

Harris spoke, somewhat plaintively, of her desire to "to get this council to work together instead of against each other." She said she'd hoped to delay a vote "until things are settled, questions are answered ... and everything appears to be legal."

That's a good idea. But the only way to live up to it, arguably, is to scrap the current appointees and start over from scratch. Council will need to come up with three nominees for each of the review board seats under its purview. (That's not to say that the current crop of nominees shouldn't be on the new list. They just need to have company next time around.)

Anything short of that means council risks a lawsuit from the ACLU, which has already engaged in some sabre-rattling.

"If council votes to confirm the nominees who have been appointed by the mayor, without going through any additional process, then that is problematic," says Sara Rose, of the ACLU. Changing the code for future appointments would be a good idea -- it's one of the things the ACLU has recommended -- but by itself, it won't keep the city out of a courtroom. 

"We are hoping that council will not confirm any individuals who have not been properly appointed," Rose added, "but have not yet decided what we will do if council does."

So unless these appointments are scrapped entirely, council may well be headed to court. Which would be ironic, since part of what seems to be motivating council is a desire to reduce the city's exposure to costly litigation

But from what I can tell, there are still at least 5 votes in favor of replacing the current review board -- Harris and council's mayor-friendly bloc. I didn't get any sense that they were changing their minds today. At one point, for example, councilor Patrick Dowd said, "One of the things that concerns me is that some of my colleagues have said they'd like to restart this process." [ADDED: I should probably clarify that Dowd was speaking about Peduto and Co. here -- so this remark restates the divisions on this issue, rather than suggesting some sort of softening.]


It's worth stating briefly here why this matters.The Pittsburgh Comet makes the fairly obvious point that, had it not been for the review board's G-20 investigation, no one would care so much about it now. Well, sure. On the other hand, had it not been for the review board's G-20 investigation, would council have issued a bizarre resolution urging it to go slow? Would any of this be happening in the first place?

The proposed new nominees came before council last week. They seemed like nice people. All testified that they'd never spoken to the mayor, or anyone on council, about whether they would drop the G-20 matter. Or about anything else, really.

That was reassuring to hear. Somewhat less reassuring, however, was how little the prospective members knew about anything else the board does. During questioning by Doug Shields, nominee Diana O'Brien Martini candidly acknowledged she had next to no sense of how the board actually worked. How did it decide what cases to pursue? she wondered. Did that require a unanimous vote? And so on.

Ordinarily, I'd be fine with a board gaining some fresh perspectives. Boards and commissions are staffed by regular citizens -- good hearted volunteers who are supposed to stand in for the rest of us. The trade-off for that is that there's often a pretty steep learning curve. 

Which is fine, except there has never been more pressure on the review board than there is right now. As Shields pointed out, these review board members are walking into a situation where the board is currently pressing to have the police chief, Nate Harper, found in contempt of court And we're talking about five brand-spanking new members -- on a seven-member board -- walking in with zero experience. Ordinarily, that would never happen: Board terms are staggered to ensure a mix of new blood and old hands. But in this case, council and the mayor allowed current board members to serve expired terms ... such that now they are all being replaced at once.

I don't want to sell Martini or the other nominees short. They seem like good people, and it's unfair to say -- as some members of the public nearly did today -- that appointing these folks is an effort to kill the investigation. I sure don't know what the potential new members are going to do. Based on what I saw last week, I'm not sure they do either. 

So this isn't an attempt to stack the deck, necessarily. But it IS going to shuffle the deck, halfway through the game. That ought to be against the rules.

But that point is getting lost. And I've got a feeling that before this is over, some city dollars will be lost with it.

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Posted By on Tue, Jul 6, 2010 at 4:12 PM

Bad news: as happened a little over a year ago, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists had to postpone a show at Diesel this week. The show, which was to be this Friday, was called because, as the prolific tweeter explained Sunday, there was a death in Leo's family and he has to attend to that business.

The good news: First, the show's already been rescheduled for Thursday, September 23. That's really close to my birthday, if you want to take me. Also, it's scheduled while Leo is en route to the Pygmalion Festival in Urbana, which promises to be a good time, if you want to take me there instead. And last: this Friday is Devo at the Trib Totalitarian Mediocrity Amphitheatre at Station Square, so now you don't have to decide which show to attend -- go see the weirdos from Ohio!

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