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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Posted By on Tue, Mar 22, 2011 at 3:38 PM

WDUQ's sale to a non-profit joint venture has yet to be completed, but already there is a major personnel change at the station: General manager Scott Hanley will soon be signing off the air.

After 16 years in the position, Hanley announced on his blog yesterday that he accepted a job as the interim chief communications officer for the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, a nonprofit located  Downtown.

"It's a great opportunity," Hanley tells City Paper. "Change is both exciting and hard, but it's a way in which we grow."

Hanley's decision comes roughly three months after Duquesne University announced that the school would sell WDUQ's license to Essential Public Media, a joint venture of WYEP-FM and Public Media Company. As City Paper reported in February, the deal blindsided Hanley and other WDUQ employees who, as part of the nonprofit Pittsburgh Public Media, submitted a higher bid for the license.

Asked whether the career change was motivated by the uncertainty at WDUQ, Hanley said the foundation post "deserved consideration no matter what my status."

It's still uncertain exactly what format 90.5 will take under EPM, but it's widely believed that the new station will probably be lighter on jazz and heavier on local news. As for staffing at EPM, Hanley says it's uncertain how many, if any, WDUQ employees will transfer to the new station. But he says EPM is unlikely to make any decisions until after they hire a general manager, a position the new owner advertised shortly after the sale was announced. 

Hanley tells CP he’s going to miss WDUQ -- "even to some extent, I’ll miss the pledge drives,” he jokes.

"My 16 years at WDUQ have been a remarkable experience,” he wrote on his blog. "It's been an honor to work with such an amazing community of people."

Hanley will start his new job on April 1, but says he will remain involved with WDUQ until April 15. Once he departs, an interim general manager, who has yet to be named, will take over the station’s operations ... at least until WDUQ too signs off.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Posted By on Mon, Mar 21, 2011 at 11:22 PM

Howdy!

How about that basketball thing? The thing with the team that we like that was supposed to win. But then it didn't win. In fact it --

What's that? Just give you the MP3? Okay, okay!

Getting down to it: This week's free MP3 download comes from Truth In Advertising. The folky duo of Fred Betzner and Seán O'Donnell (a solo artist in his own right in addition to being a bagpiper-for-hire) goes sometimes by the cheeky moniker T 'n A. They provided a track named with another three letters for us today. It's named after everyone's favorite place to sit and wait and wait and wait and get the worst photo of you ever taken, taken by a 140-year-old person who is part tortoise. It's called: DMV. Download and enjoy! They next play April 1 at Istanbul!

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Posted By on Mon, Mar 14, 2011 at 6:31 PM

Greetings!

It's Monday, and that means music. This week's free MP3 comes from Brad Yoder, the ubiquitous and contagiously friendly Pittsburgh folk rocker. It's the first track from his latest effort, released late last year, Excellent Trouble. It's a song with a beautiful arrangement; Brad makes the most of the soft-to-loud-to-soft dynamics he wrote into the song. Download "Again" and enjoy!

Brad's next show is April 5 at Commonplace Coffeehouse in Squirrel Hill.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Posted By on Sat, Mar 12, 2011 at 2:33 PM

Prime Stage is known mostly for its adaptations of classic literature for young-adult audiences, and its mission is expressly educational. But don't let that keep you from this fine production of the Tennessee Williams masterpiece.

The performance I attended last night was mostly post-collegiate folk, and few went away disappointed.

Admittedly, the turnout was likely boosted by the participation of two local stage luminaries: Veteran Richard Keitel directed, and the role of Amanda was played by Robin Walsh, whom many consider Pittsburgh's top actress. (This is the first chance to see Walsh on stage in about two years, by my count; lately she's been doing more directing herself.)

Walsh's musical line readings of the dialogue for Williams' faded and desperate Southern belle alone might be worth the price of admission. But it's a strong show overall, and not the first time Prime Stage has hit the mark with a classic. I recall a very good The Crucible there a few years back.

There are two more performances of Glass Menagerie, tonight at 8 p.m. and the 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinee. www.primestage.com

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Posted By on Fri, Mar 11, 2011 at 3:36 PM

The Icelandic performance and video artist's first-ever Pittsburgh exhibit debuted last night at the Carnegie Museum of Art. The traffic-jamming crowd of hundreds was probably due at least in part to the museum program that makes Thursday-night visits in March free. But everyone seemed curious about Kjartansson, the centerpiece of whose show was a "long-duration performance work" starring his three nieces, in the museum's Hall of Sculpture.

Kjartansson is in his mid-30s, with a fuzzy beard and the manner of a friendly bear. He's known for video works like one in which he stands bare-torsoed and buried to the waist in a field, while he strums an acoustic guitar and sings a song called "Satan is Real." Another work, this one live, found him dressed like a viking in an abandoned rural theater, singing all day for weeks at a time, regardless of whether anybody came by. It was called "Scandanavian Pain."

For the opening reception, he dressed with ironic formality in a brown double-breasted suit and bow tie, his blonde hair slicked down. In a conversation with Carnegie curator Dan Byer, Kjartansson was charming and wry. In one of his videos, he and his mother stand side-by-side and she repeatedly spits on him; it's a triptych, with the ritual repeated at five-year intervals. "It's a nice tradition," said the artist last night. "It's super-duper Freudian."

Another topic of discussion was the new work, "Song." It involves his three nieces, lovely young blonde women, reclining on a large pedestal in the Natural History Museum's Hall of Sculpture, harmonizing the same fragment of a song their uncle has written, over and over, all day, for three weeks. The lyrics go, "The weight of the world is love." Said Kjartansson last night: "The Hall of Sculpture becomes a temple of love!" Then he raised his fists overhead, like a champion boxer.

Some tips about the show:

-- Most of Kjartansson's work is located in or around the Forum Gallery, right behind the reception desk. The "spit" video's on the wall outside, another video work inside.

-- "Song" is down the big hall linking the museums. You can see and hear it from the first floor, but while the girls are miked, they sound much better -- heavenly, in fact -- from the Hall of Sculpture's second-floor balcony.

-- One piece folks seemed particularly interested in was "The Man," Kjartansson's long-form video portrait of 97-year-old blues-piano great Pinetop Perkins. In it, Perkins plays his upright piano positioned in a Texas field, takes cigarette breaks and cracks jokes at the cameraman. The installation itself is similarly remote physically from the rest of Kjartansson's work -- it's up in the CMA's Scaife Galleries (walk up the main staircase and turn left).

-- "Satan is Real" is hung on the wall by the museum's first-floor bathrooms.

Another climax of the exhibit is a live musical performance by Kjartansson and friends, on March 24, at the Carnegie. Last night, he described it as "an Ingmar Bergman-style vaudeville show."

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Posted By on Thu, Mar 10, 2011 at 5:27 PM

Remember Takeover UK? Remember how we ran a CP cover story about the band and how it was really about to take off, then it broke up instead? Well, COUNT THIS ONE AS A PREDICTION THAT COULD STILL SORT OF PAN OUT.

Nic Snyder and Josh Sickels have returned with 1,2,3, a new band, signed to Frenchkiss, that's getting a good bit of buzz (that's right -- new band of the day NUMBER 784! But who's counting?).

They're popping up on our radar today because they just released a new video via Green Screening. It's cool because, see, they don't just green-screen stuff in -- they actually green-screen a second Nic Snyder. Creepy, right?

Feel free to give a gander to the Q&E they did with our friends over at the Draw Us Lines blog as well.

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Posted By on Thu, Mar 10, 2011 at 2:09 PM

Time was when, during a flood, people thought the BEST place to be was on a boat, preferably with one's family, and two of every living creature, clean or unclean. Nowadays, apparently we shy away from the waters when they rise, hence the postponement of this weekend's two Gateway Clipper Fleet rock cruises.

Friday night's Rusted Root boat trip has been rescheduled for April 1, no foolin'. Saturday night's Clarks cruise will now take place April 16. Assuming this stuff doesn't continue for forty days and forty nights before the floodwaters recede.

Now, go forth, be fruitful and fill the earth.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Posted By on Wed, Mar 9, 2011 at 7:21 PM

Honestly, I would have stepped out to see either of the two headliners on his or her own. Chipaumire is the Zimbabwe-born choreographer and dancer with a couple impressive Pittsburgh performances on her resume. Mapfumo, also a Zimbabwean ex-pat, is his country's musical conscience: a legendary Afropop pioneer who supported anti-colonial efforts in the '70s but fled a decade ago, with dictator Robert Mugabe made life hard for political dissidents.

Their touring show, lions will road, swans will fly, angels will wrestle heaven, rain will break: gukuranhundi, visited the Wilson Center last night. Chipaumire touts the work as an attack on cultural stereotypes about African backwardness and exoticism. It was good -- at times, very good -- but I occasionally wondered whether it was more than the sum of its estimable parts.

The evening started with music by Mapfumo and his band, The Blacks Unlimited, with him on guitar, a lead guitarist, a man on mbira (a traditional thumb piano, amplied) and a percussionist. The style would be familiar to anyone who's heard a little contemporary African pop: pulsing rhythms marked by liquid single-note electric-guitar runs and occasional soulful vocals (sung, I believe, in Shona). Then Chipaumire and male dancer Souleymane Badolo began a series of solos and duets, all with wall-to-wall music by the band, which got its own mini-set midway through.

About a third of the show, moreover, was seen through video projected on a stage-spanning screen, with evocative animated images of nature mixing with imagery referencing Zimbabwe's ancient cities.

Much of this was enthralling. Chipaumire and Badolo are fine dancers who move in a way that's neither "traditional" nor modern, but a little of both. It's a style familiar to those who saw Chipaumire's riveting solo work Chimurenga here, in 2007, or Becoming Angels, an original work she set on Dance Alloy Theater in 2009. Many movements are grounded, with the dancers taking a low center of gravity, with arcing arm motions and feet that often hit the floor full-soled, with a thump.

This was punctuated by sequences including an acrobatically flailing solo by Badolo and a sort of damaged tango by he and Chipaumire, in which she starts out holding him up (perhaps even reviving his lifeless body) and they end up supporting each other. With The Black Unlimited's chiming, repetitive music (which at times suggested trance-inducing Indonesian gamelan music), the effect could be hypnotic.

On the other hand, I'm not sure how much of Chipaumire's message got through. You had to understand that her spoken introductory travelogue about her homeland ("Victoria Falls!") was intended ironically, not invitationally, and I'm not sure that was apparent to all. And if you weren't along for that ride, I suspect it was hard to plug into the emotional power of what followed.

Moreover, sometimes it just felt odd for a musical giant like Mapfumo -- whose typical venue is a crowded nightclub -- to be leading a backing band for someone else's vision.

Still, the concluding passage worked well, with Chipaumire, in the midst of an energetically detailed solo, concisely emoting a troubled relationship with her audience: She'd stop dancing in order to warily size up the space between the joyful movement she might be making and what ticket-buyers might expect from an African artist. Mapfumo's sounds were beautiful. And in how many other venues in Pittsburgh could you sit with a rowful of African gentlemen (one in a "Zimbabwe" shirt) excited to see artists also born a few thousand miles away, in the place they call home?

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Posted By on Wed, Mar 9, 2011 at 2:44 PM

Last week, we reported that Scenic Pittsburgh and Mike Dawida, its executive director, were planning  to compel the city to remove the unfinished electronic billboard at the Grant Street Transportation Center.

Today, the organization took the matter to Common Pleas court, filing a petition against the city and Lamar Outdoor Advertising, the company that started to construct the billboard in 2008.

The petition -- which you can view here -- is a mandamus action, which compels a government official to take actions he or she is legally obligated to take. And the sign must come down, the petition argues, since "there is no legal authority for the sign to remain on the site and its continued presence on the Property is illegal."

Scenic Pittsburgh's attorneys, Patricia McGrail and Isobel Storch, go on to write: "As a result of the Parking Authority and Lamar's continued violation of the Pittsburgh Zoning Code, the Plaintiffs have suffered substantial and special injury in that the enormous black sign is an eyesore, visually offensive and detrimental to the look of the urban landscape of the Golden Triangle of downtown Pittsburgh."

Back in 2008 and 2009, the billboard fight was one of the most contentious disputes between members of city council and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Zoning law would ordinarily have required the billboard to go through an extensive review process, with public hearings and approval by city council. But the Ravenstahl Administration, in particular then-Urban Redevelopment Authority Director Pat Ford, established a billboard-swapping deal in which Lamar could put up one new electronic sign for every six older billboards it took down. With that agreement in place, the administration issued a permit allowing the billboard without the usual public review.

City officials said the arrangement reduced blight from old signs. But it led city councilors to file two separate lawsuits against Lamar and the city. As a result of those suits, Lamar's permit was ruled invalid, and a belated review process denied its application for a new one -- even though construction of the billboard was already underway. That has left a big, partially built eyesore right a the end of Grant Street ... at least until Scenic Pittsburgh filed its suit.

"We at Scenic Pittsburgh support the public zoning process as the fair and equitable means to uphold the values and expectations of our citizens," says Dawida."This partially completed sign hanging at a prominent downtown intersection has remained an eyesore for more than three years now. It is time to finally resolve the issue once and for all."

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Posted By on Wed, Mar 9, 2011 at 1:41 PM

This will be the first of a handful of posts stemming from the political forum City Paper helped out with this past weekend. I'm making the somewhat counterintuitive choice to start with a race that is uncontested: city controller Michael Lamb's reelection bid.

I'm doing it for two reasons. First, as we've noted before, so much of this year's elections are really about Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, and a referendum on the job he's doing -- and that's exactly what Lamb ended up talkign about. And second, the fact that this race has only one entrant made it really easy to transcribe the highlights.

Lamb spoke for a bit under 10 minutes, and most of his early remarks were responding to a question about city pensions from fellow moderator Jeanne Clark. But at around the five-minute mark, Lamb launched into a critique of the city's present leadership -- a critique that wasn't prompted by a question from the floor. Part of Lamb's message was that city finances are tipping into the red. But another part of it sounded like ... well ... it sounded like the first speech of the 2013 mayoral race.

Of course, maybe that's just me, since I'm on record as suspecting Lamb has mayoral ambitions anyway. But look his remarks over, and see what you think:

Let me just talk about one other thing. I’m glad to have the question about pensions; I was very involved in that debate last year, and I think in the end council did a great job in getting things done.

But I think most of you know me in this room know me to be kind of a glass-half-full kind of guy. I’m an optimist. I live by the old song "You Have to Accentuate the Positive." But I would be kidding myself if I didn’t tell you that I’m a little worried about Pittsburgh right now.

I’m worried about the direction we’re going. I worry when progress is halted by petty politics. I’m worried when our leadership is talking about people rather than about ideas. And so I worry about the direction we’re moving as a city ...

This year, later this year I will be releasing the financial report of 2010, and it will show for the first time that the city end of the year into the red -- the first time since I’ve been in office. We’ve got problems, and significant problems, that need serious consideration and serious proposals. Unfortunately, a lot of the proposals that we’ve seen to deal with some of the issues are either right-wing privatization schemes or proposals that seem to be more interested in what the pinstrip patronage is getting, rather than what ordinary taxpayers in the city are going to get.

So I am concerned about that, and so we work to be involved in those issues -- that's why I got so involved in the parking/pension issue. It's why I'm very involved in this issue with respect to [a proposed merger of city and county financial-management systems] that for some reason now has come to a halt. We really need to address these issues in a constructive way, and in a way that in the end really deals with what is necessary for the people who live here in the city of Pittsburgh.

I should also add that prior to these remarks, Lamb made a joke about how I never wear neckties. Deriding the sartorial choices of alt-weekly journalists has never harmed anyone's political aspirations. 

OK, I've beaten this horse twice now this election cycle, which means I've twice written headlines with painful puns on Lamb's last name. (Get it? Lamb? Shear?Eh? Eh?)Time to move ahead. Coming soon: highlights of the Fitzgerald/Flaherty county exec match-up.

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