When fascism comes to western Pennsylvania, it will be wrapped in a Terrible Towel.
Sinclair Lewis didn't actually say that, though he probably could have. And as we wait for tonight's primary-night festivities, I've been stewing over how elected officials dumb down our politics by bringing up football. Or, what may be worse, how they dumb down football by dragging it into politics.
We all know how this works, right? When Jason Altmire re-introduces himself to voters in the newly-redrawn 12th district, for example, he naturally lets us know that he used to play football back in high school.
In western Pennsylvania, obviously, playing football is one way to demonstrate character and local roots. And it allows us to gloss over parts of our resume that may be, well, a little harder for voters to relate to. You'll note that Altmire's ad boasts that his "work ethic followed Jason [from] the football field and later to Congress" ... with no mention of what he might have done in between. Namely working as a lobbyist for UPMC.
Of course, if you're gonna use football fandom to reach voters here, you better do it right. Back in 2010, state Sen. Anthony Williams was an also-ran in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. The Philadelphia-based Senator, casting about for a way to relate to the western half of the state, ran an ad featuring an alleged voter in a Steelers jersey. The problem? The jersey was that of Santonio Holmes, who had left the team in disgrace not long before.
(In fairness to the Williams camp, they recovered the fumble nicely. After I wrote a blog post mocking the campaign's gaffe, I got a good-natured message from the guy who'd put the ad together. He jokingly insisted the ad was an attempt to honor Roy Gerela.)
But this year's biggest practitioner of wrapping himself up in the Black and Gold is Republican Evan Feinberg, who is running a Tea Party challenge against Republican Congressman Tim Murphy. Feinberg has been running a radio spot -- on sports-talk station 93.7 FM, no less -- that is either the dumbest or the most brilliant ad of the spring, depending on who you ask.
It’s been a busy, expensive month for metalheads. Aside from all the many bar shows which have been popping up like some wonderful Whac-a-Mole game where everyone wins, mid-April brought Decibel Magazine’s Behemoth-headlined tour to Mr. Small's, and Mastodon, Opeth, and Ghost to Stage AE.
I’ve gotta hand it to Decibel: they know how to curate a tour — joining stylistic variety with a common thread of Satanism — though Pittsburgh’s April 12th show was not without disappointment. Thanks to visa issues, Watain missed the beginning of the tour, thus denying us, and three other cities, what was sure to be a truly frightening pageant of animal blood and evil.
Sweden’s In Solitude set the tone for the night with their 6+ minute epic “Demons,” their dark, catchy rock n’ roll — and singer Hornper’s facepaint — bringing to mind King Diamond, by way of the zombie Strokes (fashionably speaking), and a theatrical flair which sets them somewhere between Refused and My Chemical Romance. Hornper, wrapped in his trademark filthy fox stole, isn’t afraid to risk self harm for the sake of a good show, whether by banging himself in the forehead with the microphone or tumbling into the drum kit. His performance outran their music in terms of entertainment, which is really no easy task.
The Devil’s Blood, from Holland, weave their heavy, spooky, retro-psych together with three guitarists, including band spiritual leader Selin Lemouchi. Lemouchi considers himself “saved “ by Satanism, and they’ve been protested by the Pentecostal church in their country, but they don't exactly ham it up in their music. The gentlemen of the band did their sound check t-shirts and jeans. When they returned to the foggy stage, they were bare-chested and soaked in blood. I don’t remember ever actually being scared at a show, but when I looked into Lemouchi’s eyes, my heart actually leapt into my throat. Singer F(The Mouth of Satan) emerged looking like a priestess from R. Crumb’s Book of Genesis, her hair wild, her blood-soaked bodice hanging on for dear life. She sang like a possessed Ann Wilson. The band threw up horns, as serous and worshipful as any Christian band, and — in a total Young Goodman Brown moment— the crowd responded in kind, entranced.
After The Devil's Blood made me fear for my soul, Behemoth made me fear for my life, as they broke Lemouchi’s spell, and people began to lose their shit. Behemoth’s brutal death metal is practically testosterone and muscle in musical form — though the girl who occasionally darted into the harrowing pit for some interpretive dance might disagree with me. It’s their first tour since singer/guitarist Adam “Nergal” Darski beat leukemia and, though it clearly took a toll on his voice and his body, his proclamation that “It’s feels good to be alive!” inspired goosebumps.
The Stage AE show on April 15th began with a slightly less bitter disappointment: Ghost started at 7 on the dot, played a short set, and was missed by anyone who showed up late — myself, sadly, included.
Opeth, a one-time death-ish metal band, who now seem to only make prog rock, played next and for a very long time. Mikale Akerfeldt’s voice sounded great, in a forest balladeer sort of way, but he also displayed a Spinal Tap level lack of self awareness and awkward rock star showmanship. They did get to some older material towards the end — e.g., “Demon of the Fall” — but by then, all but the diehard fans (of which there are many, actually) seemed to be milling about, not playing much attention.
I kind of expected Mastodon — the only American band of the lot — to be the pièce de résistance of the entire week and, while were more entertaining than Opeth, they were less entertaining than In Solitude. It quickly became clear that they were only playing songs from their new record, The Hunter — a move I both respect and hate. They sounded satisfyingly huge, if just a little too perfect. Singer /bassist Troy Saunders, as crazed and handsome as you could ask a mainstream metal vocalist to be, howled through wild grins and grimaces. The band kept its distance, never speaking between songs. They broke their Hunter streak only once to play “Blood and Thunder,” from Leviathan, and closed with The Hunter’s woozy but forgettable last track, “The Sparrow.” Then drummer Brann Dailor thanked us as though we had just watched a school talent show, and promised the ‘Don would be returning soon. And then the lights came up and stagehands started tearing down equipment and with a collective “Damn” the audience realized he didn’t mean in a couple of minutes. No “The Czar,” no “Where Strides the Behemoth,” no “Colony of the Birchmen.” Not even “Iron Tusk.” Ah well. You know what they say about the Devil and good music. The same is apparently true of great shows.
With hours to go before tomorrow's primary election, things are heating up in the race for the state House seat currently occupied by Adam Ravenstahl in District 20.
One of Ravenstahl's two opponents, Mark Purcell, sent out a mailer last week accusing the incumbent of blowing off community meetings ... a charge Ravenstahl denies.
The front of the mailer shows a collage of Purcell working in the community with the phrase "Proud Public Servant". On the back, it says "Adam Ravenstahl Missing in Action" and shows 9 chairs with the names of North Side civic groups on it, and phrases like "missing," "absent" and "no show."
Ravenstahl has fired back at the mailer. In a statement released today, Ravenstahl said
"I've been the target of aggressive negative attacks by my opponent ... I've not missed a single vote in Harrisburg and I've attended hundreds of meetings in our community. I promise to continue to fight hard for what is right for our community."
Asked to explain the mailer, Purcell says he's been approached by community groups -- which he declined to name -- that they have felt Ravenstahl hasn't been present in the district.
City Paper reached out to the nine community groups named on the mailer. Only two responded, though we'll post more responses as they come in. Leaders of both groups declined to evaluate Ravenstahl's work in office, but said he has been accessible when approached.
"He has come to general membership meetings ... We have five each year, he's been to most of them," says Pete Bellisario, president of the Brighton Heights Citizens Federation, adding that they requested he attend their Memorial Day event May 28 and that his office has purchased advertisements in programs for their other events. "Honestly I don't recall him coming to clean-ups or the Halloween parade but that doesn't mean anything." Bellisario says Ravenstahl hasn't been different than any other elected officials on the North Side who have to juggle multiple community groups, functions and responsibilities.
"When they come, I'm happy but I understand the competing priorities that they have ... Adam has provided some support to organizations on the North Side."
Mark Fatla, the executive director of the North Side Leadership Conference, says his organization didn't know about the mailer, "and no one asked us about [Ravenstahl's] attendance" at Conference gatherings.
"Adam has not been at conference board meetings, but we have never asked him to attend," Fatla adds. "Our meetings are open, but we've never asked him or expected him to attend," he says. "In fairness to Ravenstahl, when we've asked for a meeting with him or his staff, they've accommodated us."
The empty-chairs mailer has not been Purcell's only attack.
A few weeks back, I gave a quick shout in Critics' Picks to the local band Whiskey Holler, which was releasing a new EP called HiveSongs. I was impressed with what I heard, so I thought I'd give you a taste of it to, by inviting them to share an MP3 for MP3 Monday. And they agreed! *applause*
Below, stream and/or download the song "Let's Dance, Let's Scream." And if you like it, check them out at Draw Us Lines' acoustic show at Club Cafe this Friday night. (Meeting of Important People and Zachary Cale play as well.)
Sorry, download expired!
Some of Pittsburgh's up-and-coming hip-hop acts are taking to New York City all at once this week. Here's a quick breakdown:
April 24 - The mayhem begins Tuesday when Chevy Woods and Boaz link up for "A Pittsburgh Affair". Taylor Gang recording artist and Wiz Khalifa's partner-in-rhyme, Woods headlines the event at S.O.B.'s. In recent years, that venue's stage has hosted performances by Drake, Kanye West and Rick Ross. On this night, S.O.B.’s showcases two Pittsburgh rap vets. Woods’ music video, "Home Run", has been viewed over 200,000 times as he prepares the release of his new mixtape, Gangland. Joining Woods for the showcase event is Larimer native Boaz. Woods and Boaz are familiar with working together, as Woods was a heavily featured rapper on Boaz and his Govament crew’s 2007 mixtape release, Election Day.
April 24 - Rhyme Calisthenics: The Official MC Competition hosts the fourth show of its NYC Series at Bamboo. The series of five shows began in January as four first-time competitors performed several rap challenges from the large, game show-style wheel, with the hopes of winning and advancing. Tuesday night’s final qualifier round will decide the fourth MC to compete in the subsequent championship round. This month's competing MCs are Baxter Wordsworth, Atlas', Skittlez, and Jess Jaymez. The competition makes its anticipated return to Pittsburgh in early summer.
April 25 - Halfway through the Macadelic Tour promoting his newest mixtape, Mac Miller returns to Roseland Ballroom on Wednesday. A year ago, Miller was an opening performer at Wiz Khalifa’s Rolling Papers album release party. Opening for Miller on the Macadelic Tour is rap duo The Come Up. Fellow Pittsburghers, Franchise and Vinny Radio have been performing with Miller for the majority of his most recent tours and are preparing for the release of their new album April 30.
April 26 - Rapper Beedie's Above the Weather Tour began in Pittsburgh on April 14 and continued last week in Philly. This Thursday Beedie takes Manhattan by storm with a performance at the Grisly Pear. The intimate venue should allow the charismatic MC to do what he does best: connect with his audience. Other upcoming tour stops include Erie, Detroit, and a return to Pittsburgh's Altar Bar with Action Bronson.
In politics, the long knives often really start coming out in the days just before the election. And in a South Hills battle to represent state House District 22, Erin Molchany has launched a salvo at the endorsed Democrat, Marty Schmotzer. Team Molchany has accused Schmotzer of failing to file a campaign-finance report on time, accusing him of "betraying the public's trust." Schmotzer, who denies the allegation, called the attack "cheap publicity."
Late this morning, Molchany's camp sent out a statement reminding readers -- in case they could forget -- that while working in the county clerk's office in 1997, Schmotzer transferred $50,000 to a private account. (Schmotzer later returned the money.) "[T]here he goes again," the Molchany statement says. "When he admitted to stealing $50,000 ... Schmotzer said he used the money for gambling, paying taxes, and daycare bills. So, we have to ask: where's Marty spending the money now?"
Campaign finance reports were due to the state April 13, and indeed, a search of the state online campaign-finance database didn't turn up Schmotzer's report by mid-afternoon. But that's not unusual: The Department of State, which handles the filings, has taken its lumps from Gov. Tom Corbett's budget cuts, and is short-handed to the point where calls to it sometimes ring with no answer. (The work of uploading documents to the web, meanwhile, is done by a vendor.) A department official told me, "We can't say he's missed the deadline, because we are still processing those hundreds and hundreds of reports that we've received."
Reached by phone, Schmotzer denied filing his report late. "I had it notarized and postmarked April 12," he says. Under state law, a finance report is considered on time if it's postmarked the day before the filing deadline.
Schmotzer says he also filed a copy of his report -- in person -- at the Allegheny County Board of Elections last Friday. I've obtained a copy of that report, which was indeed notarized April 12, and time-stamped by county workers at 4:01 p.m. April 13.
It's safe to say Schmotzer was not happy about Molchany's original statement. "It's another sign of the little game this candidate and her cohorts play, and of the cheap publicity she wants," says Schmotzer. "What she's saying is an absolute lie."
When I notified Molchany's campaign about the copy of the report at the county -- and Schmotzer's claim to have properly mailed it into the state -- they sent a correction of their earlier release, which added the following statement:
This campaign has had conversations with the Department of State over the past several days. Candidates have a requirement to file a campaign finance report with the state by April 13th, 2012. Molchany's report has been online and accessible since 4/13. One week later, Schmotzer's report is still not accessible online & the Department of State has informed us that no report of Schmotzer's has been processed. Schmotzer has filed a courtesy copy with the county Elections Division.
And what does Schmotzer's report show? Between mid-February and mid-April, he raised $43,200. A full $10,000 of that came from Schmotzer himself, with another $10,000 from a relative. Schmotzer is the endorsed Democrat, and has some labor backing as well, so not surprisingly, other large contributors include a number of unions led by the Steamfitters ($5,000), and committees affiliated with state Rep. Dan Deasy ($500), and Allegheny County Treasurer John Weinstein ($2,500).
And where did that money go? Mostly on postage -- LOTS of postage -- printing, rent for the Schmotzer campaign headquarters in Brookline ... the typical stuff candidates spend money on. At first blush, nothing really jumped out at me as being unusual.
(In any case, it might be worth noting -- as our Chris Young reported not long ago -- that the rules governing campaign expenditures are so loose as to be meaningless.)
And what of Molchany's fundraising? Her statement boasts of her "broad base of small donors, which reflects her viability and wide spread support."
Indeed, in the first quarter of the year, she raised just shy of $31,000 -- roughly the same amount Schmotzer raised when you subtract his own contribution. Nearly 45 percent of Molchany's fundraising was in amounts of less than $250; all but $1,900 of Schmotzer's total was in checks larger than that amount.
Much of Molchany's support, not surprisingly, comes from like-minded progressives: Among her biggest supporters is Run Baby Run, a PAC which supports female candidates and which gave Molchany $4,100. Meanwhile, the campaign fund of City Councilor Natalia Rudiak, whose district overlaps portions of the 22nd and who has already backed Molchany publicly, has loaned her $2,500. New Castle businesswoman and former Congressional candidate Georgia Berner -- a reliable supporter of progressives -- gave $1,000.
But Molchany also drew support from more entrenched Dems, like a PAC affiliated with the Operating Engineers ($250), parking lot magnate Merrill Stabile ($1,000), and Reed Smith attorney Daniel Booker ($1,000).
The 22nd House District may not be around for much longer: a GOP-led redistricting plan has it slated for execution in 2014. But if it does perish, at least it went out with a bang.
Tags: Slag Heap
Three quick items for your perusal on this game-five Friday:
— We've written a few times in the past about locals 1,2,3, the indie-rock band on Frenchkiss. Well, their van is broken and they need a new one. And who are they hoping will help with that? You! Read Nic Snyder's impassioned plea on the band's Kickstarter page and just try to withhold your cash. Come on.
— Yesterday, local punk heroes Code Orange Kids premiered a new video on NPR's All Songs Considered blog. Check it out here.
— The other day we showed you Donora's new vid; the band is currently the first featured album on a new website, albumcorner.com, wherein indie records are featured on the cheap. If you didn't already pick up the band's latest release, Boyfriends, Girlfriends, you can do so for just $5 there!
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has chosen eight semifinalists in its Online Concerto Competition. Voting is open to the public until April 30.
Between Feb. 9 and March 22, the PSO received 104 video submissions for the competition, which will grant one winner the opportunity to perform next season with the orchestra in a concert led by Music Director Manfred Honeck.
The PSO allowed instrumental soloists in the U.S., unrepresented by management, to enter by uploading a clip of an original solo performance, based on a selection of concertos, to the PSO's YouTube channel.
On April 11, the PSO announced that eight semifinalists had been chosen by the orchestra's musicians and a team of conductors, including Honeck.
All semifinalists are between the ages of 19 and 29, from places like California, Puerto Rico and New York. Their videos were posted April 13 on the PSO's YouTube Channel. Voting is open to the international community until 8 p.m. EDT Mon., April 30.
Up to four finalists will receive round-trip tickets to attend a final audition with Honeck on June 11. The winner will be announced June 12. He or she will receive $10,000 as well as a chance to perform alongside the PSO at Heinz Hall in BNY Mellon Grand Classics concerts on Nov. 30 and Dec. 2.
The competition is supported by the PPG Industries Foundation.
For more information, visit www.pittsburghsymphony.org/competition
Tags: Program Notes
Freelancer Ian Thomas reviews The Right Now's latest, The Right Now Gets Over You, in advance of the band's show at Thunderbird tomorrow night.
When listeners tune in to a new band whose members bill themselves as performers of music of generations past, they are doing so, at least in part, to see if the band falls on its collective face. There is a great deal of hubris inherent in claiming a place within a genre, such as Chicago soul, whose landmark output is at least two generations removed from the present. For the band, there is little to be gained. To live up to the claims, to perform within the confines of the genre, within the accepted parameters of song structure and subject matter, in most cases, is only a success in the sense of capturing a sense of nostalgia. On the flip side, if a band claims to perform music of the past, but inserts too much of themselves, or too much contemporary subject matter, the claim is reduced to a selling point, a marketing gimmick.
To their great benefit, The Right Now are a Chicago-style soul band who actually hail from Chicago. They can walk the streets of the city where Chess Records was founded and Curtis Mayfield recorded the Superfly soundtrack, steeped in the history of the art form. To the benefit of the listener, The Right Now is content to leave to the critics any discussion of whether they are the real deal. By performing with absolutely earnest sincerity, without a hint of irony, the musicians of The Right Now make a compelling case that they are. As a band performing by-the-book soul music multiple generations after by-the-book soul has left popular culture consciousness, The Right Now gets it right, albeit in broad strokes. Even when they fail to match the passion of classic soul, a difficult task under the best of circumstances, they make up for it with their technical proficiency. It is clear that The Right Now view themselves as students of a craft and they strive for mastery.
The album, The Right Now Gets Over You, plays like a genre retrospective. From the sultry sensuality of “I Could Kiss You (I Could Cry),” to the swinging, brassy arrangement of album-opener “I Can’t Speak for You.” Even in the wake of Amy Winehouse, Adele, and all the other artists that surprised critics and audiences with the authenticity of their takes on storied genres, vocalist Stefanie Berecz’s performance on this album is still something to behold. While her voice is remarkable in its own right, she positions herself as a member of the collective, not the driver of the vehicle. That takes confidence. Everyone in the group gets their turn to shine and, in light of that give and take, the complicated arrangement sounds more natural. In the current mixtape climate, where immediacy is prized above all else, the combination of naturalness and technical know-how is a rare thing.
The Right Now performs at Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville at 9 PM on Friday, April 20.
Get outdoors, recreate and celebrate Earth Day, all without fossil fuels, with this short, easy city ride culminating in a festival.
The 4.6-mile group ride starts at 1 p.m. this Sunday at Chatham University’s Eastside Campus, at 6568 Penn Ave. (near the corner of Fifth Avenue, in East Liberty). It heads through Squirrel Hill and Schenley Park to Phipps Conservatory for an afternoon of live music, a bike/fashion show and more.
Find the route at www.twowheelsnotfour.com.
The event is a collaboration btween Chatham’s Rachel Carson Institute, Bike PGH, ModCloth, Flock of Cycles, the MGR Foundatoin and other area student and environmental groups.
The ride in part commemorates the 50th anniversary of Carson’s classic book Silent Spring.
Performers include Mike Stout (mikestoutmusic.com) and the Newlanders www.thenewlanders.com. There’ll also be an open mic for poetry and spoken-word performers.
The event continues until 5 p.m.
For more information, contact Corey Escoto at email@example.com.
Tags: Program Notes