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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2015 at 4:25 PM

The first time I saw Frank Turner live was in Cleveland in October 2013. At a bar before the show, my boyfriend and I met a guy named Manny who was in town on business from Texas. Earlier that day he’d managed to snag a ticket off of Craigslist. Manny told us that wherever he was flying for work, if Frank Turner was playing, he made sure to see him. We asked what to expect at the show. Manny got real serious, looked us in the eyes and said, “You just have to experience it.” Then he went back to chomping on his Texas-sized cigar.

We saw Turner live a second time at Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, NY in May 2014, a misty outdoor show. After opening for Modest Mouse he strolled over to the merch tent. Realizing the tall, hoodie-wearing figure drinking a Bud Light was Turner, we promptly marched over and started a line. As Turner signed a tee shirt he asked where we were from. We said Pittsburgh. He looked up, raised his Sharpie, and announced in a delightful English accent: “Mr. Smalls.”

Why yes, Mr. Smalls. On September 19, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls smashed into their U.S. tour with their fourth appearance at the Millvale haunt in as many years. (At one point during the show Turner joked, “It’s like the 900th time I’ve played Mr. Smalls” before adding, “It’s really fucking lovely to be back here again.”)

click to enlarge JASON KIRIN
Jason Kirin
If you’ve never been to a Frank Turner show, I’ll be more liberal than Manny from Texas. First, be prepared to see fans of all ages: a 12-year-old-girl with her parents; skinny, sweaty punks with their arms around each other’s shoulders, jumping and spilling pounders of PBR; my boyfriend’s parents; an older gentleman from Buffalo wearing a sleeveless tee shirt and carrying a skull-topped cane. Second, you must sing along; if you don’t know the words, you’ll pick up quickly. Third, be prepared to be best friends with everyone: the crowd is the nicest group of heavily tattooed people you will ever meet in one space, and if you can’t see the stage, they will kindly move for you.

After two British openers—an American flag-draped Beans on Toast and a raucous accordion-cello-guitar-drum-fest set from Skinny Lister—the crowd was warmed up to the point of irrational impatience, heightened by the pungent brew of restless anticipation and booze. Finally, all arms flew in the air as Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls took to the red-lit stage with Turner half-singing, half-shouting, “I got me a shovel / And I’m digging a ditch,” the opening lines to “Get Better,” the first single from their most recent studio album, Positive Songs for Negative People. The album’s cover art, a red and blue battery, floated behind the band, upstage left, in front of more than 650 jubilant bodies squished into a sold-out, converted Catholic Church on a drizzling Saturday night.

“This is the Positive Songs for Negative People tour,” Turner announced. “We’re starting at Mr. Smalls, and you guys bought all of the tickets! Well done!” The crowd swelled in a unanimous cheer. “We’re gonna play some new songs this evening!” Cheer. “We’re also gonna play some old songs!” Cheer. “And we’re gonna play some mid-period songs as well.” Cheer. “Let’s hear it for the mid-period!” Turner threw his right fist into the air, and the crowd did the same, cheering.

Turner: “You guys would cheer at fucking anything.”


Turner immediately launched into “Out of Breath,” (a new song), doing a fantastic back-pedal onstage, a move punctuated by side-to-side shuffles to greet his band mates, face to face, as if engaging in a shouting match. In “Reasons Not To Be An Idiot” (an old song) Turner improvised the line “I bet she sits at home and listens to The Smiths,” replacing the seminal ‘80s rock band with local favorite of the ‘90s, 2000s, and today, The Clarks.


Something else you need to know about a Frank Turner show: audience participation is required beyond cheering and singing. During “Photosynthesis” (an old song) you will be instructed to sit down on the floor and jump up when the finale kicks in (a German audience invention circa 2010), so dress accordingly. 

click to enlarge KIMBERLY OLSEN
Kimberly Olsen

After nearly two boisterous hours, Turner and his band disappeared from the stage. A few minutes passed. Then, piano drifted out from a darkened stage and Turner emerged in a spotlight, arms thrown dramatically to the heavens. He pulled out his inner Freddie Mercury and seduced us into “Four Simple Words” (a mid-period song), and as it crescendoed into its “I want to dance” chorus, fans of all ages, up past bed times and with long drives home, jumped higher and somehow sang even louder than they had all night, squeezing every final moment out of the show.

And then Turner dove right into the crowd, legs and cords flying in the air, still singing as a flurry of arms reached up to carry him above the joyful chaos of the crowd.

Then, he was gone.

All told, Manny from Texas was right. You really do just have to experience a Frank Turner show. If possible, multiple times. Which is why I’ll be looking for Manny in Portland.  

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Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2015 at 3:16 PM

Every Wednesday, we make a Spotify playlist containing tracks from artists covered in the current music section. Listen while you read!


Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2015 at 1:30 PM

Very soon, bikers and pedestrians will be able to enjoy a car-free ride or walk from the point all the way into the heart of the Strip District.

As announced by Bike Pittsburgh last week, the section of the riverfront trail from 11th Street to 21st Street will reopen some time before the end of October after being closed for more than two years.

Fence blocking the entrance to the trail along the Allegheny River at 11th Street. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BIKEPGH.ORG
Photo courtesy of
Fence blocking the entrance to the trail along the Allegheny River at 11th Street.
“The big deal is that it has been closed for over two years, and the completion date kept getting pushed back,” says Eric Boerer of Bike Pittsburgh. “This time it seems legit.”

There is currently a route for cars for riders to pedal from Downtown and all the way to the shops and restaurants in the Strip District: Riders can take the Penn Avenue protected bike lane to 16th street, but then have to dismount and walk on the sidewalk to reach all the action a few blocks down.

Because of the termination of the Penn Avenue bike lane at 16th Street, Boerer and several riders have told CP they turn down 15th Street before the protected lanes ends, and traverse down Smallman Street, which is full of cars backing out of parking spaces in the section from 16th street to 21st street.

“It gives them another option,” says Boerer of the trail reopening. “There are a lot of people who just want to stay along the riverfront and not ride with cars. This provides a better and safer connection for them.”

Boerer adds that this announcement also creates a bettter transition for those wishing to continue up the Allegheny River to Lawrenceville. Since trail ends at 21st Street and exits directly onto the Railroad Street, which has little action from automobiles, a more efficient corridor for bikers through the Strip is now available.

According to Boerer, concerned citizens started to light a fire under city officials after they grew frustrated with repeatedly being told that the trail would reopen month after month.

Numerous tweets were directed at Mayor Bill Peduto, Council Member Deb Gross and other city officials over the last few months asking when the trail will be reopened.

Spokesperson for the Mayor’s office Tim McNulty wrote in an email to CP that the Department of Public Works confirmed that the trail should be reopened by the end of October, if not sooner.

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Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2015 at 11:09 AM

More than any other recent locally based recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” LaToya Ruby Frazier’s work is about bringing Pittsburgh to the world, and seeing the world reflected in Pittsburgh.

LaToya Ruby Frazier
LaToya Ruby Frazier
More specifically, Frazier’s photographs and video document Braddock, her economically devastated hometown with its legacy of heavy industry; virtually all her work has been made there. But as with playwright August Wilson’s Hill District, Braddock is all Frazier needs to say her piece.

Frazier, it was announced Monday, is among this year’s group of 24 MacArthur Fellows. The distinguished group of original thinkers – each of whom receives a no-strings-attached $625,000 – includes: writer Ta-Nehisi Coates; artist Nicole Eisenman; poet and novelist Ben Lerner; poet Ellen Bryan Voigt; and playwright and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda (best known for the musicals In the Heights and Hamilton), as well as scientists, scholars and designers.

Reached yesterday by phone in Chicago, where she teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, said she was surprised by the award. (Most recipients are: The nomination process is done anonymously.) But her star has definitely been rising. Frazier, 33, has garnered national and international solo exhibitions by documenting her family, neighbors and Braddock’s very streets with the same unblinking candor. Her goal, she says, is to show how deindustrialization (and industry, for that matter), pollution and poor health care mark both neighborhoods and human bodies. (Her MacArthur page, including a short video, explains more.) Earlier this year, she gave a TED Talk titled “A Visual History of Inequality in Industrial America." 

click to enlarge "Momme (Floral Comforter)," from the Momme Portrait Series, 2008 - ART BY LATOYA RUBY FRAZIER
Art by LaToya Ruby Frazier
"Momme (Floral Comforter)," from the Momme Portrait Series, 2008
Or, as her MacArthur page says, “Frazier’s stark portraits underscore the connection between self and physical space and make visible the consequences of neglect and abandonment … for Braddock’s historically marginalized working-class African American community.”

And here’s another video in which Frazier herself discusses her art.

Frazier began the work as a teenager, intimately documenting her mother, Grandma Ruby and herself – three generations of black women who witnessed everything from Braddock’s heyday as a booming mid-century steel town to its half-century of white flight, shuttered factories and the war on drugs. Many of the photos were collaborative: mother shooting daughter, for instance. Some of these photos were gathered into exhibits titled Notion of Family and published in a 2014 book of the same title.

click to enlarge "Fifth Street Tavern and UPMC Braddock Hospital on Braddock Avenue," 2011 - ART BY LATOYA RUBY FRAZIER
Art by LaToya Ruby Frazier
"Fifth Street Tavern and UPMC Braddock Hospital on Braddock Avenue," 2011
In recent years, she’s gotten attention for her series Campaign for Braddock Hospital (“Save Our Community Hospital”), about attempts to prevent UPMC from closing its hospital there. That series ironically incorporated images from Levi’s 2010 “Go Forth” advertising campaign, which was shot in Braddock, but which Frazier once blasted as “false propaganda and false representation.” The ads featured young hipsters settling an “urban frontier”; it was not the first time, as Frazier put it in her TED Talk, that “our existence has been co-opted, silenced and erased.”

In 2013, Frazier began a series of aerial images of Braddock that show how land is used there, again typically to the detriment of the poor. The high-rise where Frazier herself lived in her childhood was years ago razed, for instance, only to be replaced by an industrial facility; also see her "Bunn Family Home" image, below, which depicts a Braddock home surrounded by an industrial operation.

The owner of that home, fourth-generation Braddock resident Isaac Bunn, is a good friend of Frazier's. And while the media often offer what he calls "feel-good stories" about attempts to revitalize Braddock, Bunn says Frazier's artwork "revelas the truth. It shines a light and gives people like me a voice that people need to hear."

"She's an amazing friend, an amazing human being," adds Bunn.

And here's a nice piece on a 2014 show of Frazier's, from the New York Times' Lens blog.

Frazier has also exhibited alongside veteran filmmaker Tony Buba, another Braddock native, who in the 1970s and ’80s began his own critically acclaimed career with a series of short documentary films about everyday life there.

"Her work is amazing," says Buba. Frazier's photographs "grab you," he says. "When you walk into a space and see her photos ... you don't have to go over to read the damn artist's statement. ... It's just so moving. That's what separates her from everyone else."

Buba says he actually predicted that there was a MacArthur in Frazier's future in 2014 — after she won a similarly prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship.

As an undergraduate, Frazier studied at Edinboro University. She earned a master’s of fine art in photography at Syracuse University. She currently splits her time between Pittsburgh and Chicago, where as an assistant professor she teaches photography to graduates and undergraduates at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Her exhibition career has already seen its share of highlights, including the selection of Campaign for Braddock Hospital for the 2012 Whitney Biennial, and solo shows at the Brooklyn Museum and Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art. (Locally, she's been exhibited at venues including the Mattress Factory and the Warhol.)

click to enlarge "Bunn Family Home on Ninth Street" (2013) - ART BY LATOYA RUBY FRAZIER
Art by LaToya Ruby Frazier
"Bunn Family Home on Ninth Street" (2013)
And there’s more to come: Interviewed yesterday by CP, Frazier was preparing to depart for France for what she said was her first solo museum show, at the Carre D’Art, in Nimes.

Nimes is an industrial town with a working-class heritage that resonates with Frazier, whose grandfather was a crane operator at U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works, now Braddock’s (and the Pittsburgh metro area’s) last working primary-metals plant.

Though her art is internationally known, Frazier says that living and traveling outside the city where her subject matter resides has benefited her work.

“The distance has actually brought greater understanding,” she tells CP. In a globalized economy, she says, the problems of inequality and environmental injustice are also globalized. “I see Braddock in many places that I travel to.”

Frazier’s MacArthur Fellowship continues a run of such awards for Pittsburgh, with winners in recent years including poet Terrance Hayes, dancer and choreographer Kyle Abraham, and former University of Pittsburgh parasitologist and virologist Elodie Ghedin.

Moreover, at least two other 2015 winners have Pittsburgh connections: Lerner previously taught at Pitt, and while here published his poetry collection Mean Free Path. And Eisenman’s paintings and sculpture were a highlight of the 2013 Carnegie International.

Asked if she has any plans for her $625,000 fellowship, Frazier says only that she'll continue her work. “I just hope to make Pittsburgh proud,” she says.

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Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2015 at 11:07 AM

Following performances at Lollapalooza and Pitchfork Music Festival, Nashville-based indie-rock band Bully is currently on a headlining tour which will stop at Brillobox this Saturday. Singer Alicia Bognanno took some time to chat with us over the phone.

click to enlarge Alicia Bognanno - DANIEL TOPETE
Daniel Topete
Alicia Bognanno

Your debut album sounds very ’90s alt-rock. What influences lead to that sound?

I wasn’t aiming to make a record that sounded like ’90s rock. That’s just been how it’s been perceived since it’s been out, but a lot of bands I like and admire come out of that era, so I guess it naturally creeps in there. I really like Silk Worm and Fugazi and the Butthole Surfers and The Replacements and The Breeders.

Why did you record on analog equipment instead of digital?
I like the method better. I like being forced to commit to something. I don’t like mixing on a computer because staring at a screen for that long drives me crazy. I’d just be constantly working on it.

You’re signed to a subsidiary of Columbia Records. What does a major label do these days? How does that change the life of the band?
When we did the first EP and the Milkman seven-inch, we were doing all our shipping ourselves. Until a week ago, we were doing all our own t-shirt shipping. That’s nearly impossible to do on the road. So having somewhere where people can order [merchandise] was a huge help … Also, having a budget and being able to record at a studio where we’re comfortable wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t signed with a label.

Your vocals are pretty cathartic. What do you do to keep your vocal cords from wearing out?
I don’t do anything in particular, but I probably should … Unless it’s been a particular long run and it’s cold weather, they usually stand up OK. 

10 p.m. Sat., Oct. 3. Brillobox, 4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. $10. 412-621-4900 or

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Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2015 at 10:25 AM

Three performances remain for this unique adaptation of Shakespeare's comedy as a Baroque opera. More in Program Notes.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2015 at 9:36 AM

At today's Pittsburgh City Council meeting, Councilor Theresa Kail-Smith requested a post agenda and public hearing to discuss the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime, or the Group Violence Intervention Strategy, as it has recently been re-branded. 

PIRC is based on the "Ceasefire" model developed by City University of New York professor David Kennedy, who first implemented the model in Boston. Cities where it has been implemented have seen homicides decrease by as much as 30 percent, according to a 2012 report.

The specter of PIRC was raised at council today when city councilors Daniel Lavelle and Ricky Burgess talked about their recent trip to  New York with Pittsburgh police officers who received training on the program.

"The model has now pretty much been recognized by the justice department as the lead way to reduce group-motivated gun violence," said Burgess, who was the first to sponsor legislation for the model.

But after ups and downs with the PIRC model over the years, Kail-Smith said she remains unconvinced of it's effectiveness.

"I'm extremely skeptical. I've heard this for six years," said Kail-Smith. "I've seen people making money hand over fist and I've seen bodies all over, people dying all over the place."

PIRC has never found even footing in Pittsburgh since it was first proposed in 2008. Insiders say there was little police buy-in when the program was launched, but some believed a new administration would change that. 

"I have had my share of reservations with the program over the years," said Council President Bruce Kraus. "But having said that I want to keep an open mind, and I want to hear from the new leadership we have in place."

It was initially retooled when Mayor Bill Peduto took office. And police Chief Cameron McLay has recently talked about plans to re-implement the original model.

But Kail-Smith wonders if resources wouldn't be better spent on other violence-reduction methods.

"Gun violence just doesn't happen, there's a lot that leads up to this," Kail-Smith said. "If it was the be all end all, why did it take us two years to get to the point where we're actually going to start looking at implementing this."

The post agenda and public hearing have not been scheduled yet.

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Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2015 at 7:09 AM

While reporting a preview article on Quantum’s 25th-season opener – a world-premiere operatic adaptation of this play scored mostly with famous Baroque arias — I wondered whether combining Shakespeare’s notably dense verse with Baroque’s heavily ornamented sounds might not be a bit much.

click to enlarge A scene from "The Winter's Tale" - PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL
Photo by Heather Mull
A scene from "The Winter's Tale"
Artistic director Karla Boos assured me that it wouldn’t. And indeed, as I discovered when I saw the show last week, Boos’ heavy pruning of the text, as required by the “song” format, maintains basic plotlines while simplifying the rhetoric greatly (though all those cuts might displease Shakespeare purists).

In other words, you’ll easily follow this opera’s story, if only because all the sung text flows across the top of the stage as supertitles (just like at Pittsburgh Opera).

Do be prepared, however, for a bit of sensory overload anyway: Quantum’s outdone itself, and for this adventuresome troupe, that’s saying something.

In the auditorium of the gilded-age Union Trust Building (which odds are you’ve also never seen before), the gilt stage is occupied by 11 singers and four Attack Theatre dancers, all outrageously costumed by Susan Tsu. The singers vocalize in trained operatic tones to the sounds of a 10-piece period orchestra, led by Chatham Baroque and including the crazy-looking stringed instrument known as the theorbo.

Meanwhile, the dancers pose, cavort and clown. And if that’s not enough, you’ll get an eyeful and more of Joseph Seaman’s gorgeous projected video, which is active for a good portion of the show and ranges from here-be-monsters maps to clouds skimming the face of the moon, animated vines twining skyward, and cherubs wafting from heaven.

It would all be plenty to look at, even if you weren’t listening at the same time. But it also somehow all fits together very well, and holds your attention for its nearly three-hour running time (including intermission).

While tickets are $48, few will say they didn’t get their money’s worth of spectacle, or talent on display.

Here is Michelle Pilecki’s review of the show for CP.

There are three more performances, including tonight’s Ladies’ Night show, and this Friday and Saturday.

The Union Trust Building is at 501 Grant St., Downtown.

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Posted By on Mon, Sep 28, 2015 at 4:51 PM

Freadom, the ACLU of Pennsylvania's 20th annual reading of banned books, is something of an all-star affair.

The readers and performers at the Carnegie Museum of Art Theater — with favorites from years past — include WQED-based documentary filmmaker Rick Sebak, jazz vocalist Etta Cox, poet and “genius grant” winner Terrance Hayes and talk-show host Lynn Cullen.

There’ll also be a banned-books quiz, with prizes, and a banned-song singalong. The event is free, and recommended for teens and adults.

It’s not all straight literary readings, of course. Cox will sing “Strange Fruit,” the haunting anti-lynching song made famous by Billie Holiday, which was banned by some Southern radio stations.

Sebak will read from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Hayes will sample Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (banned in France, of all places, and elsewhere). And Cullen will go counterintuitive by reading from the Bible, which has been subject to censorship or bans in many countries over the decades.

Other guests include Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails (LUPEC), who’ll read from Margaret Sanger’s 1914 pamphlet “Family Limitation,” which explains how to prevent pregnancy and was the subject of a federal obscenity ban. LUPEC will also serve a special Banned Books Week cocktail to attendees over age 21.

The Banned Books Quiz, organized by the Carnegie’s own librarians, will include questions about “young adult” books, which are the most frequently challenged books in libraries. The quiz includes prizes.

And the karaoke-style banned-song group singalong will cover well-known songs banned from the airwaves.

The challenging and banning of books continues to be a problem in libraries. The ACLU reports that this year’s Top 10 list includes “And Tango Makes Three," a non-fiction book about two male penguins raising a chick, and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s debut novel, "The Bluest Eye.”

Freadom takes place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, in the Carnegie Museum of Art Theater (on the museum’s lower level). The museum is located at 4400 Forbes Ave., in Oakland.

The event’s sponsors also include the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and radio stations 90.5 WESA-FM and 91.3 WYEP-FM.

For more information, call the Pittsburgh office of the ACLU-PA at 412.681.7736, go here or email 

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Posted By on Mon, Sep 28, 2015 at 2:51 PM

This June, hundreds of residents living in the Penn Plaza Apartments in East Liberty were issued eviction notices with no explanation from management. In response city officials, including Mayor Bill Peduto, met with the anxious residents to explain the tentative plans of the buildings' owners, the Gumberg family, and to assure them that the city would be working to help the residents.

Peduto promised residents that they “would be respected” and vowed to use the occasion to make a “statement to developers that we do not do business this way.”

Now, after weeks of meetings between the residents' tenant council, the city and representation from the Gumbergs, an agreement has been reached that will provide financial contributions to offset the residents moving costs. 

According to Lillian Grate, of the tenant council, some residents will be eligible to receive up to $1,600. This money is provided by the Gumbergs and not all are guaranteed the full amount. Grate says there are conditions, such as when the resident decides to move out and their vulnerability status.

"If it wasn't for us working together as a team, then we would not have got this done," says Grate. She adds that since the building is privately owned, the owners legally did not have to give anything to the residents.

According to Grate, residents were also granted more time to move out. The building at 5704 Penn Ave., will be the first torn down and residents there have until the end of February 2016 to vacate. Senior residents and those with children might qualify to move from 5704 to the other building at 5600 Penn Ave. Residents of the 5600 building will be forced to vacate by March 2017, and will also receive contributions to help them move out, though likely less than those who move out by next February, says Grate.

Also part of the deal, the city has agreed to hire a consultant to assist residents finding a new home and is working to try to get those residents displaced from Penn Plaza into the future Mellon Orchard development to be located a couple blocks from the Penn Plaza lot.

However, Mellon Orchard, which could include a number of units with below market rate rents, is still years away from completion, according to East Liberty Development Inc. (ELDI) deputy director Skip Schwab.

Alethea Sims, of the advocacy group the Coalition of Organized Residents of East Liberty, thinks the agreement is not enough for the residents, considering average rent in East Liberty is now pushing $1000 for a one bedroom, and the wait list for affordable housing units In the neighborhood is more than two years long.

"You are dealing with people with their backs against the wall with few options [and] who are nervous," says Sims. "That's the best that anyone could offer? Can they sleep at night knowing that that is all they did?"

In the end though, Grate is satisfied with the agreement. "For what we had, we got more than we expected."

Look for more on this story in this week's print and online editions.

The city's full press release appears after the page jump:

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