Reviews | BLOGH: City Paper's Blog |
Friday, August 17, 2018

Posted By on Fri, Aug 17, 2018 at 6:00 PM

Are you feeling tired? Weak? Irritable?

Well, you may be deficient in Vitamin Bee — Honey Bees, to be exact — and, lucky for you, Aug. 18 is National Honey Bee Day.

These pollinators get little respect, their reputations clouded with visuals of dive-bombing wasps and traumatic childhood stings. Bees carry the weight of our entire ecosystem, fertilizing plants for the world's food supply.

For years, the Honey Bee population has been on the decline. In 2017, bees experienced their first increase in numbers. These little guys deserve some celebration!

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Monday, April 2, 2018

Sometimes work is hard.

Posted By on Mon, Apr 2, 2018 at 2:28 PM

You didn't think we were going to do all the hard work of bringing you Pizza Week and then not partake in any, did you? We love pizza. We live for pizza. Sometimes, when no one is around, we dress up like pizzas.

Here are some CP Staff reviews for this year's Pizza Week speciality pies.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Posted By on Wed, Jan 10, 2018 at 4:30 PM

click to enlarge Review: St. Vincent at Stage AE Jan. 9th
CP photos by Meg Fair

On an only mildly chilly night in Pittsburgh, a small crowd gathered early at Stage AE for the VIP experience pre-doors. The feeling in the group was one of nervous excitement and uncertainty about what to expect upon entering the nearly empty venue.

Around 5:30 p.m., about three dozen of us were brought into the venue to play the signature St. Vincent guitar, pose at her bright pink press podium from the album artwork, and explore the merch table without a crowd. But most importantly, this VIP experience included an acoustic performance (“Laughing With A Mouth of Blood” and “Prince Johnny”) and a half hour or so of discussion.

I don’t call it a Q&A because it wasn’t like a press conference. She asked as many questions of us, if not more, than were asked of her, and the questions ranged from serious to silly. I took off my journalist cap and asked her what her favorite holiday is (“Halloween, I guess. Or, no! A nice Easter, actually.”) I won’t say much more on it, just that it was an absolute privilege to engage with such an empathetic, funny and brilliant artist. If you have a strict, "Don’t meet your hero" rule, she’s one artist worth breaking it for.

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Posted By on Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 9:32 AM

Attack Theatre’s latest show was inspired by the writings of Jimmy Cvetic. But this wasn’t exactly the Cvetic those familiar with his work might think of.

click to enlarge "In Defense of Gravity" at Attack Theatre
Photo courtesy of John Altdorfer
Attack Theatre's "In Defense of Gravity"
Cvetic is one of a kind: a Vietnam veteran, retired undercover narcotics cop, boxing coach and poet, and his poetry reflects his resume. It’s full of cops, crooks, drug dealers and prostitutes and nutjobs. From the plainspoken Bukowski school, it’s highly narrative, gritty (to say the least), sometimes graphic and often profane, if always also humane and leavened by a good deal of humor.

In Defense of Gravity, whose premiere run had four showings this past weekend at the George R. White Studio, in the Strip District, lacked many of those qualities. Instead, it took a handful of lines from Cvetic’s poetry and used them to construct its own story about loss and hope.

Attack co-founder and co-artistic director Peter Kope embodied the central figure, while the company’s six other dancers served, either collectively or individually, as foils for or representations of his state of mind. Throughout, the performers moved mostly to the sounds of a stellar live band playing mostly original compositions; the group included percussionist Jeff Berman; keyboardist Ben Brosche; Ben Opie on clarinet and saxophone; and vocalist Anqwenique.

The work's opening passage depicted the protagonist’s loneliness and and sorrow — a function, we’re shown, of the loss of a young child. A second, playful section found the ensemble engaging in Attack’s familiar, and occasionally gravity-defying, athletic derring-do. The concluding sequence of the hour-long work depicted healing and resolve.

The lost child was represented by a pink baby blanket and a series of toys extracted from a wooden chest; a scene when the performers array these items at center stage traveled to the edge of sentimentality and perhaps past it. (A certain sentimentality, it should be said, is not unknown in Cvetic’s writing, no matter how earthy it typically is.) But the overall shape of the work and the skill of the performers ultimately carried the evening.

The concept and vibrant choreography are credited to Kope and fellow co-founder and artistic director Michele de la Reza (who also performed), while the remaining five performers were credited with “movement invention.” Kaitlin Dann, Dane Toney, Ashley Williams and Sarah Zielinski contributed solid solos, while company newcomer Simon Phillips made a noteworthy debut, moving with power and grace and radiating charisma.

In Defense of Gravity (the title, in acronym, references Cvetic’s cop nickname, “Dog”) distills a few aspects of Cvetic’s work. There’s his mordant humor — “It’s not the fall that hurts, it’s the sudden stop, followed by the bounce,” goes one line quoted in the show’s recorded voiceovers (spoken by Cvetic himself and actor Patrick Jordan). But mostly there’s hope, and the determination to go on in the face of heartbreak. As the concluding lines say, “As for the broken pieces you have gathered, keep them, they belong to you.”

At Saturday night’s show, Cvetic himself briefly addressed the audience post-performance. He was clad in his usual backward ballcap, novelty T-shirt and Converse. He probably wasn’t most people’s picture of a poet, but as In Defense of Gravity demonstrated, success doesn’t have to be about meeting audience expectations.

Here’s Steve Sucato’s preview of the show for CP.

And there’s more on Cvetic and his writings here, here and here. You can also find dozens of his poems elsewhere on City Paper’s web site.

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Monday, July 3, 2017

Posted By on Mon, Jul 3, 2017 at 12:55 PM

click to enlarge Pokey LaFarge gets food poisoning in Cleveland; still blows the roof off Pittsburgh's Rex Theater
CP Photos by Charlie Deitch
Pokey LaFarge, left, and Ryan Koenig

Cleveland. So jealous of Pittsburgh. Our football team is better. Our Superhero movie (The Dark Night Rises) is better than theirs (the still-awesome first Avengers film). Our city is just better. So it's not all that surprising that the night before St. Louis' Pokey LaFarge played Pittsburgh's Rex Theater, he played Cleveland's Beachland Ballroom (which I must begrudgingly admit is a sweet venue) and got food poisoning while in town.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Posted By on Wed, Apr 12, 2017 at 2:50 PM

click to enlarge Recapping a night of raucous fun with Me First and The Gimme Gimmes
Photo courtesy of Roberto Gasparro/Fat Wreck Chords
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
The Rex Theater was sold out Tuesday night and packed with bodies of all ages for an evening of punk for the first night of the Me First & the Gimme Gimmes tour with PEARS and Masked Intruder. For Pittsburgh punks, this was a real treat, as the Rex is about half the size of all the other rooms on the tour.

The opening act was a bit of a show stealer. PEARS, from New Orleans, is a raucous ensemble of maddening punk energy. Its stage presence is wild, with vocalist Zach Quinn running around shirtless and wildly gesticulating through every single song. PEARS may be on a bigger room tour, but they’re still spill and people hang from the exposed pipes like wild animals.

Musically, PEARS balances heavy hardcore and speedy punk with poppy hooks, and the cacophonous, unexpected blend of genres perfectly captures the manic energy put forth on stage. It’s sometimes theatrical (fitting for this tour) but always circle-pit-inducing.

After PEARS, cue two of the most unbearably fun gimmick bands in existence. Masked Intruder did what it did best—perform poppy punk as the masked criminals Green, Yellow, and Blue (Red was ‘in jail’ and could not drum on this tour). Their catchy-ass pop is bolstered by the absurd presence of Officer Bradford—long arm of the law and band member whose job is to rile up the crowd, play some tambourine and dance with strangers who aren’t having enough fun.

Masked Intruder has some of the best banter, never breaking character, making jokes about themselves and the other bands on the gig. “Zach Quinn [of PEARS] can’t wear a shirt on stage, it’ll melt off. I’ve seen it,” deadpanned Blue. He also called Me First & the Gimme Gimmes the best band...or rather “The best band on Fat Wreck Chords, easily.”

“I Don’t Want to Be Alone Tonight,” one of my personal favorites, was dedicated to all the women in the crowd, who were over 18, of course. And single. Or maybe just at the gig without their boyfriends. This kind of goofy persona and dedication to staying in character makes the earworms the band writes even more irresistible.

Songs like “Stick ‘Em Up” and “Running From the Cops” had the crowd gleefully singing along to songs about robbing people and running away from the law, and the absurdity of it all provided a wonderfully blissful feeling, especially with “Crime Spree,” a real heartwarming criminal love story about—you guessed it—going on a literal crime spree.

Me First & the Gimme Gimmes rolled up next, dressed to the nines. Shiny gold wall streamers and a giant pink and black banner accented the back of the stage while vocalist Spike Slawson rocked a glittery tux jacket and the rest of the band donned Pink Ladies-style jackets. There are few bands that exist today that are so committed to having fun and not being stuffy and serious; Me First & the Gimme Gimmes are a perfect example of the magic that happens when you shirk all the bullshit posturing and attitude of cool and commit to making people smile and laugh.

With its era-themed records and super fun covers, audiences of all ages can get in on the fun (even if some of the banter is a little adult in humor). During the Gimme Gimmes set, there were parents with their kids, college and adult bros, crust punks, some normal looking people and cute couples on a distinctly punk date night to name just a few of the many social groups represented. All were packed in side by side, dancing and singing along.

The Gimme Gimmes plays the kind of sets where the songs are short, so in a matter of ten minutes they burst through track after track, covers of “Jolene” or “Country Roads” or showtunes classics like “Science Fiction Double Feature” from Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s all over the place and covers a ton of ground. It shouldn’t make sense, and on paper it doesn’t sound like it could work, but it makes perfect sense with each of these tracks being given the MF&TGG punk treatment. Each cover is a reinvention of another genre into something distinctly rascally and bursting with punk rock charisma.

The night proved to be a sprint of irresistible goony fun in an intimate setting that felt familial and united. It’s a nice reminder of the positive outcomes of not taking yourself too seriously and giving yourself over to punk pleasure.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Posted By on Tue, Nov 1, 2016 at 11:31 AM

The 1975’s first sold out show at Stage AE began like both of their albums — with the band’s swelling, eponymous track and de facto theme song. But this time, it was abruptly interrupted for an even more familiar sound: the opening blares of the Star Wars theme.

Before The 1975 fired off the indelible one-two of “Love Me” and “UGH!,” a modified version of The Force Awakens’ opening crawl was projected on the screen, subbing in Matty Healy for lost Jedi Luke Skywalker and guitarist Adam Hann for Han Solo. When the band finally emerged in costume as Han(n) Solo, a wookiee (bassist Ross MacDonald), and an X-wing pilot (drummer George Daniel), Healy wasn’t a Jedi, but a fully cloaked and masked Kylo Ren.
click to enlarge The 1975 bring a vibrant sci-fi Halloween party to Stage AE
Photo by Shawn Cooke

Of course Matty Healy was Kylo Ren, you’re probably thinking. Yeah, it’s an on-the-nose costume choice — the bad-boy rocker you crush on easily, but dread bringing home to mom and dad would come out as the galaxy’s most dangerous problem child. And yet, Healy and Kylo bear more similarities than their misanthropic edge. Much like Vader’s spiritual successor, Healy is deliberately reverent to his forbearers, but in glam rock, dance, and R&B instead of intergalactic terror.

I’d never seen The 1975 before last night, but would comfortably wager that Kylo’s robes were the most clothing Healy has ever worn onstage. Despite some diminished mobility, the costumes didn’t hinder the experience to be less than an ideal 1975 show. If anything, the unpredictability of Healy pulling out a lightsaber during songs, seeing stormtroopers mock-battle in the background or Princess Leia (saxophonist John Waugh) rip through solos made for a looser, more amusing show. Healy even scaled back his commentary about our National Nightmare: “this is normally the part of the show where I say ‘fuck Donald Trump.’ But tonight’s all about Star Wars.”

This was a Halloween party with the glossiest house band imaginable. Not that it took much, but Healy and the gang fully solidified their record I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It (say that 10 times) as the best M83 album of the year. It’s an ambitious and indulgent work, whose chameleonic styles almost made more sense alongside fan favorites from the band’s self-titled record. The encore alone provided the elastic transition from soul balladry (“If I Believe You”) to their straight-ahead midtempo standard (“Chocolate”), which gave way to one of the best dance pop tracks in recent memory (“The Sound”).

It’s still sort of unbelievable to see a band that anonymously burst on the scene with an anthemic, borderline emo track in “Sex” reach the level of arena-grade synth rock. The 1975 just has so much in its toolkit, and you can’t fault Healy for wanting to play with it all on one record, as he does on I Like It When You Sleep. The band certainly didn’t tone anything down for the live show, including just about every ambient interlude from the last record.

And how can you blame them? When your most adventurous album with the most unconventional song structures to date debuts at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 ahead of fucking Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, it sure feels like a mandate to artistically go for whatever you want. In interviews, Healy seems to understand that he owes the freedom to a devout, intelligent, and overwhelmingly female fanbase. A 1975 show can sound like a One Direction concert, like when Healy actually whipped out a cigarette during “A Change of Heart” to rapturous screams. But I swear, some of those same people near me were reacting with similar enthusiasm when “Please Be Naked” began (that’s an ambient interlude off I Like It When You Sleep — nothing for the radio). It’s not hard to see why he’d trust them to follow along wherever his creative impulses might lead.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Posted By on Tue, Oct 25, 2016 at 3:22 PM

Last night, Joyce Manor returned to Pittsburgh, four months after playing Altar Bar in support of Modern Baseball on The Holy Ghost Tour. The feverish response the Torrance, Calif.-based band got at last night's show was the same as it was back in late June, if not more intense.

From set opener "Heart Tattoo," fans were into it, and almost immediately started moshing and jumping up and down while Joyce Manor ripped through the song. As the set continued, the band developed a rhythm of speeding through its mostly less-than-two-minute songs, then stopping abruptly. The band was a victim of pitch, constantly tuning and re-tuning after every two or three songs. It felt like speeding down a highway at 80 miles an hour, only to be slowed to a crawl by construction every five miles. But don't misread that description of the band's set: It was a great performance, with minor stoppages throughout its 20 song, hour-long show. 

The crowd remained enamored through the entire evening.

Opener The Hotelier had the crowd so invested in its songs, singing, sometimes screaming, the words back to vocalist/bassist Christian Holden, then going almost immediately silent between songs. The infatuation the crowd had for Joyce Manor was similar: audience members knew all the lyrics, and sang along.

Joyce Manor had some, but not much, banter between songs, which created a somewhat awkward feeling, at least for the audience. Bassist Matt Ebert thanked the fans for supporting the band and coming to Joyce Manor's first headlining show in Pittsburgh. Singer/guitarist Barry Johnson admitted he has been sick for what seemed like the last six months, which explained a scaled back interaction with the crowd. Before "Beach Community," the singer gave a shout out to edhoculi (the crazy good Pittsburgh band named after the jacked NFL referee), and any awkwardness or questions of sincerity were quelled after that.

"Leather Jacket" was the set closer. It seemed the crowd didn't know crowd-surfing existed until that song, which launched a continuous flow of individuals not old enough to rent a car getting lifted onto the stage. Crowd-surfers then jumped off the structure like Superman  — arms extended and body straightened — or like the late Randy Savage jumping off the top rope in a WWF ring, with great height and form.

Joyce Manor left for a brief moment, returning for a two-song encore which included "Christmas Card" and the band's most popular thrasher "Constant Headache," off the 2011 debut LP. During that final song, hundreds of voices screamed in unison. Johnson and the crowd sang together to end the night, in what seemed to be the crowd's most passionate state. The singer, along with the choir of punks, belted out the song's most vulgar and spirited verse, "But I just laid there in protest / Entirely fucked / It's such a stubborn reminder / One perfect night's not enough."

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Posted By on Thu, Oct 13, 2016 at 5:55 PM

Switchfoot’s performance at Stage AE on Oct. 12 started early. It started during Relient K’s opening set when Jon Foreman, Switchfoot’s lead singer, ran on stage for the end of the last song, “Deathbed.” At this, a look of surprise came over the face of Matt Thiessen, Relient K’s frontman.
click to enlarge Switchfoot at Stage AE: Snap a photo, see the unity
Photo by Caleb Murphy

If you snapped a photo of Foreman and Thiessen singing together on that one mic, both with big smiles, that would be a frame that could represent the rest of the show.

Switchfoot’s message is unity. Many times during the show, Foreman stepped across the space between the stage and the front-row barrier to touch people’s hands. During their fourth song, “Gone,” he encouraged audience members to lock arms with the person next to them and sway with the music.

Snap. Another frame showing the love-thy-neighbor atmosphere the band brings.

A little later, all five band members huddled around Foreman’s mic, Chad Butler (drums) on the snare, Tim Foreman (bass) singing, Drew Shirley (guitar) on acoustic guitar and Jerome Fontamillas (keyboard) on accordion. The five of them had their arms around each other, singing, “Hello hurricane, you're not enough. Hello hurricane, you can't silence my love,” in honor of Haiti, which Hurricane Matthew recently devastated.

Snap. A frame showing how they’ve become a band of brothers, standing up for the broken.

Soon, the lights went off and Foreman was walking around stage with a flashlight, singing, “I'm looking for America. America, where are you?” This led into, “The Sound (John M. Perkins’ Blues).” With a guitar riff that could be mistaken for one of AC/DC’s, the lyrics go, “This is the sound of a heartbeat. This is the sound from the discontented mouths of a haunted nation.” All the while, footage from the Civil Rights Movement played on the screens behind the band.

click to enlarge Switchfoot at Stage AE: Snap a photo, see the unity
Photo by Caleb Murphy
Snap. A frame yearning for redemption.

Multiple times throughout the night, Foreman stepped down into the crowd, high-fiving as he pushed through the sea of people, singing with those around him. While crowd surfing during the song “Love Alone Is Worth The Fight,” Foreman garnered a chuckle from people during a break in singing.

“Sometimes I wonder how I get to these places,” he said as people’s hands held him above heads.

Snap. A frame showing trust in your fans to carry you through the air.

Soon after, Relient K decided to repay the favor and crash Switchfoot’s set. Foreman welcomed Thiessen and Matt Douglas (Relient K’s drummer) to the stage to sing the end of “Live It Well.”

“Life is short, I wanna live it well,” they all sang. “And you're the one I'm living for.”

Snap. Another frame that shows people bonding over music.

As the night wound down, confetti shot out of cannons from either side of the stage, cities of bubbles floated around the packed room, and Foreman kneeled in front of a half disco ball during “Float.”

And then, right before playing the very last song of the evening, “Dare You To Move,” Foreman put into words the atmosphere of the room.

“This is one of those nights,” he said. “You just kind of don’t want it to end.”


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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Posted By on Wed, Sep 21, 2016 at 11:54 AM

Describing a Ghost performance (and the concept behind the band) to a neophyte can be a challenge. One part contemporary doom metal, one part gleefully hamfisted religious commentary, the Swedish act has gained wide popularity by, in part, at least, following the template of bands like Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper. On Mon., Sept. 19, the band's six anonymous members brought their brand of theatrical Satanic praise to Stage AE for the second stop of their Popestar Tour.
click to enlarge Ghost shows Stage AE the softer side of Satan
Photo by Andy Klingensmith

The obvious and easy comparisons to painted, hard-rocking bands of years past are not without merit. A modern-day KISS Army, most clad in licensed apparel, lined the sidewalk surrounding the venue long before doors opened at 7 p.m. A few donned face paint in the style of the band’s charismatic frontman, Papa Emeritus III. While it wasn’t difficult to imagine that many had class to attend the next day, it also wasn’t a stretch to imagine that some had previously served as a Knight In Satan’s Service.

In terms of contrast, there may not have been a better choice to open the show than local synth/space-rockers Zombi. The duo set the table for the high production values to come with a (relatively) immobile yet powerful showcase of instrumental wizardry that, depending on your age and demographic, either lives up to their namesake with George Romero-inspired soundscapes or recalls watching Stranger Things last Tuesday. Along with a few selections from its earlier work, a great deal of Zombi's most recent album, Shape Shift, was on showcase, filling the room with chest-thumping drums and grand electronic notes.

After a lengthy introduction (the commitment to recreating a morning at church knows no limit), Ghost opened the show with “Square Hammer,” the poppy, not-quite-haunting single from its latest effort, Popestar. With the reveal of a looming, vibrant reproduction of stained-glass windows and the tried-and-true fog and strobe lighting, the venue was immediately transformed into a brightly colored demonic cathedral, complete with devout followers. The band of Nameless Ghouls, along with Papa, roamed the pulpit with a practiced and controlled enthusiasm that commanded the attention of the room.

With standouts from previous albums such as “From the Pinnacle to the Pit” and “Stand By Him,” the band drew widely from its catalog. Ranging from the vicious, threatening guitar on more traditional metal anthems such as “Mummy Dust” to the softer side of Satan as heard on “Body and Blood,” the show moved with a calculated rhythm familiar to fans of the melodic, heavy style of the group's
click to enlarge Ghost shows Stage AE the softer side of Satan
Photo by Andy Klingensmith
Despite the music's dark themes, the disarming and affable nature of Papa’s Nordic-accented banter kept the mood light. “This is a song about drinking blood,” he would state without a trace of irony as the lights turned to crimson. When two local “Sisters of Sin” were introduced on stage, Papa, perhaps knowing his fans all too well, made very clear that there was to be “no touching” as they made their way through the crowd. He did, however, encourage the “fans in the back” to grab each other as they pleased.

Though the show may have seemed familiar to patrons of Ghost’s previous visits to the city, surprises were in store. While the set list contained many of the same songs, the inclusion of fresh pyrotechnics as well as a shimmering ticker-tape shower created the illusion of a larger-than-life ceremony. Each of the final few songs of the night felt like a grand finale, and each time it wasn’t. the congregation cheered in approval. Ending with the soothing “Monstrance Clock,” a hymn that encourages audience participation, Papa bid the crowd goodnight with his final, most important message: “Drive safely!”

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