Just a few months ago, the CONSOL Energy Center opened with two sold-out shows by Sir Paul McCartney. Plenty of big shows followed: Lady Gaga; Rush; Roger Waters' jaw-dropping production of Pink Floyd's classic, The Wall. Now another venue, Stage AE, is opening, with a series of shows that couldn't be more different from CONSOL's. Instead of global stars, it's homegrown talent. Rapper Wiz Khalifa? Check. Roots-rockers The Clarks? Check. Christina Aguilera? (Well, not that we know of, but she would fit the pattern.)
Instead of Sir Paul, Stage AE in the North Side opens with two shows by Gregg Gillis, a.k.a. Pittsburgh-based mashup star Girl Talk. (True, he's not "Sir Gregg Gillis," but in Pittsburgh, a jersey number trumps knighthood anyway.)
"I went to the second McCartney show, with my parents," says Gillis, while home in Pittsburgh for a few days. "There was an energy in the air," he says -- people were excited not just about the performance, but about seeing the new venue.
Gillis says he's honored to open this new 2,400-seat venue, especially because he says Pittsburgh has long needed one of its size. It's the size Girl Talk usually plays when he's out of town -- in fact, "if I wasn't from here, I probably wouldn't have had a place to play."
Girl Talk's been busy since his successful 2008 album, Feed the Animals -- however one defines success for a pay-what-you-want album. He's since logged hundreds of live shows, including international festivals and epic local performances at the Ches-A-Rena and, most recently, the Trib Total Media Amphitheatre. Although Girl Talk's shows are essentially one guy playing samples on a laptop, he creates huge, exultant spectacles with little more than lights, toilet paper, confetti, inflatable shapes -- and a sea of dancing, sweaty bodies. Oh, and a barrage of the best pop hooks in history.
Two weeks ago, Girl Talk released his fifth album, All Day -- as an entirely free download. While it bears the hallmarks of his breakthrough releases, 2006's Night Ripper and Feed the Animals, All Day takes things further, with 372 samples in just 71 minutes. Like its predecessor, All Day came out immediately after Girl Talk completed it, via the label Illegal Art.
Wiz Khalifa, playing Stage AE Dec. 16 and 17, is also on a hot streak; he's newly signed to Atlantic Records, following his departure from Warner. His newest single, "Black and Yellow," probably didn't hurt his local draw -- his shows are already sold out at press time. He's also made headlines lately for tangling with law enforcement on the road, but if Khalifa was worried about that, he wouldn't have named his national headlining tour the "Waken Baken Tour." As he raps in "Black and Yellow," "Stay high like I'm supposed to do / that crowd underneath them clouds can't get close to you."
After over 20 years together -- about as long as Khalifa's been alive -- The Clarks probably won't be bragging about the vastness of their weed consumption when they play Stage AE Dec. 29. But they are doing some well-deserved bragging: the gig marks the 2,000th show by this beloved Pittsburgh band.
While a lot of the talent at Stage AE may be homegrown, don't expect a secret townie discount at this Ticketmaster venue launched by the Steelers and PromoWest, an independent promoter based largely in Ohio. An average of ticket prices through the end of the year, including fees, is $32.60. Girl Talk's are the least expensive, at $28.75, while The X's Kick Ass Christmas Party featuring Cake and Anberlin (Dec. 6) runs $42.75, and George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic (Dec. 10) are $35.75.
Even so, launching the venue with local performers seems a sign of goodwill. It brings to mind "Jump On Stage," from Girl Talk's new album, which sets rapper Skee-Lo over T'Pau's "Heart and Soul": "I confess it's a shame when you livin' in a city / That's the size of a box and nobody knows yo' name." All of these local acts playing Stage AE have experienced such humble beginnings, right here, and have since taken off.
"There are certain music fans that can be distant toward local music," says Gillis, and "it can be rare to see a local opener on big shows." By opening with a strong roster of local acts -- and showing that performers like Khalifa can move several thousand tickets -- it's "inviting to the city," Gillis says. "I think it gives a good impression of local music to people."
Girl Talk 8 p.m. Fri., Dec. 3 (with Javelin & Boaz) and 8 p.m. Sat., Dec. 4 (with Big K.R.I.T and TM Eye). $28.75 ($48.30 for two-day pass). Stage AE, 400 North Shore Drive, North Side. 800-745-3000 or www.promowestlive.com