Pittsburgh rockers Shade, through the eyes of a cultural historian, fan -- and friend | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh rockers Shade, through the eyes of a cultural historian, fan -- and friend

[Editor's note: These brief sketches were written by Csaba Toth, as part of City Paper's cover story on rock band Shade. Toth is a professor of history at Carlow University, researching U.S. utopian studies, Japanese popular culture and politics of sound art/media.]


As a cultural historian who writes about the social significance of music, I am in Reykjavik to pick up my badge for [the Airwaves music festival], and the first person I bump into is Brad [Kiefer], the bassist [for Pittsburgh-based band Shade]. He is there to examine the festival scene and do PR on Shade's behalf. (Shade was on Airwaves' "standby" list in 2007.) A year later Brad, Shawn (ex-Camera), Flash (Shade's roadie), Sean (Life in Bed) and I fly together to Reykjavik; and on the way there I get my initiation into the music of then-emerging Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

And when in Boston's Middle East, I, for the first time, bonded with Singapore Sling, an iconic Icelandic band, they told me about Shade and their co-performance in Pittsburgh. At an early morning party at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, Australia's Wolfmother reminisced, yeah, when we played with those Pittsburgh boys (and bedded in their house). Black Keys could have said something similar after their joint show at 31st Street Pub.


Hot, humid summer night in Cincinnati, circa 2006. I'm heading to Alchemize, a legendary, and now-defunct, club hidden in the downtown area. I have been friends with Shade for quite some time, meeting Matt first at a memorable party in his Ellsworth Avenue crib. It is "Girls and Boys" night for dancing fans of Britpop.

The highlight of the evening before the DJs hit the stage is Shade with its exciting mix of a sound that can't quite be described as wholly new but does stand on its own and in its unique synthesis distinguishes itself from many a music fashion done before. The combination of power-pop melodies with David and Brad's industrial-strength guitar noise (wickedly restrained though), Dave's manic drumming, and Craig's wailing organ engulf the audience. Their enigmatic singer Matt adds intensity to shoegazing's motionless performance, he is a Kevin Shields spurred by fighting his inner demons.

Then it's over, and, aroused by Shade, clubbers rush the stage to do the dancing to canned Britpop.


Here is another tidbit from mid-2000's memory lane: I am in a van with Life in Bed on the way to New York; they will play a Manhattan gig and I get the chance to see Shade at Mercury Lounge. At the door, in sync with Mercury's hard-nosed policy of counting heads-per-band, I'm asked who I am there for; as they jot down my name, I am glad to see that Shade's list is practically full. Another intense show; an intensity that I will need to latch onto later in the night as I find out that HoJo messed up my room reservation and I will have no place to crash. (Sean Finn's sister in Brooklyn, Maura, saves me in the end, graciously offering her place to stay.)


Were Shade in step with their times? They were an important component in a loose coalition of independent-label bands in the area including Camera, Modey Lemon, Olympus Mons, Life in Bed, Donora, The Sexes, Black Tie Revue, The Silver Thread, and Great Ants and, casting a larger net, I would even argue Wilmington's The Spinto Band.

Shade's artistic impact was incalculable and they set an ideal for living -- perhaps a happier one than what Joy Division imagined. To me, Shade is a quintessentially "British" band who had the unique capability to blend post-punk (a.k.a. Jesus and Mary Chain), shoegazing, even a bit of early Oasis into an energetic mix.

On the other hand, their penchant for self-amusement make them quintessentially American and their artisanal (shall we say, working-class) holism is quintessentially Pittsburgh. As Shade said in a Losingtoday interview, "Environment is always influencing our sound, it makes us who we are, and it's why we made the decision to stay in Pittsburgh."

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