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Thursday, March 27, 2014

In Which I Finally Finish Up Last Year's Concert Round Up And Such


Ok, so I'll try to make this as brief as possible.

Pffftt…Ha Ha Ha! Riiiiiiiiiight… Feel free to bail at any time. I won't be bitter. Much.

Anywho, 2013 was a banner year for concert going. I started off the year well, blogging wise, but somewhere around April I got distracted by squirrels, shiny things and my own malaise to give a crap about sharing the musical geniuses who entered my zip code. The following are some of the highlights.

Frightened Rabbit buzzed through Mr. Small's again in the Spring. It's always a pleasure to watch these Scottish lads sing their particular form of pop music. They are engaging, energetic and fun to sing along with even if all I can understand are the choruses. Brrrrrrrrrrrilliant!

mexican tacos served on chinese plates
primo margaritas are the perfect pre-show elixir
Round Corner Cantina 
Part of the joy of live music is geeking out with friends like Sue from the Special K. The evening also included a tasty taco joint across the river in Lawrenceville. I hope to hell the staff at Mr. Small's provides some decent food stuffs for the bands they feature because there is nowhere to eat in Millvale.


Unless you want to force down some overly fried bit of roadkill or whatever they're masquerading as edible fare these days. I'm sorry, it's the Italian in me that cringes at the thought of anyone eating swill for dinner, especially out-of-towners. So until someone realizes they could make a killing with an even halfway consumable menu, hop in the van and drive east, Dudes.

One of my all-time favorite bands, Guster made a return visit to the Burgh. They are THE quintessential pop band in my humble opinion. Perhaps the most perfect pop band around. This group of extremely talented multi-instrumentalists write smart, poetic songs set to ridiculously infectious melodies. Their harmonies are outstanding, and their drummer, Brian uses his hands to pound out the rhythms instead of sticks.

Their fans are terrific, too. There's never any drama in the crowd, just peace, love and dancing. It is impossible NOT to have a good time at their shows. No lie. You can't help but leave happy and buoyant. I dragged Sue (mentioned above, pictured below) along. She was unfamiliar with the awesomeness that his Guster, but drank of the Kool Aid. She could not stop smiling for days afterwards. In fact, she's still asking when they'll be back.

warmer climates and wine from a sippy cup
best. library. ever.

They're also dedicated to being eco-friendly. No plastic bottles allowed, they sell reusable bottles and bags, as well as encourage carpooling to their gigs. A couple of the band members take time to explore each city on bikes once they arrive. Well, at least they did in Pittsburgh. They just seem like nice, well-adjusted, fun-loving guys. And they LOVE my hometown, so, you know, extra points for that alone.

Added bonus: my lovely friend, Lizzie who used to work for them in Boston, was kind enough to include us in an informal Meet and Greet afterward. They are all super sweet and lit up when they saw Lizzie and her family. They graciously let us bug them for pictures even though they clearly were tired.

newest member, Luke

Sue, Adam and me

Sue, me, Lizzie and perhaps my favorite of the four,
Brian G
He's delightfully goofy and writes an amusing road journal
and more recently, a studio journal of their recording sessions

Guster at the WYEP instudio

This time through, they played an in-studio at WYEP in the afternoon. Their wit comes through very nicely in this four-song performance and interview. My videos came out shitty, so please enjoy this professionally produced one courtesy of the AltarTV and WYEP.

You can listen to the complete interview here. Guster recently finished recording their latest effort in a studio in Portland. It's being mixed in Seattle now. Not sure when it's to be released, but in the meantime you can download a free live EP via Noisetrade. While you're at it, consider leaving a tip for their generosity.

Moving on from the Guster Lovefest…

My niece, Regi and I went to Club Cafe to see the Jill and Julia show. It was an evening with singer, Jill Sobule and Julia Sweeney of SNL fame. Jill came on stage first and sang a handful of songs before she called Julia up to tell stories from her memoir, in between which Jill would sing one her songs that compliment Julia's yarn. The concept germinated when they realized how many of Jill's lyrics freakishly related directly to Julia's life experiences. It was both poignant and hilarious!! If they tour together again, I highly recommend going.

They both came out to the merch table to push product, sign whatever (including a cigar box an Italian woman purchased from the cigar store while waiting in the line outside of the venue), take photos and chat with everyone. As highly entertaining as the evening was, I think the best part was hanging at the bar drinking cocktails, eating pizza and sharing the belly laughs with my sweet Regi.

Julia and us

jill and us

One of the great things about living in Pittsburgh is WYEP, the most spectacular public radio station in existence. It is an audible oasis in the arid commercial station desert. If you love music, give them a listen. Then once you're hooked (which is inevitable) get off your ass, take the plunge and donate already! You can live stream the station from anywhere, too. WTH. Just do it!! Your earholes will be forever indebted to you. Okay, enough of the mini beg-a-thon.

Among other magnificent things, members get access to intimate in-studio performances from artists on all levels of the fame ladder. It's a fantastic way to discover new talents, future new favorites and connect with those you've admired from afar. Each Live and Direct performance is recorded and archived for future listen. Some have been videotaped via a partnership with AltarTV.

Several Live and Direct highlights from 2013 include Mike Doughty, Okkervil River, Diego Garcia and the incomparable Billy Bragg.

Mike Doughty is always worth the trip off the couch. He's a good interview with lots of intense, crazy stories to tell. He has emerged from the crushing depths of drug use and mental disorder to a lighter being. And he's just plain cool. He wrote of his struggles with drugs, hateful bandmates and his own personal demons in a raw, honest book titled The Book of Drugs.

His interview can be found here.

mike doughty
bringing his jazzy funk to the afternoon
he's a must-see when he comes to town

he will never tell the translation of the jumble on his guitar
and it is killing me not knowing
because I'm nebby and shit

Mr. D played a rare opening set for a band I don't recall
no Scrap this time, only a drummer

Okkervil River took time out to tease everyone with a few new songs of an autobiographical nature.

Okkervil River
 nice affable guys
Will, the lead singer rocking the huge glasses
which he mysteriously takes on and off during shows without your noticing

four bandmates and a doofus

You can listen to Okkervil River at WYEP here. In fact there are two from which to choose.
Also, a sampling of their new album courtesy of NPR's Tiny Desk Concert:

Diego Garcia played WYEP's Final Friday last summer, but I was away and missed them. He has an interesting history of having known George Harrison when he was younger. There is a dreamy mood to some of his work, but it's his Spanish flare in songs like Let's Start with the End that hook me. Well, that and the drummers sheer immersion in the moment. He's a lady killer, that one. Dripping with Latin charms. Oh, my...

You can listen to their complete interview is here

And then there was Billy Bragg. His activism has mellowed a bit with age and experience, but he's still up for the good political fight. Quick, articulate and smart as a whip, he kept DJ Mike Sauter on his toes. It was a thoroughly enjoyable 40 minutes of great conversation and song. Afterward he graciously jumped off the platform and engaged with every soul who wanted to meet him. The only thing missing was Geo. Billy's one of his favorites from way back in the Stone Age.

Marco, Billy and moi

He surprised us all by pulling out this gem from his exemplary Worker's Playtime album. Definite high point!!

His complete interview is here

We rounded out the year as we began, with a Rhett Miller show, or two to be exact. The Scheduling Gods were in our (read:my) favor, booking two gigs during our vacation. One at his Big Apple home of City Winery, and one near my brother's home in the Hudson Valley.

Yes, please! And thank you!!

The Winery date was his official Christmas show, but he shook it up a little. Instead of him playing solo, he invited comedians Janeane Garofalo and Todd Barry along with singer, Nicole Atkins to perform between his short sets. He had been performing a similar variety show type format called Wheels Off at Largo in LA earlier in the year.

I like the fact there was no opening act to wade through, and all the acts were excellent, but truth be told, I prefer my Rhett solo gigs just that... him, alone, on a darkened stage, with a guitar, bantering with the audience and singing until he sweats through his shirt.


But I get it. This format allows him to hang with friends, have a blast backstage and work from a different energy. No matter how seasoned you are, it's got to be tough at times to put yourself out there bare.

One of the many bennies of a solo shows is a preview of new works. The 97's recorded a new album in October, and the Lovely Blue-eyed One test-drove a couple new songs that night. They are ruckus, adult-themed and filled with f-bombs... and perhaps fans should leave their kids at home for this tour. Just sayin'.



And because 'twas the season, he threw in a Christmas song set, with his own special twisted spin.


By contrast, the show upstate was the polar opposite of the Winery love fest. He went from playing to a pack house of enthusiastic fans, hanging on his every word in a popular NYC wine club with a number of celebs present and a crew to clean up his gear left on stage... to an intimate lodge setting, not even a quarter full where he had to run into the kitchen for the encore break and come back out after it was over to coil his own cable in front of everybody. 

No celebrities. No backstage partying. No huge rush from a fevered crowd. 

Hawt Rockstar to mere singer. The yin/yang of his career realized over the course of one week. Okay, he will never not be hot, but that's beside the point.

I guess I expected more from his current home town. It kinda felt like we were crashing a private party here the invitations got lost in the mail. There were a handful of us fans spread out across the dining area. Perhaps if we all would have sat together in the center of the room, none of us would have felt so intimidated and sang along with him. If I was there with a pack of my Rhett/Old 97's girlfriends, we probably would have had a few extra cocktails, said F**K it, and sang and danced. But as it was just Geo and me… 


He put a lot of energy into this show despite the low turnout, he always does. But at the Falcon --as he sings in his new self-referential song, Longer Than You've Been Alive-- he seemed to be watching the clock. 

But you know what, any day I get to stand (or sit) in front of him and watch him perform is a good day. The advantage of this small venue was the opportunity to visit with him for a bit as he cleaned up. It was a rare treat that made the trip north worthwhile.

That's the end of 2013. I was going to stop here, but fuck it. Brevity be damned! I'm on a roll. Let's just clean up the four concerts so far in 2014. And once again, feel free to bail at any time. 

It's the end of March and I'm sure you'll be shocked to know I've seen Rhett solo twice already in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia's World Cafe Live. 

Please keep your sarcasm to a minimum, a-hole. 
Thank you. 
The Management

So far he's played six of the twelve songs from the upcoming Old 97's album to be released in April. They're super fun played by him alone. They are going to sound PHENOMENAL with the power of the entire band behind them. 

Both cities' performances were spectacular! Not that I'm biased, or anything. In Pittsburgh, he took a number of requests, and had a little fun faking his pre-encore exit by dashing behind the stage curtain which hangs a mere foot from the wall. 

Such a charming man. I love when he's playful.

He came out for a meet and greet at both Club Cafe and World Cafe Live, signing merch, patiently taking photos and chatting up all who waited. It's a simple gesture that goes a long way to nurture unconditional support from fans. He's very good at being gracious. I can only imagine how tired he is after putting it all out there on stage, so his taking the extra time is ALWAYS greatly appreciated. 

Here is a grouping of new, explicit songs, this one with an amusing story explaining where the unleashing of all the f-bombs originated.

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He rocked so hard, he busted up not one, but four of his strings. The last two he ripped off with his bare hands. Bad ass. 

such a pretty warrior
This Old 97's tour is going to be something special. But seriously, leave the kids at home for this one.

Side Philly Note: My friend, Cindy made the trek east. We stayed at a beautiful Double Tree on Broad Street for the dirt-cheap price of $100!!?! I was skeptical until we got there. Turns out it's in what's known as the Gayborhood section of Philly. Whatevs. It was pretty sweet, as was the free gigantor chocolate chip cookie. 

hey, their words, not mine
william penn and his… scroll
(the gayborhood)
cindy, planning her breakfast nosh on the mezzanine

 bottle openers in the bathroom, bitches!
now that's FANCY

Philly. The birthplace of Larry Fine
who the f**k knew

pizza by the cleavage… I mean slice
oh, lorenzo. you dirty boy

The other two acts so far this year were Phosphorescent and Brett Dennen, both at Mr. Small's. Phosphorescent is etherial, moody and frankly, rather … meh. But they did play a couple of peppy songs I really liked, if only for his musical Tourettes yips. My girlfriend coined that gem, and she is totally spot on.


And what was up with the stage lighting? I didn't know what to expect from this band, but I certainly DID expect the lead singer to be bathed in a spotlight. Cra-Cra.

Now Brett Dennen I knew. He played WYEP's Final Friday last summer. I was on backstage guard duty with another lovely redhead volunteer.

three gingers are better than one

His latest album has a number of catchy tunes, the greatest being Remember When We Were Young. Warning: this will get stuck in your head for days.

(courtesy of David Letterman and CBS)

I LOVE this song. It makes me happy to hear it and sing along, full blast in the car, or you know, wherever. I'm too old to give a shit anymore. Fortunately for me, he played this as his master set closer so I could bolt right after in an attempt to get a modicum of sleep before returning to indentured servitude at the Special K bright and early the next morning.

Both of these acts played at WYEP beforehand. Here are the links for your listening pleasure: Brett and Phosphorescent

Feels good to get this second spider monkey off my hunched simian-like back. Now I'm going to crawl back in my cave and wait for spring to quick dicking around, pack up its Florida vacation shit, and get its sun-kissed ass on the plane heading north.

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