Last week was surely the Week of Music. (The Week in Rock sounds better, but it wasn't all rock, as the following will bear out.)
Sebadoh played at Club Cafe last Wednesday to a sold-out crowd. It seemed like they were thrilled with the fact that the place was sold-out, as if it didn't happen to them normally. Because of that, they were in a good mood and very talkative onstage. Well, Jason Loewenstein always seems to be a good mood, but Lou Barlow was the same way - very engaged.
Lou still looks pretty shaggy these days, with a mop of hair and plenty of facial hair. It was hard getting a good shot of him during the show. I'm always self-conscious about using the flash.
They played for about 75 minutes, including encores. Loewenstein moved to guitar midway through the set and got to sing a good number of his songs. The way he and Barlow fret chords on the guitar, it looks as if some feeble, plinkety sound should be coming from their amps. But the results always came off with a roar. Lou's secret was probably due to some unique guitar tunings. The one pictured above looks like a 12-string with six of the tuning pegs removed. Same with their respective bass duties. Both were putting their thumbs over the neck which is not "traditional" technique (which I'm sure they don't care about), and it can really make it harder to play. Even when Loewenstein played up the neck, the results were full and loud.
Drummer Bob D'Amico kicked butt too.
Thursday night, my musical week continued when my son played with All City Band at the August Wilson Center, Downtown. There were a few All City ensembles playing but - this is not just a proud Dad talking - the group he was in sounded the strongest. He was playing percussion, in this case a practice pad filling in for a snare drum. Those things carry a distinct sound too. They aren't just piddly things built to keep parents from going crazy while listening to drum practice.
Friday night, it was on to the Carsickness reunion! Folks outside of Pittsburgh might not know, but Carsickness was a reputable arty punk band in town from about 1979 to 1988. (I wrote about this reunion and their recent compilation reissue for City Paper). They performed at SPACE Gallery, also Downtown, surrounded by pictures in the Non Punk Pittsburgh exhibition, making it the first Carsickness show in almost 30 years. (Several of the band members were also in Ploughman's Lunch, which shifted in the direction of an Irish-Celtic feel.) Along with guitarist Karl Mullen, drummer Dennis Childers (co-curator of the art show) and keyboardist Steve Sciulli, the group was rounded out by bassist Paul Michael Ferraro and vocalist Maura Mullen (Karl's daughter).
The night before this show, I walked past SPACE with my mother and wife, on the way to the August Wilson Center. Childers was sitting inside and we chatted for a minute. Mullen was supposed to have flown in that afternoon and practice was that night. However, the flight was delayed and the only practice they got happened a few hours before the show. All things told, they still sounded pretty good, channeling their youth rather than letting their age keep them from doing something they used to do. It helped that Childers was acting like the gravity pole, holding it all together. The Full Counts and the Nox Boys played prior to Carsickness but family obligations didn't allow me to get down to see them. Apologies.
But the evening wasn't over yet! Up the road, and over to the Brillobox, where once-and-forever Guided by Voices guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Tobin Sprout was appearing with his band. Arriving right as he was getting onstage, I was surprised that I was able to move around in the second floor performance space. I thought for sure the place would be packed, and perhaps even sold out. Instead, there was plenty of room to move around.
Maybe it was the excitement of the evening, or maybe Sprout is the amazing songwriter I feel like I was hearing that night. But his hour-long (75 minutes, maybe?), 27-song set was one hit after another. He writes in a very traditional pop song format, strumming out those barre chords, but sometimes when a chord is attached to a strong melody, the combination of those two creates a feeling of suspense for where the melody will go next. Will it follow a 1-4-5 progression? Will it just bounce on this one chord for 90 seconds and then stop? No - they banged on a D chord for a while and shifted to C! What a release! What a hook! Yeah, I might have heard it before, but these guys keep it exciting, making me feel like it's brand new.
Incidentally, the above picture was taken with the flash on. While standing pretty close to Sprout, I still couldn't really see his face. There were no lights on the stage pointing at the guys' mugs. So I didn't really see him until I looked at this picture. Then there was the question of Sprout's guitar amp. The speaker looked like an old time box fan and the head looked like a sewing kit or something, with two lights on it.
The next morning was Record Store Day. I decided I wanted to try to get the unearthed Thelonious Monk soundtrack album so I got up early and waited in line at Juke Records. They had one copy of it, and I didn't get it. I bought two CDs and went home.
That night, Michael Bisio and Avram Fefer played at Polanzo's, which I suppose is now the name of the Liberty Avenue venue, after a brief moment of being called Distro. (It used to be Polanzo's Beer Distributor.)
Caleb Gamble and Joel Kennedy opened the night with some trumpet/drums free improv duets, which were interesting in part because the drum kit (I think that was Joel playing it) had the snare and floor tom reversed, and he wasn't playing in reverse. He also had two roto toms and a kick drum that was tuned to deliver a low drone note. The trumpet lines were good too - not just breathy smears, but fragments of melody and long tones.
Bisio and Fefer was great. Avram started out on bass clarinet, with tenor and alto saxophones waiting in queue. A few of the opening themes sounded familiar. I thought I recognized "BC Reverie" from their Painting Breath, Stoking Fire disc from 2005 that I rediscovered last week. There were several sections like this, where they'd come out of a wild, free improvisation and jump into a fast melody that had Bisio moving all over the neck of his instrument, bowing or plucking as the situation called for it.
I was fully planning to head out after their set, back over to Brillobox to catch the Full Counts CD release show. But things got sidetracked with Michael Bisio asked if I wanted to grab a drink with him and Fefer. It's not often that I get invited out for a round with fellows like this, so I couldn't say no. Then, when they asked where to go, I suggested Brillobox anyway, hoping the first floor wouldn't be too jam-packed with people carousing and colliding into each other. I suppose because there were about three other shows going on concurrently, the place was also easy to manuever and we got a booth, along with openers Caleb and Joel, and my friend Toby.
Everyone was content with a single round, so we said our goodbyes and I made it upstairs just as the Full Counts were getting ready to kick off the first song. As I said in City Paper last week, bassist Eric Vermillion is a belter and was wailing away through their set. While I've heard him do faster, shorter songs, the Full Counts get pretty meaty, with regards to tempo and wailing guitar leads from Rich Hirsch.
It's hard to get a good amateur shot at Brillobox. I got lucky the night before with Tobin Sprout but half the pictures of the Full Counts were kind of smoky, which is funny because the place is smoke-free.
Since I was coming back to the neighborhood, I decided to pop into Gooski's to see if the Carsickness show was still going on. It wasn't but there were still plenty of folks hanging around, including my long-lost friend Mike Michalski, who I haven't seen in ages, since he moved out of town. I knew there was a reason to wander in there that night.