Monday, May 18, 2015

Seeing Lina Allemano's Titanium Riot & ATS' 30th Anniversary

Lina Allemano came to town about a year and a half ago, playing one of the Space Exchange shows, the Tuesday night jazz/experimental/what-not night that's normally hosted by a few different local musicians at the Thunderbird Cafe. At the time, she was with her quartet (trumpet, sax, bass, drums), who played it straight but solid. Last week, her return was a little different. Known as Lina Allemano's Titanium Riot, the group includes drummer Nick Fraser (who was also in the quartet), bass guitarist Rob Clutton and keyboardist Ryan Driver.

The group was free all the way (so was the admission charge, so if you missed it, shame on ya). Allemano was blowing rapid clusters of lines, never really digressing into guttural smears or high splats, but definitely locking into flurries of notes. Fraser was a study in restraint, rarely looking at his kit straight on. He seemed to have his eyes closed most of the time, with an expression that meant he was listening attentively to where the music was going.

Clutton was sometimes hard to hear, plunking on a classic Fender but often getting lost in a wave of sounds from Allemano and Driver. The latter was the wild card of the night. He was playing a Realistic keyboard. Yes, Realistic as in the kind that Radio Shack used to sell. I can recall noodling around on one of those (and getting yelled at) in a Radio Shack about 35 years ago. It might not be the same exact model, because Driver seemed to be hitting more than one note at a time, while I think my version was monophonic. But he was doing a lot of knob twisting too.

For the second set, saxophonist Ben Opie (who helped bring Allemano back) sat in with the group. The addition added another level of excitement to the music. Things were still free but the conversation seemed to deepen a bit. If, by some chance, you're reading this entry because you googled Lina Allemano's Titanium Riot since they're coming to your town, be sure to check them out. And buy some CDs too. Their Kiss the Brain disc is really solid.

Around this time 30 years ago, I was going through some sort of existential crisis (although I didn't know it at the time because I had no idea what that meant) because I was a senior in high school and not sure what I was doing once I graduated. At that same time, Pittsburgh newcomer Josh Arnson was teaming up with local underground music stalwarts Evan Knauer, Mike Marcinko and Steve Heineman, and formed a band they dubbed ATS. This was the age of initial bands: DRI, GBH, NSFU, TSOL; though none of those bands have anything to do with ATS' music. That was also the age of cow-punk which ATS was somewhat-incorrectly described as, at the time. Jazz, Minutemen-style punk, real country and anything else they were listening to - it all got thrown in to the blend at some point.

The band marked their 30th anniversary this past Saturday, by playing a characteristically loooooooooong set at Howler's. Arnson and Heineman, if you don't know, left the band 25-28 years ago. Kip Ruefle replaced Heineman, and once guitarist Arnson left, they soldiered on as a trio, save for the occasional auxiliary horn player or extra guitarist that just showed up.

I've seen ATS umpteen times in all those years. Hell, the Love Letters played the band's 25th and 27th anniversary shows at the same venue. But I felt like I had to check this one out again too. The Full Counts opened the night, playing LOUD garage rock, fueled by a lot of power chords. Bassist Eric Vermillion (once of Gumball nationally and locally part of the Steel Miners, FOOD and a few others) fronts the band. While Mr. V has a gift for a raspy garage-band scream, the songs I caught proved that he can sing just as well. Mark Urbano, who played with Heineman decades ago in White Wreackage (and several others) also plays in the band, along with drummer Mike Quinlan (another scene vet who played in Da Shunts with Knauer; as well as FOOD). (Apologies to guitarist #1, whose name I didn't get.)

The core ATS trio of Knauer, Marcinko and Ruefle was expanded with Heineman on keys (that guy can play anything and do it well), saxophonist Tim Pollock and trumpeter Downtown Steve Brown. The joke about ATS' early days is that all of the sets were the same. You could set your watch to the cymbal introduction to "Helsinki Town" as the evening got started, never letting up until "Song for Alice" at the end.

A lot has changed in 30 years. The first two-thirds of the set were new songs, relatively speaking. Knauer even made some quips about "new" meaning they were written in the past six years. Time has done nothing to slow these guys down in terms of songwriting or performance. In fact the noodling that was part and parcel of some of those early shows has really been streamlined in recent years. And by the time they got around to riff-based "classics" like "Sepco and "Louise" at the end of the set, I was kind of craving them. Prior to that, the newer ones sounded as strong as the oldies.

Of course, by the end, I was nearly falling asleep on my feet. I stayed until the end, but it was trying, after that third drink.

No comments: