Monday, March 20, 2017

Live Shows in Pittsburgh from the Last 10 Days

This past weekend was relatively low key as far as shows that I got to see. But the weekend of March 10 was pretty full, with music and adventure. Allow me to hit "Rewind."

On Friday the 10th, Kente Arts Alliance presented the Whitfield Family Band, lead by guitarist Mark Whitfield. His son Davis played piano, with Mark Jr., on drums. Luques Curtis played bass, though he wasn't the bassist on the recent Grace album.

They work in a fairly straightahead style, heavy on energy and strong chops from all parties. Pop Mark excels at long, clear guitar lines, occasionally going into Grant Green-style locked riffs, though he does it a lot faster than Green did. Davis Whitfield was really impressive on piano, soloing over vamps in a way with heavy, chordal melodies. He frequently switched over to an electric keyboard for some Fender Rhodes ambience, but it never sounded pre-fab. Mark Jr., swings with a real elastic style, stretching the beat and giving it spark.

Local guitarist Mark Strickland opened the night with a classic lineup by Pittsburgh veterans Lou Stellute (tenor), Keith Stebler (B3 organ-via-keyboard) and drums (Roger Humphries). Their set had a lot of meat and grease, including a good choice to celebrate Thelonious Monk's upcoming 100th birthday: "Well You Needn't."

From there, I headed over to Gooski's for the tribute to Dave V(ucenich). Since Dave's funeral was closer to his hometown in Harrisburg, friends Eric Vermillion and Max Terasauro put together an evening that saluted him. In his spirit, there were DJs spinning garage and psych rock singles that he loved so much. Gregg Kostelich from the Cynics had DJ'd first so I missed him. Tara Dactyl was playing slow, heavy psych, one of Dave's favorite styles, according to Vermillion.

After awhile, Joe (drums) and Kurt (guitar) from Dave's former band the Mt. McKinleys got up and played a set. At their largest, the group was a quintet, complete with bass, another guitar and theremin. But on this night, they had all they needed to rip it up. It can be hard to play high energy music like that when there are reminders all around that your musical conspirator is gone. But Joe and Kurt played like their lives depended on it, living for the moment, pouring everything into it. And the mood was anything but sad while they did it. That's the way all shows should be, not just a memorial one.

Another part of the evening was an auction for Dave's Hofner Beatle Bass. That would have been so tempting because it's one of two basses that I'd like own in addition to my Rickenbacher. But I don't have the dough for it, and since all the proceeds were going to the Vucenich family (or to an animal shelter of their choice), it wouldn't have been right to skimp on the money for the instrument. Right before the McKinleys' set, the amount was up to about $300. Whoever got it really made out.

Distro is a new "space" located in Bloomfield, upstairs of a former beer distributor. And when I say "space," I do mean a room with some seats, a p.a., a big rug to designate a performance area and not much else. (There's a piano there too, but that's off limits, as some of us found out the hard way.) However, being there the following evening took me back to shows that I saw at CMU around 1991 or 1992. A bunch of folks were milling about, talking amongst each other, checking out music, cheering on the performers.

On Saturday night, the 11th, Distro hosted the Duke of Knee Festival: Unread Records Release #201. The Unread imprint has been around for 20 years, run from different cities by Chris Fischer, with 200 releases coming in the form of albums, 7"s and cassettes. In Pittsburgh (where Chris now lives), Will Simmons & the Upholsterers are but one act that's appeared on the label. Simmons took it upon himself to organize a show that brought Unread family members from as far away at Portland to our fair city to celebrate the imprint's 200th release. A three-cassette compilation was also assembled to mark the occasion. The label's homespun approach might be another reason why I felt transported back to the early '90s - it recalled the heyday of K Records, back when they'd print their catalog on newsprint and mail it out every few months. Several people had music for sale. One guy was even selling a delectable box of '90s indie rock for insanely good prices. I picked up the Meat Puppets for album for $3 and a Bitch Magnet album for $4. I would've bought more had I not been short on cash.

A total of 16 acts were slated to play on Saturday, each for a total of 20 minutes. What I caught while I was there stuck pretty close to the time limit. Chauchat was getting underway with a set of gentle acoustic indie pop, with random sounds floating over top of the harmonies. Andy Cigarettes - once he blew our eardrums with his accidentally too-loud backing tracks - sang a great set of new wave-y pop. For a guy who traveled all the way from the Pacific Northwest, he still looked sharp in a red suit (or was he wearing a red shirt with a black suit?). Will and the Upholsterers took the Husker Du/Minutemen approach and played 10 songs in 20 minutes. In fact he said they nailed them 18 minutes. Talk about jamming econo!

Monday evening, I headed over to Mr. Smalls, not to see Tortoise but to conduct a Before and After listening test with their guitarist Jeff Parker. I did get to hear a bit of their sound check and admire their stage set up: two drum kits center stage, flanked on a set of vibes at stage left, keyboard behind the other trap kit, table of laptops behind the drums, bass and guitar towards the back. Jeff and I made our way out to the tour bus after sound check, and sat for about 90 minutes listening to music and talking. We had a great time, which you'll be able to read about in a few months. Much as I would've liked to stay, I was back to Oakland to the Carnegie Music Hall for..........


As I made my way up the stairs to my seat, I could hear the chorus of "Gloria" spilling out of the concert hall. Between driving from Millvale and trying to park in Oakland, I felt damn lucky that I hadn't missed more. Have to say the tempo seemed a tad slower than the version on the album, but you know - Patti just turned 70 so again (to use my grandmother's phrase), we should be damn lucky she was there. And that we were!

I don't think I need to do a play-by-play of the show. Scott Mervis at the Post-Gazette already did that last week. And if you weren't there, reading about it might just make you sad you missed it. In my preview to the show, I mentioned in passing that Patti might draw on her love Johnny Carson in her between-song banter. (She has admitted to several people that she admired the Tonight Show host's delivery.) She did, to some extent. When she was feeling exhausted between songs, she chalked it up to the impending snow storm (which never came, by the way) and took a brief stroll offstage for some air.

"Birdland" has always been a special piece to me, for years before I related to the protagonist. I had to shush a friend sitting next to me for talking during this tune. First of all because, why would you pay $39 or more to see Patti Smith and talk through the show?! Second of all, hearing Horses in its entirety (played in order) is akin to going to church. Just listen. Soak it in. Thankfully, she did.

For her encore, she and the band ripped through the Who's "My Generation," which she first covered as the B-side to the "Gloria" single. As the song moved towards a free-for-all coda, Patti strapped on a guitar and played it the way I like to play it - like a noise maker. She also spat fire about her generation wanting to change the world with love, "and what do we get?! Donald F&^*ing T----!" You could have seen it coming a mile away, but who can blame her. Of course the audience roared. She eventually yanked what seemed like all six strings off her guitar, providing the fitting ending to the evening. I took a video of some of that, but it's just a tad to big to appear here. FIE!

Five days later, on Friday the 17th, bassist James Ilgenfritz came to Distro for a solo bass performance. That might sound like quite a specialized type of show, but he played four pieces by other composers that were written for him. He didn't say that the first piece required him to retune his instrument to get the arco drones of the piece just right, so it was really fascinating to watch what he pulled out of the instrument. The music seemed to go on for awhile but it got pretty hypnotic. I'll admit I was a bit exhausted by the end of the night but the set helped me relax and start to hallucinate sleepy dreams. (Luckily I didn't fall out of my chair.)

Ben Opie, who also played solo, joined Ilgenfritz for a few Anthony Braxton tunes after the bassist's proper set. (James released a disc of Braxton pieces for solo bass in 2012.) The evening also included short but sweet sets by the tenor/bass clarinet and drums duo of Snake Pilson and guitar/saxophone solo act Nevhar Anhar.

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