Clip: Pittsburgh CP Music Year in Review
CP Music Year in Review
Six great things that happened in Pittsburgh Music, 2003
Writer: CP EDITORIAL STAFF
Justin Hopper, music editor at CP (not necessarily in any particular order):
3 Generations Walking burned down dance halls from London to Tokyo and
back. Pittsburgh-NYC connection 3GW was brought to the forefront of the
spiritual house movement, putting organic and acoustic instrumentation and
styles (reggae and Latin rhythms, mid-tempo rockers and atmospheric swells)
back into an otherwise tepid pool of dance-music status quo.
David Long went on a 12-month bluegrass rampage. A hundred gigs or more in
2003, plus the release of Midnight From Memphis in March, took him from
mostly unknown mandolin upstart to "the up-and-coming [Bill] Monroe-style
mandolist, making waves among those 'in the know'..." He's gone from a
student to a partner of Mike Compton's, spending December touring with the
man best known for picking mando on O Brother, Where Art Thou, in
preparation for the release in 2004 of a Compton & Long duets album.
Modey Lemon (above) recklessly embraced rock. Modey Lemon kept the
Pittsburgh-rock torch aloft with three important steps: a release (Thunder
+ Lightning) that trumpeted mighty stirrings; a new member and outlook,
which renewed both the band's riveting onstage abandon and offstage
commitment; and constant touring both with high-profile headliners (Shonen
Knife, Warlocks) and in places most Steel City bands only daydream about
(Australia, the U.K., Canada ... umm, okay, I guess nobody daydreams about
Weird 2003 success stories: Beam/Opek/Thoth Trio proved that unique artists
can (gasp!) draw crowds. This incestuous axis packed in crowds (to
different degrees) while playing music that, on paper, looks like a club's
nightmare. Beam released a weird and wonderful album (Inception) and sold
out its South Side haunts with all-improvisational drum and bass/hip-hop
jazz. Opek continued teaching lessons to all comers at its monthly Club
Café residency, regularly packed near capacity, with Sun Ra tunes and
inspirations of otherworldly origin. And Thoth Trio began commanding crowds
with naught but drums, sax and bass of similarly quirky ilk. The Working
Poor didn't need no stinkin' records or articles or publicists or anything
to become one of the most talked-about Pittsburgh bands of the year. All
they did is write brilliant songs and play 'em in a style no one else even
tries. Add the threat of implosion at any given moment and a healthy dose
of awe inspired amongst local musos, and you've got bodies in venues. Grand
Buffet coupled onstage insanity with on-record cleverness, threw the whole
meal in the back of the van and toured, and toured, and toured. The result?
There's at least one Grand Buffet fanatic in every city in America -- and
most of Europe. And he's telling his friends ...
Metropol closed. I've been arguing for ages what a bad thing this would be,
and those arguments still stand: trickle-down means that Clear Channel
books more big-ass shows at Club Laga and even Mr. Small's, leaving fewer
slots for the mid-sized stuff that local promoters such as Joker
Productions bring in; fewer (and less tempting) slots for those venues to
book the bigger local shows they've done; and fewer opening-act slots for
local bands (Joker, for example, almost always has a local band on its
bills). But ya know what? Metropol was the worst venue I've ever seen a
live band in. Anywhere. No one denied that it was never meant to host live
music -- Metropol's layout was dance-club by design, with areas
specifically made to not have sightlines to the stage. Here's to its
relegation back to its intended purpose.
Pittsburgh took notice of -- umm -- Pittsburgh. It's happened before, but
not quite to this extent. The Sprout Fund's "100 Bands" event at Club Café
galvanized mainstream interest in Pittsburgh's underground; irregularly
held guerrilla events like Element 5's Momentum series and the Flux events
brought hundreds, even thousands, of people to see artists they'd never
even heard of before; the release of Advanced Calculus, WRCT-FM's
compilation of Pittsburgh artists recorded live on the air, showed
everybody that a local-band comp didn't have to be poorly recorded, poorly
publicized, poorly distributed or provincial -- AC may be a regional comp,
but it's also just a good disc; big-name local artists held big-ass
CD-release gigs that re-sparked interest in the scene outside of the usual
other-band-members set, as well as in mainstream music media (the dailies,
WYEP, Clear Channel radio and promotions).
Five brilliant musical offerings CP never covered
Justin Hopper, music editor at CP (not necessarily in any particular order):
Gotan Project, La Revancha del Tango (Beggars). Argentine tango in a
downtempo Euro-dance-floor vibe could've been such a bad idea. But it
wasn't: Gotan Project plays Frank Zappa and Astor Piazzolla with equal
amounts of soul and ease, and manages to thread chilled dance music with
something it frequently lacks: passion.
Dizzee Rascal (above), Boy in da Corner (XL). The "It" boy of 2003 won't
get official U.S. release 'til January, but since every chip-on-shoulder
music critic is including it, I'll jump on the bandwagon and admit: This is
some of the most original hip-hop music in ages. Half East End gangsta rap,
half schoolboy tears and longing, all with s-s-s-syncopated rhythms and
weirdo bass-and-treble fluctuation that'd make Dr. Dre take notes. All from
a teen-ager -- which makes you wonder if he'll ever be able to follow it up.
African Head Charge, Shrunken Head (On-U). Along with producer Adrian
Sherwood's artist-album debut (Never Trust a Hippy), On-U's release of this
AHC collection proved that the venerable post-dub label has had more
influence on modern music than will ever be spoken aloud.
Missy Elliott, This is Not a Test (Elektra/Asylum). There's some real dreck
on here, but for the good stuff is such an invigorating combination of 2005
riddims, non-boring socially conscious lyrics, humor, and pure
top-down-and-hands-in-air uplift that a few rotten eggs only make Missy and
Timbaland seem human.
Van Morrison and Solomon Burke live in Boston, June 2003. The audience may
leave a bad taste in the mouth -- after all, where would Van be today
without crystal merchants, aging massage therapists and Rod Stewart fans?
But when Solomon Burke waddled onstage and plopped into his throne, wearing
a crown and looking like he ate Van (himself no weight slouch) for lunch,
an amphitheater full of ex-hippies turned into a debaucherous
chitlin-circuit wood-paneled hall. Four hundred pounds, and the ladies
couldn't keep from shrieking. Likewise, Van, drunk on piss and vinegar,
misanthrope'd his way into the hearts of dozens of all cynics present,
berating his band and silencing hippies with near-violent vocal turns.
Five "oldies" that made my list
Justin Hopper, music editor at CP:
MIDIval Punditz, MIDIval Punditz (Six Degrees). A 2002 release that took a
while to pick up -- shouldn't have waited. Underground South Asian bhangra
taken in a new direction: drum and bass, click and glitch, Indian classical
and Punjabi rhythms all stewed together in a way not just "cool," but
exciting by these New Delhi laptop traditionalists.
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, various recordings. Sometimes all it
takes is a new context: "Dawn," at the end of a Sopranos fourth-season
episode, became desperate and terrified in that shrieking high tenor;
"Stay" is as sexual as the new Missy Elliot (and ripe material for a
lecherous Nick Cave cover); "You're Ready Now" makes it hurt to stay seated.
Van Morrison, Goin' Down Wembley (live), 1996/1998 (bootleg). A lesson
learned from a master: When, in one of the disc's near-silent moments, an
audience member screams for "Brown Eyed Girl," Van responds in his usual
Gollum-esque hermit's first-person plural. "That was then, this is now.
This is all happening in present tense. That was how we made a living. This
is what we do for fun."
Various artists, After Hours -- Northern Soul Masters (WEA) and Northern
Soul Floorshakers (Music Club). Ike & Tina prove they founded rock as we
know it with "Somebody Somewhere Needs Me"; Willie Hutch's immeasurable
"Lucky to Be Loved By You"; the Exciters get lyrically bizarre on "Blowin'
Up My Mind"; Ella Fitzgerald goes soul on "Get Ready"; Johnny Copeland's
catharsis etched on vinyl, "Sufferin' City" -- of the hundreds in
existence, the two best northern soul compilations available, hands down.
The Copper Family (above), Come Write Me Down (Topic).
Rough-around-the-edges harmony singing from a family that can trace its
Southern English folk-song lineage back to the 18th century -- at least.
These recordings from the '50s and '60s are full of earth, mortar and
strong ale; the songs, even if it's unnoticed by the stoic singers,
whitewashed with only the thinnest layer of Christianity over more ancient
Five things I'll remember from this year
Ben Opie, CAPA music instructor; bandleader/reeds player with Opek and
Thoth Trio (in no particular order):
CAPA High School moves Downtown. Pittsburgh's arts high school relocates to
the Cultural District, into a beautiful new facility, and I remain
Jason Moran, The Bandwagon (Blue Note). The best thing I heard on CD this
year. It's a fun and loose piano trio session overall, but the tracks where
he transcribes and builds compositions on found recordings of people
speaking are startling.
Ravi Shankar at the Benedum. I saw Ravi in Pittsburgh some 17 or so years
ago. That concert was frightening in its intensity; this one was merely
Dave Holland Quintet at the Manchester Craftsmans Guild. Oh yeah.
Intellectual concepts applied to music that MOVES.
Ursula Oppens playing two Conlon Nancarrow canons at the Music on the Edge
Series. Astounding. Looking totally relaxed onstage, Ursula plays these
devilish works in which her two hands are playing two entirely different
tempos simultaneously. I had to remember to breathe when she was done.
A varied Top 10 of 2003
Kyle Smith, morning host at WYEP-FM
10. Top release: The Jayhawks, Rainy Day Music (Universal). Gopher State
band makes a keeper for years to come. No-frills production, sweet melodies
and harmonies with nods to the Byrds and Everly Brothers, and a country
sound that's all their own. Plus, Rainy Day Music is a perfect fit for
73.2% of the days in Pittsburgh.
9. Top e-mail from my mother (in Minnesota) after she listens to my show
online: Please repeat in your best Fargo accent, "Kyle, I'm very tired of
hearing that depressing brat Dave Matthews. I see and hear him everywhere I
go. I could shape him up with a good ham sandwich and a day at the beach!!
Have you seen him Kyle? He looks like someone has been feeding him with a
slingshot! Love, Mom." Extra box of chocolate for Mom this year -- and a
Dave Matthews poster.
8. Best live show in Pittsburgh: Michael Franti & Spearhead at Mr. Small's
Theater. Franti is an honest, emotional, and compelling performer.
Reminiscent of Gil Scott-Heron and Marvin Gaye, the show left me energized
and with a little better outlook on some of the social and political issues
we are all dealing with. Everyone Deserves Music, indeed.
7. Best breakfast to cause a 5 a.m. burping firefit: Odd food becomes
normal when you rise at 4 a.m. each day. Funyuns dipped in organic
strawberry yogurt, Cogo's Worldcup coffee, orange Gatorade and a spicy
shrimp tortellini dish made for a pleasantly painful four hours in the box
one morning. Rolaids, anyone?
6. Local music compilation: Advanced Calculus. A 2-CD set of 28 local bands
recorded live on WRCT, the CMU college station. Great packaging, well
recorded and produced, and a way to get the good word out about the
Pittsburgh music scene.
5. Worst move by a media organization: PCNC/WPXI not renewing NightTalk
host John McIntire's contract after seven successful years of building an
audience and bringing local cable viewers information, commentary, local
folks, and many hilarious moments. Instead we get, "Tonight at 11 on 11
we'll go live to the scene of a shooting, we'll try to scare the hell out
of you with the weather, and we'll bring you a story about a woman who woke
up on fire!" Bottom feeders.
4. Independent music labels. If downloading music from the Internet is
destroying "music" as big-label and corporate execs would have you believe,
why aren't independent record labels whining about fans sharing music with
one another? Hats off to Righteous Babe, Saddle Creek, Dischord, and many
others that continue to survive and thrive in a music industry that is more
screwed up than our local government.
3. Most appropriate circus-music CD: It's one that crossed my desk early
this year, and gets played at high volumes every time I read about city
budgetary problems, and then continue to read how local political types
can't compromise or agree on anything to better off the people of the city.
At least I can pretend I'm on a merry-go-round while listening, reading,
and shaking my giant pumpkin head. Clowns anyone?
2. Best performance by a pouty rock star: Up-and-coming singer-songwriter
and whiner Damien Rice, in his own personal issues with media attention and
being interviewed live on-air. Does he want to perform for an audience or
just for his friends?
1. Things that make me happy I'm here rather than there: Free outdoor
summer music with the Three Rivers Arts Festival, county parks shows, and
Market Square; Flux events; being able to sit almost anywhere you want at
PNC Park by June 1; great local independent record stores; working with a
bunch of talented, motivated, and creative people.