Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 - Top Lists Albums & Shows - End Of Year

We have reached the end of another year here in the burgh. The holidays are over and my family just it's time to for our reviews. Will we remember 2012 as one of the better musical years? Probably not. But here are our lists for best of shows and albums:

Jonathon Puff:

  1. El-P - Cancer for Cure - EL-P continues to produce the most unique hip hop rhymes and beats like no one else.  
  2. Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind - Their best since Jane Doe and beginning first five song rampage ever.
  3. Lotus Plaza - Spooky Action at a Distance - A surprise gem from Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt showing his overall talent.  
  1. Refused - Fox Theater - Oakland, CA -  Refused going out in style.  Easily the best show I saw all year.  
  2. Cloud Nothings - Brillobox - Pittsburgh, PA - Dylan Baldi didn't say much, but him and his band basically tore the roof off the place.  Last time we'll be seeing them play in a venue so small.
  3. Radiohead - Blossom Music Center - Cuyahoga Falls, OH - The King of Limbs live  The King of Limbs the album.  That plus classics "Like Spinning Plates", "Climbing Up the Walls", and "I Might Be Wrong" and other rarities including "Supercollider" still showing Thom and company still got it.
And here are mine:


6. Florence + The Machine - Paris - 11.27.12 -  As I mentioned here, FTM has a magnetic live show that just sucks you in. It helped that this was in Paris for me and met some great people. 
5. Fiona Apple - Stage AE - 10.21.12 - Loved her at this show. I know a lot of people are 'meh' on her, but she really put on a great effort. I enjoyed. 
4. Metric - Stage AE - 9.18.12 - I have a huge thing for Emily Haines. Metric can do no wrong. But they honestly put on a fantastic live show never disappointing the many times I have seen them. And they didn't this time either.

My top 3 didn't change from my midterm list. So here is a recap:

#3 M83 Carnegie Library Homestead - 8.2 - Amazing show in a good venue. Beach House and Sleigh Bells lighting crews should attend and see how a professional setup is done. If you were at either of those shows you know that every 3 seconds you were blinded by a strobe directly in your eyes. Plus, silohuettes are cool and add ambiance, but at some point I would actually enjoy seeing the band. That wasn't a problem at this show. The lighting was remarkable with no issue of actually making out the faces of the band. Plus, I felt I was watching more of a theater performance than an actual concert. I wish more had seen opener Big Black Delta because they would have enjoyed. You can't take alcohol into the theater (most were drinking outside), but you can drink water and soda inside. Makes sense.

#2 The Tallest Man On Earth - New Hazlett Theater 8.1 - If you missed this sold out show at this venue, with this artist, shame on you. There is something to be said for a sold out concert that is seated in a stellar theater where there isn't a bad seat (although we were 4th row floor). As with recent capacity concerts (Beach House, Sleigh Bells) sometimes they can annoy with constant bumping by drunk individuals or not being able to get a decent view of the stage. This wasn't the case this evening. I was a bit worried when TMOE ventured onstage in a wife beater looking like a Swedish Gypsy, but my concern was soon laid to rest. Kristian Matsson was onstage with only a microphone, stool, piano, and a few guitars. His reach and tone were unmistakable, even haunting at times. He had the quiet confidence of someone who enjoys the spotlight, but is not overwhelmed by it. My girl Sam was almost brought to tears by his performance holding back a couple of times next to me (she's also an uber fan). I won't go that far, but the performance will stay with me quite some time. Oh, and in this theater, you can drink alcohol in your seat. Step it up Homestead.

#1 Jaymay - Club Cafe - 1.25 - I already spoke about this show here. Let's just say Jaymay has what a solo performer should: wit, charisma, captivating, etc. Fantastic performance, hand's down my favorite still this year, although TMOE is a very close second.


I had a difficult selecting even a few albums I was mesmerized with. So, this list is very short with no real reasoning.

5. Jack White - Blunderbuss
4. Grimes - Vision
3. Metric - Synthetica
2. Fiona Apple - The Idler.....
1. Still trying to figure it out.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Girls - HBO Series - Season Two Trailer

Not sure if many of you have seen the series 'Girls' on HBO, but it's simply one of the best written situational comedies I have seen. It amazes me that the main star, Lena Dunham, is also the writer, director and creator of the series. Plus, she is only 26. Twenty freaking six. Unreal talent. Judd Aptow is listed as the executive producer, but honestly, that is just an honorary title for him. Oh, and she just signed a book contract for $3.7m to 'give advice'. Nice.

I just saw the new trailer for season two which I am sharing. She has a great musical ear as well.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Local Artist Spotlight - Douglas Lowell Blevins - December 2012

It's been a while since we posted our monthly feature. Our final local spotlight for this year is is focused on Douglas Belvins. Mr Belvins answered our normal sampling of questions about his music, song writing process and the reason he writes/performs solo. 

How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you?

I'd prefer that this was a band, but I'm going the solo route because it's so hard to keep a band together.  I've been writing songs and playing guitar in bands since I was in high school (I'm 31 now).  Eventually I got tired of spending so much time getting a new band project practiced up and ready to go, just to have members leave and have to start the whole process over again.  I've been doing solo acoustic shows for the past five years, and it's been a really enjoyable experience learning how to write good enough songs that can keep an audience's interest with just a guitar and a vocal, which is such a different approach than with a full electric band.  

For my new album "Wellspring," I'm hoping to do some shows with some help from my friends Jarrod Svezeny (drums) and Derek Scalzott (bass) as an electric band, and we're also going to do our best to work in Tarra Layne (vocals), though she's busy enough doing shows of her own.  I recorded most of "Wellspring" (& my first album "Dust Sketches") playing all the instruments myself only because it's so difficult to get people's schedules to miraculously align for long enough to do a few recording sessions.   

I'd describe my sound as folk- and blues-influenced songwriter-rock, though that's a bit lengthy!  I'm hugely influenced by musicians that are focused on the song, rather than just a particular sound.  "Wellspring" consists of my best efforts at really paying attention to songcraft, as The Beatles did with 1960s rock, or Dylan has done with blending the folk storytelling tradition into rock, or blues greats such as Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker did turning rambling, one-chord dance music of their generation into a three-minute soundbite that told a story within the constraints of a record.  (I'm in no way comparing my music to these guys, I'm just fascinated by their work and their processes) 

Are you all originally from the Pittsburgh area? Families here as well?

I grew up in Vandergrift, PA, about thirty miles northeast of Pittsburgh.  I've lived in the Green Tree/Crafton area since 2005.  My parents and their families are originally from northeast Ohio, so I'm the first Pittsburgher of my family.  Plenty of my songwriting inspiration comes from here - "Not My Place," "Around Here, "Been There," "Easy," "Build," "Rest of the Night," and "Emergency" from "Wellspring" are all referencing people or places or events from Vandergrift or Pittsburgh.  Pittsburgh is the little city that refuses to let anything get it down, and I love how stubbornly we cling to the past while continually evolving into a better place to be.  It's impossible to not be influenced by it. 

Do you all create music full time or is this more of a part time venture?

I definitely don't survive on an income from music, so in that respect it's part-time.  But songwriting is something I can never stop doing, it's just how I process the world around me, so I'm constantly writing even if I don't get to perform or record for long stretches of time.

Do you have day jobs?

I've never been a "full-time musician".  Most recently, I worked for an insurance company for almost seven years, doing data entry all day and listening to music on headphones the whole time.  I wrote most of my first album "Dust Sketches" and a few songs from "Wellspring" while I typed away at work, so it was a pretty convenient day job for an amateur songwriter.  I'm happy to have just started a new career that's much more rewarding; however, it doesn't allow me to sit around listening to music all day, giving me ideas for my own writing

How do you create your music? What is the song writing process?

I prefer to have the music written first - it's always nice to have a chord sequence ready to go so I can just mumble along to it.  Whatever's been on my mind lately usually somehow ends up falling out in little phrases here or there that I can piece together and guide into an understandable song.  However, I just don't get free time to pick up a guitar anymore, due to work & family & everything else life brings these days.  So over the past few years, the process has turned into scribbling down lyrics whenever & wherever inspiration hits, and hoping I can put a tune to it later.  A line or two, or maybe a chorus, or a possible title will come to me, and it's almost as if I'm trying to tune in to the feelings associated with those lines to try to figure out what I need to do with them.  

What are your goals for the band? What would you like to accomplish? Are you trying to get signed to a label?

I think anybody who puts all the time & effort into making an album would be fooling themselves if they said they weren't hoping to hit it big somehow!  However, I do feel one of my most useful talents as a musician is knowing my strengths & weaknesses very well, and being able to set realistic goals with them in mind.  I'd love to have the promotion & distribution help of a label, but I'm not really able to set off on tour whenever I feel like it, so I realize I wouldn't have much to offer a label if I can't promote myself beyond the Pittsburgh area.  My immediate goal for "Wellspring" is just to try to get a bit more immersed in the local Pittsburgh scene, and try to develop a bit of a fan base that can come out to enjoy live shows.    

What advice would you give to local acts trying to make it?

For me, "making it" hasn't had any commercial connotations yet.  I consider myself a success if I leave a show I've just played feeling like the audience's time wasn't wasted during my set, and maybe one or more of my songs made them feel as good as I do when I listen to my favorite musicians.  So looking at it that way (in a capacity I'm somewhat qualified to give advice in!), I'd advise anybody who steps on a stage or puts out an album to just consider what it is you expect from a musician as a listener & a fan, and tailor your own musical efforts to those expectations.  Annoyed by overly indulgent solo after solo?  Embarrassed when a performer rambles on incessantly about their next awesome song for five minutes before actually playing it?  Bored by long intros or overly long songs?  Well...don't do those things yourself either!  Sounds simple, but I always remember I've been an audience member far longer than I've been a performer, and you never stop learning as both, as long as you just keep paying attention.  Nobody's more of an expert than anybody else when it comes to knowing what they like about music.

Have you all toured nationally? Or do you usually stay more regionally?

I've never toured, but I'd really love to do it some day. 

Being in the Pgh area, do you find it more difficult to try and succeed?

I think the internet levels the playing field a bit in that way.  You don't necessarily have to go to New York or LA or Nashville to be taken seriously anymore.  You can still choose to be the big fish in a little pond, or a little fish in a big pond.  I wouldn't blame Pittsburgh for my current "entry level" success status, I just need to get out and do my thing.  

What are some of the obstacles you face trying to create some 'success' in Pgh?

It does seem unnecessarily difficult to get people out to shows in areas of the city they're not familiar with, even though they're not incredibly far away.  Just cross the river, it's okay!  And though it's looking a bit better than it used to, there's still a strange emphasis on cover bands and too many venues that are just bars with a stage, instead of venues made for music that happen to also have bars, that really appreciate original music being played in them.  And don't even try to play a show on the day of Steelers game.  Or the day after, if the Steelers lost the night before.  Love ya, Pittsburgh!

What are the positive benefits of being in the area?

The cost of living in Pittsburgh is definitely a benefit to bands.  We've got some great venues (Club Cafe, Rex Theater, Howler's, Brillobox, Shadow Lounge, Mr Small's) where you can see plenty of incredible national acts, as well as other great locals (Harlan Twins, Boca Chica, The Pump Fakes, Donora, Tarra Layne Band, Lohio, Good Night States, Emily Rodgers, etc etc!) it's cheap and there's plenty of inspiration, the perfect ingredients for a great scene. 

Is there a venue you have enjoyed playing more than others in the area? 

I've pretty much camped out at Club Cafe the past few years while I've been getting my act together as a solo performer.  I pick national acts that I really want to see, and I do the 30-minute opening sets.  I get in for free to the shows I would've paid to see anyway, get to meet the performers (always humbling & inspiring!), and hopefully appeal to some of their fans as well, if I've picked the right shows.  Plus they've got great sound, and it's ten minutes from my house.   

You can find more information at these sites:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holiday Programming - 91.3 WYEP

As the holidays creep ever so closer we here at the blog slow down more than usual. But take note that the good people at 91.3 have your local music programming taken care of during this time. First up on their plate will be a rebroadcast of the Holiday Hootenanny which was held at the New Hazlett this past Thursday, 12.13. Local artists that performed included Chet Vincent & The Big Bend, Neighbours and Mark Dignam and The House of Song. The rebroadcast will be done on Christmas Day from 4-5p.

On New Year's Eve (12.31) Cindy Howes will be presenting the 'Local Year In Review' from 10a - 12p. It will be a countdown of the top local bands in the area for this year. It will surely feature many acts that have been interviewed in our 'local spotlight'. Other programming includes:

December 24th, Christmas Eve
2 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Holiday Christmas Music
On Christmas Eve, WYEP’s Afternoon Mix will feature a unique sampling of classic holiday

Top 50 Year in Review
Rosemary Welsch hosts this look back at the Top 50 recordings, selected by the Programming staff at WYEP. After receiving thousands of recordings, WYEP will announce who made 2012’s list. The segment is enhanced by Rosemary’s essential information on the artists, as well as spots from a few of the artists who have made it to the WYEP studios. (*Will rebroadcast on 1/1 at 12 midnight to 4 a.m. and 12 noon to 4 p.m.)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Florence + the Machine & Ty Segall - Show Review - Concert Review

Just got back from a European excursion that included seeing two shows: Florence + the Machine in Paris and Ty Segall in Brussels. Thanks to my friendly connections I was able to get into these without issue. FTM played to a sold out crowd at Le Zenith, a large theater with both a pit and grandstand seating. With a stained glass backdrop and a chorus of singers behind Florence, the stage resembled a pseudo church.  Florence has a pitch perfect voice that boomed across the auditorium mixing with harps, vocals, strings and drums. It wasn't only her voice that gains your attention, it's her pure energy and theatrics onstage. She gracefully pirouettes her way across stage, from one side to the other, imploring the audience for a response. She really didn't need to plead with the crowd because as soon her silhouette appeared behind the glass, they were sucked in for the night

Throughout her set she told the crowd of her wild jaunts in Paris and how she really loved the city. She finished with a 10 minute impromptu song of 'Dog Days Are Over'. The crowd was bouncing while singing every word.

Another sold out show, this time in Brussels watching the spryly Ty Segall. The venue this time was in an old theater reminiscent of the Rex called Atelier 210. With a few rows of seats in the back, the front was wall to wall people in an open pit. While the previous opener (Florence) was hardly memorable, White Fence did make their mark.I missed part of their set, but from what I saw, they were impressive and the crowd was eating it up.

Ty Segall with his backing band hit the stage and began playing a thunderous of garage rock. They brought energy and stamina to an audience that was craving a good time. I left the atmosphere of the 90's quite a while ago, but Brussels is still keeping the tradition going. Stage diving, moshing and an overall feeling of sweat and heat. Not sure if I miss those nights, but it was a good bit of nostalgia. I had to bail out a bit early to catch the last train, but from what I saw they were going to keep the crowd going all night.