Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Pittsburgh Music Report's 2014 Year-End Wrap-Up: Concerts and Albums of the Year

PMR's 2014 Concert of the Year

In my first full year of running Pittsburgh Music Report, I made it out to about 65 or 70 shows at about a dozen different venues across the city. As I prepare to spend New Year's Eve at Stage AE with two of Pittsburgh's brightest artists, Girl Talk and The Gotobeds, here are some of my favorite concerts, albums, photos, moments and more, from 2014.

Thank you to all the incredible, talented people I've met over the year and who have helped me along the way. Special mention to Shawn Cooke and Julia Cook for their contributions to PMR, especially our most popular post of the year, an exploration of fifteen bands that are overdue to play in Pittsburgh (two of which have since visited town). Thanks as well to photographers Jack Fordyce, Sarah Wilson, Rich Frollini, Hugh Twyman, and Alan Welding for their patience in the pit as I solicited them for advice on shooting shows.

Thank you to Todd, who founded the site back in 2008 and entrusted it to me late last year.

Thank you to the artists, especially the local bands, who do what they do simply for the love of music.

Most of all, thank you to the readers of this humble website. Leave your comments down below with your favorite/least favorite albums/concerts of the year.


Reignwolf @ Brillobox, 7/30/14

Reignwolf, at Brillobox, July 30, 2014. (Openers: Shaky Shrines)

From the original review:

Cook was a force of nature on stage, shredding from the moment he took the stage at a quarter to eleven. Within 90 seconds, he was standing atop his kick drum, head nearly touching the the ceiling, playing with a reckless disregard for his safety and that of his guitar strings.

Runners-up (in no particular order):
Arcade Fire, at Consol Energy Center, March 12, 2014.
- This one was just plain fun. I didn't care that I was well on the other side of the arena. My girlfriend and I danced the entire night.
Gary Clark Jr., at Mr. Smalls, March 2.
- Arguably the best guitar performance of the year.
Jack White, w/ Benjamin Booker, at Stage AE, July 27.
- Also arguably the best guitar performance of the year.
JEFF the Brotherhood, w/ Diarrhea Planet, at Club Cafe, October 19. (Openers: Shaky Shrines)
- Diarrhea Planet stole the show. Forget the stupid band name - these guys are incredible live. And this was with just 3 of their 4 guitarists present.

Diarrhea Planet @ Club Cafe 10/19/14
- Deafheaven didn't hit the stage until well after midnight, which was entirely apropos. Purists balk at Deafheaven's metal-shoegaze fusion, but this was easily the most intense, visceral performance I saw all year
Deafheaven @ Rex Theater, 10/2/14
Portugal. The Man, at Thrival Festival, September 13.
- I can't figure out this band's secret. They have a half-dozen or so studio albums and I can't get into any of them. But live, they're unbeatable. (And so is their light show.)

Portugal. The Man @ Thrival Festival 9/13/14

Mastodon, w/ Kvelertak and Gojira, at Stage AE, May 9.

Runners-up (in no particular order):
The Orwells, at Altar Bar, September 11 (same night as Spoon).
A Sunny Day in Glasgow, at Club Cafe, July 7 (same night as Paul McCartney).
St. Vincent, at Stage AE, April 11.
Deltron 3030, at Altar Bar, July 15.
Protomartyr, at Howler's, April 9, and at Roboto, September 24.
Nothing, at the Smiling Moose, May 11.
Any/all of The Gotobeds shows at Gooski's. 

Ty Segall - Manipulator

Ty Segall typically releases 3 or 4 albums a year, under a variety of side-projects and monikers. Manipulator, his longest album to date, took a year to put together and is easily his best work yet. Segall cited Electric Ladyland and The White Album as influences for Manipulator, and he somehow manages to hybridize Hendrix's acid guitar licks with The Beatles' pop accessibility. Listen to the guitar solo on "Feel," where Segall's guitar absolutely roars, followed by the toe-tapping follow-up, "The Faker."

Runners-up (in no particular order):
Saint Vincent* - Saint Vincent
Spoon* - They Want My Soul
Interpol - El Pintor
A Sunny Day in Glasgow* - Sea When Absent
Real Estate* - Atlas
Warpaint - Warpaint
(*: A band that played Pittsburgh in 2014.)

(TIE) Camera Obscura, at Mr. Smalls, July 23, AND, Chvrches, at Stage AE, June 11.

I left performances from both of these female-fronted Scottish bands early. Camera Obscura had no energy onstage and simply seemed to be going through the motions. In their defense, two of the band members had just became parents shortly before the tour, including lead singer Tracyanne Campbell. The tour had actually been postponed for this very reason. I just don't think their heart was in it, or maybe it was just at home

Chvrches was the bigger disappointment. The pre-show buzz simply didn't translate onstage for me. The performance was slickly produced, but bloodless.

CHVRCHES @ Stage AE 6/11/14


Runners-up (in no particular order):
Too many to mention.

-- Brian Conway

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Royal Blood at Altar Bar - December 3, 2014 - Concert Photos and Review

Royal Blood at Altar Bar 12.3.14. All photos (c) PMR.

When Jimmy Page praises a band, you take notice.

After seeing Royal Blood in May, Page said this about the Brighton drum and bass duo:

"I went to hear them in New York. They were fantastic. Absolutely riveting. They're such fine musicians. However long the set was, I could have heard twice as much. Their album has taken the genre up a serious few notches. It's so refreshing to hear, because they play with the spirit of the things that have preceded them, but you can hear they're going to take rock into a new realm – if they're not already doing that. It's music of tremendous quality."

Pittsburgh got a taste on Wednesday, but that was it, only a taste.

Royal Blood took the stage shortly after 9, drummer Ben Thatcher wearing a Pirates hat and bassist Mike Kerr wearing a black t-shirt and jeans. They wasted no time launching into songs from their self-titled album, mostly because that's all they have, one album.

I don't know much about pedalboards, but Kerr keeps his top secret. All I know is that his bass sounds like a bass sometimes, and like a guitar others. The set was eleven songs long, including all ten from the album and one B-side, “You Want Me.” Despite the brevity, Kerr used 5 different bass throughout the set, which helped to vary the band's sound beyond what you'd expect from a simple drum and bass combo.

The first few songs sounded like a heavier Black Keys. (The Stones reinvented blues so there's precedent for another British band to do the same, right?) Then came “Little Monster,” a #1 hit in the UK that saw Kerr crooning like Josh Homme and playing to the stacks of Fenders behind him. Toward the end it was more metal than rock, a shade below JEFF the Brotherhood.

For the last song, Thatcher jumped up on top of the amps and Kerr hopped the barricade to perform in the crowd. The set – which Page hinted at – wasn't more than 45 minutes long. Which is a shame, because the crowd was really starting to get into it; I expected people to start to crowd surf at any moment. But what a performance it was. I hate to say it, but I don't expect to see them back in Pittsburgh again for a long, long time. If at all.

One other thing: Everyone knows that Brits sound American when they sing, but when it came time for crowd banter I couldn't understand a word of what was said. I'm pretty sure Kerr asked if everyone was having a good time, and said that he was glad to be in Pittsburgh. In fact, I think he said he had never even heard of Pittsburgh before they arrived. But take that all with a heavy grain of salt. The fact that Kerr drank at least half a bottle of Jack during the set probably didn't help.

Here are some photos of the performance: 

-- B. Conway

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Apache Relay at Club Cafe - Concert Photos and Review - November 23, 2014

Michael Ford Jr. of The Apache Relay, 11/23/14, Club Cafe. All photos (c) PMR.

Very good performance by The Apache Relay at a nearly sold out Club Cafe last night. Yet I still can't figure out what type of music they played. Rock for sure. Indie rock? Nah. Southern rock? Not really. Folk Rock? Kind of...

The band is made up of bass, guitar, drums, two keyboardists, and the lead singer, Michael Ford Jr., who trades off between electric and acoustic as the night progresses. On some songs one of the two keyboardists would play the fiddle, while the other contributes the occasional guitar. This varied instrumentation is used to create intricate, multi-layered harmonies that define an otherwise difficult to classify texture of sound. (Lead single “Katie Queen of Tennessee,” with its soaring violin, is as much Camera Obscura as it is Avett Brothers.)

Apache Relay has opened up for bands like Mumford and Sons, and it's no surprise why. Ford is a handsome bloke with a commanding stage presence – he has a great voice with a surprisingly dynamic range and is confident enough to carry a room.

So what is it? Pastoral Americana? Indie roots-pop?

Whatever it is, it's working. The band was originally slated to play Mr. Smalls but the show was moved to Club Cafe when ticket sales lagged. Don't be surprised if they sell out Smalls in the near future.

Here are some photos from the evening: 


Don’t Leave Me Now
Sets Me Free
American Nomad
Power Hungry Animals
Good as Gold
Can’t Wake Up
Tongue Tied
White Light
Katie Queen of Tennessee
Growing Pains
Terrible Feeling
Lost Kid
Further North
State Trooper
Valley of the Fevers

Watering Hole (acoustic)

-- B. Conway

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist's Renegades of Rhythm Tour - Photos and Concert Review - Mr Smalls - November 14, 2014

DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist at Mr. Smalls 11/14/14. All photos (C) PMR.
A sold out crowd got schooled to the old school by DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist at Mr. Smalls Friday night.

The two took the stage a little past 10pm, and Shadow took the mic to explain that this wasn't a normal tour, that they would spinning nothing but Afrika Bambaataa's records, that this was a tremendous privilege...

“No one fucking cares!” yelled out some drunk dude near the front.

Shadow called the guy out on it, and boos rained down on the dude from the rest of the crowd. This was easily the drunkest crowd I saw all year – maybe the late start had something to do with it – and within two minutes of the set start I saw a woman slap a guy right across his face.

Drunk people aside, Cut and Shadow each had three decks and a box full of wax apiece. A projector behind the duo set the mood with cel-shaded animation of 1970s Manhattan at dusk. The background changed as the evening and music progressed, ranging from subway cars bombed-out with graffiti to the actual album covers themselves, with “Property of Afrika Bambaataa” written in indelible marker on the front.

The entire set, which was broken up into two fifty-minute halves, was heavy on the deep cuts but not to the point of obscurity. There were plenty of moments when a certain breakbeat or lyrical refrain would come in, and knowing glances and nudges would spread through the crowd. A couple times the two DJs would show off their skills by scratching together, but mostly they let the music take the lead.

Shadow and Cut each took turns schooling the crowd on the origins of hip-hop as the set progressed, the music being played in chronological order. At one point Shadow praised Bambaataa for never swinging toward the mainstream as his popularity expanded. This, he said, is the biggest reason he admires Bambaataa.

With about thirty minutes to go in the set, after Cut Chemist encouraged the b-boys and b-girls to form a circle in the crowd, a drunk woman squeezed next to me near the stage and immediately took 3 or 4 snapchat videos in a row. “Were you here the last time [DJ Shadow] was here?” she asked me. “He played nothing but trap beats the whoooooole time. This is different.”

It was around this time that the original drunk guy made friends with another drunk guy, and they both started to chant “Entroducing” during the quiet moments. Cut turned to Shadow around that point and said something like “this guy's going to see you on tour in two years and start chanting for Renegades of Rhythm."

“This is something you'll tell your grandkids about,” said Shadow, toward the end of the nearly two hour set. A few came out to hear J5 and "The Number Song," but they ended up missing out on a master class given by two of the best to do have ever done it

Here are some photos from the evening: 

-- B. Conway

Thursday, November 13, 2014

DJ Shadow Interview - Renegades of Rhythm Tour - November 14, 2014 - Mr. Smalls Theater

DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist bring their Renegades of Rhythm tour to Mr. Smalls this Friday. We previewed the tour yesterday, but here again is the official description: 

Music fans are in for a once-in-a-lifetime experience when turntablists supreme DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist celebrate the legacy of Hip-Hop vanguard and Universal Zulu Nation founder, Afrika Bambaataa on their Renegades of Rhythm tour this fall.  Using only vinyl pulled from Bambaataa’s historic collection – over 40,000 strong and permanently archived at Cornell University – DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist aim to present Bambaataa’s legacy in all its genre-busting and socially-minded complexity.

We were honored to be able to speak with DJ Shadow about the current tour, the legacy of Entroducing..., and his favorite record shops in Pittsburgh.

Whose idea was it to have you and Cut Chemist team up in this unique way to honor Afrika Bambaataa?

The responsibility for that goes to a guy named Johan Kugelberg. He initially met all the Zulu guys through working with Buddy Esquire's collection. Buddy Esquire was kind ofthe “flier king.” He's the one who designed a lot of the famous old school fliers starting in the late 70s, and his style has been much imitated through the years.

And, [Kugelberg] ended up getting involved with Cornell University, and helping them kind of start up their hip-hop collection there at the university, like a permanent archive. And since then, Bambaataa donated his [record] collection to Cornell, and it was Johan's idea that, before the collection moves to Cornell, from Queens, that Cut and I go through his collection and build a set, kind of as a way to get the records out there and keep them in circulation in a way, and keep them in people's ears, and kind of bring the whole collection back to life in a way. And, we wanted to make sure Bambaataa was cool with that. And once we got his OK we had to roll up our sleeves and go through all the records and try to build something cohesive.

Do you remember the first time you met Bambaataa?

Well, the first time I met him was sometime in the 90s. He was walking by me in an airport. And, so I just sort of said, “Hey, peace,” you know? (*chuckles*) And then I saw him play a couple of times in the late 90s. But, I really didn't kind of meet him since then – he really didn't know who I was back then – and I never didn't really meet him since then. I talked to him on the phone a few times in the last year, and met him in person again when he came to the first New York show about a month and a half ago.

Talk a bit about the tour so far, and especially your relationship with Cut. You two have been touring together and collaborating together for like 20 years now.

A little less than that (*chuckles*) Yeah, I mean, we first met like twenty years ago and then he did my “Number Song” remix. That was kind of our first collaboration on wax, I guess you would say. And then of course we did Brainfreeze together, in 1999. And then that started everything that came after.

But yeah, the tour has been great. And, you know, we were always very interested in the subject matter, and it was a dream for us because we both love hip-hop, and we both love the roots of it, but its difficult I think to – I think for us to just go out and play that music, without any kind of broader context, its difficult to make it interesting. So when we were asked to be a part of this tour, and to do this, I think we both saw it as a really good opportunity to kind of air this side of our personality and air this side of our musical upbringing and heritage in a context that we can really get behind. Because I think its an easy show to love, and it's been really satisfying, because I haven't done a vinyl-only show in seven years. Cut and I haven't played together in eight years. So, it just sort of felt like a good, fun thing to do, very different from a lot of the stuff I've been doing lately, which is kind of playing really ultra-contemporary stuff- which is also really fun and great, and its kind of the other side of my personality. But, I would say this side of DJing and that kind of “back to the essence” style of DJing is something I very rarely get a chance to do.

Now what was it like the first time you got your hands on Bambaataa's record collection? I read somewhere it took you guys, like, four weeks or six weeks to pare it down to the 500 or so records you're using on this tour.

All told, yeah, I'd say about five weeks, including the time it took to go through the collection, to set it aside to play through the hundreds of records we didn't know. There were a lot of records that looked interesting, and especially crucial to us was for it to look like he had played them. A lot of disco we didn't know. A lot of calypso, and soca, and salsa, and West African music we needed to play through – dancehall, stuff like that. Because we felt like we wanted to represent a little bit of everything. We didn't want it to necessarily be the most famous records, or the rarest records, or the most expensive records. We really kinda wanted it to reflect him and his totality before he got famous as well.

So yeah, we had to play through a lot of stuff. I'd say it took about two weeks to play through everything and kind of make piles - “yes or no” piles, and “ok, these can go back,” because the thing is we don't own any of these records. These records are all on loan. We ended up sending back about two-thirds of what we pulled. And then, built the set based on the part that we held back.

Now, sticking with the record theme, I was watching that documentary Scratch, and in it Cut calls you the “King of Digging.” Now, whenever you're in Pittsburgh, are there any record shops you like to stop at?

Yeah I mean I first started going to Pittsburgh to look for records in the late 90s. And it was really great back then for sure. A lot of places have closed, obviously, but Jerry's is great. And I still like to go to The Attic, which is in that little nook... its not in Pittsburgh proper...

Millvale – your concert is like two blocks from Attic Records

The venue is like two block from The Attic? Is that what you said?


Oh, wow, crazy. Yeah, I guess that's where we're playing. So yeah, those are two great places. I think Jerry's is really a great store. Really well – you know, a really high turnover, always new stuff, and really reasonably priced. You can get lost in there for a long time (*chuckles*). So I really like it.

Yeah, we've all been there. Sticking with the Pittsburgh theme, what do you make of what Girl Talk is doing? He's doing something similar to what you did in the past, but in his own manic type of way.

I mean, mash-ups are really nothing new to DJ culture. And especially growing up, watching someone like Z-trip play a lot, I mean he really put mash-ups on the table, and really kind of took it there, and built a reputation off of it. So I mean, I don't know, I don't really like to criticize what anybody else is doing, or, you know, there's so many different ways to express yourself in DJing, and so many different types of technology in which to convey that expression. I mean, not every style is necessarily for me, but, you know, I'm not one to be like, “oh, this is the right way, that's the wrong way,” or anything like that. So, you know, whatever works for people. And people seem to – it seems to resonate with people, 'cause he's obviously built a huge reputation and plays to huge crowds and stuff, so yeah, whatever works, as far as I'm concerned.

Fair enough. So, looking back a bit, when Entroducing... was released, obviously, you know, overwhelming amount of critical acclaim, everything like that. When you were putting the record together, did you realize you were doing something that was going to be seen as “groudbreaking,” or did you have any idea that the album would be as well-received as it was?

Uh, no. I don't think anybody's... I mean, I guess I read a lot about music, and I read how certain artists promise everybody around them that it's gonna be a huge record, or whatever. But, no, that's not ever really been my personality. And I really had no idea. I mean, at the time – and I've kind of gone on record in the past saying this – at the time I was worried that I kind of missed the boat, because, the [self-titled] Portishead album came out. And, it was getting all kinds of praise and applause. And I was worried because I was working on Entroducing... when that came out, and I was worried that “oh, I wonder if this was a one time thing,” even though their music is obviously so different from mine. But, you know, the press can often, you know, pit artists against each other, and compare records to one another. So I was really worried that when my album finally did come out, that it would be compared unfavorably to other things that had come out just prior.

So, I really didn't know what to expect. And you know, the thing is that the reputation that the album has is something that grew over time; it wasn't an immediate, out of the box, smash success – definitely not sales wise. And it took a long time for the album to resonate in this country, in the U.S.. It took on a life of its own in the U.K., beyond what it ever did here in America. And I think that, I think its safe to say that Entroducing..., it resounds with a generation of people in the UK. Its very emblematic of a time in their life, in the same way that maybe something like The Jefferson Airplane's first album was in this country, and certain records of that ilk. And I'm not comparing my music to that in terms of importance or in terms of significance, I just mean to say that I hear from people in the UK a lot, and the way the album is, you know, kind of talked about in the press in the UK, it was like an album of people's lives at that time. And that's – here, it was always an underground kind of cult thing. So its just interesting the contrasts between, you know, when I would be spending time in the UK and when I would come home.

Who do you think is doing something really original these day. What's the last record you listened to that made you stop and just say, “wow.”

Well I mean, I hear stuff all the time that I really like. And I mean, up until June or so I was doing DJ sets of really contemporary stuff. I'm actually going to be releasing music of one artist that I kind of discovered in my own way, really kind of naturally and organically. Its a guy – a kid named Bleep Bloop -that's what he records under is "Bleep Bloop." So I'm going to be putting out a few of his beats. Hopefully next month.

Last question, I gotta ask. Whose got the better collection, you or Bambaataa.

(*chuckles*) Well, I mean, most of Bambaataa's collection now resides in the Cornell University, so I guess by default, I do now. I mean, that's sort of a glib way of answering, but you know what I'm saying.

You can say Cornell does.

Yeah, Cornell does. It's just been a total honor to be able to go through the collection, and then all the epiphanies that Cut and I had while looking at the records. And realizing – its not an immediate thing, it takes a little bit of time – I was sitting there and going, “these are not just any copies of these records. These are the original copies that really set the entire culture into motion." For that reason alone Bambaataa wins hands down.

-- B. Conway

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist's Renegades of Rhythm tour - Concert Preview and Ticket Giveaway - November 14, 2014

Two of the greatest turntablists in history will visit Pittsburgh Friday, when DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist bring pure, unadulterated hip-hop to Mr. Smalls.

DJ Shadow is best known for his album Entroducing..., which is widely viewed as of one of the greatest albums of all time, of any genre. It was one of the first albums to be created entirely from samples from other records, mostly records that Shadow picked up at various record stores over the years.

When Entroducing... first came out, there was nothing like it. Entertainment Weekly said that the album "takes hip-hop into the next dimension,” while Alternative Press called it “an undeniable hip-hop masterpiece.” Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, AllMusic, Slant, The Guardian, and many more gave the album a perfect review.

Cut Chemist founded one of the biggest hip hop groups of the 90s in Jurassic 5, and he and Shadow are longtime friends who have collaborated together for years. Here's an entire set of them performing together back in 2000:

While this would be a can't-miss tour on its own, there is also a larger purpose. The two men are exclusively spinning records from hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa's personal collection. From the tour's PR:

Using only vinyl pulled from Bambaataa’s historic collection – over 40,000 strong and permanently archived at Cornell University – DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist aim to present Bambaataa’s legacy in all its genre-busting and socially-minded complexity.

The program will be multifaceted,” DJ Shadow explains. “Bambaataa as artist, exploring the influence of his classics like ‘Planet Rock;’ Bambaataa as collector, and the genre-defining breaks he discovered; and Bambaataa as peacemaker and force for social change. He influenced an entire generation worldwide, so we feel a great obligation to get it right.”
Naturally, it was paramount to the two DJ’s that the tour have the full blessing and support of Afrika Bambaataa himself. “I call on all who love Hip-Hop to come out, see them, hear them,” says the Godfather. “My story is our history in DJing.”

DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist are both music legends in their own right, and they are performing together to honor a third. This performance should be nothing short of unforgettable.

We have a pair of tickets to giveaway for this show. To enter, send your name to pghmusicreport at, and put “DJ Shadow” in the subject line. We'll announce a winner Thursday morning.

– B. Conway

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Bassnectar at Stage AE - October 15, 2014 - Photos

PMR cub-reporter Zack traveled to Stage AE a few weeks ago to cover Bassnectar's sold out show in Pittsburgh. The photos young Zack brought back are an unflinching chronicle of his evolution into manhood, wrought forth by tribal rhythms and pounding bass. Go forth, young Zack, and preach to the youth of Blawnox and beyond that music, and dancing, satisfies the soul.