Thursday, July 31, 2014

Manchester Orchestra at Mr. Smalls - Interview and Ticket Giveaway - August 3, 2014

Atlanta post-hardcore indie rockers Manchester Orchestra headline Mr. Smalls this Sunday, July 3, in support of their new album, Cope. The album is the heaviest one the band has released to date, and its no surprise that its been receiving rave reviews from critics. All Music Guide said Cope is the sound of the band "at their best," while Alternative Press called it "a completely worthy addition to an already strong alt-rock catalog."

I agree that this is their best album yet. I liked the band's earlier singles, but I could never really sink my teeth into the full LPs. Cope, however, is sturdy all the way through; it doesn't suffer from the same drop off on Side B that their first three albums did. And it definitely rocks; this might be your new workout album.

Here's the rollicking first single off of Cope, "Top Notch." 

We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ask the band's keyboardist/percussionist, Chris, some questions about the new album and band's current tour:

Pittsburgh Music Report: The band's new album is relentless. Are you finding that the effort that goes into performing these new songs affects the older ones as well? Is the whole set just cranked up to 11 now?

Chris Freeman: I feel like COPE more represented what we were doing live already, so we
moreso just gave ourselves more songs to play in that vein. I feel like we turned up to 11 a few years ago and we're just trying to keep it up.

PMR: Speaking of the new album, was it a conscious decision to crank out something much heavier than before? Or did you just start laying down tracks and realize that was the direction the band was headed in?

CF: When we were writing for COPE we were writing songs all over the map; we had some really soft songs, a few more jammy ones and some really great heavy ones. The heavy ones just seemed to stick out more and felt more natural. Once we had the collection of songs for COPE, we sort of just knew which ones were supposed to go together.

PMR: I was watching you guys perform "Cope" on Letterman and at the end Paul Shaffer called it "white people party music." It seemed like you were all laughing after he said it. Is that an accurate label for Manchester Orchestra?

CF: Haha, he was making a reference to the record that Nick Cannon was promoting on the same episode. I'm not sure if we make party music but it was funny as hell for sure.

PMR: We just had your buddies O'brother here a few months ago when they opened for The Sword. Tell us another band from the Atlanta area we should keep an eye out for.

CF: Big Jesus

PMR: I'm pretty sure that the last time you guys were in Pittsburgh was in 2011, when you headlined an awesome bill with White Denim and The Dear Hunter. Any memories from your time in town, during that tour or others?

CF: Last time we were there we hung out in the venue after the show for a few hours listening to records and talking with all of the crew. We always feel really comfortable at Mr. Smalls because everyone seems to treat you like family. I also ate a hotdog with skittles cooked into it last time I
was there so that usually constitutes as a good day.

PMR: Lastly, I see that you guys play a pair of huge music festivals - Osheaga and Lollapalooza - on the two nights prior to when you play Pittsburgh. Please promise that you'll leave something in the tank for us!

CF: We'll still have something in the tank for you guys, no worries! We're excited to be back on the road so we'll give it everything we've got

Tickets to the show are available via Ticketweb for $19. Or, you can enter to win a pair a tickets through us, PGH Music Report. To enter, simply email your name to, and put "Manchester Orchestra" in the subject line. We'll announce a winner Saturday.

Opening are The Mowgli’s and Brick & Mortar. The Mowgli's played Altar Bar last year with American Authors and Buried Beds, and again at Smalls in 2012, with Walk Off The Earth.

-- B. Conway

Reignwolf at Brillobox - July 30, 2014 - Photos and Concert Review

Jordan Cook AKA Reignwolf at Brillobox 7/30/14. All photos (c) PMR.
Absolute. Insanity.

I'm reeling right now. I feel like I just woke up from a fever dream. I'm drenched in sweat and my ears are ringing. If I looked in the mirror I think my pupils would be as big as dimes.

There's no way I just saw what I think I saw at Brillobox.

Did I just see a man playing lead guitar ride while riding piggyback on the rhythm player?

Did I just hear some of the dirtiest guitar riffs and finger taps of my life – performed with the lights off?

Did I see a man play his guitar and a drum kit at the same time, then play his guitar with the drumstick?

Yes, yes, yes. All that happened, and so much more. Jordan Cook, aka Reignwolf, absolutely blew the roof off Brillobox Wednesday night and into Thursday morning.

My expectations were sky high for this performance after seeing what the man was capable of on Youtube. But this was another level altogether. 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. (Cook ended up in one piece, but half of his guitar strings didn't make it to the end of the night.)

Cook has an incredible, bluesy growl – hence Rolling Stone's assertion that Cook can't decide between being Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

Why not both?

He certainly fits the mold of someone meant to wield the hammer of the gods, what with his sharply-angled sideburns and beard, leather jacket, and long tangled strands of jet-black hair sweeping down over his face. He's also exceedingly polite, as he thanked the crowd again and again for turning out.

A few numbers were performed with just Cook onstage, but I actually preferred the songs bolstered by a drummer and bass player/rhythm guitarist. The trio was tight as a snare drum, despite the absolute bedlam happening on and around the stage.

Is anyone surprised the drummer looks like Mitch Mitchell?

"Are you Satisfied?" might just be this generation's "Are you Experienced?"

It was almost all original numbers, including the three big Reignwolf hits so far – "Bloody Sunday," "Are You Satisfied," and "In the Dark." There was, however, a Johnny Winter cover dedicated to the recently deceased legend, "the only man that I was ever afraid of," according to Cook.

By night's end Cook had played front and center on the floor within the crowd, atop the amps, and atop the drum kit again and again. The cymbals toppled over at least twice, same with the snare drum. And instead of an encore, Cook, citing the incredible heat onstage the sold out upstairs room, moved his amp and plugged in over by the stairs, where he performed a few numbers by the door and from inside the stairwell itself, surrounded by fans who couldn't believe that this man could still be playing.

"Is there a place to plug in over there by the bar?" he asked. "How about in the bathroom?"

While Cook was dragging his amp across the floor to perform this second jam, I asked a woman with the band, who was busy protecting the stage from looters (at this point it looked like a tornado swept through), if there was a setlist I could take a photo of. "Oh," she laughed, "there's no setlist."

"That's the best part."

So how long until that first album drops?

And let's not forget about the opener! Local guys Shaky Shrines set the mood with a high-octane set of garage-y psych rock that reminded me of Night Beats, who headlined at Brillo late last year. I'm a sucker for psychedelic rock, especially the heavier kind, so I can't want to hear more from these guys in the near future. In fact, you can catch them this Sunday at Roboto. 

Here are some photos from what was easily the concert of the summer, if not the entire year:

Friday, July 25, 2014

Reignwolf at Brillobox, with Shaky Shrines - Concert Preview and Ticket Giveaway - July 30, 2014

In March, Pittsburgh got a visit from Gary Clark Jr., one of the most badass blues guitarists on the planet today. And on Sunday, Jack White comes to town.

Next week, at Brillobox, we get a visit from another one of the greats.

Jordan Cook, aka Reignwolf, is on his way to becoming a legend. He doesn't even have an EP to his name, let alone a full album, yet he's spent his summer so far playing at some of Europe's largest festivals: Glastonbury, Eurock√©ennes, Impact, Download - to name a few. Before that he was opening for Black Sabbath. Black Sabbath. And in 2013 he opened for a little band that goes by Pixies. 

Cook is from Saskatchewan but he's called Seattle home for the past few years. He's 30 now, which means he's been playing guitar for about 28 years. In an interview, Cook told the Seattle Met : "I actually failed grade one because I was so heavily into guitar. My mom always says, while other kids were out playing baseball and basketball in front of the house, I would be downstairs rattling the china cabinets."

The article continues: "By age five, Cook was playing afternoon jam sessions at the local blues club; by nine, he was touring western Canada with his band of elementary school friends."

Just watch this video, of him performing live on KEXP, to get a sense of what's in store for Wednesday: 

This is the same KEXP that, on their blog, described Reignwolf as "Robert Plant meets Layla-era Eric Clapton meets Stevie Ray Vaughan meets Jack White." 

We have a pair of tickets to giveaway to this show. Enter by emailing your name to, and put "reignwolf" in the subject line.

Somehow, tickets are still available via Ticketweb. $15, doors at 9. Pittsburgh psychedelic rockers Shaky Shrines open.

-- B. Conway

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah at Club Cafe, with Wicked Chief - Concert Review and Photos - July 24, 2014

CYHSY at Club Cafe 7/24/14. All photos (c) PMR

Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah has a pleasant speaking voice that would play well on public radio. I could listen to him coo traffic updates and stock reports all day long, from the comfort of an overstuffed leather chair, sipping from my tiny cup of espresso. Yet when he sings its an altogether different voice, yet it too is pleasant one.

My friend Matt, who came with me to the show, said that Ounsworth's singing reminded him of a combination of Bob Dylan, Andrew Bird, and Thom Yorke. I don't know about Bird, but many of the songs I heard Thursday began with that relaxed delivery reminiscent of Dylan. Ounsworth rides this plainspoken entry into a yelping, near-falsetto peak in nearly every one of the tracks. It's certainly unconventional, even jarring at first, but it adds an emotive heft to the tracks quite nicely, and pretty soon its just another part of the sonic tapestry.

The band's new album, Only Run, didn't feature as prominently in the setlist as one might expect, though this was the opening night of the tour, so maybe they'll ease some new tracks into the repertoire over time. That album, which just came out a few months ago, instantly reminded me of Radiohead. After seeing CYHSY live, and hearing Ounsworth's emotive delivery backed by equal parts synths and guitar, I still think that the analogy fits. And while Radiohead is certainly not a bad band to be compared to, I don't want the comparison to minimize what they've accomplished on this new album. I could never get into the band's first couple albums; I'm thinking now they needed repeated listens. But the new material clicked for me on the first go around, and I think it did in-person with the audience as well. 

The crowd was a boisterous one; they clearly hadn't read Scott Mervis' recent piece on concert etiquette. The noise from the bar seemed to get on Ounsworth's nerves a bit, as he joked between songs that he "didn't have to carry the whole room." The rowdies were shushed handily by those immersed in the set, most of whom spent the entire night dancing along. Some excellent drumming propelled the rhythm heavy songs, and it was nice to actually hear the bass for a change. 

As I said before, the singing was unconventional, but that's just part of the band's charm. I think the Radiohead comparisons came to me precisely because the band manages to be both unconventional and relatable. That's why they arrived on the scene with such a splash nearly a decade ago. And that's why they carried the crowd at Club Cafe last night. 

The highlight for me was "As Always," the leadoff track from the new album and the first of a two song encore. It was heavy, a little bit different, and had the crowd cheering for more. Hopefully it won't take so many years for the band to visit again next time. They're only six hours away in Philly, after all.

Local rockers Wicked Chief opened with a more conventional but still striking set. Their lead singer cut a dramatic figure with his long, dark hair and black shades. I only caught the last few songs but will make it a point to catch their whole set next time. They headline the Smiling Moose Saturday, August 16.

Here are some photos from the evening: 



 -- B. Conway