Monday, September 29, 2014

Bee vs. Moth - Concert Preview and Album Giveaway - VIA Festival - Thunderbird Cafe - October 3, 2014

Bee vs. Moth. Photo Credit Will Branch
Far-out Austin instrumental rock/jazz ensemble Bee vs. Moth play the Thunderbird in Lawrenceville as part of VIA Festival. The band's press kit describes them as having one foot in the world of jazz and creative improvisation, and the other firmly planted on a distortion pedal.”

The band is a three-piece at its core – Sarah Norris (percussion), Philip Moody (bass), and James Fidlon (guitar) – but their studio albums feature a number of guest musicians, who bring along horn and sax appeal.

Sarah and Philip were kind enough to answer some questions for us before their show Friday

Pittsburgh Music Report: The Austin Sound said your music "falls somewhere between jazz and Zappa." Is that a fair assessment?

Bee vs. Moth: Maybe not fair to Zappa, but this description does help convey what we're doing. We're not a rock/pop band, but we're not a jazz band either.

PMR: Do you play many jazz venues? How do the crowds react to your unconventional style and makeup?

BvM: We mostly play rock clubs and alternative venues like theaters and galleries. Crowd reactions run from wildly enthusiastic to politely confused. Many people are very excited that we are trying to do something a little different. Some people just don't have experience interacting with a band that has no vocals.

PMR: The core of the band is a three-piece, but your albums have a lot more instrumentation than that. How many other musicians accompany you on tour?

BvM: We almost always play as a five-piece, with guitar, bass, drums, and two horns. We sometimes play with just one horn player, and we just did a local show with a great sounding three-piece horn line. The changes keeps things fresh. Whether we have a trumpet or sax or trombone will guide what songs we pick and how we play them.

PMR: How much space do you leave for improvisation when you perform live?

BvM: There is a fair amount. The arrangements we tend to leave alone. The songs though have sections for individual solos and for group improvised sections. Also, people in the band will ad lib a lot of their arranged parts rather than play note-for-note the same thing every time.

PMR: Do you ever feel like its harder for you to find venues to play or bills to share since your sound is not so easily classifiable?

BvM: Sometimes yes, but we also get treated really well at places that embrace unusual music.

PMR: What type of music do you listen to in your free time? Any up-and-coming Austin groups we should be aware of?

BvM: We are into lots of kinds of music, and in our free time we are usually trying to catch up on whatever we picked up most recently. Lately, we've been listening to new Nels Cline, Red Fang, and a giant early Ellington box set from Mosaic. We've played recent Austin shows with Peter Stopschinski, Foot Patrol, Poon, and Stop Motion Orchestra - they're all great and worth a listen.

PMR: Had you heard of VIA before? It seems like you're a good match for their sort of avant-garde ethos.

BvM: Somehow no we had not heard of VIA. We were planning a tour to play Sonic Circuits in DC, and we wound up contacting a venue that is part of VIA. The fit is great, and we're so glad to be a part of all this.

PMR: Besides VIA, is there anything in particular that you're looking forward to during your brief stay in Pittsburgh?

BvM: We're just looking forward to seeing the city and getting a feel for what's going on there. We've been told it's a really nice place that people in other parts of the country don't always hear a lot about.

The band's albums are available through their website. We also have a copy of their latest, Shelter in Place, to giveaway. To enter, simply send an email to, and put “Bee vs. Moth” in the subject line. We'll announce a winner sometime this weekend.

B. Conway

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

White Denim at Mr. Smalls - September 16, 2014 - Photos and Concert Review

James Petralli of White Denim. All photos (c) PMR

Fun, freewheeling performance by White Denim at Mr. Smalls Tuesday. The whole evening had an easygoing vibe. The band's guitarist and bass player worked the merch table before the show and chatted with fans. Then, after the opener, Clear Plastic Masks (who nearly started their set without their guitarist, who had gone missing), White Denim came on stage and set up all their own gear.

The performance itself felt like one big medley, with very few breaks in between songs, which easily bled into one another during some viruosic jamming from all four bandmembers. There were jazzy interludes and extended solos.  The band mostly played songs off their new album, the excellent Corsicana Lemonade, and a few off of D. When there was a break in the music, to allow the band to catch their collective breaths, lead singer James Petralli had very little to say the crowd. I feel like this let the energy sag and put a bit of a damper on what was otherwise an extremely enjoyable performance.

At one break someone yelled out that the band should play "All Consolation," a deep cut off of Fits. "You wanna do that one?" Petralli asked the band. And off they went, at a breakneck punk intensity that harkened back to their early days as a trio.

After the performance - no encore was necessary - all four of the members stuck around to sign autographs and take pictures. The fans were breathless with their praise.

Here are some photos from the evening:



-- B. Conway

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Thrival Festival - Day One Recap

Portugal. The Man. At Thrival Festival. All photos (c) PMR.
A friend of mine is in from out of town, so I didn't make it over to East Liberty to Thrival until halfway through Talib Kweli's set. The crowd responded well to the set, even if, as Kweli noted, his was probably the first hip-hop concert for most of the people in attendance. 

Phosphorescent hit the stage next. In January, when Phosphorescent played Mr. Smalls, it was mostly a one man gig, with the band exiled to the corners of the stage. The songs never really picked up, and Houck did this weird five minute thing with tape loops that cleared out half the crowd. Well, tonight, Phosphorescent behaved like a rock band. Not only was the bass player swigging Jameson, but a number of the songs turned into lengthy jams that bordered on country-psychedelic.

Portugal. The Man headlined the evening. The announcer/MC, after asking everyone to applaud the corporate sponsors and buy tickets for tomorrow, introduced the band as "the best live band on Earth." Or some such superlative. Whatever it was, it wasn't far. The Alaska indie rock band was exceptional. They also had the trippiest light show this side of Pink Floyd. The band actually opened with a Pink Floyd cover - "Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2" - before launching into a medley of their own tunes. I left halfway through the set, to entertain my guest, during an Oasis cover. I never could get into the band's studio albums, but I remember thinking they were very good after seeing them at Smalls 4 or 5 years ago. If and when they next play Pittsburgh, don't miss it. 

Here are some photos:

Portugal. The Man.



Talib Kweli:


Friday, September 12, 2014

Spoon at the Carnegie Library of Homestead, with Operators and Hamilton Leithauser - Concert photos and review - September 11, 2014

Spoon at the CLoH Music Hall, 9.11.14. All photos (c) PMR.
As much as you can complain about bands whose tour passes over Pittsburgh, sometimes we luck out with a band at a venue that's a fraction of the size they should be playing.

Case in point, indie rock reliables Spoon on Thursday. The band played the century-old Carnegie Library in Homestead, a venue that seats one thousand. Spoon isn't selling out stadiums, but we're lucky to have them in such an intimate spot, especially those that paid the $50 to be in the little pit up front, inches away from Britt Daniel and the rest of the band.

Their set played like a Greatest Hits album. I haven't been around since the early days – I jumped on the band's, uh, bandwagon in the mid-2000s – but almost every song was a recognizable hit. And the new tracks, from the excellent They Want My Soul, fit in extremely well with the rest of the setlist. The band opened with “Do You,” off that new album, followed by “Rent I Pay.”

The four-song encore was a nice encapsulation of the entire set. They opened with a slow-burning “Outlier,” also from the new album, driven by a groovy bass line and set off with strobe lights. “Anything You Want,” from 2001's Girls Can Tell, was followed by bigtime hit “Cherry Bomb,” before the night closed with another deep cut, “Small Stakes.” (The whole setlist can be found here.)

Operators opened with a high-energy set that called to mind industrial dance-rock like New Order. Former Walkmen lead singer Hamilton Leithauser was the second opener. The guy has an amazing, powerful voice, but that was it; the band seemed like little more than an afterthought. 

Here are photos from the evening:


Hamilton Leithauser


-- B. Conway