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