Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Twilight Sad - James Graham Interview and Ticket Giveaway - Brillobox - February 27, 2015

You sad, bro?
UPDATE: Scroll down for our interview with Twilight Sad lead singer James Graham.

On Friday, Scotland's The Twilight Sad make their first stop in Pittsburgh since 2010. Hailing from Glasgow, The Twilight Sad released their first album, Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, in 2007, on the excellent Fat Cat Records label (whose alumni include Sigur Ros, Animal Collective and Frightened Rabbit). The album wowed the music press in the US and the UK, who praised the band's heavy, shoegaze-level guitar distortion and bleak, gloomy lyrics – not to mention lead singer James Graham's heavy Scottish brogue. Future albums were equally morose, in the best way possible. (The band's twitter bio says they enjoy drinking & making miserable music.)

The band played Gooski's back in 2007 in support of their debut album. A City Paper review at the time said they played “perhaps five songs” and declined an encore. They visited again in 2010, this time at Brillobox, as the first half of an ear-splitting double bill with Japanese post-rock band Mono. We reviewed that show, calling it “a furious set” that was played with “which such force and intensity” that it had our reviewer in awe. Here's a super high-quality video we took at that performance:

The band is back at Brillobox in support of their fourth full-length album, Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave. The album, voted as the best of 2014 by some in the UK music press, sees the band dial down their sonic assault just a bit, leaving space for Joy Division-style gloom to seep through. Here's the lead single from that album, "Last January."

PMR: Can I start by saying that that you've visited Pittsburgh twice, once at Gooski's in 2007 when you played maybe 5 or 6 songs, and again in 2010 opening for Mono at Brillobox, where your upcoming gig will be. So we are very excited to have you play your first proper headlining show. Do you have any memories from your brief times in town all those years ago?

James Graham: I have good memories of our time in Pittsburgh. I remember the crowd being one of the best on the tour we did with Mono. I think we've played 3 times, twice at Gooski's. The second time they played the trailer for "Control" the Anton Corbijn after we played I think. I haven't had the chance to look around the town to be honest, because we turned up to the venue played the gig then had to leave early the next day. I remember talking to a lot of people outside the gig the last time and them being really cool to us. They really appreciated that we were in town, so I'm glad we're able to come back and headline this time.

PMR: Each of your first three albums were reviewed favorably, but the new album was considered by many to be your best so far, with more than a few perfect scores and even a couple “album of the year” designations. Were you surprised by this, considering it was something of a departure from what your earlier albums?

JG: We made the record that we wanted to make and we're extremely proud of it. That's the most important thing, we are our biggest critics I think. We want to make music that interests us and excites us and after that if other people like it then that's amazing. We're really happy that people who have supported the band over the years really like/love the record. 
It's also amazing to see how many new people have are getting into the band through this record. I think we learned a lot from our previous records. We're a band that constantly wants to push ourselves. I feel that our new record has elements from each of our previous albums whilst pushing our sound forward. We used a lot of electronic instrumentation on our 3rd record and on this one I feel we've taken what we've learned and opened up that sound whilst returning to some of the big epic sounds/more bandy stuff if that makes any sense.  

PMR: Do you pay much attention to what is said about the band in the music press?

JG: I try to stay away from it but its pretty hard with social media and people sending you reviews when they come in. We've fortunate over the years in that critics have been pretty kind to us. I think its important not to listen to much to good or bad reviews, if you did I think you'd drive yourself crazy. Don't get me wrong you want people to like your music and its better to get good reviews. I have to admit that i'm one of those people that focuses in on the one bad or mediocre review even though you get 10 other great ones that day. I have to try and develop a thicker skin. I have to realise that we're all different and like different things but it's hard to not let it affect you if someone doesn't like what you do after putting so much time an effort into it. Different horses for different courses and all that. 

PMR: You were kind enough to answer some questions for us before your show here in 2010. Back then you said that the main goal of the band was to make albums that you are proud of and to play live all around the world. Is that still the case?

JG: Aye that's still the goal. I want to play in countries we've been to before and ultimately we want to see the band progress. We want to reach as many people as possible. If there's a room full of people that are passionate about what we do, no matter how big or small that room is we want to be there playing our music. 

PMR: I read a recent interview where you mentioned bands that have taken you on tour several times, like Mogwai, and you said that you wanted to repay them by having the band show “progress,” to show them that their faith in you wasn't misplaced. How do you define progress?

JG: I think we are a band who constantly need to challenge ourselves and push ourselves to make the best music we can. We need to try new things and not settle for things. We need to work hard and tour as much as we can. To keep doing full time you also need to see a progression as far as people to coming to the show and awareness of the band. We're definitely not in it for the money, if we were we wouldn't have made it this far but you've got to make a living somehow if you're going to put as much in to it as much as we do. We're not getting any younger but we've seen so many bands come and go over the years so must be doing something right. We love doing this it means everything to us, so as long as we see the band progressing and we still have something to say within our music we'll keep doing what we do.

PMR: Speaking of fellow Scots, what are some up and coming Scottish bands that we should know about?

JG: There's a lot of great bands on Rock Action Records (Mogwai's label). This year they have a few releases coming out. There's good friend Errors who will be releasing their new record Lease of Life this spring. I've heard the record and its brilliant. There's Sacred Paws who are releasing an EP this year, and Remember Remember released a great album called "Forgetting The Present" last year. We've taken a couple of great young Scottish bands on the road back in the UK recently, Vladimir from Dundee and Man Of Moon are supporting us on our UK tour in April.

PMR: People love the intensity of your live performance. Have you given any consideration to releasing a full-length live album?

JG: Yeah we have, we have something special in mind that we're talking about at the moment. I'm not allowed to say yet though but I'm excited about it. 

PMR: Lastly, what are some things you like to do in your free time that people maybe wouldn't expect from a purveyor of “miserable” music.

JG: I'm a big comic book fan. I recently got to visit the Marvel Comics office in NY when we were there. That was amazing. I love football or soccer as you guys call it over here. I support Aberdeen football club and go to the games with my dad. I wasn't allowed to support Rangers or Celtic when i was younger in case I got beaten up and my mother's family are from Aberdeen so that's why I support them. I love the cinema, I go at least twice a week when I'm at home.

Thank you so much to James for taking the time to answer our questions. We have a pair of tickets to giveaway to see James and the rest of the band at Brillobox Friday night. To enter, email your name to, and put “twilight sad” in the subject line. We'll announce a winner Thursday night.  Port St. Willow, AKA ambient pop artist Nick Principle, opens.

-- B. Conway 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

JJ Grey and Mofro - Ticket Giveaway and Preview - February 25, 2015 - Mr. Smalls

JJ Grey and Mofro - Photo copyright Jim Arbogast
Southern blues-rock mainstays, JJ Grey & Mofro, visit Pittsburgh Wednesday, February 25, in support of their new album, Ol' Glory. (The album comes out on the 24th. Since they're off that night, maybe they'll treat this as their album release show.)

Founded in Northern Florida in the late 1990s, Mofro's soulful blend of rock, blues, and funk has attracted hordes of fans. The band has grown over the years to perform at some of the biggest festivals in the world, including Glastonbury, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza. And although this will be their ninth studio album to date, they really are a band that should be seen live to be appreciated.

From the band's PR:
From the days of playing greasy local juke joints to headlining major festivals, JJ Grey remains an unfettered, blissful performer, singing with a blue-collared spirit over the bone-deep grooves of his compositions. His presence before an audience is something startling and immediate, at times a funk rave-up, other times a sort of mass-absolution for the mortal weaknesses that make him and his audience human. When you see JJ Grey and his band Mofro live—and you truly, absolutely must—the man is fearless.

Here's a video of them performing live, to give you a taste:

We have a pair of tickets to giveaway for this performance. To enter, email us your name to pghmusicreport [at], and put “Mofro” in the title. We'll announce a winner Monday.

Opening are NYC blues-rock band The London Souls. 

-- B. Conway

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

New Madrid at Club Cafe - Interview and Ticket Giveaway - February 24, 2015

New Madrid. Photo copyright Normaltown Records

Athens, Georgia based rock band New Madrid play Club Cafe Tuesday in support of their new LP, Sunswimmer.  The record took home "Album of the Year" at the 2014 Flagpole Athens Music Award, beating out Elephant Six veterans Elf Power for the nod. 

New Madrid released their first album, Yardboat, in 2012.  It was a fine southern rock record with enough psychedelic flourishes to garner My Morning Jacket comparisons. Sunswimmer, the follow-up, taps the psychedelic vein further.

Here's a video of them performing slow-burner "Houseboat" at SXSW:

We were fortunate enough to ask lead singer Phil McGill some questions prior to his band's stop in town Tuesday.

PMR: Let's start at the beginning. How did the band come about? I read that three of four of you guys moved to Athens relatively recently. How did you first meet and start to play together?

PhilSome of us grew up in the same city and played music around each other. We first hit it off creatively at silent film camp when the three of us realized we were secretly working on our own alternate sound tracks to the films we were studying. Also the ones we were shooting.  We decided to do a collaborative score of sorts for one of the films and it just worked. The silent film was called Fin de Arc n Maitre Shallows and was sort of about the end of the world happening in an almost orderly and calm way- but still happening really quickly-within a couple of days. And the event was tipped off by an earthquake and that caused the main character, Djor, to start living differently immediately. 

PMR: Is it true that you all live and record together in a farmhouse outside the city? I imagine it has to help musically to have such a close relationship with you bandmates, although I can certainly see there being a downside to that much time together as well.

Phil: We do live together in a duplex that some might say looks like a barn.  It's not outside the city really. It just makes sense for us and works pretty naturally for us. It certainly wouldn't work for every band. There are downsides sure but that's true of most things.

PMR: Everything written about your band describes your music as southern psychedelic rock, or psychedelic rock with a southern influence. Is there an emphasis on one over the other? It seems like there's at least a shift toward the psychedelic end on the most recent album.

Phil: That's not really something we parse out in our heads, they just seem to be rather apt descriptors that really don't mean much wen you start to really think about them. We are from the South. That's where we grew up. What the means isn't the same thing that it meant 20 years ago. I also grew up on the internet, free of audible dialect and cramped information flow. The second record was written with us operating as a full band in mind. The songs were more about experimenting with sounds and experimenting with the feeling of playing music in a particular way with one another. it's nice when music can put you in a trance, I like that. 

PMR: Talk a bit about some of your musical influences, both past and present.

Phil: Some of my favorite records that I listened to the most in 2014 were:
Under Colour of Official Right - Protomartyr, Syro - Aphex Twin, Vol. 1 - The Cleaners from Venus, The Moon and the Melodies- Cocteau Twins and Harold Budd, Vacation Vinny - Grass is Green, Singles - Future Islands

I fell in love with Mark Twang again by John Hartford. He's always been an influence. I've been listening to Run the Jewels 2 record and I really love it - it takes me to a similar place that Deltron 3030 took me when I was in highschool. 
Talking Heads, Tortoise, the Meat Puppets.

PMR: You guys are obviously proud of being from Athens, and are signed to a local label. How is the music scene? Most everyone knows about REM and the Elephant Six bands, but what's it like today?

Phil: There is no short supply of music, and really it's about equal as to the supply of music fans. There are a lot of really great bands here. A lot of venues, a great eco-system. People play in multiple bands and there are constantly new bands coming and going. There is probably a good show every night of the week. A blessing and a curse. Good stuff can be overshadowed, or really you just have to accept the fact you will have to miss some really great stuff.

PMR: Any up-and-coming bands we should know about, from Athens or anywhere else?

Phil: I was blown away by this band from Asheville, NC we played with the other weekend called "Aunt Sis". Triathalon is a band from Savannah I like alot. In terms of Athens I've seen some really great shows recently by Muuy Biien, Deep State, Grand Vapids,  Monsoon and Woodfangs. I'm leaving out some really good bands.

PMR: You guys played Club Cafe quite recently, with Reptar last September. Anything stick out in your mind from that show or your brief time in Pittsburgh? What do you have planned in the city this time around?

Phil: Walter from Reptar was playing his last night of the tour with us and he played the most amazing Sax solo all of us had ever experienced. On our way to Pittsburgh we met some really nice folks at a rest stop, one of those folks was also playing a mean saxophone. We are going to play some new songs as well as some other surprises. 

We have a pair of tickets to giveaway for the concert. To enter, send your name to, and put "new madrid" in the subject line. We'll randomly select a winner Friday.

A pair of local bands open. Cape Cod, who hail from Butler, and The Heirs.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The New Pornographers, with Jaill - Concert photos and review - February 13, 2015 - Mr. Smalls

Great performance by The New Pornographers at a sold out Mr. Smalls. I had never seen the band before, so I had no full-ensemble benchmark that I could compare against the Neko-less version we saw Friday night. It sure didn't seem like anything (or anyone) was missing; Kathryn Calder did a fine job filling in for Case.

AC Newman wields a powerful voice with a surprising range, no better example of that than on the energetic opener “Brill Bruisers.” About half of the songs came from Brill Bruisers, and the album's vigor carried through the entire set. Dan Bejar sang lead on about seven or eight songs, including the rarely performed "Myriad Harbor" and an excellent “War on the East Coast”  (feat. Newman on harmonica). In true supergroup fashion the different players took turns singing lead, and whenever one wasn't needed on a song they'd head backstage for a spell. It was like something out of a Wings concert.

Jaill opened with a well-received set that was more rock than pop. The rhythm section added plenty of muscle, and the synths a bit of weirdness. Every time I thought I had them pegged they'd launch off in a different direction. From bite-sized blasts of garage rock to Congratulations-era MGMT psych-pop, then to a Fleetwood Mac cover (if you can believe what they say on Twitter), they kept the crowd guessing. I'll be interested to see what direction they take when they release their new album later this year on Burger Records.

Here are some photos from the performance: 



Setlist (according to
Brill Bruisers
Myriad Harbour
The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism
Dancehall Domine
War On the East Coast
Use It
Jackie, Dressed in Cobras
Another Drug Deal of the Heart
The Laws Have Changed
You Tell Me Where
Testament to Youth in Verse
All the Old Showstoppers
Adventures in Solitude
Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk
Silver Jenny Dollar
Champions of Red Wine
Born With a Sound
Mass Romantic


Ballad of a Comeback Kid
Sing Me Spanish Techno
The Bleeding Heart Show

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Jaill - Band Interview - February 13, 2015 - Mr. Smalls Theatre

Jaill. Photo copyright Kurt Raether
Milwaukee indie rock band Jaill are the last minute replacements for Operators as openers for The New Pornographers' brief swing through the States. (Operators ran into visa troubles that prohibited them from entering the country.)

Jaill has been around since 2002 and signed to Sub Pop in 2009, releasing a pair of well-received albums, including 2012's Traps. Here's the video for "Stroller," the jangly lead track off of That's How We Burn, their first Sub Pop release. (It's also a personal favorite of Johnny Marr.)

Since releasing Traps, the band have re-issued some earlier recordings on Burger Records, and are in the process of releasing a new studio album sometime in 2015. 

Lead singer Vincent Kircher was kind enough to answer some of our questions from Ithaca, where the band kicked off their stint with the Pornographers.

Pittsburgh Music Report: How did you guys end up taking over for Operators? Did your former labelmate Dan Boeckner put in a good word? Did Bejar send a text?

Vincent Kircher: Friday afternoon, I had just gotten the van back from the mechanic for its awful brakes.  I was running some much needed errands with my lady, and I checked my phone in a checkout line.  Booking agent Joe at Inland [Empire Touring] wanted to know if we could do these shows. Within two hours we had our schedules cleared - which I was sure was too long - yet by early evening we were confirmed. 

I met Dan once a few years back when we opened for Handsome Furs, super nice guy. I don't think directly he had said anything or Dan Bejar either, but however it works, we are super excited to be playing with such an incredible group of musicians.

PMR: Your music has a jangly, summertime feel to it. I'd expect you to be from El Segundo, not Milwaukee.

VK: Milwaukee parties hard enough in its 2.5 months of summer to put warm weather cities to shame. I've always really appreciated this sort of drunken love of music. Wisconsin has a lot of acts creating sentimental music too, and it's very good. But to me, Milwaukee is the center and will always be a city where you can't rock hard enough.

PMR: What's the scene like in Milwaukee? Everyone knows Justin Vernon. What other bands should we be aware of?

VK: People know Vernon. He's not Milwaukee per se. Milwaukee is wonderfully DIY, song craft, excited, drunk, happening, stoned, new, it's good and the venues support it. Milwaukee bands that are awesome include The Fatty Acids, Surgeons in Heat, Sat. Nite Duets, Midnight Reruns, and way too many more.

PMR: Speaking of Milwaukee bands, what's up with the Violent Femmes opening for Barenaked Ladies this summer?

VK: That sucks. Barenaked Ladies shouldn't be playing still because some jokes never are gonna be funny.

PMR: How is the new album shaping up? Your website has a little teaser that saysIt is called ... and will be available via ... records in ... 2015.” Are you able to fill in any of the blanks yet?

VK: Our new album has been done for a while and it will be coming out soonish on Burger Records. Much more info coming.

PMR: You guys were here twice in 2013, once at the Smiling Moose and again at Brillobox. Any memories that stick out from either gig, or generally from your time in Pittsburgh?

VK: Games N' At! Smiling Moose has stairs.... We went and played pool at Howlers with John's friend Derek... Getting lost on bridges over the city... Really have enjoyed Pittsburgh. It's pretty similar to Milwaukee in some tough way.

Jaill play at Mr. Smalls w/ the New Pornographers this Friday, February 13. The show is sold out.

-- B. Conway

Monday, February 9, 2015

New Pornographers w/ Operators at Mr. Smalls - Will Dan Bejar and Neko Case perform? - Concert Preview - Feb. 13, 2015

New Pornographers, photo copyright Marina Chavez
One big question remains a few days before the now sold-out New Pornographers show at Mr. Smalls Friday, and that is, “Will Dan Bejar and Neko Case perform with the band?” This is leg two of the supergroup's Brill Bruisers tour, a twelve stop tour that sees them play a string of Canadian and smaller East Coast towns. One might imagine the pair sitting out this round after already hitting the big market New York/Chicago/Boston circuit in November.

The answer? We get Bejar, not Case. Here's a review of their Thursday show in Toronto that mentions Bejar, and here's a photo of him with Devojka of support act Operators. You can also trek through the #newpornographers hashtag on instagram to see the lineup from their shows this past weekend in Montreal and Toronto, and you'll see Bejar's frizzy mane but Case is nowhere in sight. One of the photos even has the caption, “no Neko Case tonight, but lots and lots of Dan Bejar..."

It's a letdown for sure - when you see the Pens play, you want both Crosby and Malkin in the lineup -  but with a collective of musicians this strong, the overall product will not suffer. (Plus, get a load of this 20 song setlist from their show a couple nights ago, complete with a three song encore that ends with a pair from Twin Cinema.)

Opening for New Pornographers is Operators, Dan Boeckner's new project. Formerly signed to Sub Pop with his band Wolf Parade, Boeckner is probably better known today for his work with Divine Fits, his band with Britt Daniel of Spoon.

Operators played Pittsburgh twice last year, as support for Future Islands and then again for Spoon. I caught them for the latter gig and was impressed with their dark, danceable New Order feel. (We wrote that they have a “synth-heavy dance-rock vibe that picks up where Handsome Furs left off.”)

Here's the track “Cruel” from their debut EP. You can also see photos of their performance with Spoon in our review of the show

-- B. Conway

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Donora Album Release Show - January 30, 2015 - Photos and Concert Review - Brillobox

Brillobox has a reputation amongst concert photographers as the absolute worst place to shoot a show. Great venue, but terrible lighting. Pretty much the only option you have is to get home and Lightroom all the images into black and white, or sepia. 

Imagine my surprise when Donora, a few songs into their set, kicked on a big bright multi-colored heart on the wall behind them. Why, a lazy writer could claim that a colorful, oversized heart is the perfect analogy for Donora! Their new album, Ha Ha Heart, is just as buoyant and exhilarating as anything they've released, if not more so.

The sort-of title track, "Take My Heart," starts off "I was meant to find you/I was meant to fall in love."  It's too earnest to be pretentious, and too fun to disregard. The crowd at Brillo already knew the words to all the new songs, something lead singer Casey Hanner pointed out and was genuinely happy to notice.

The Nox Boys opened and they kicked ass. They played a new song, "Lost Your Head," perhaps an indication that LP #2 is in the works.

Kahli Abdu and VHS Safari opened for Donora with a set that lasted about 20 minutes too long. Those who liked his performance should check out Chancellor Warhol, who did the pretty much same set when he played the Warhol Museum last year, including the M83 sample, but with more fervor and in half the time.

Here are some photos from the evening:



 Kahli Abdu and VHS Safari