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New venue Stage AE opens with Girl Talk and plenty of Pittsburgh pride

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Stage AE, opening night: Toilet-paper streamers fly everywhere; inflatable shapes bound across the writhing dance floor; frenetic video montages flash onscreen -- Mr. Rogers, yellow bridges, the Aiello's Pizza sign. Girl Talk is in total cheerleader mode, and making 2,400 people go apeshit to Wiz Khalifa's new single, "Black and Yellow."

"You're the city of champions!" Girl Talk yells. "People of Pittsburgh, make some noise!"

I could hardly recognize the venue as the worksite I had visited just three days earlier, where bales of conduit, lunch coolers and tools littered the concrete floor; a million unlucky ladders leaned against the walls. I watched as workmen installed name plates on the balcony's private box seats. 

My tour guide that day was Scott Stienecker, the owner and founder of PromoWest. He showed me around Stage AE, pointing out features with obvious pleasure: its two bars, fold-away bleacher seats, soundproofing, dressing rooms and lounges. 

And of course, he showed me the venue's Transformer-like design: the movable dividers and massive five-layered door that convert the venue from a 400-person club to the 2,400-capacity hall Girl Talk will be playing, to a 5,500-capacity outdoor amphitheater with views of Heinz Field, Mount Washington and the Downtown skyline. 

But as workmen crawled over the building, inside and out, Stage AE seemed a long way from ready for opening night. Ideally, "you'd want to have a few weeks" with everything settled, said Stienecker, as workers unloaded pallets of liquor. "But it all comes together."

When I arrived for the show Friday, I walked upstairs to take in the view. Within a few minutes I'd been chided by someone in a yellow polo for standing in an aisle and, when I sat down in an empty row of seats, another with a flashlight kicked me out. Something about a wristband. 

"I wasn't sure how this was gonna go," says Girl Talk, from the stage. "I feel like this was the most energetic Pittsburgh show in a long, long time!" The venue staff, many of whom seem on edge, are also unsure how this is gonna go. Even the number of people allowed on the stage with Girl Talk seems more conservative than usual. 

While Girl Talk proceeds to make "Thriller" new again, I wander around, then come back -- curious to learn whose box seats I'd violated. Three women in Stage AE shirts eye me with suspicion.

I peer down at the name plate: "Pittsburgh City Paper."

I smile back at the women, sit down and wait. 

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