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Short List: Week of December 9 - 16


At Christmastime, tradition is relative. For instance, our consumer-maniacal version, though now standard, is decades rather than centuries old. Fortunately, starting this week, local stages connect you to Yuletide doings both nouveau and ancien. To wit: Those who like things all gleamy and poppy, yet adorably wholesome, can settle in for the Straight No Chaser Holiday Show. The Dec. 14 and 16 Benedum Center visits by the 10-man a capella phenoms -- who mix "Let It Snow" and "The Twelve Days of Christmas" with stuff like "Tainted Love" and "Wonderwall" -- comes courtesy of the Cohen & Grigsby Trust Presents Series ($34.50-70.50; 412-456-6666). If Christmas makes you think "Tchaikovsky," the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre answers with the The Nutracker's 41st season (and the ninth with Terrence Orr's Pittsburgh-centric version). Catch the sugar-plum fairies and that wily Rat King at the Benedum, Fri., Dec. 10-Dec. 26 ($20.75-90.75; 412-456-6666). Meanwhile, though Dickens' famous characters date to 1843, Pittsburgh CLO's A Musical Christmas Carol is 19 years old. This year's production, starring local favorite Tom Atkins as Scrooge, has 16 shows at the Byham Theater from Thu., Dec. 9-Dec. 23 ($13.75-46.75; 412-456-6666). And explore a different take on the holiday entirely with Nativity: A Christmas Gift. Inspired by Langston Hughes' Black Nativity, the show by Pitt-based Shona Sharif African Dance and Drum Ensemble employs traditional West African dance and modern gospel music; performances continue Fridays through Sundays through Dec. 19 (Alumni Hall, Oakland; $10-20; 412-648-2276). Still, to really go deep -- back before, you know, steam power -- try the Baltimore Consort. The six-member, Baltimore-based musical group's show Wassail, Wassail featureth Yuletide tunes from England, Scotland, France, Germany and the American shape-note tradition, some dating back 400 years or more (8 p.m. Sat., Dec. 11, Synod Hall, Oakland; $10-30; 412-361-2048). Soprano Danielle Svonavec is accompanied by lute, cittern, viols, crumhorns, pipes, recorders, rebec and percussion. For Christmas, it doesn't get much more traditional than that. Bill O'Driscoll


Thu., Dec. 9 -- Rights

Today's International Human Rights Day -- a time to both work for them and celebrate their advance. Early evening, join the Pittsburgh chapter of Amnesty International for Amnesty's 25th Annual Human Rights Write-a-thon, at Shadyside's Rodef Shalom Temple. Organizers supply all materials needed to write letters in support of political prisoners (like Nobel Peace Prize winnter Liu Xiaobo) and to address other rights issues; the goal for the U.S. is 350,000 letters, to which you can contribute just one or many more. When you're through, Global Solutions Pittsburgh wants you to celebrate what efforts like Amnesty's have achieved. The nonprofit partners with the nearby Shadow Lounge for a night of social awareness, live music and drinks. The Human Rights Day celebration includes performances by local artists Joy Ike and Latin group TimbaVida, along with world music spun by Global Beats. Weenta Girmay Write-a-thon: 5:30-9:30 p.m. (4905 Fifth Ave., Shadyside; Global Solutions party: 8 p.m. (5972 Baum Blvd., East Liberty; donation requested; 412-363-8277 or



Thu., Dec. 9 -- Rock

Linfinity is a band on the rise. Having toured earlier this year opening for Murder By Death, the Americana-infused indie-rock quintet brings its headlining tour to Brillobox tonight. On Martian's Bloom, the band's first studio release, frontman Dylan Von Wagner's voice is the star; his tender, wavering vocals connote sensitivity and precision at once. The cinematic Brooklyn band is a good bet for folks into bands like Okkervil River. With The Real Hot Garbage, Closet Romantic. Andy Mulkerin 9 p.m. 4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. $8. 412-621-4900 or



Thu., Dec. 9 -- Rock

Going by just the synth swirls and strutting bass, San Francisco outfit Birds & Batteries might seem to emulate the art-funk pioneered by the likes of the Talking Heads, David Bowie and Peter Gabriel. But Michael Sempert's rootsy vocals add a unique color to the band's latest release, Panorama, especially on songs like "Strange Kind of Mirror." The result -- picture Roger McGuinn getting down on a space-station dance floor -- is certainly intriguing. The band performs at Thunderbird Café tonight with Pete Bush & the Hoi Polloi and Nik & the Central Plains. Aaron Jentzen 9:30 p.m. 4023 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $5. 412-682-0177 or



Fri., Dec. 10 -- Dance

Maybe it's not a new holiday tradition just yet, but choreographer Keisha Lalama-White's The Bench was popular enough in its first season that it's back for a second. The Point Park instructor's evening-length contemporary jazz-dance work follows a couple through life's journey, starting with their first encounter. It's performed by Point Park's Conservatory Dance Company, with the original score played by a live orchestra. CP's Steve Sucato called the 2009 production "brilliantly crafted," and the show made more than one year-end list. This year's run of six performances begins tonight. BO 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 19. Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. $18-20. 412-392-8000 or



Fri., Dec. 10 -- Variety

One scarcely need do more to describe The Pretty Things Peepshow than to name its dramatis personae: Go Go Amy; Miss Heather Holliday; Lil' Miss Firefly; and Donny Vomit, "the Dapper Dan of Danger." The New York-based vaudeville troupe, a showcase for burlesque and sideshow acts, hits the Rex Theater tonight on its sixth national tour. Expect saucy dames -- who also do sword-swallowing, broken-glass-walking and more, whilst Mr. Vomit pounds nails up his nostrils. The opening band is locals Ye Olde Royal Shithouse Players. BO 8 p.m. 1602 E. Carson St., South Side. $12-15. 412-381-6811 or


Fri., Dec. 10 -- Rock

Kirk Salopek's The Mandrake Project is a shape-shifting entity -- with three releases to its name in four years, the band has seen plenty of personnel comings and goings. Tonight at Club Café, the latest addition to the band is revealed: John Schisler, known to many locally as the onetime voice of New Invisible Joy, is now providing vocals for the intricately orchestrated rock outfit. The band's currently recording a six-song EP, early leaks of which reveal restrained, introspective pop with a strings section and shimmering guitars. With Rotary Downs. AM 10 p.m. 56 S. 12th St., South Side. $10. 412-431-4950 or



Fri., Dec. 10 -- Rock

Pittsburgh punks The Sablowskis play tight, buzz-saw numbers with snarling vocals and raucous gang vocals, a style favorably reminiscent of -- if you'll pardon the comparison to a Cleveland band -- seminal late-'70s punks The Dead Boys. After two years on the scene, The Sablowskis are releasing their self-titled debut, a dozen hedonistic odes -- "Screwtop Wine," "Rivertown Slobs," "Pissin' in the Wind" -- plus a savage cover of "Sloop John B." The band's free release show at Smiling Moose tonight includes Mothertrucker, Playoff Beard and The Lady and The Monster. AJ 10 p.m. (doors at 9 p.m.). 1306 E. Carson St., South Side. Free. 412-431-4668 or


  • Image courtesy of Dylan Vitone

Sat., Dec. 11 -- Art

Empty business-district storefronts plus good art looked like opportunity to Sewickley residents Timothy Hadfield and Ingrid LaFleur. This is the first weekend of the latest installment of their Sewickley Arts Initiative, featuring two top local artists. Paintings and sculpture by Cara Erskine take over the former Elan Gallery, while panoramic images from Dylan Vitone's galvanizing series The Pittsburgh Project grace another space nearby. Both LaFleur and Hadfield have professional curatorial experience; Hadfield is a professor of media arts at Robert Morris University. The spaces are open daily. BO 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Exhibits continues through Dec. 18. 427 Broad St. and 541 Beaver St., Sewickley. Free.


Sun., Dec. 12 -- Music

Coro LatinoAmericano calls its holiday concert Arriba Mexico! to honor the bicentennial of Mexican independence. Conductor Alejandro Pinzón leads the choir through an amalgam of traditional and contemporary Mexican melodies including, "Caminante del Mayab" and "Sufrir es Querer." Also featured at Frick Fine Arts Auditorium is Juvenil de Pittsburgh, Coro LatinoAmericano's children's choir, and an ensemble led by Mexican guitarist Victor Ruiz. The evening includes the "Pantheon of the Americas" -- a presentation of the flags of all countries of the Americas (27 in all). WG 4 p.m. Schenley Drive, Oakland. Donation requested. 412-322-0281 or


Mon., Dec. 13 -- Talk

As with any hot-button issue, it can be tough to find moderate voices in the debate over Israeli-Palestinian relations. In 2008, Jeremy Ben-Ami founded J Street, an American lobbying organization that gives a voice to progressive, pro-Israel Jews who favor a peaceful two-state solution to the conflict. It stands in contrast both to AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby that's outspokenly right-wing, and to anti-Zionists who don't consider Israel to be a legitimate state. Tonight Ben-Ami appears at the Jewish Community Center, giving a talk called "Israel at a Crossroads: Decision Time for Peace." It's moderated by CP online radio host Lynn Cullen. Andy Mulkerin 7:30 p.m. 5738 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill. 412-521-8010 or


Tue., Dec. 14 -- Comedy

Is it called The Last Laugh Comedy Show because it's late in the year, or because comics always get the final word in? Find out at Club Café, in a night of standup offered as the first in a planned series of showcases for local talent. The performers (and organizers) include Davon Magwood, who's headlined at the Pittsburgh Improv and played stages around the country; Howard Lester, who goes by "Stoopid"; and Susie Meister. Your host is John Evans, from Last Comic Standing. BO 7 p.m. 56 S. 12th St., South Side. $6-10. 412-431-4950

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