Last night, I went to the first EVER outdoor show at Stage AE, the clothing-company-sponsored venue on the North Side between PNC Park and Heinz Field. You might recall that the last time I was at the venue was for a show in the smaller "club" configuration of the venue, at which time all of 30 people packed a 300-some-capacity room. This time it was a bit different.
Pittsburgh has long lacked in the outdoor-venue category -- yes, there's the First Niagara Pavilion to fill your Skynyrd-and-Tom Petty needs, but who really wants to venture to Burgettstown without being forced to? And there's the Trib Total Media Amphitheatre, which is a big parking lot on the wretched outskirts of a wretched shopping-and-entertainment plaza, next to train tracks. It does the job when you need to see a show, but it's not exactly scenic. Otherwise, you've got county parks, which are nice but can't host all that many shows.
Which brings us to the new Stage AE. While I questioned aspects of the club setup and booking there, I'm much more satisfied with the outdoor venue. Its 5,500-capacity lawn is generous but not too big -- I'm honestly not interested in going to a show at a bigger venue than that anyway, for lack of intimacy. The sound was good last night; the headliner, Social Distortion, came through clear and not overly loud, and the drums sounded great.
I got there after the first act, Sharks, and at the beginning of the second, Chuck Ragan of Hot Water Music. There was a line to get in, but it moved quickly, and the only problem at that point was that the main drink lines were right inside the gates, impeding progress a bit. It didn't take me too long to get to the lawn, though.
Speaking of drinks -- the rap on Stage AE early on was that beer was overpriced. I didn't imbibe at the show (yes, I may have been the only one) but according to the signs, the prices were quite reasonable (unless they didn't tell the whole story). $4.75 for a 16-ounce beer and $6.25 for a 24-oz. honestly isn't even bad for the cheap stuff, but the venue had Blue Moon on tap -- you're unlikely to get Blue Moon cheaper than that at a regular bar.
To be frank, the show wasn't my bag -- which is fine. Being a music critic doesn't really make my opinion count any more heavily than anyone else's on matters of taste (though maybe the constant exposure makes me a little more adept at recognizing discrepancies of skill).
Chuck Ragan pounded out some acoustic folk jams with a bit of Irish flavor, and was met with crickets when he asked if anyone knew who Hazel Dickens was. (I often wonder if these package tours ever really work out for any involved party.) Social Distortion was enjoyable for what they are (a rock band -- for a few reasons, I wouldn't call them "punk," at least not today, but then I'd be drawn into an argument about what "punk" really is, and who wants to get into that?).
The tunes I caught were well played and well written; the banter didn't do much for me -- do I care to hear Mike Ness complaining about having played at a roller rink in Pittsburgh in the past? (Is it punk to vocally eschew the idea of playing a roller rink in favor of a shiny corporate venue sponsored by a clothing company?) And does he really need to complain about how the video for this next song will never be played on MTV? (Note to Mike: No one's videos have been on MTV in a decade. Time to move on.)
But regardless, the big deal for the night was the new venue -- and it comes recommended. My biggest complaint was the bright white lights that would flash on the house from the stage occasionally; they were kind of burning my retinas at first, but I adjusted after a while (not sure if that's a good or bad thing). The view is nice (though, as my archnemesis from the Post-Gazette, Scott Mervis, pointed out, it would be way better if they tore down that Del Monte Center building next door). The summer lineup has some good shows on it. Check it out for yourself!