As the year's end approaches, it's time for me to take stock of countless nights of seeing and hearing live music, whether in posh theaters, smoky bars or just some basement party. Despite insidious devices keeping drones glued to screens, many Pittsburghers value the live experience as much as I do -- like record-store dudes.
Classic-rock heroics don't have to be as predictable as WDVE's rotation. Rob Tabachka of Brave New World mentions how amazing the nearly 60-year-old Frank Marino (of Mahogany Rush) was at the Rex, blazing through two hours of blistering guitar, yet still eager to talk to fans afterwards. Dave Whaley, manager at Dave's Music Mine, flipped over Frank Zappa tribute Project Object, which ran two nights at Club Café. "This band's incredible," he says. "There's a lot of young musicians in it, including this 18-year-old drummer, Eric Slick, who just got out of high school. He also plays with Adrian Belew."
Over at Carnegie Lecture Hall, what could have been another gentle night out for the Calliope set turned rollickin' romp when Richard Thompson hit the stage. "He was very playful and personable, and even though it was acoustic, the room was filled with sound," recalls Record Village owner Lenny Estep. "He played not only his recent stuff, but went back into his catalog with Linda Thompson and Fairport Convention."
Folk stalwarts might have enjoyed the vibrant Balkan Beat Box, who caused undue undulations at Pitt's Assembly Room, then packed Gooski's with gypsy-mad hipsters. "They had more of a natural sound live than the record, which has processed electronic drums," explains Caulen Kress, a clerk at Paul's CDs as well as Pandemic DJ and member of Centipede E'est. "The audience was really into it. It's not something a lot of people are exposed to."
Caliban Books' record-shop owner Kris Collins believes local talent should get the biggest bow. As the New Yinzer's managing editor, he was involved in the online zine's Brillobox gala featuring Julie Sokolow, Workshop and Harangue. "All three put on a really good show. We had a lot of enthusiastic feedback."
Others aren't satisfied with how their chosen genre is progressing in Pittsburgh and have searched elsewhere, like Columbus or (shudder!) Cleveland. "The most fun I had at a show this year was the Cleveland Electro Fest," recalls Jim Semonik, Eide's music buyer, Distortion Productions promoter, and member of [Rein]forced. "Every band watched each other play, which you don't normally see -- usually they're busy drinking in the dressing room. It was a sense of community in the scene."