When The Armadillos took the stage Thursday at Lava Lounge, it was hard to believe they didn't have a drummer. But their driving rhythms were just acoustic guitar and mandolin, plus rippling, percussive upright bass. Atop that foundation, the local folk band managed a surprising variety, in part due to multi-instrumentalist Sheila Liming, who switches between accordion and tin whistle and shares vocal and songwriting duties with Austin Vanasdale.
Liming's instrumental and stylistic range doesn't stop there. A founding member of local Celtic band Callán, she also plays some classical piano, the "world's shittiest guitar," and her primary instrument, the bagpipes.
A Seattle native, Liming played in punk bands (and bagpipe bands) before moving here four years ago for graduate school at Carnegie Mellon. She "didn't know anybody" in Pittsburgh, she says, but soon found her way into the music scene. Folk sessions at Murphy's Tap Room in Regent Square introduced her to musicians who would eventually form Callán in 2007; last week, the group released its debut album, The Road to Fort Duquesne.
Then in early 2009, she met the already active Armadillos, by answering a Craigslist ad for a female singer. The band had formed in Butler, playing traditional music, before relocating to Pittsburgh in 2005 and focusing on original songs.
"We just got lucky," says Vanasdale, of Liming's instrumental skills. "The ad was just for vocals."
A consequence of Liming playing in both The Armadillos and Callán is cross-pollination between the groups. Blending the Appalachian and Celtic styles "is not intentional, but it's bound to happen," she says. "Those overlaps are so numerous anyway."
A second consequence is her relentless performance schedule -- sometimes several shows a week. She estimates Callán plays about once a month, but The Armadillos play a lot more, especially at their home base, Howlers Coyote Café, in Bloomfield.
"We try to play at least one show a week," says Vanasdale. While many local original acts find it difficult to keep an audience interested when playing so often, Vanasdale says it works well -- as long as they mix it up. Opening for rock, ragtime and other types of bands, he says, has "allowed us to grow our audience."
This week, catch The Armadillos Thu., Oct. 14, opening for The Two Man Gentlemen Band, and Sun., Oct. 17, hosting The Whiskey Social with Holy Ghost Tent Revival, both at Howlers Coyote Café in Bloomfield. For details, visit www.myspace.com/pittsburgharmadillos. For upcoming Callán shows, visit www.myspace.com/wholelottaruckus.