Change is afoot among Pittsburgh venues. But change can be good.
Everyone should be done with the protracted mourning for Oakland club closings (Laga, Graffiti, Decade, Banana, Upstage, Beehive); the action long ago moved outward -- witness Mr. Small's, Diesel, The Rex and Club Zoo.
Concert followers already know that Oakland isn't completely dead, with regular shows both at universities and at Carnegie Music Hall, and occasional acts at the Sphinx Café and Peter's Pub.
Among nearly 100 watering holes for sloshed jocks, the South Side retains a handful of establishments for original bands, such as the Smiling Moose and Excuses. The biggest shift there has been the recent Opus One/Hinston takeover of the booking at Club Café. It promises to shake things up by adding indie rock, jam bands and late-night afterparties to the milquetoast agenda of boomer-folk that's found a home there.
The number of venues that have settled in the city's Eastern Bloc is mind-boggling. From the Kelly-Strayhorn and Shadow Lounge/Ava in East Liberty to the galleries on Penn Avenue, in Garfield; and from the Bloomfield cluster of Brillobox, Howler's and the BBT to the bustle on Lawrenceville's Butler Street offered by the Thunderbird, Remedy and Belvedere's. Plus it's a short hop to Gooski's in Polish Hill or the 31st Street Pub on the Strip's edge. For Oakland students without cars, the 54C bus reigns.
In Lawrenceville, one door opens even as another closes. The Lawrenceville Moose, which ran for more than a year as a significant venue, has ceased hosting concerts. The national Moose organization stopped it after complaints from local members. Yet nearby, Your Inner Vagabond coffeehouse will open in November. If its Web site is any indication, it'll spice up the area with rarely heard folk and world music.
Where will LV Moose shows go? Perhaps the North Side. Besides institutions such as the Mattress Factory, the New Hazlett, The Warhol and Artists Image Resource, there's the Bethel Christian Academy, informally known to bands as "The School." It's been a haven for hardcore and punk shows, and promoter Josh Bakaitus of Bridgeport Entertainment says that the proprietors are gradually transforming the gym-like atmosphere into a room that would feel like "Club Laga without the balcony." Look deeper in the East End, and you'll see that politically conscious punks have created other spaces at The Roboto Project in Wilkinsburg, as well as various performance rooms in the wide-open town of Braddock.
Only time will tell, but this is for sure -- the more things change, the more options concert-goers will have. All they have to do is keep their ears to the ground.