So I’m a month and a half removed from Donora’s coming out party in front of a healthy crowd on Carson st. at the Rex Theater on January 19th, 2008. Along side Bre’er Fox and Meeting of Important People, Donora closed the set by cruising through the bulk of their self titled debut. The album cover to said debut can only be described as precious: a golden framed diorama of a South Park-treated three piece, sans musicians, clearly declaring one thing from the image association alone, Donora is probably the tightest indie pop group in Pittsburgh.
Their album release party in December came as a no frills affair. They seemed happy to play a bigger stage than accustomed, but came off a little wide eyed. Luckily, the bouncy bass licks Jake Churton was laying down and Ms. Casey Hanner’s gorgeous siren easily filled all the corners of the hall, cozying up to even the most distant hipster, posted up on the back bar, quietly spilling beer on his $40 cotton American Apparel t-shirt. Tight, however, is the operative word, as every song leaves little room for air or complacency, each brimming with a compositional velocity that would have all those Arts and Crafts cats bouncing their heads in unison.
The record’s production by brother Jake Hanner and father, and country musician, Dave Hanner comes off clean with just the slightest tints of echo even in concert. The urgent album opener “Shout” begins the show and all of the sudden everything is rushing along at speeds that are quick but absorbing, until the shattering chorus lets Ms. Hanner stretch out for a few bars in between the frantic cymbals, bass hits, and guitar slams.
The band was anxious to make an impression and it did, leaving a crowd dizzy with pop, creating a positive energy that was palpable; people might as well have been hugging each other in appreciation as they fell out into the crisp, Pittsburgh December.
The second show in as many months was the same only different. It was late January and I was squeezing my way to the second floor of the Brillobox in Lawrenceville, after the show sold out quicker than could possibly imagine. I made my way to the bar, ordered three PBR drafts for some friends, and looked out over the packed house. The scrupulously hip chandelier in the room hung in paltry comparison to the heads below; all frothing at the mouth to hear yet another dose of pop so pure it should be illegal. I don’t want to say Donora can’t handle a bigger venue like The Rex, but the Brillobox fit like a glove, allowing Churton’s bass to shake the floor and Ms. Hanners voice to ricochet off the empty halls of the new children’s hospital down the street. They cut their chops at this epicenter of hip and you could feel it. Half the crowd knew the band the other half knew their songs verbatim, allowing that warm fuzzy feeling to rise up again making the event feel like a Rock Show, capital R, capital S.
This comfort level was ruefully apparent in two areas: Ms. Hanner playfully whispering to the crowd in the chorus of “Shh” like she was prepping you for a kiss on a swingset, and her frantic shouting of the gun shots in the chorus of M.I.A.’s mega smash “Paper Planes,” talk about an absolute choice cover pick that nearly brought the house down. You can no longer ignore Pittsburgh’s upstart music scene now, with music this good being played on practically a weekly basis by bands across Pittsburgh with Donora leading the charge, it’s an exciting time. Pittsburgh is a town that worships unpretentiousness, and the City’s version of indie rock starts with Donora: tight, bouncy, dense, beautiful and genuine. Again, what more could you ask for?