A Big Ol’ Summer Concert Review pt 1

1blackkeys1265I apologize to anyone who actually frequents this site for the slow down (the third of its kind) that was due to a number of factors: job transition, hesitation, and, last but not least, laziness.  While my writing about music has slowed down, my actual concert attendance has risen over the past couple weeks,  culminating with 5, count em, 5 quality shows that have witnessed my attendance since july 21st.  I thought about writing individual concert reviews for each of these shows, but I actually feel more comfortable expelling all those sordid details in tight, controlled bursts.

Regardless of my literary indifference, it’s been a quality summer for the Pittsburgh music masses, which was thriving even before the peak in concert activity that hit in late July/early August.  So this will be a summary of the first 3 shows I saw this summer in a some what spaced out order. Reviews and tracks after the jump.

White Rabbits, June 6, Brillobox

It was a strange night, A number of things aligned : game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, White Rabbits playing the Brillobox, getting stuck working a dreaded Saturday night shift at the restaurant I loathed, and the reluctance of my friends to join me at the show.  I ended up ducking out of work around a quarter to nine, changing in the car, and hauling ass down towards the depths of Lawrenceville on what was an almost deserted route 19, as Mike Lange and Two Niner described the hockey disaster in vivid detail.

Long story short (I’ll omit details about the hockey game), White Rabbits came out to a slightly stunned crowd and apologized briefly for the loss.  What they unleashed afterward was simply one of the tightest, best sounding concerts I had been to in quite some time.  The complex percussion that drives so many of White Rabbits’ best tracks was front and center with group’s two drummers remaining almost completely in sync.  By the time “Percussion Gun” closed the set (the blistering lead track off the band’s excellent second album It’s Frightening) it was a done deal (whatever the fuck that means).  I could wax poetic about this show  for hours so I’ll refrain.  The fact is, next time these guys are in town, drop whatever you’re doing and get there dammit.

White Rabbits – Percussion Gun

The Black Keys, Point State Park, June 1

Before I say anything, the crowd was a work of art.  The age spectrum must have been at least 40 years and I mean that in the best possible way.  The Black Keys, more than any other garage/blues rock revivalists, exude a sound that’s retro classic, strutting with a swagger that will never go out of style.  If any band is apt to fill out a free concert at the Pittsburgh Arts Festival it’s these guys. The Black Keys connect with multiple generations and make it look easy.

Patrick Carney and a clean shaven Dan Auerbach ripped through highlights of their entire catalog (including my favorite barn burner “10am Automatic”) as well as the bulk of their extremely underrated 2008 LP Attack and Release. The burning image of that performance was Carney nearly obliterating his hi-hats with a tambourine, something I can honestly say I had never witnessed before. It was a muscular show, full of sweat and soul, two things that will never go out of style.

The Black Keys – I’ll Be Your Man

Yeasayer w/Ponytail, Ball of Flame Shoot Fire, July 21st, Mr. Smalls

So yes, I have heard many times before from many people about the severe ills that plague the sound systems at Mr. Small’s.  I almost always shrugged them off because I could not recall a single show that I hadn’t enjoyed thoroughly out in Milvale (save the moment this summer when Crocodiles missed their opening spot for Tally Hall).  But the honest fact of it this time around was that Ball of Flame’s set got butchered due to shoddy sound.  Background hissing, distorted vocals, and feedback in general (all of which was not planned) crippled the band’s complex arrangements.  It was especially devastating because the bulk of material at BOFSF’s show was new, and I could barely get a solid read on what most of the songs were about.

Interestingly enough, by the time Yeasayer rolled around, the sound issues were corrected and the pack crowd was treated to a synth heavy set split between tracks off their only full length album All Hour Cymbals and new songs from their next project.  Tracks like “Sunrise” and “2080” were performed with vibrant new interpretations, with the group mostly shunning their usual world music vibe for heavy electronics, bass and shimmering guitar.  It was a compelling experience to realize this concert was a singular creation in and of it self, an idea the band has championed in many interviews.  I’ll be the first to admit that I usually wait to hear carbon copies of the songs I love at concerts, easily forgetting the wonders of improvisation or spontaneity that makes the best live shows so spectacular.  I am glad Yeasayer pointed the insignificance of my ignorance so beautifully.

Yeasayer – Sunrise

Yeasayer – 2080

pictures courtesy of Hugh Shows Redux



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