The War on Drugs plays it straight at Altar Bar

Written by Scott Mervis on .


It’s only March, but the new War on Drugs album “Lost in the Dream” is good enough to secure a place on the year-end lists. I can guarantee it’s in my top 10 because records this good don’t come around often.

I would love to say the same thing about the tour, but ... when The War on Drugs came through Altar Bar on Saturday night, it needed more war, more drugs, more something.
The Philly outfit is less a band than the solo project of singer-songwriter-guitarist Adam Granduciel, who excels in all three of those phases.

It just wasn’t all that much fun watching him do it. There was a static quality — lacking in chemistry, interaction and/or danger — to how The War on Drugs recreated an album that has a lot of movement (though it’s early in the tour).

What had to stand out most to people is how Granduciel wore the Dylan influence on his denim sleeve, especially on the songs “Eyes to the Wind” and “An Ocean In Between the Waves.”

The band took a few tangents from “Lost in the Dream” to revisit “Slave Ambient,” including the rocker “Baby Missiles” and “Come to the City,” and to drop in a dreamy cover of John Lennon’s “Mind Games.”

Maybe "Lost in the Dream" set too high of a bar for the show. Or maybe this was one that would have worked better in a theater like the Warhol, where you could sit back and soak it in with perfect sound.



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Gwar frontman Dave Brockie had strong Pittsburgh connections

Written by Scott Mervis on .



It looked like another death hoax on a Monday morning, but the reports are true.

Dave Brockie, frontman for the band GWAR, was found dead in his home Sunday evening, at age 50.

His manager Jack Flanagan said in a statement: "It is with a saddened heart, that I confirm my dear friend Dave Brockie, artist, musician, and lead singer of GWAR passed away at approximately 6:50 PM EST Sunday March 23,2014.  His body was found Sunday by his band mate at his home in Richmond, VA. Richmond authorities have confirmed his death and next of kin has been notified.   A full autopsy will be performed.  He was 50 years old, born August 30, 1963."

A police spokesperson told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that they did not suspect foul play.

Brockie, who founded the theatrical metal band in 1984, worked under the stage name of Oderus Urungus. GWAR, which released its 13th album in 2013 and recently toured Japan, was known for its over-the-top stage antics, employing fake blood and costumes that took Kiss to the next level.

GWAR's last trip to Pittsburgh was Sept. 14 at Mr. Smalls, where the band has played numerous times.

Among the first to break the news Monday morning was Darkness singer David Draiman, who tweeted "SADDENED TO HEAR, RIP; Gwar Frontman Dave Brockie A.K.A. Oderus Urungus Dead At 50."

Gwar bassist Mike Bishop told Style Weekly, "Dave was one of the funniest, smartest, most creative and energetic persons I've known. He was brash sometimes, always crass, irreverent, he was hilarious in every way. But he was also deeply intelligent and interested in life, history, politics and art. His penchant for scatological humors belied a lucid wit. He was a criminally underrated lyricist and hard rock vocalist, one of the best, ever! A great frontman, a great painter, writer, he was also a hell of a bass guitarist. I loved him. He was capable of great empathy and had a real sense of justice."

GWAR was the first national client for Pittsburgh sound and lighting engineer Scott Warner, who told us Monday: "It was an honor to have spent 5 years with Dave and Gwar. Dave amazed me with his quick wit which sometimes made me cringe. I know I'll never work with someone like him ever again."

Warner hooked up with GWAR in 1993 when he was doing sound for Pittsburgh band The Cynics at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC.

"The house engineer at the venue was the sound engineer for a band named Testament. We had met at City Limits a few months back. After the show he said I was a good sound engineer and wanted my card. I told him I'd rather do lights and he offered me an audition for his other client GWAR. I was so excited, since I loved them. A few months later I drove to Richmond and the gig was mine for five years. When I left to move on to Everclear, Dave was pleading with me not to go. He was tearing up. That memory is really in my mind today."

Warner says Everclear was a better opportunity at the time. 

"I felt I had done all I could with Gwar. I told Dave he needed to find a young lighting guy who was hungry and showed the same excitement I had years ago. It was a mixture of the same clubs and no budget for more lights. Plus with all of the blood, I had to keep my lights behind the band. The shows were beginning to look the same."


Spahr Schmitt, who managed record store Brave New World and played in the bands Necropolis and Hi-Watt Hex, booked the first GWAR show here in 1988 at City Limits in Penn Hills after first hearing about their “outrageous stage show.”

The band, which hadn’t even released its first album yet, showed up in an old school bus missing one essential drum.

“As they were loading in, somebody realized that they’d forgotten their 50-gallon drum of fake blood back in Virginia. Dave said, ‘No worries, just go get these five ingredients, and off a couple guys went.’ ”

Only about 60 people showed up that night, Mr. Schmitt said, “But it was one of the greatest shows that ever played that City Limits venue. Just outrageous. Band members brawling in the audience, fake blood flying everywhere. I remember kids who went to that show having a pseudo-blood-tie-dyed effect on the clothes that they wore to the gig and complaining that the blood didn’t wash off of their skin and hair for several days.”

After paying for the sound equipment, there was only about $60 left to pay the band. “I very shamefully offered it to Dave, who put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘No problem, man, thanks’ and even gave me a GWAR T-shirt for my trouble. He was an awesome guy.”


Overlord Brom of the local metal band Dethlehem said, "We opened for them in 2012 at Smalls. Had a short but awesome convo backstage in which he complimented me on wearing a real metal helmet while playing drums... Something I will always remember."

Brockie was also a friend of Autumn Cook, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh grad and special effects artist who appeared on Season 4 of the Syfy show "Face Off." She posted on her Facebook page Monday, "I love him more than you will ever understand."

Updated: Monday, 2:37 p.m.

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Jeff Tweedy to open Three Rivers Arts Festival lineup

Written by Scott Mervis on .

Jeff-Tweedy-561530-1-402The music lineup for the 2014 Three Rivers Arts Festival is being announced throughout the day March 24 on sponsor station WYEP (91.3 FM).

The festival is bringing back some major acts from previous while adding some fresh faces. All concerts are all free at Point State Park, running June 6-15. We'll keep a rolling blog here as they are announced.

Friday, June 6: Jeff Tweedy: This will be the first solo trip here for the frontman of Wilco and the former co-leader of Uncle Tupelo.

Sat., June 7: Sam Bush: Bluegrass multi-instrumentalist who made his name in the band New Grass Revival in the ‘70s and ’80s.

Sunday, June 8: Trampled by Turtles: Indie-folk band from Duluth, Minn., that has played Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. It is also WYEP Day with Colonizing the Cosmos, townsppl, Brooke Annibale.

Mon., June 9: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Tues., June 10: Kaiser Chiefs: Pittsburgh debut for the British post-punk revival band about to release its fifth album.

Wednesday, June 11: Amos Lee: Singer-songwriter from Philadelphia who combines rock, folk and soul.

Thursday, June 12: The Smithereens: Veteran New Jersey rock band, known for such songs as "A Girl Like You" and "Blood and Roses," was here last summer to open for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.


Fri., June 13: Curtis Harding: Former CeeLo Green backup singer also plays in the garage-soul band Night Sun.


Sat., June 14: Lucinda Williams: Queen of Alt-Country returns to the festival for the first time since 2001.

Sunday, June 15: Jake Bugg: Young British singer-songwriter and "next Dylan" type who has worked with Rick Rubin.

Updated: Monday 2:49 p.m. 

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Gary Numan: Electrifying at Altar Bar

Written by Scott Mervis on .


garynumanGary Numan fans from way back likely never expected to see him from a spitting distance.

The closeness was just one of the strange things about his Altar Bar show, as the British New Wave pioneer always seemed like an artist to be appreciated from afar.

This was a “space oddity,” if you will, to go with the fact that Numan hasn’t remained stuck in 1980. He’s also inched into the ’90s with a grinding industrial sound that he’s snatched back, in a way, from Trent Reznor.

His Altar Bar set was heavy on the latter, reflecting the dark shadows of his last few albums, including last fall’s “Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind).” Banish the thought of this being a Nine Inch Nails knockoff, as Numan not only has the vision and melodic sense to take on Reznor, he has better pipes.

While Numan’s Tubeway Army was a keyboard outfit, this band had jagged noise guitarist Steve Harris prominently at his side, with Numan (in a wig, presumably, that made him look like Billie Joe Armstrong) also strapping on a guitar at points. Far from robotic, he flashed punk intensity, whipping himself around the stage, while other times dancing rapturously with his arms over his head.

They played eight of the 12 songs from the new album — from the driving “I Am Dust” and “Love Hurt Bleed” to the dirge-like “Lost.” “Splinter” and “Everything Comes Down This” were the perfect intersection of his styles, with the undercurrent of noise meeting spacey keyboards and soaring choruses.

numan2If you came for vintage Numan, this was a lot of sledgehammer, interrupted by a smattering of old songs that rained down like comfort music by comparison. A sheer moment of bliss was the “Replicas” sci-fi classic “Down in the Park” with its pretty piano line and orchestral synths threatening to bury his nasal robot vocal.

The synth-funk of “Cars,” his signature song, felt like a outdated model in the middle of the set, but there’s no getting around playing it.

More cosmic was “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?,” one of three encores, played with fury and fists flying in the air.

Gary Numan sightings have been rare in Pittsburgh, making this one, in a converted church, all the more magical. It’s good to see the robot so ... lifelike.


Set List


I Am Dust 
Everything Comes Down to This 
Here in the Black 
The Fall 
The Calling 
Down in the Park 
We're the Unforgiven 
Love Hurt Bleed 
A Prayer for the Unborn 


I Die: You Die 
Are 'Friends' Electric? 
My Last Day



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Never mind the Sex Pistols: A Q&A with Glen Matlock

Written by Scott Mervis on .



It’s not the easiest sell in 2014: Solo acoustic versions of “God Save the Queen” and “Pretty Vacant” ... sung by any Sex Pistol let alone one who is not named Johnny Rotten.

Glen Matlock wasn’t even around for the recording of “Never Mind the Bullocks,” having been replaced in early 1977 by Sid Vicious, but the bassist was with the Pistols in the band’s formative years and played a big role in writing the songs on that one and only album.

He’s currently on a Punk Goes Acoustic Tour with Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls, making that a double bill of un-frontmen.

Matlock was an art student who worked at Malcolm McLaren’s London store Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die (later Sex) when he was recruited to play in the Strand with guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook. With the addition of snarling frontman John Lydon (Rotten) in ‘75 and the re-branding as the Sex Pistols, McLaren’s creation became the trailblazers of the British punk scene.


They debuted in February 1976 and by July were joined by The Clash and The Damned. The Pistols’ revolutionary first single “Anarchy in the UK” dropped in late November, followed in December by the infamous TV interview with Bill Grundy and the riotous Anarchy Tour.

In February, Matlock was replaced for Vicious, who couldn’t really play but looked more the part of an evil twin for Rotten. Matlock went on form the Rich Kids (77-79) with Midge Ure, among other bands, along with being a hired gun for Vicious White Kids (led by Vicious for all of one show) and the Faces reunion (2010).

Matlock, now 57, has been back as the Pistols bassist for reunion tours since 1996, running up until the most recent in 2008. His most recent album was 2010’s “Born Running” with the Philistines.

His tour with Sylvain Sylvain stops at the Hard Rock Cafe on Tuesday (8 p.m.; $12/$14;

So you’re out with Sylvain Sylvain. How did you hook up with him?
We have been mates for some time. This is the second time we’ve done a tour like this together. We’re in similar boats: Known to be sidemen a little bit, but we’re also songwriters, and it’s a good way of getting our stuff across.

How influenced were you by the New York Dolls and New York punk, in general?
Quite a lot. I think Steve Jones was the one who was more influenced by [Johnny] Thunders and stuff. My thing that got me going was all the early rock bands in the early to mid ‘60s — the Kinks and the Who and the Small Faces. That was my yardstick. But I remember going to see the Faces in about 1973 or something and I didn’t really know or care who was on the bill. The New York Dolls were supporting, and that was fantastic, a real watershed moment, coupled with, I used to work with Malcolm McLaren, before the Sex Pistols, in the store, and I heard them talking about [the Dolls] and it all came together in the melange of what was going on. The Pistols were hip to the Dolls and the Stooges and things like that, and the New York punk scene, although we hadn’t heard it at the time because no one had made any records. It seemed to be filling both sides of the Atlantic at the same time. When the Ramones first came to England, the Pistols all went and we were quite shocked that they were on the same page as us without us hearing them or them hearing us. It was kind of funny. I think everybody got fed up with the same old influences and took a step further back.

Back to the early ’60s rock ‘n’ roll, even the mid ’50s.
Yes. There’s a lot of Eddie Cochran in the Pistols stuff and the Dolls stuff and the Ramones stuff. It’s that little 3-minute-30-second vignette of what’s going on in teenage life with a good beat and a good riff and a good tune — all connects into one. That’s what the best rock was to me. What was going on prior to punk with all the prog-rock bands and operas and stadium rock, that was all very remote from what we were trying to do or what was affecting our lives. People were singing about hobgoblins. I mean, there’s not many hobgoblins in London, I can tell you.

And you guys of course brought that brash political element to it. Were you comfortable with that part of it?
I was very comfortable with it. London was a complete dump in the mid ’70s and [inaudible] were on strike all the time, there was rubbish piled high in the streets. There was a real air of despondency, and the song ‘God Save the Queen,’ although the words were never changed, originally it was called ‘No Future.’ And it really seemed like there was no future. But we wasn’t celebrating that fact. We were trying to point out that you don’t let the wool be pulled over your eyes, you do something about it for yourself. And I wrote ‘Pretty Vacant,’ that’s my lyric. It was about that air of despondency, but we don’t care, we’re just going work through this somehow and come up with something. And it wasn’t a literal thing. Hopefully, the music and the lyrics were more than the sum of the parts. You’re attacking some esoteric thing that you can’t necessarily write out in an article or letter to somebody.

Was there a defining moment with the Pistols where you saw that it had taken off and people were behind you?
Yeah, we did this famous TV show, the Bill Grundy Show, and we thought it would be no big deal one way or another, but it turned us into Public Enemy No. 1, and the next day everything changed. And all these bands popped out of the woodwork almost overnight, because they were looking for something. Everybody always knows what they don’t want, but they don’t necessarily know what they want until it’s put in front of them, and we were put in front of them in a big way. Prior to that we’d been on the pages of a lot of the music papers so we’d already been making inroads there. But, I always aspired to be a songwriter. I always dug people like Ray Davies who’d written these fantastic vignette/slice-of-life songs, and that’s what I continue to do, so while the Pistols, I’m proud of that, it was a long time ago and it’s just one thing to my boat.

Watching you do your own thing, I’m reminded more of a Nick Lowe type approach.
Possibly so. I like Nick. I don’t try to be like Nick. There’s other people I prefer more. But I am a singer-songwriter. That’s what I’ve always been and when we do our set, we both do songs from all aspects of our career, but they actually hang other. A Pistols song against a Rich Kids song against something I’m doing now, they all hang together because it was written on an acoustic guitar and they have my same kind of sensibility all the way through. The main thing that does kind of change is the lyrical content. I saw a good interview with John Lennon, where he was talking about ‘Double Fantasy’ or something, and they asked him, ‘Are you still trying to write for kids?’ And he said no, but he thinks he’s writing for the kids who grew up with him, and I suppose I’m doing the same kind of thing. As you get older and go through life, you have a different set of life experiences that you don’t have when you’re 17, 18 years old.

Jumping back, was it difficult for you to leave the Pistols when you did?
No, it was just so intense. It was the right thing to do. And then we did reform in ‘96, of all the bass players in the world they could roust about, they asked me, so I feel I had the last laugh.

How did you only play on 'Anarchy'?
Because most of the record was made after I left, but the majority of them were my songs. Certainly the first three singles. I didn’t write them all, but all the riffs and all the tunes ... and ‘Pretty Vacant’ was my song, so if anybody in the world had those songs, they’d be doing all right.

How long have you been doing acoustic versions of them?
I’ve been doing acoustic sets for the past 15 years. Not all the time. A friend of mine, who’s now a top lawyer in Dubai, he used to live near me and to celebrate his birthday, about 17 years ago, he said why not do a few numbers for him in the local pub where I live in London. And it went down really well, and people started asking me to do it. I was a bit nervous about doing it at first, because I’d never really done that. You’re really on the spot when you’re doing acoustic shows. It’s just you. I get far more nervous doing an acoustic show than I do playing in front of 20,000 people with the band. But that’s a reason to do it, it’s a challenge, and I got better and better at doing it and I think I do a pretty good job. It’s fun. I’m not a po-faced musical musician. There’s some serious content in my songs, but when I play, I like to have a laugh with the audience and I like everyone to go home with a smile on their face. Which they do normally ... unless they’re miserable old gits.

Has Johnny ever given you a hard time for doing these acoustic versions?
You know, I haven’t spoken to Johnny for years and I’m not that interested what he thinks, to be honest. Good luck to him in what he does and hope he thinks the same of me. He’ll probably moan, because he’s a moaning kind of bloke, but I’m not really interested in what he has to say. Sorry, but do you think because Johnny thinks I shouldn’t be doing it that I shouldn’t be doing it? Then you’re very wrong, mate!

What did you think of the decision not to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction [in 2006]?
I think it was a unilateral decision by Johnny Rotten and I don’t agree with it. So there you go. I would have done it. What got me is, we turned that one down and then about two weeks later there was an English one that he went and accepted, so draw your own conclusions from that.


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