Three Rivers Arts Festival lineup lacks edge

Written by Scott Mervis on .


lakestreet"We're supposedly one of the most hip cities in the country right now -- why can't the music at our annual downtown festival get more diverse, more modern, and more adventurous?"

That was the gist of at least one reader email reacting to the announcement of the Three Rivers Arts Festival lineup:

June 3: Michael Franti & Spearhead/Caroline Rose

June 4: David Grisman Sextet

June 5: IBEYI

June 6: The Mendelssohn Choir and Steven Hackman

June 7: Leftover Salmon

June 8: Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires/Peter Wolf

June 9: Beth Orton

June 10: Guster

June 11: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

June 12: Lake Street Dive

Booked by Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, once again it features performers who fit the format of radio sponsor WYEP, which means its rootsy and adult-oriented and solid and ... well, pleasant. Most of it is designed for a nice night in the park, with nothing that rocks too hard or is too dissonant to go with funnel cake and kettle corn.

Michael Franti & Spearhead on the opening night (June 3) and the Charles Bradley and the Extraordinaires/Peter Wolf bill on the second Friday night (June 8) will be rousing shows with three fiery frontmen.

The excitement drops off after that.

Beth Orton offers a pretty chill form of electronic pop/rock, and the one time I saw her, in 2012, the crowd at Rosebud rudely talked right over her. They'd better crank the volume to make this one work.

Lake Street Dive, which will draw big on the closing Sunday night, is the epitome of an easy-listening-at-work YEP band. Guster goes down pretty smooth as well, although we need to keep an eye on that possible jam with Mayor Peduto they've been tweeting about.

Why TRAF dedicates a whole Saturday to bluegrass I have no idea. Yeah, it's meant to be played and listened to outside, but a whole day for a niche genre rooted in the '40s is overkill and takes away from other tastes that could be served. And, in case you didn't get enough banjos and mandolins, they've added another bluegrass band on top of that with Leftover Salmon three days later.

Two nights are devoted to classical music, one of them being the fusion style of Steve Hackman (not to be confused with Steve Hackett). The one show coming up from under the radar is IBEYI, French-Cuban twin sisters doing soul/electronica who are also booked at Coachella.

Now for the not represented: hip-hop, country, metal, punk and (young) rock, for starters. The metal crowd is used to being passed over at TRAF, as metal has the potential to scare nice people away. But it does attract a lot of others who love music as much anyone else. (Deafheaven, perhaps?). Same with hip-hop, which is sometimes represented by local artists (like Formula 412 or Jasiri X), but not this year. We're up to our necks in bro-country around here, but anyone along the line of Kacey Musgraves or Sturgill Simpson would brighten up TRAF. (The Trust does a separate JazzLive International Festival with the Chick Corea Trio, Jeff "Tain" Watts Quartet and more June 24-26.)

What I miss the most in this lineup is that one vintage punk/post-punk act a la Patti Smith, Sonic Youth, The New York Dolls, Tom Verlaine or even the Baseball Project or Kaiser Chiefs (all past TRAF acts). I do understand that vintage acts don't grow on trees and there's lots of competition from local clubs (Flag, the B-52s and Violent Femmes are all booked elsewhere this spring/summer), but isn't Iggy Pop around?

Last year, they had Jenny Lewis, Alvvays and Benjamin Booker (which got rained out). Before that, they had Jake Bugg. This year's there's no young, hungry rock band to fit that mold. And there is no shortage of those.

Also Franti himself will sing: "Everyone deserves music."



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Brit Floyd dazzles once again on Continuum Tour

Written by Scott Mervis on .

BritFloydIf I were to line up my favorite living guitar heroes, I might just find a spot somewhere on the end for Damian Darlington, which is weird to say because he plays in, um, a tribute band.

But it's not just any tribute band, it's Brit Floyd, the creme de la creme of tribute bands, a touring phenomenon big enough to fill back-to-back nights at the Benedum.
Of course, the appeal is the timeless music of Pink Floyd, which is becoming harder to find these days from original members (although David Gilmour launches a limited North American tour later this month).

Darlington's job is execute Gilmour's fluid guitar parts, which he does humbly, effortlessly and thrillingly, without any unnecessary flourishes. Some of his best work Friday night at the Benedum was done with his fingers gliding and flying across a lap slide. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better guitar tandem in Pittsburgh this year than Darlington and Edo Scordo, who nailed his lead parts as well ... except maybe that lead-in to "Wish You Were Here" (we'd have to go to the video review on that).

damianDamian Darlington/John Katic, Iron City RocksDarlington, who broke off from the Australian Pink Floyd five years ago to form this band, is also a dead ringer vocally for Gilmour, alongside bassist Ian Cattell, ably handling the gruffer Rogers Waters parts.

This Continuum Tour, which started in Johnstown Thursday night (with a few technical glitches, according to fan reports), shook up the set list we saw last summer at Stage AE. The Syd Barrett era is out (bummer) and in place of that huge section of "The Wall," Brit Floyd dives deep into a trippy 20-minute version of "Echoes" (from "Meddle') and reaches for several smooth tracks from "Momentary Lapse of Reason." They also subbed out "Sheep" for a hard-driving "Pigs," complete with, yes, a scary gray one with glowing red eyes bobbing on stage.

Along with the slower "Momentary" songs, they do "High Hopes" and "Poles Apart" from "Division Bell," requiring some patience from people who like the heavier, more popular and, basically, better Floyd stuff. As you can see from the set list below, most of it is rousing, crowd-pleasing stuff, with six bricks from "The Wall" (the "Comfortably Numb" solos are literally show-stopping), two precious pieces of "Wish You Were Here" and four from Floyd's finest, "The Dark Side of the Moon." Once again, the first standing ovation of the night was for singer Ola Bienkowska's flight into ecstasy on "The Great Gig in the Sky."

Everyone on stage -- including keyboardist Rob Stringer, drummer Arran Ahmun, sax/percussionist/keyboardist Jay Davidson, and backup singers Jacquie Williams and Angela Cervantes -- played their parts to perfection, while the tasteful million-dollar laser-light show added to the eye candy and wow-factor. Honestly, as a big fan of authenticity, I'm a little embarrassed to have enjoyed it that much.

Brit Floyd Set List
Set 1
Signs of Life
Learning to Fly
High Hopes
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V)
Poles Apart
Us and Them
The Happiest Days of Our Lives
Another Brick in the Wall Part 2
Pigs (Three Different Ones)

Set 2
Yet Another Movie
Round and Around
Empty Spaces
Young Lust
The Great Gig in the Sky
Wish You Were Here
One of These Days
Comfortably Numb

Run Like Hell




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Jasiri X and Rhymefest form supergroup Kill Switch

Written by Scott Mervis on .


JasiriJasiri and Rhymefest in Twitter postTwo powerful political voices in hip-hop -- Pittsburgh rapper/activist Jasiri X and Chicago Grammy winner Che “Rhymefest” Smith -- are teaming up to form a supergroup called Kill Switch.


Their debut album, “#WarOnUs,” will hit the streets this spring, promising “social and politically charged music that dives headfirst into topics ranging from police violence and black on black crime, to an unequal American judicial system and environmental disasters.”


"We've been working together for the last few years. Last summer he came to Pittsburgh for a week and we did seven songs together so we decided to go all out and form the group," Jasiri said.

They are currently touring in Colombia, with support from Open Society Foundations, as part of a team of artists raising awareness around UNGASS (Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem). They will be reporting on how U.S. drug policies impact the global war on drugs, mass incarceration and narcotics proliferation, and will be interviewing the mayor of Bogota and arts and culture experts in Cartagena, as well as visiting the childhood home of the late Pablo Escobar in Medellin.


Jasiri, co-founder of the Pittsburgh-based 1Hood Media, has been traveling the country for years as an educator, activist and hip-hop reporter hitting such hotspots as Ferguson, Mo., Occupy Wall Street and, just this week, Flint, Mich. His latest album, “Black Liberation Theology,” is another fiery and outspoken treatise on social justice issues.


Rhymefest, a hip-hop ambassador in his own right, is the co-founder of Donda’s House, focusing on arts training of Chicago youth. He has collaborated with the likes of Kanye West, Lil Jon and Ol' Dirty Bastard and just won a Grammy for his part (along with John Legend and Common) on the song “Glory,” from the movie “Selma.” He made news recently tweeting of Kanye, “my brother needs help, in the form of counseling. Spiritual & mental. He should step away from the public & yesmen & heal.”

You can follow them at @jasiri_x and @Rhymfest, with the Hashtag #WarOnUs.


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Sixx:AM to release 'Prayers for the Damned,' play Stage AE

Written by Scott Mervis on .

SixxMotley Crue has said farewell -- at least for now -- but Nikki Sixx is right back on the road with his band Sixx:A.M.


It will play Stage AE, North Shore, on May 18 (doors at 6:30 p.m.). Tickets are $35; $40 day of show, and go on sale at noon Friday. Presale runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday using password “prayers”.


Sixx:A.M, comprised of bassist Sixx, guitarist DJ Ashba and singer James Michael (with drummer Dustin Steinke), has released three albums since forming in 2007.


They will issue "Prayers For The Damned Vol 1," a double album follow-up to 2014's "Modern Vintage," on April 29, followed by Vol. 2 at a later date.


“SIXX:A.M. is in the most creative place of our careers,” Sixx said. “For James, DJ and myself, we think it’s the perfect time to release so much quality music to our fans who’ve been supporting us over the last three albums.”


Michael added, “The double-albums will leave no stone unturned in our quest to create important music and push the boundaries of rock.”


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Kacey Musgraves is a 'Pageant' winner at Stage AE

Written by Scott Mervis on .


KaceyThank you, Kacey Musgraves, for showing us what a country-western show looks and sounds like.


Most of us either didn’t know, or saw one on TV way back when we were kids. Country, as you well know, is a dominant force now in the touring industry, but a lot of it’s pop-metal with a Southern accent or roughed-up Jimmy Buffett.


Musgraves was on one of those bro packages in 2013, finding herself a little out of her element opening for Kenny Chesney and Eric Church at Heinz Field while touring on her first major-label album, "Same Trailer, Different Park."


On Saturday, supporting "Pageant Material," she returned on the delightful Kacey Musgraves Rhinestone Country Western Revue, appearing on an eye-popping stage sporting pinkish tinsel curtains from ‘50s/‘60s, neon cacti, a disco ball and band members in western suits with beaded lights. Kacey wore a short, puffy dress with a bow, and said on the second song, “Biscuits,” “you're welcome to square dance if want to.” There wasn’t much room for that as the Stage AE floor was packed tight.


The girl from Golden, Tx., proceeded into a set drawn with small-town characters muddling through lives of raising kids, day drinking, pot smoking, sneaking into affairs and getting into each other’s business, and seeming to enjoy it.


She and the band -- with three guitars going plus sweet pedal steel and occasional banjo -- were so smooth and well-rehearsed, there wasn’t a single note out of place the entire night. They don’t show off or step on the songs. Her pretty voice sat atop the gentle backing, the clever wordplay ringing out loud and clear.


It was Nashville countrypolitan at its finest -- “Pageant Material,” “This Town,” “Dime Store Cowgirl,” “Fine” -- and just when it was starting to become the slightest bit samey, they all gathered at center stage for a playful section where the band members displayed their various side talents (clogging, juggling, balloon-twisting) and the music got looser.


They did the hilariously edgy “Family is Family” and countrified Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” with Kacey jamming on harmonica. Admitting that she’s a “Disney dork,” she had a blast with “A Spoonful of Sugar,” exhibiting her whistling skills and adorable dancing, and challenging the band to play it faster and faster.


She sent the band off to fingerpick her way beautifully through “Merry Go ‘Round,” spinning one of her best choruses -- “Mama's hooked on Mary Kay/brother's hooked on Mary Jane/Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down” -- and brought them back for a final section that included a spirited “High Time” and a cover of TLC’s “No Scrubs," which she pulled off very nicely.


After a rare extended jam on “Die Fun,” they rocked into her signature song, “Follow Your Arrow,” and closed the set by vamping through “These Boots Are Made for Walkin',” revealing that they were also made for lighting up.


She’s not pageant material, she said at the outset, having no real interest in wearing a swimsuit on stage or being Miss Congenial. In beauty and talent, she has few peers.


Kacey Musgraves set list


Pageant Material


This Town

Step Off

I Miss You

Good Ol’ Boys Club


Dime Store Cowgirl

Family Is Family

The Trailer Song

Crazy (Gnarls Barkley cover)

It Is What It Is

A Spoonful of Sugar (Julie Andrews cover)

Merry Go 'Round

High Time

Mama's Broken Heart

(Miranda Lambert cover)

No Scrubs (TLC cover)

Late to the Party

Die Fun

Follow Your Arrow

These Boots Are Made for Walkin'

(Lee Hazlewood cover)


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