J Mascis makes a beautiful noise at Club Cafe

Written by Scott Mervis on .


J Mascis is known for blowing the doors off the place with the aptly named Dinosaur Jr.

On Wednesday night at Club Cafe, it was a more intimate evening with the 48-year-old singer-guitarist, but it was certainly no coffeehouse set.

Mascis is taking a short break from his beloved noise-rock trio with solo sets supporting a new album, “Tied to a Star,” that leans more on his acoustic finger-picking. So the hour-long set obviously more had of those delicate moments, like “Me Again,” but he also came with distortion pedals and a loop machine to crank it up and play the kind of solos he would do with Lou and Murph at Mr. Smalls. (Basically, some form of ear protection was still a good move.)

Actually seeing him to do it was only possible for the people standing in the first few rows, as Mascis was sitting on what must have been a toddler chair behind a music stand. It’s not a workable situation in a venue without an elevated stage.

Of course, the ever-mopey Mascis doesn’t provide much to look at, as he goes through the songs sullenly and without expression.

Despite the close quarters, his between-song interactions with the crowd consisted of a few coughs, a song introduction (“here’s another song from the new album”), a half-hearted query for a request and a funny/awkward moment after the main set closer when he didn’t feel like walking back through the crowd (“I guess there’s nowhere to go,” he mumbled, “so I’ll just stay here and do an encore”).

The music itself? Typically divine, with his sleepy, wounded vocals and emotionally charged guitar work on new songs like “Stumble” and “Drifter” and such Dino favorites as “Little Fury Things,” “Not the Same” and “Out There.” The switching back and forth between acoustic and distortion within the songs was jarring at times, but it was the price to pay for some blasts of Dino noise.

A cover of Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” was a natural for him, as was the echoey encore of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.” A late-set standout was “Alone,” during which he manage to create a cathedral-like wall of sound in the tiny room.


J Mascis Set List

(not 100 percent on this, so open to correction)

Listen to Me
Me Again
Little Fury Things
Every Morning
Get Me
Heal the Star
Not the Same
Out There
Fade Into You (Mazzy Star)
Just Like Heaven (The Cure)

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2015 Rock Hall Inductions: My 5 Picks

Written by Scott Mervis on .

trentTrent Reznor of Nine Inch NailsThe Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has released its list of 2015 induction nominees and there is now a chance -- a strong, frightening one -- that Green Day will go in before the likes of Deep Purple, Yes, Sonic Youth and Black Flag.

Green Day was part of a cartoonish pop-punk revival in the '90s and the main thing new it brought to the table was a souped-up production. But the trio led by Billie Joe Armstrong has insider status, mega sales, a Broadway hit and the popularity to attract younger interest in the proceedings.

Consider Green Day's ticket already punched.

The nomination of Sting is even more problematic, as the pompous frontman, who went pretty soft as a solo artist, was already inducted with The Police in 2003. Was his solo career that outstanding that he should go in again before contemporaries like the Smiths (also nominated), Gang of Four, XTC and the Specials and English Beat even get a first shot? I won't even answer that.

So, here is the full list: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Chic, Green Day, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Kraftwerk, The Marvelettes, N.W.A, Nine Inch Nails, Lou Reed, The Smiths, The Spinners, Sting, Stevie Ray Vaughan, War and Bill Withers.

My ballot would go:

Nine Inch Nails: A monstrously innovative industrial-rock band, both sonically and visually, led by Mercer's Trent Reznor.

Stevie Ray Vaughan: An absolute beast on guitar. One of the best I ever saw. It's about time on him. 

smiths-the-50f664a13b769The SmithsThe Smiths: An influential, one-of-a-kind band with an excellent catalog and a beloved cult following for the Morrissey/Johnny Marr combo.

Kraftwerk: Ok, I don't listen to Kraftwerk much, but the German band was an electronic pioneer whose influence is all around us in modern pop.

Close between:

Lou Reed: He would join a list of multiple inductees that includes Neil Young, Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel. Although his post-VU solo work was hit and miss, he continued to push boundaries (right up to "Lulu") and there is certainly enough there to warrant a repeat visit.

The Spinners: A sublime soul band whose hits -- including "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love," "I'll Be Around" and "Then Came You" -- have stood the test of time.

Have to go with Lou.

As for the others, Green Day and N.W.A. can wait. Would have no problem with War and Joan Jett should go in with her pioneering girl band The Runaways.

All in all, the inclusion of Green Day and Sting before so many more deserving classic and punk/New Wave artists makes this list yet another Rock Hall letdown.

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Cloud Nothings are a force of nature

Written by Scott Mervis on .

CloudSome other things came up in the past week or so -- like finally getting away after the crazy summer concert season -- so I never posted anything about the Cloud Nothings show at the Pitt Student Union from Sept. 26.

Wanted to share some thoughts on it before it got ridiculously stale because this one has a good shot at cracking the Top 10 concert list:

-- First of all, kudos to the WPTS (92.1 FM) for bringing in one of the better indie-rock bands on the circuit right now. It reminded me of seeing the likes of Violent Femmes and the Psychedelic Furs back in the day when I went to Pitt. This was also comparable to 'PTS doing No Age there in 2012.

-- Kudos to Cleveland for producing a band that is this much of a force on stage. I realize that two guys can make a lot of noise (No Age being a perfect example), but at times it was hard to believe it was only three producing this wall of sound. Much of it had to do with Dylan Baldi's guitar thrash, but, my goodness, the intensity, speed and precision of drummer Jayson Gerycz. He blew away most of the drummers I've seen this year, and bassist TJ Duke is no slouch either. This is tight, fierce power trio.

-- Led by Baldi, an introverted yet stormy frontman, Cloud Nothings managed to find a great middle ground between classic '80s post-punk/noise bands Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. and the Replacements. If you cherish those bands, you owe it to yourself to check them out.

-- Cloud Nothings did a big chunk of the new album, "Here and Nowhere Else" ("I'm Not Part of Me" and "Now Hear In" being among the highlights), but the killer songs still came from 2012's "Attack on Memory," with the bratty "Stay Useless," dirgy "No Future/No Past" and explosive closer "Wasted Days."

-- It's a shame the crowd took up only about one-third of the ballroom ... but, you know, no alcohol to be had there. Cloud Nothings don't seem like the perfect fit for stage-divers, given Baldi's more indie aesthetic and internal/mopey songwriting, but it didn't stop people. Neither did the fact that there weren't many people to catch them. Hope no one got hurt in the pit, but it would be a miracle if there weren't a few bumps and bruises. Hopefully, this band can rise to Stage AE level at some point, with more bodies below the stage.

Here is the set list:

Now Hear In

Stay Useless 

Psychic Trauma 

Fall In 


Pattern Walks

Quieter Today 

No Future/No Past 

Giving Into Seeing 

Cut You 

I'm Not Part of Me 

Wasted Days


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Demi Lovato goes without the gimmicks at the Petersen

Written by Scott Mervis on .


DemiShe didn’t have a flying hot dog, an army of Trojan soldiers or big furry creatures.

Demi Lovato doesn’t have Miley, Katy or Gaga money behind her new World Tour.

That left the “Camp Rock”/“Barney” star to rely more on her own talents Tuesday night at the Petersen Events Center.

Lovato is a little leaner on hits than those other ladies and her personal struggles have damaged her career at key points, so it wasn’t too surprising that the turnout was low. But with the upper levels of the 9,000-capacity concert venue closed off, the fans below did enough screaming to fill the building.

Nick-related duo MKTO got it started with their funk-pop hits “Thank You” and “Classic” and then Christina Perri brought headliner talent and personality to the evening. Starting with a solo piano “Jar of Hearts,” she moved on to rock out with her band on “Shot Me in the Heart” and caress exquisite ballads like “A Thousand Years” (with a graceful balletic dance) and “Human.”

Lovato emerged out of the floor, with smoke machines blasting, in a black Thunderdome-style get-up with “Really Don’t Care” and right off the bat her set felt hard, cold and processed compared to the one we’d just seen. In fact, it was so processed sounding, it was hard to tell if she was really even singing.

She stayed in that mode through the first five songs, including “The Middle” (one of the few older songs in the set), “Fire Starter” and mega-hit “Heart Attack,” backed a four-piece band, four dancers and two backup singers. She had a metallic guitarist in stringy-haired Mike Manning, sporting a Void punk/thrash T-shirt.

“How yinz doin’ tonight?!” she said, breaking the ice, to cheers from the crowd. “If I just made a fool of myself, that’s because someone told me that’s what you say around here.”

The middle section revealed the softer, more musical side of Demi as she eased into the ballad “My Love is Like a Star” and joined Manning acoustically on “Don’t Forget”/”Catch Me” and “La La Land.” With those, and her uptempo version of “Let It Go,” she showed off her brassy vocals and impressive range.

Settling at the piano for a classical interlude from her recital days, she brought her message to the young fans, saying, “I’m not letting my struggles define who I am as a person.

“I want to move on from my past,” she said, referring to her substance abuse problems, adding, “If anyone is struggling with anything like I was struggling with, I just what you to know you can get through it.”

She also said that “celebrating my 21st birthday sober was [expletive] amazing.”

That all introduced the inspirational ballad “Warrior,” delivered with film clips of her charity mission to Africa.

For the latter part of the show, she was in a second tight black outfit and back in a harder pop-rock mode with “Two Pieces,” a high-energy cover of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and big hits “Skyscraper” and “Give Your Heart a Break.” She put a fun explanation point on the show, treating fans to a blast of color in the lights and costumes for “Neon Lights.”

Perri had stated earlier, “I hope you all have the most magical night of your lives.”

That’s a lot to ask for in any show, particularly this rather small-scale one. But, as a former (troubled) child star battling for her place in the pop world, Demi Lovato certainly didn’t disappoint her fans.


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Pearl Jam tribute group The Ten Band to be featured on AXS-TV

Written by Scott Mervis on .


There's not a lot of glory in being in a tribute band -- unless you end up on YouTube and get the gig singing for the real band, like the guys in Journey and Yes -- so Pittsburgh's The Ten Band is thrilled to get a slot on AXS-TV’s “The World’s Greatest Tribute Bands” on Tuesday, Nov. 11 (10 p.m. Eastern).

The fourth season episode finds The Ten Band, which honors Pearl Jam and was named for PJ's debut album, live from the iconic Whiskey A Go Go on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.

The Ten Band, performing since 2003, consists of Nick Rhodes (vocals), Todd Kaczorowski (bass), Brian Pardee (lead guitar), Billy Schneider (rhythm guitar), and Adam Sivitz (drums).

"They had a Nirvana tribute last season and they decided to do Pearl Jam this season, so they collected material from a number of PJ tributes worldwide," said band founder Kaczorowski.

The Ten Band got the call.

"We've been doing it for a long time and it's quite a nice honor," the bassist says. "We're planning to highlight Pittsburgh quite a bit in the opening as well."






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