Archive for the 'Pittsburgh' Category

Jenn Gooch w/The Harlan Twins @ Howler’s Cafe

November 6, 2008

What better way to ring in a new month with a new musical discovery or two? Since mastering my iGoogle organizer app, I’ve been all up ons in terms of shows. The Harlan Twins, being at the top of my local list, had a show last Saturday at Howler’s.

Howler’s has come a bit of a way from my first introduction; a Maxipads show well over two years ago. Sadly, that was the most recent show I had been to before Saturday, though I am on a first-name basis with a bartender or two.

The new stage, new tables and splashes of paint make the already intimate venue really come together. I’ll be seeing more than just the bar from now on, especially since the BBT is still out for the count due to water damage from a fire upstairs.

After piecing together my list of potential shows, I decided to figure out who I was seeing alongside the Twins. After a myspace sampling, I was satisfied in the knowledge that I might just be purchasing Jenn Gooch‘s latest release, Gift Horse.

George Neal of The Slow Burners, friend of Gooch and fellow Texan opened with some looong acoustic balladry and stompin’, priming the pump. Gooch joined onstage for “Probably Fine”, which they wrote together.

Shortly after, the petite banjoess ascended the stage and introduced us to a themed setlist; love and loss, isolation and bein lonesome and ‘shit hittin the fan’. The technique worked pretty well, and I was instantly charmed by Gooch’s unassuming nature and between-song humor.

While any cute girl with an instrument will do it for me, the vocals she threw down were terrific. Her southmouth lamentations reminded me of Scout Niblett, while her lyrical skills, especially with songs like “Jonestown Koolaid” evoked a darker version of Joanna Newsom‘s poetics.

She blew through her set; most of her songs are under three minutes. After grabbing another beer, I snagged a copy of her album, already excited to feed it to my iPod. I was even more excited when I got home and discovered her banjo was just a vehicle for her musical alter-ego and that she was primarily an artist, with a site and everything.

The Harlan Twins shambled onto the stage in quick order and turned in another solid performance. James Hart’s guitar work is compelling and thrifty, especially on “Stones in my Passway”. The only self-indulgence you could fault him for is basking in the gravelly brilliance of his voice, but I’m not gonna fault that. As a friend mentioned at their last show, you can tell a good rhythm sections if they look relaxed. At times the bassist looked bored when he wasn’t exchanging grins with the drummer, and that only happened when crazy breakdowns were occurring.

The set was shortened by two songs due to guitarist Carrie Battle’s hearing issue, who has some sort of alien probe in her ear canal that interferes at inappropriate times. Yet again, her mic was nowhere near loud enough, so it may be just as well that the crowd didn’t get to hear “Blue in Bloomfield”, which is not possible without her smokey pipes.

Beyond discovering Jenn Gooch, I found that The Harlan Twins were only one of several formidable alt-country and southern rock outfits. Their next show, at the indomitable Brillobox, is with Lohio, another album release shindig.

I gave Gift Horse several hard listens when I got home, and was overjoyed that the no-frills music I fell for at Howler’s was honestly transcribed in the recording process. It’s not hard to fuck up a solo show or album, there’s plenty of examples of artists doing that, but I was pleased as punch to add the album to my playlist. Given the fact that Gooch is a one-trick pony as far as instrumentation goes, the album is surprisingly lush with exploration and self-examination, which is distinctly reflected in the sounds and language of the album: Slow and melancholy remembrances like “Maybe Tomorrow” are awash in a sea of overt sexuality (“Sealust”), humorous accounts of abortive romance (“Prestidigitation”) and fast burning apocalyptica (“Jonestown Koolaid”).

Show Rating: B+

Album Rating; Gift Horse: A

Thanks to Jenn Gooch for giving me some tongue-in-cheek meditations on love. I’m already cramming the disc down my roommates’ collective throat.

Furthermore, I’ll buy the soundman who can get it right for the Harlans a beer (the keyboards were also too loud at times), honest.

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Bad Art and iPods

September 25, 2008

This last weekend, my best pal from highschool came to visit. As the host, I had a credible and decent agenda laid out. However, my lesser demons tend to get involved when I make plans, giving black eyes to anything with a halo. So the agenda got pretty much blown to hell.

The original plan was as follows:

-Shadyside Arts Festival
-Lunch in Shadyside
-Roller Derby Championship
-Dinner…somewhere?
-Alcoholocaust

I only managed three of the five. Ouch.

So my buddy gets lost on the turnpike (laugh all you want, but I did it at least three times back when I still drove) so that buys my hungover ass two extra hours of tequila induced nonsleep.

He shows up, I man up, we stroll up.

To Shadyside. I make him buy me a hotdog to keep both the physical and spiritual sickness at bay. I had forgotten what a lame fuckaround these kinds of things are. Thomas Kinkade would fit in perfectly. Almost the entire lot was shite art for idiots with too much money.

Perfect for Shadyside.

There were some really cool artists- a bronze sculptor, a few painters, one or two other sculptors, but you had to wade through series of tents filled with uninspired tripe. Most of the tents had manual credit card swipers ready. Imagine.

To perfect this sickeningly bourgeois experience, this one here knuckled under and replaced (and recycled for a 10% discount!) his long-dead five-year-old iRelic.

In the Apple store.

The moral of this story is that for all my grousing, I’m no better than the lilies of Shadyside, because I fucking need an iWant, dammit.

I just have better taste in art.

Not skill, there was a good bit of skill there, more so than my technical learnin’. But a shithouse is a shithouse, and I can manage some usable, albeit grimy receptacles.

I had fucked us by forgetting to buy Roller Derby tickets until the night before. They were of course, sold out. Congrats, Bitch Doctors!

So a meal was next. Back to Bloomfield, and Lot 17. I was thereby informed I had already taken my buddy there, so….Brillobox!

Closed? At like 5? Fuck.

Here’s where the lesser demons really got busy.

hey we can just go to the strip it’s totally not that far away

Dear lesser demons, the Strip is over twenty fucking blocks from that particular spot of hell-borne inspiration, you fucks. And my damn sandals gave me blisters.

So, great conversation, urban blight, and eventually Primanti’s. Then, for some reason, I’m all like, “Yo, fuck the 54c, I don’t even like that bus.” So we walk downtown.

We finally hit a 61 back to Oakland for Dave & Andy’s (dude, Strawberry Coconut!) and then walked back to my house, leaving us both wholly satisfied with a pretty packed afternoon and early evening.

Then we each bought a bottle of wine.

I recommend this to anyone:

The bottle is a magic trick! It disappears in a single gulp and you are magically invincible. It does not help yr pool game, however. As the neighbors made obvious. Then, wanting to show my pal how I roll when the night creeps into my veins, I demand we all go to Sonny’s. They told us it is haunted, and used to be a way-station on some old passenger train line. No shit. Some guy told me I should write horror poetry, but I was too chickenshit to tell him there’s not too much I could do to make it more horrible, haHA!

We finally came back into orbit, only to have me force my friend into the waiting arms of a neighbor for a salsa lesson. Perfect way to end an evening.

I awake Sunday, he drops me at work on his way back to the 216, leaving me with a compound hangover, a reaffirmed disgust for Shadyside, the hypocrisy of a shiny new iNeed and a half-finished painting from Friday night.

Shit, I’m not all mouth.

Artistic License

April 25, 2008

Since the recent uproar surrounding the Grant Street Transportation Center’s offering towards a fresher, prettier Pittsburgh has been found to be (along with a couple other ‘offerings’) unlicensed, this brings up what should have been licensed.

Early this year, an artist by the name of Daniel Montano was in the local news and in angry posts all over the internets for his own brand of offerings.

To clarify my position: I’m a huge proponent and advocate as graffiti (the kids who are with it just call it ‘graf’, dig) and artists like Banksy really sing to me.

Paraphrasing from his manifesto or vision, outlined on his site (because I can’t seem to find it), the goal of Banksy is to get people involved in their environment- be careful where you lean or sit down, it may be a fresh work of art.

I will readily admit a lot of tags are ugly, and a lot of them aren’t really artistic expressions. But there is a fine line.

If you don’t think that’s beauty, you should have your eyes checked. That’s MFONE, who by most accounts is a petty vandal.

Call it what you will, but it has more class and technique than say, well, anyone with a spraycan.

Anybody who would dispute the dedication of people who are willing to climb bridges (remember Mook, Pittsburgh? No? just look at the pinnacle of just about every bridge in town), risk arrest, bodily harm, all for art is frankly wrong.

Perhaps a better example of this dedication would be one of the best art galleries I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting, Cleveland’s RTA light rail Red Line. Everytime I visit my folks, I make sure to take the train, just to see some of the best contemporary art around.

I will take this over the Mona Lisa any day of the week.

Yes, it is vandalism. Fine. Agreed. But along with making the news, Mr. Montano got a lot of snarky, angry letters to the editor questioning his credibility as an artist. It’s important to remember that his arrest came on the heels of his exhibition at the Mattress Factory.

In a society where artists have stopped bothering to starve and routinely shill for advertising (seriously, commercials have become funny, entertaining and kinda cool is not for the face they’re commercials) or just quit the dream, it’s no small wonder you’ve got a few wild ones who won’t stop living the dream, even if it ends in the back of a police cruiser.

Here in Pittsburgh we laud ourselves for being culturally aware, we squawk about the artists in Lawrenceville and the monthly gallery crawl in downtown (which is tonight, actually), but folk are pretty quick to jump on graf artists. Lock them up, make them pay.

This brings me to where I started. Given a choice between a flat and soulless brick wall, a flashy (but equally soulless) LED not-a-billboard or a mural designed by a convicted vandal, what would you like to see on the side of the Transportation Center?

I agree that vandals ought to pay. Sure- buy the ticket, take the ride as Dr. H.S. Thompson would say. But let’s use our heads; make them pay the entire community back and give these voices in the wild a chance to be recognized and appreciated for the artists they are.

Plenty of cities do this sort of thing already with weed and seed programs, and the graf community is definitely capable of improving the community without being forced to make restitution, like this story from Seattle, and improving the aesthetics of daily life doesn’t always come from a spraycan.

The result is a vibrant, living city.


I offer this piece of tranquility from the Eliza Furnace Trail, taken by Dullroar.

This town could use a little more wet paint.