Tonight: The Cynics return to the stage at Mr. Smalls Theater

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Gregg Kostelich is more cynical than ever.

The Canonsburg kid who founded The Cynics 30 years ago has seen just how grimy it can get when you try to take the band from the garage to the stars.

The labels are lecherous and the band members split. Corporations hot-wire the music festivals, and the kids who are drinking in the streets don't care because they can download the music for free. The airlines charge more to transport the guitar and your double-album dreams don't come true.

"When we first started out, we played the Electric Banana, the Decade, Upstage, Graffiti," Mr. Kostelich said. "We worked that from the mid '80s all the way to 2000, then all the clubs pretty much closed."

The band -- reduced to Mr. Kostelich and singer-songwriter Michael Kastelic -- went on hiatus, involving a trip to Spain, where they picked up bassist Angel Kaplan and drummer Pablo Gonzalez.

"It's a revolving rhythm section, basically," Mr. Kostelich said. "I'm just happy to have a steady band right now. Demand in Europe was really good, so we've been working that pretty heavy."

Tonight marks The Cynics' return to the Pittsburgh stage -- the group's first in a couple years -- with an 8 p.m. show at Mr. Smalls Theater in Millvale.

"People have been complaining on Facebook," Mr. Kostelich said. "They ask, 'Why does it take six years between records?' And I'm like, 'Well, we're touring.' It's really hard to focus and stay inspired when you're going from plane to plane. You play till 2 in the morning, then you gotta drive straight to the airport for a 7 a.m. flight, and you got to deal with customs agents who look at you and think you're a terrorist."

He complains that despite being back in the States for a while, his 53-year-old body is still operating on European time. He and the guys played in Baltimore last night and drove to Pittsburgh this morning. He just woke up and he's exhausted.

And some reporter wants to ask about the past 30 years?

"That '30-year' thing is not a big deal," he protested. "It makes us sound old. You're only as good as your next song, and if you don't have anything in the can right now, it's very frustrating. So we don't feel very comfortable psychologically or emotionally unless we have 10 or 12 killer songs ready.

"The music is our freedom. We release it and let it go and we get to see the world for another year."

The Cynics are a rock 'n' roll band in the truest sense, he said, chasing away conversation about the band's "style."

"If it all feels right, you do it. We're not trying to break new ground," he said. "Garage punk, jangly power pop, my-girl-died put-me-down songs or happy, flowery, birdsy stuff or acoustic folk rock. I don't think it's a bad formula. I just don't want to be a parody of ourselves in the future. I'd love to write a really killer garage rocker, but I'm not gonna force the riffs. I touch a guitar and I'm feeling kind of poppy and suddenly I'm writing a couple of pop songs that aren't going to make the record. Well, OK, if it's a great song, maybe we put it aside and save it.

"We do it because we like to do it. I can't think of anything else I'd want to do. That's the commitment I've had since I was a child."

He goes over the details of the pending sound-check and wonders when he can fit in a nap. He bemoans how tough it has become to promote a song or an album, let alone a band.

"It's not like taking it to the streets. It's more like taking it door to door," he laughed. "You hear about guys, like one of my friends, they got the band playing in the back yard, they're hosting house parties. That's not me. I want to play nightclubs.

"We want the young kids in the front, the joy they feel, gyrating, dancing and discovering it for the first time. Kids still do want to rock."

The kids will rock tonight at Mr. Smalls, 400 Lincoln Ave., in Millvale. It's an all-ages show with opening acts Neighbours and Meeting of Important People. Doors open at 7:30 and the cover is $12.

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If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at or 412-263-1456. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: First Published April 5, 2013 7:45 PM


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