How the Year Rocked: The 10 biggest stories on the local music front
December 16, 2010 5:00 AM
John Heller / Post-Gazette
Earlier this month Girl Talk opened the new Stage AE on the North Shore.
By Scott Mervis Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
1. Brand new stages
We needed a new arena (although some would argue we didn't). We needed a club that could handle a 1,500- to 2,400-capacity show.
Santa came early.
In August, after much discussion and speculation as to who would launch it, Sir Paul McCartney became the first act to play the new Consol Energy Center, marking his first concert here in 20 years. One show turned into two sold-out nights that showcased the new arena in classy, royal fashion.
Right on his heels were two prestigious shows that likely would have bypassed the dome -- Lady Gaga and Roger Waters' "The Wall." The Consol is not only capable of handling bigger tours with heavier rigging, artists see it as a novelty to play a new building.
Earlier this month, Pittsburgh's own Girl Talk christened Stage AE, an indoor/outdoor venue owned in part by the Steelers and operated by Columbus-based PromoWest. It's going to up the city's concert profile on the mid-range shows, while being a comfortable and convenient new spot for concertgoers.
2. Wiz Wakes and Bakes
Wiz Khalifa has been the up-and-comer since Rolling Stone made him an Artist to Watch in 2006.
This year, he arrived. While selling out every venue on his 60-city Waken Baken Tour, Wiz became the first Pittsburgh artist since Christina Aguilera to hit the Billboard Top 40 with "Black and Yellow," the first single from his Atlantic Records debut due in the spring. It's already on the way to becoming a local sports anthem, with even Steelers Tweeting the #blackandyellow hashtag.
The song, which hit No. 14 last week, was already on the rise when the rapper and his Taylor Gang were busted for marijuana possession after a concert at East Carolina University, making him one of the "fastest rising queries" of all people this year on Google. It prompted Snoop Dogg to Tweet "free wiz."
Expect more Wiz domination in the spring.
3. Girl Talk's 'All Day' sucker
We knew that instead of his usual globe-trotting, Gregg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) had holed up most of the year at his Polish Hill home working on the follow-up to his second successful mashup album "Feed the Animals."
In the wee hours of Monday, Nov. 15, he unleashed it with a fury, suddenly putting it up for free on the Internet. Within a few hours, it was the most searched item on Google and a downloading frenzy of "All Day" was on. MTV.com even splashed the glib headline "Girl Talk Apologizes for Breaking the Internet With 'All Day.' "
What people got for free was a 71-minute nonstop party mix with more than 370 samples, ranging from Black Sabbath to Black Eyed Peas, Rancid to Rihanna.
4. Guitar Heroes RIP
If you were to make a list of Pittsburgh's greatest guitar heroes, Glenn Pavone and Warren King would likely be at the top.
In 2010, we lost both of them.
Mr. King, originally from Monroeville, played in some of Pittsburgh's biggest marquee bands, starting with Diamond Reo in the mid-'70s and moving on to The Silencers, the Iron City Houserockers, Red Hot & Blue and the Mystic Knights of the Sea. That's a range of styles, but he brought his fierce, bluesy chops to all of them. He died of liver cancer at 57 on Jan. 29, just 12 days after his last gig.
Mr. Pavone, a native of Alexandria, Va., came to Pittsburgh in the early '80s to take the job as Billy Price's guitar-slinging sidekick in the Keystone Rhythm Band, one of the popular Pittsburgh groups of that decade. After a nine-year stint, he departed to take center stage in the power trio Glenn Pavone and the Cyclones. He did his last performance at the Pittsburgh Blues Festival in July and died of cancer Aug. 9 at 52.
In October, Bobby Porter, the small but mighty punk-soul singer who fronted such bands as Young Lust and Thin White Line, was silenced due to cancer at age 59.
5. Jammin' with The Boss
With the E Street Band on hiatus, it was a relatively quiet year for Bruce Springsteen. He released the "Darkness on the Edge of Town" boxed set and the excellent "outtakes" album "The Promise," but he played only a handful of shows. Thanks to old friend Joe Grushecky, The Boss came to town for two nights in November to jam at the tiny Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall with the Houserockers as his backing band. He in turn became one of Mr. Grushecky's lead guitarists.
The occasion was the 15th anniversary of their collaboration on "American Babylon," but more than that, he just wanted to stretch his rock 'n' roll muscles, and did so on everything from a rare acoustic version of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find (Pittsburgh)" to a rowdy take on "Pink Cadillac" to a divine encore of "Thunder Road."
6. Mac Miller goes viral
And the winner for best use of the Internet goes to Mac Miller, the other Allderdice grad on the Rostrum label.
Born Malcolm McCormick, the MC and multi-instrumentalist from Point Breeze continued his rise through the indie hip-hop ranks by dropping the "K.I.D.S." mixtape in August, accompanied by a series of slick, well-made videos with impressive numbers. "Nikes on My Feet" has 2.2 million YouTube views and "Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza" has 1.9 million.
"The Internet has been a great way to touch my fanbase," he says. "I've generated over 10 million views on my YouTube account. Also, the dedication of the people around me has played a big role. It's not just me working hard every night but it's everybody on my team."
The videos, like the new one for "Knock Knock," merging hip-hop with the bobby-soxer era, are as good as any you'd find on MTV, if it still showed videos.
"I work with Rex Arrow. He has been my go-to dude from day one. He is just beast, there's not much more to say. He takes small budget videos and turns them into movies."
With the buzz spreading, the likable white Jewish rapper hit the road, selling out dates on the Smoker's Club Tour with Curren$y and Big K.R.I.T. and his own Incredibly Dope Tour. "The shows are always fun and we try to get as hype as possible," he says. "The touring aspect of music is a dream come true ... as long as your transportation is comfortable."
7. The Cancer Crusher
Ambridge native Jim Semonik, a gothic/industrial music promoter, clerk at Eide's Entertainment and member of the band Reinforced, has waged a battle against colorectal cancer since 2008.
This year he waged more of an all-out war by assembling "Electronic Saviors: Industrial Music to Cure Cancer," the most exhaustive anthology of the industrial scene ever released. It spans 83 artists over four CDs, with such artists as SMP, Acumen Nation, Chemlab, Assemblage 23, Imperative Reaction, System Syn and Terrorfakt. It raised more $20,000 for the Harrisburg-based Foundation for Cancer Research and Wellness.
8. VIA Unveiled
Lauren Goshinski, marketing manager for Carnegie Mellon's College of Fine Arts, and Quinn Leonowicz, Web developer and designer, put their heads and their interests in music and art together to create VIAFest, the first international-level electronic-oriented music and video festival ever based in Pittsburgh.
The lineup ranged from techno artist Matthew Dear to iconic dance-punks !!!, from French hip-hop producer Onra to ambient-drone whiz-kid Oneohtrix Point Never.
It was originally going to take place at Iron City Brewery but was moved to the 31st Street Studios in the Strip. It was deemed an artistic success, a smaller-scale version of Barcelona's Sonar, Montreal's Mutek or Krakow's Unsound.
9. Who needs iTunes?
In Pittsburgh, at least, the death of the independent record store is greatly exaggerated.
In 2010, not only did we hold on to institutions like Jerry's Records, Paul's CDs and Eide's Entertainment, we added to the list.
Michael Seamans and Dan Allen launched Mind Cure Records, a vinyl-only store in the same Polish Hill building as the relocated Copacetic Comics.
Meanwhile the Jerry's empire expanded with his son, Willie Weber, opening Whistlin' Willie's 78s, one of the few, if not only, stores in the country dedicated to the sale of 78-rpm records and players. In a Rolling Stone online feature, Jerry's came in No. 10 on the list of "The Best Record Stores in the USA."
10. Roboto signs off
After 10 loud years in Wilkinsburg, the Mr. Roboto Project, a ground zero for local DIY culture, went dark after a couple last blasts in February.
The music co-op opened in 1999 as a storefront drug- and alcohol-free venue for independent punk, indie and metal bands. Along with being a haven for local heavies such as Grand Buffet, Brain Handle, The Modey Lemon and Warzone Womyn, rising out-of-towners who passed through the doors include Against Me!, Ted Leo, Les Savy Fav, Death Cab for Cutie and Bright Eyes.
Ten months later, the search for a new site is ongoing. Roboto's annual ADD Fest went on as usual, moved to The Shop in Bloomfield, with such bands as Dark Lingo, Kim Phuc and Ag Ag Lady.
• Jasiri X delivered a politically charged hip-hop record, "American History X," dealing with such issues as human rights in Afghanistan, the shallow playlist on BET and stereotypes about African-Americans. It won six Pittsburgh Hip-Hop Awards, including Album of the Year. The video for "What if the Tea Party Was Black?" which dropped in July went viral appearing on sites as diverse as Allhiphop.com and the Huffington Post generating more than 250,000 views. In October he signed with the new Canadian label Wandering Worx Music and released the debut single "That Funk" from his forthcoming album "Ascension."
• While Black Moth Super Rainbow was working on the Dave Fridmann-produced album "Eating Us," frontman Tobacco (aka Tom Fec) was stashing away tracks for his second solo effort "Maniac Meat," described as "a depository for his more primal urges." The big surprise was the appearance of the one and only Beck on "Fresh Hex" and "Grape Aerosmith." Pitchfork gave it a 7.6. He followed that in November with the EP "LA UTI."
• Pittsburgh's own cult hero Weird Paul released his 25th album, "Simulating the Act of Love," opting for a more hi-fi sound with four new songs and 16 garage-rock classics. "I do like the lo-fi approach," he said, "but I have so much fun playing these songs loud and proud."
• Colonizing the Cosmos lived up to the cosmic title on its debut, "The First Frontier," by taking the endearing folk-pop of Paul Simon, adding the chamber-y Sufjan Stevens treatment and topping it with a splash of Flaming Lips space-rock weirdness. It became a WYEP favorite.
• The bluesy 28 North, which takes its cues from classic rockers such as the Allman Brothers and Led Zeppelin, released its second CD, "Mystery," in March, and headed off to play the South By Southwest Music Conference in Austin.
• Mariage Blanc issued a vibrant full-length debut, blending modern indie-pop with the more jubilant qualities of the '60s variety and flashing its Belle & Sebastian influences.
• Paul Luc, one of the bright lights in the city's singer-songwriter scene, returned with "A Revival, A Roadsong, A Rearview Mirror," sporting a bold melodic style and a feel for lush piano-based arrangements and drawing comparisons to David Gray.
• Former Brownie Mary guitarist Rich Jacques showed off his melodic vocals and lush guitar work with the project Right the Stars.
• Pop-punk stalwarts Punchline bounced back with "Delightfully Pleased," a relentlessly catchy, upbeat and loudly rocking fifth album.
• Centipede Eest, one of the city's most dangerous post-punk jam bands, returned with its third full-length recording, "Resonator," issued as a vinyl-only release with a download card.
• Thomas Jefferson's Aeroplane, the atmospheric rock project from Bill Deasy and Rich Jacques, touched down with a six-song EP, "Express."
• Donnie Iris went all out for his first holiday album "Ah! Leluiah!," turning himself into a one-man choir for "The Hallelujah Chorus." In all, there are 81 Donnie voices overdubbed on the piece.
Other notable releases
• A Beautiful View, Armadillos, Beagle Brothers, Boulevard of the Allies, Brown Angel, Callan, Call to Attraction, City Dwelling Nature Seekers, Code Orange Kids, The Composure, Crown the Lost, Devilish Merry, The Fitt, Hero Destroyed, Horse or Cycle, In the Wake of Giants, JJ Burner, Lohio, Kellee Maize, Majeure, Meeka in Jail, Meeting of Important People, My Cardboard Spaceship Adventure, Chuck Owston, Rising Regina, Slices, Spacepimps, Patti Spadaro, Steel Hollow, Mike Stout, Jordan Umbach, Harrison Wargo, Brad Yoder, Ronda Z.
• Anti-Flag was everywhere, as usual, including two weeks on the Warped Tour, festivals in Europe and Harvest of Hope Festival in Florida. Singer Justin Sane was a guest of the Woodstock Film Festival for the U.S. debut of "Sounds Like a Revolution," a documentary about protest music that features Mr. Sane, along with Michael Franti, Fat Mike (NOFX) and Paris.
• Anti-Flag did it a few years ago. This year, local garage kings The Cynics cracked the Russian market, playing Moscow in May, and also hitting Norway and Finland. Watch for a new album soon, in the R.E.M./Byrds vein.
• It was a quiet year for the Modey Lemon, but not for drummer Paul Quattrone, who traveled the world providing the beat for dance-punk band !!!. He was also busy with his side project Expensive S• • t.
• Kim Phuc represented the city at the Chaos in Tejas, before hitting other points south.
• Country-rock band The Stickers played nearly 20 county fairs along with opening the Jamboree in the Hills.
• Pittsburgh soul man Billy Price became an honorary member of the great Los Lobos on stage at the Flood City Music Festival in Johnstown in August for smoking versions of "Further on Up the Road" and "Turn on Your Love Light."
• Piano rocker Ben Folds came to town to jam with one of Pittsburgh's mightiest bands -- the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. There was a priceless moment at the end when the pianist kept rolling through a song while dismissing the PSO, which had to exit due to union time regulations.
• Rusted Root, which toured the country once again, turned up on stage at the Benedum as the Super Music Friend of the "Yo Gabba Gabba" crew. The band also did its annual Hartwood bash on Labor Day Weekend for county programs.
• Pitt Rep's production of "Alice," "a slightly warped" adaptation of Lewis Carroll's classic, featured 10 original songs by quirky Pittsburgh musician Buddy Nutt, who described himself as "Mr. Rogers meets R. Crumb."
• Joe Grushecky signed on as musical director and performed on stage for the barebones production "Killer Joe" at the New Hazlett Theater in June.
• In jazz circles, the legendary Joe Negri turned up as the axman on the new album by Michael Feinstein.
• New Orleans garage-punk band M.O.T.O. (aka Masters of the Obvious) launched a 30th anniversary tour getting help from an all-star Pittsburgh lineup including Dan McNellie (Test Patterns), Joe Morrison (Mt. McKinleys) and Matt Hanzes (Black Tie Revue).
• Jandek, a legendary outsider musician from Houston who has recorded more than 60 albums of primitive and harrowing folk/blues, played a rare concert at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts backed by local musicians Spat Cannon, Dean Cercone and Andrew McKeon.
• Post-punk band A.T.S. gathered (almost) the whole lineup on Thanksgiving weekend at Howler's for a knock-out celebration of its 25th anniversary. Keep an eye out for a recording session from that weekend.
• The Gathering Field, the popular '90s band led by Bill Deasy, played for the first time in a decade at Diesel in November.
• Greensburg emo band The Juliana Theory, which broke up four years ago, reunited to play a farewell show at Altar Bar in September for the 10th anniversary of the album "Emotion Is Dead."
• X-Clan reunited at the Pittsburgh Hip-Hop Awards, marking the 20th anniversary of the Brooklyn crew, which features Pittsburgh-based artist/activist/producer Paradise Gray, aka Paradise the Arkitech.
• Frank Czuri left Pure Gold and turned his full attention to the revival of his '60s band The Igniters. He was replaced by Jimmie Ross of the Jaggerz.
• Bear Cub, an Americana band established by Jesse Hall, formerly of the Composure, made a splash here with an excellent debut and some sold-out club shows and seemed to be on the way to next-big-thing status before pulling up roots and moving to Nashville in August.
• The Rhythm House in Bridgeville said goodbye after nine years in February with an all-star jam by the likes of Donnie Iris, Joe Grushecky and B.E. Taylor.
• She's more in the opera scene -- which is why she's not in the Top 10 -- but it's impossible to ignore Jackie Evancho, the 10-year-old from Pine-Richland who shocked the world on "America's Got Talent" with her preternatural pipes. She came in second, then hit No. 2 on the Billboard album charts with her holiday EP.
• Amy Colalella, a Plum resident and a student of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, won the Miley Cyrus "Are You a Superstar" contest in January performing songs by the likes of Cyrus, the Beatles and Michael Jackson.
• Mace Ballard won the Post-Gazette's PG Rocks competition, played live during the South Side Works Festival and made a great video.
Among the many:
• Pittsburgh musicians rushed to the aid of earthquake survivors in Haiti with benefit concerts at The Shadow Lounge (Phat Man Dee, Sean Jones, Michael Glabicki, etc.), Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall (Clarks, Bill Deasy and more), August Wilson Center (X-Clan, Formula412, Jasiri X, etc.) and the Carnegie Libarary Music Hall of Homestead (Muddy Kreek Band, The Real Deal, etc.).
• Drusky Entertainment and the Pittsburgh Concert Group presented Fallen Not Forgotten 2, a Memorial Day Weekend concert benefiting friends and families of fallen Penn Hills policeman Michael Crawshaw and Pennsylvania State Trooper Paul Richey at the Trib Amphitheater with Joe Grushecky, Donora, Gene The Werewolf, Johnny Angel and the Halos and more.
• Mike Stout, Billy Price, Joe Grushecky, Liz Berlin and Justin Sane were among those playing "Take a Stand -- Rock for Anne," a benefit for the ailing Anne Feeney at Mr. Smalls in November.
• Jason Kendall, Boulevard of the Allies, The Elliots and more did a Beatles tribute at the Hard Rock Cafe in November for WTAE-TV Project Bundle-Up.
• The Damaged Pies, Slim Forsythe and Brad Wagner played a benefit for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank at Mr. Smalls in June.
• theCAUSE, Norm Nardini, Andrea Pearl were among those playing the annual D-Jam for the Food Bank at PD's Pub in March.
• Newsrooms were preparing obits for Bret Michaels in May. In July, the 47-year-old Butler native and former Poison frontman turned up on stage at the First Niagara Pavilion on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "God & Guns" tour twirling a Terrible Towel with a friendly hometown crowd cheering him on. He's planning to have heart surgery in January.
• It was a strange, stressful year for Christina Aguilera, who separated from her husband, bombed with a new album and starred with Cher in "Burlesque," for which she's snagged a Golden Globe for Best Original Song.
• Trent Reznor, Mercer native and former Nine Inch Nails frontman, received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score for his work for "The Social Network."
• With mad genius Phil Spector behind the walls for murder, his wife, Beaver Falls native Rachelle Spector, released her pop debut "Out of My Chelle" bearing the magic words "Produced by Phil Spector."
• West Newton native Ray Luzier made his first appearance here with Korn, playing the Mayhem Festival in August.
• Peg Simone (nee Deb Catanzaro), guitarist for punk bands the Pleasure Heads and Wormhole, returned to Pittsburgh with "Secrets From the Storm," which has drawn accolades from Black Francis, Lenny Kaye and Uncut magazine.
• Former Jimi Hendrix bassist Billy Cox, who grew up here and went to Schenley High School, returned here for the Experience Hendrix tribute concert at the Benedum in October.