It was the 54th Three Rivers Arts Festival, but it looked a little like Bonnaroo in Point State Park Friday night.
"Whoa, there's a lot of people here," Alex Ebert said, arriving on stage with his band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
For sure. It was a Fourth of July-sized turnout -- the most I've seen for a festival concert ever in the front of the park -- on a gloomy (but dry!) opening night of the fest. Maybe it was because the fountain re-opening built the hype, maybe the Magnetic Zeros have traveling fans or maybe Pittsburghers were starved for a free outdoor concert.
"I don't think we've ever been to this city from the looks of it," the singer said, taking in the scene.
It was certainly a splashy debut for the ragtag, 10-piece LA group, which finds the zone between jam rock and Americana -- not unlike our own more rhythmic Rusted Root. The Zeros project a similar communal '60s vibe, even if the hippie-ish frontman did forgo the white robe on this occasion.
They certainly weren't committed to churning through one punchy song after the next, partly because they don't have all that many. Some of the songs were so loose, they were downright shapeless and rambling.
Some of the best parts came when Mr. Ebert kicked it to Jade Castrinos, who just about stole the show with her soaring, soulful turn on "Fiya Wata." Another highlight was "I Don't Wanna Pray," a rollicking Southern gospel-laced tune that had the band members trading improvised verses round-robin style.
Mr. Ebert delivered a combination of peace, love ... and death, introducing "Up From Below" by asking people if they remember the age when they learned of their mortality -- a question that doesn't go well with funnel cakes and kettle corn. They were more happy to participate on the Dixieland style "If You Wanna."
There was a degree of crowd unfamiliarity with the material that was happily erased when the Zeros got to "Home," the band's joyful and rousing calling card. A few more of those in the set would have been a great idea.
Flag flies at Stage AE
The gateway from neo-hippies to old punks was the Fort Duquesne Bridge to Stage AE.
Just as the Magnetic Zeros were winding down, Flag was ready to fly inside the cavernous North Shore venue, where the turnout was thin. Flag consists of four former members of Black Flag -- Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, Bill Stevenson and Dez Cadena -- who were fed up with waiting around for a full-fledged reunion.
The two people most associated with Black Flag -- fourth singer Henry Rollins and founding guitarist Greg Ginn, off on his own Black Flag reunion -- are missing, but there is some legitimacy to this outfit fronted by original singer Morris, who went on to the Circle Jerks and Off!
The sonic assault they created was legit, too. With ages ranging from late 40s to late 50s, the guys in Flag raged through two-minute classics such as "I Don't Care," "Fix Me," "Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie" and "Wasted" with no shortage of speed, volume and fury, while the old-school punk fans crashed into each other below the stage.
The second mix was sufficiently raw and tinny as if they were back at the friendly confines of the Electric Banana. We can safely say that nostalgia trips back 30 years don't usually come with this much pent-up noise, energy and aggression.
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576.