Local Scene: 04/21/11
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Central Plains stretch out
• Not that it will happen, but if a label came sniffing around Pittsburgh looking for an indie-folk/rock band in the vein of Fleet Foxes, Midlake or Blitzen Trapper, we might want to offer them Nik and the Central Plains.
The frontman, Nik Westman, is a native of Sweden who moved here from LA during high school in 2002 when his parents took teaching jobs at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. He says he grew up listening to Indian music and Bob Marley before he started discovering bands like Modest Mouse and the Shins.
He broke into the scene here playing open stages, from which he eventually built the Central Plains, now consisting of bassist Kraig Decker and drummer Colin Bronnenkant. The band released its self-titled debut album last year and have already turned up with a second offering called "Walk on Beaches."
"People often say we have a Pavement/Neil Young vibe going on," the frontman says.
The Stephen Malkmus influence seems more noticeable on the second record, with angular rock songs like the title track and the screaming "Arctic Dance."
"This is a representation of what we sound like if you were to see us live," he says. "We recorded live with Jake Hanner, of Donora, at Play On Recordings. We did it within eight months and we all felt really comfortable working with Jake. I suppose we aren't as young of a band anymore so we all were on the same page this time. It's definitively easier the second time around."
Thematically, he says, "it delves into love, confusion, listening to your inner voice, how crazy people are and, of course, being careful of what you do and say in this steel town."
The record release shows are at the Thunderbird Cafe at 9 p.m. Friday with Chet Vincent & the Big Bend and the Harlan Twins, and 9 p.m. Saturday with Boca Chica and Meeting of Important People. Cover is $10. Call 412-853-8609.
Wiz and more at Coachella
• Before last week, I hadn't thought much about 5 Gum, outside of the handsome packaging.
Now I'm a fan, thanks to its sponsorship of the Coachella festival feed last weekend. I started out thinking I would watch a couple of the sets, and then got hooked, not wanting to miss anything.
Among the Sunday highlights was the afternoon set by Pittsburgh's own Wiz Khalifa, which was so completely different from the nightcap by Kanye West. While Kanye was on fire, Wiz charmed the main stage crowd with his loose, chilled-out, stoner-rock vibe.
The first half was carefree and kind of shapeless, drawn from the mixtapes. Wiz stopped a few times to praise the crowd for the many rising puffs of smoke. He picked up the pace once he hit "Rolling Papers" songs like "When I'm Gone," "The Race," "No Sleep" and "Roll Up." You could tell the crowd just adored him and some Terrible Towels even appeared in the desert for the climax of "Black and Yellow."
For a recap from 2,500 miles away:
The Friday lineup got off to a shaky start when Cee Lo Green, sporting a tent-sized Misfits T-shirt, arrived 20 minutes late and was cut off after about four songs, leaving the stage in a huff. Lauryn Hill looked and sounded great but seemed to be struggling with mike volume problems for a good bit of her set. Interpol (with singer Paul Banks bravely sporting an old Bowie-style mullet), Kings of Leon and the Black Keys all delivered sturdy sets. Flogging Molly was a Celtic-punk blast, as compared to Titus Andronicus, which seemed to be more about bluster than songs. My favorite Friday discovery was Warpaint, an arty LA girl band with hypnotic harmonies.
On Saturday, I was psyched to see the reunion of Big Audio Dynamite, but, alas, it turned out to be kind of boring. The Arcade Fire lived up to the top billing with epic intensity and a dazzling special effect of white beach balls that changed colors. (It's a shame A-F never wants to play here.) Indie stalwarts New Pornographers and Broken Social Scene both nailed it, Bright Eyes was solid, the Swell Season was a little off its game, Gogol Bordello was rowdy gypsy-punk fun, Erykah Badu was on-and-off mesmerizing and Mumford & Sons had drama to spare, for better or worse. Having never seen garage-rockers The Kills live, I was blown away by Alison Mosshart's vocals and stage appeal.
The Strokes aren't the most magnetic live band, but, man, are they tight and those guitars don't quit. Also on Sunday, The National turned gloominess into something rousing, Nas & Damian Marley soulfully blended genres, and Duran Duran weren't the bloated nostalgia act one might expect. As for the mercurial Kanye, he was feelin' it, the new songs were banging and the ballet dancers added a touch of magic.
One act that did not appear on the stream was boundary-pushing indie band Animal Collective, which reportedly played a set designed more to challenge the crowd than entertain it. Animal Collective will play its first Pittsburgh gig in more than seven years at Mr. Smalls on July 13. Tickets go on sale Saturday (1-866-468-3401).
Chux Beta lets loose
• Ryan Dunn admits it took a while for Chux Beta to find its way.
The Penn Hills band started out in the mid-'90 as a teenage garage band with a mission to rock but no real plan of how to do it.
"We would be a genreless band and go out and play this kind of song and that kind of song," says singer Ryan Dunn. "It wasn't very cohesive and ended up just really messy."
Now, the band has matured enough to just embrace what inspired them in the first place, which was early '90s grunge like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and ... "I'll even say it ... Nirvana," he adds. "For a time it was very uncool to wear that on your sleeve, but now we're getting older, I don't care anymore. We'll be who we want."
It seems to be working out for the post-grunge quintet that took its name, as you might guess, from a guy named Chuck who had a Beta player. Chux Beta won the X Winter Rock Challenge last year and this year took best indie single at the debut of the Pittsburgh Rock Music Awards.
Now, the band returns with a new album, "Heartbroken Underground," loaded with polished, radio-ready alt-rock anthems produced by Dave Hidek at Treelady Studios.
"This is the second album that we've taken seriously. For so long, it was like 'Let's be punks and not care.' Eventually you have to prove yourself."
The release show is at 7:30 p.m. at Mr. Smalls, Millvale, with Fist Fight in the Parking Lot, Wet Darlings and Atlas. Tickets are $10 to $15. Call 1-866-468-3401; www.mrsmalls.com
First Published April 21, 2011 12:00 am