Band strikes out with Pirates fans
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A four-run rally in the sixth for a big Pirates win, clear skies and a glorious fireworks display.
What could go wrong?
Thirty-two thousand fans found out Thursday night at PNC Park when a post-game entertainment extravaganza disintegrated into boos, jeers and an abrupt exodus of frustrated fans that, by morning, became the talk of the town.
Moments after a Mike Gonzalez save carried the Pirates to a 5-3 win over Houston, the stadium announcer urged fans to stick around for Skyblast, a well-publicized, Alcoa-sponsored, choreographed fireworks and laser light show.
For the first time in several seasons of Skyblast shows, the Pirates marketing department had booked a live band. Curiously, director of marketing Brian Chiera and his staff hired Me First & the Gimme Gimmes, a San Francisco punk cover band known for its spoofs of contemporary and classic rock hits, to play three consecutive nights of Skyblast.
The show began with questions about musical preferences posed on the electronic video scoreboard to team members. As their answers were splashed across the screen, the band played the songs the players referenced under choreographed blasts of fireworks.
Gimmes singer Spike Slawson, who grew up in Shadyside, Oakland and Point Breeze before moving 20 years ago, said he knew something was wrong when they started into Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven."
"There's a fine line between irreverence and lampooning," said Mr. Slawson, "and [the Gimmes] kind of ride that line. It's not supposed to be a homage -- that's not what we do. 'Stairway to Heaven' is, like sacred, though, and everyone started booing. I felt it in the pit of my stomach. That's the most people that ever booed me in my life."
Mount Washington Pirates fan Chad Kanick, 26, who watched from his seats near the left field foul pole, said he didn't know it would be "painful and awkward to watch. I almost felt bad for them. It's just the band wasn't suitable for that venue."
Bob Lucas, 46, of Upper St. Clair, saw it differently from across the field near the right side foul pole.
"I'm a big Gimmes fan," he said, "but I was surprised when I heard they would play. We have several of their records. It's throbbing bass, guitar and drums. Very punk. But the punk nature of their covers may not have been the best choice for the crowd."
By morning, word of the disaster had made it to San Francisco, where publicist Vanessa Burt of the label Fat Wreck Chords was gearing up for the Oct. 17 release of the band's next CD, a country music spoof titled "Me First & the Gimme Gimmes Love Their Country."
"I mean, why they hired a punk rock cover band is surprising to me," she said. "What did they think would happen?"
WDVE-FM morning disc jockey Randy Bowman said the station was flooded with calls about the Gimmes.
"It was about 70-30 opposed to the band," he said. "Most times, people really like to hear songs they know in a different way, but in this case they just didn't dig it. A lot of people called and said they were embarrassed that the crowd was being so disrespectful."
The Gimmes got the ultimate disrespect from the Pirates: They got canned after one show.
"Plain and simple, we missed the mark," said Patty Paytas, the team's vice president of communications. "Because of that, the band will not be participating in [the rest of its scheduled] shows. It just wasn't the right type of band."
Chiera said last night's and tonight's Skyblast performances would continue with recorded music.
"The band was very cooperative and did the songs we asked them to perform," he said. "Their interpretations of the songs were a little harder than we expected, but it was in keeping with their style of music."
Slawson, a Pittsburgh ex-pat punker who still bears Heinz Ketchup and Steeler tattoos, said he feels bad for Pirates staff "who stuck their necks out for us."
"It was an obscene amount of money for the amount of work we did, so I can't complain," he said. "We're a punk band. Getting booed by a sports crowd makes us viable."
Slawson said despite the bad experience with the hometown crowd, it hasn't soured his impression of Pittsburgh.
"I don't know why I miss [Pittsburgh] so much," he said, "but I dream about it all the time. It was like an extension of my youth in Pittsburgh -- getting booed in Little League, getting booed when my band played the Electric Banana. But at least I didn't get punched in the stomach."Jay Blakesberg
A publicity photo for Me First & the Gimme Gimmes.
First Published August 26, 2006 12:00 am