Review: The National at Stage AE – 6/11/2013

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Sometimes it’s easy to gauge, heading into a concert, what it might essentially mean to be “in concert” with a particular live act.  Expectations can be calculated about what the music will be like performed before a live audience, as well as expectations concerning how the live audience will receive it.  The artist’s in-concert relationship with the crowd is occasionally even established through explicit, yes/no, black/white questions of the “Are you with us?” and “Are you ready?” variety.  Hair metal humped every penny out of this formula. Noise was demanded and noise was delivered.

Such expectations were not easy to define heading into The National’s stop at Stage AE Tuesday night. To the uninitiated, what would this minimalist ensemble of sometimes docile, sometimes volcanic, bluntly-spoken yet still understated trumpeters of loosely-conjured but perfectly-phrased metaphors be like live?  Who would show? And what would they be like?  How would they take it?

Well, everybody showed.  All walks of life seemed equally represented, almost as if hand-chosen to get them all in one place, only to be loaded onto a spacecraft and blasted off to populate a distant moon, somewhere far away, with a foundation of cultural diversity and manners (the manners at this show were fantastic, at least as far as manners go in America in 2013).  Middle-aged men in Pirates jerseys gushed at “I Need My Girl” and took pictures with their smart phones, and none of it seemed weird.

And that was the big takeaway from what The National did Tuesday night.  They were extremely successful in the making and nourishment of an in-concert relationship.  Between most songs, lead singer Matt Berninger actually did ask explicit questions, but of the quick, very basic, very human “I’m Forrest Gump/I’m Dorothy Harris/I guess we’re not strangers anymore” persuasion.  The role of Berninger was played by Daniel Day Lewis, it should be noted, as his silvering years are undeniably beginning to silhouette (at least in dark concert halls) a baritone Lincoln, charm included.  His singing posture could best be described as aggressively passive-aggressive, as he’s really leaning forward into his usually soft deliveries.  Usually soft is appropriate because he does have another gear, most notably on display throughout “Squalor Victoria” when he really cuts loose, like someone who only drinks on holidays.  He even went through a leisurely stroll through the crowd during the encore. No surfing. No jumping. The man walked and sang and shook hands and got back on stage and resumed his forward-lean as if all he had done was retrieve a dropped pencil or checked the mail.  On the whole, the big question of the night was how such an unassuming dude could whirlpool a crowd of lovers of unassuming music into, at specific moments, an absolute frenzy. This process was Gandhi-esque.  He salt-marched through StageAE general admission ticket holders.

All of it was strange and loud and extremely visual (in the best way possible, the lighting for this show was next-level bonkers, featuring 8mm still-life clips trimmed with purposeful beams of single-color appropriations). Berninger and company struck up an innocent conversation, and delivered extremely well-executed renditions of their songs, most of which, by the way, carry visions of collaborative work between Warren Zevon, Tom Waits, and a napping Louie Armstrong, awoken solely for the polishing of most of the band’s tracks with blank-check instructions along the lines of “When we get near the end of this song, do whatever you makes you happy.” Every horn solo sent the crowd into a smiling frenzy, as if there was a collective remembrance of fifth grade versions of themselves talking their parents into financing a saxophone or a clarinet or tuba, practicing scales, and coming together for “Yankee Doodle” and “Greensleeves” and “Lean on Me.”

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What really comes through live, however, is the pulse forwarded by the work of drummer Bryan Devendorf, whose precision and pace manages to puppeteer heartbeats that may not even fully comprehend the meaning of every lyric or every song, thus dragging the listener along for the ride regardless of confusion or clarity. His involvement in each track, especially performed live, is constructed to near perfection, which leads to more gushing praise: the minimalism present in how each instrument comes together in The National’s work is all-at-once simple and profound; the machinations of the band’s song constructions are extremely pleasing, so perfectly layered.  Each song is heard so clearly and brightly that you can see through the depth of the disarming and often ambiguous lyrical elements and discover your own meaning (“Go ahead, go ahead, lose your shirts in the fire tonight”).

This was a performance oozing with charm, somehow easily conjuring solidarity—and smiling solidarity at that—in the middle of uncontrolled doom-dives.

Berninger: “I’m the moron who dances.”

Audience: “Us, too.”

Berninger:  “I was afraid I’d eat your brains.”

Audience:  “Likewise.”

And that’s a credit to the songwriting process.  The band is keenly aware of a collective weirdness that is definitely universal, but possibly not as routinely accepted as we sometimes think, at least not in the manner we think.  Many grow up in social jungles that worship normalcy, whatever that means, only to rebel against it, whatever that means.  The natural reaction is to seek a small group with whom these individuals can achieve what has evolved into fashionable ostracism.  We all live on the fringe now, all of us nothing less than the unique and special snowflakes we were assured we would become.  But “Hanging from chandeliers/Same small world at your heels/All the very best of us string ourselves up for love” doesn’t read as high-brow exclusive hipster nonsense.  It’s painfully and beautifully and wonderfully collective. And Tuesday night it made for one hell of a curtain call.  The band led the audience through a stripped down rendition of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” in which Berninger kept a distance from the mic and allowed the audience to carry the closer.  Either party could have been saying “Thank you.”  Either party could have been saying “You’re welcome.”  Everyone was a geek without being competitive about it, which was nice.

It was a performance that genuinely asked us how we were feeling, and then wished us all a pleasant evening without further complication.  The band’s departure was a clean goodbye.  Then everybody left, humming, each of us on our way to wherever it is we were going, determined not to figure out everything at once. Simplicity ruled, and it was extremely powerful.

photo 2Review by Andrew Whitmer

Photos by Scarlett Chepke

We’re All Purple People: A$AP Rocky at Stage AE

by Ryan Black

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It’s tough to look at A$AP Rocky and say the man isn’t working hard. With a rare night off from his opening slot on Rihanna’s current arena tour, the young rapper took the opportunity to headline a sold-out show of his own at Pittsburgh’s Stage AE on March 13th, 2013. Both Rocky’s 2011 mixtape, Live.Love.A$AP, and his 2013 album Long.Live.A$AP were embraced by both critics and the public, and he’s kept busy with a slew of strong guest verses and the constant promotion of his crew, A$AP Mob.

A varied and vocal crowd packed the floor from the second the doors opened, and was shortly treated to a set from Pittsburgh’s own Chevy Woods. Woods, an affiliate of Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang group, received a good deal of hometown love, entertained with a set of sturdy raps and led the crowd in a ubiquitous “Tay-lor…Gang! Tay-lor…Gang!” chant.

After a relatively brief set break, A$AP Rocky emerged, flanked by A$AP Twelvy, and launched into the title track from Long.Live.A$AP. After only a few songs, he dove into the crowd and was mobbed, initially losing a shoe and his hat. He finally scrambled back onto the stage, outfit intact, leaving a scuffle between fans in the crowd. Proceedings were halted while he asked the crowd to cool their tempers: “You’re at a damn show. We’re here to have fun, not fight, guys.”

The comment further endeared him to the audience, except perhaps those who he was scolding. Rocky went on to tear through favorites from both his mixtape and his record, with Twelvy filling in guest verses. Trippy tracks like “Peso,” “Brand New Guy,” and “Purple Swag” boomed out of Stage AE’s speakers and into over a thousand sets of ears. The rapper moved from one end of the stage to the other, getting a good look at his fans and letting them all get a good look at his gleaming white sweatsuit and sneakers.

A solid percentage of the crowd had every word memorized, heads tilted back to shout them along. “Wild for the night/F*** bein’ polite” goes the sample in the chorus of his jittery, booming fan favorite “Wild for the Night.” But A$AP managed to be both wild and surprisingly polite, addressing the crowd on a number of occasions on encouraging, relatable terms.

Most of the way through the show, he began to scan the crowd, pulling a collection of young men and women onto the stage to dance for the last few tracks, meticulously selecting the most energetic fans he could. With his dancers assembled, he flew into perhaps his most famous song, “F***in’ Problems.” The sea of people dove left and right and screamed its catchy, profane chorus over and over, until it was all over.

Before stepping from the stage, Rocky took the opportunity to sincerely speak to his fans. He thanked them for their support, and reminded them that he began rapping in Harlem at the age of 8, and regardless of what color they were, they were all purple people. It may’ve seemed an odd sentiment to the unfamiliar, but to those steeped in A$AP Rocky’s hazy world and dynamic raps, it made perfect sense.

LindseyStomps Stage AE

by Rachel Mauer

In September of 2012, Lindsey Stirling played for a small crowd at the Club at Stage AE. On March 14, 2013, a mere 6 months later, Stirling played for a sold out show in Stage AE’s full capacity room. But what makes this pocket-sized, contemporary dancing violinist so popular?

In 2007, Stirling launched her YouTube channel, LindseyStomp. It wasn’t until 2010, after Stirling was a quarterfinalist on the TV show, America’s Got Talent, that she came to regularly post her videos to become a YouTube sensation with the 5 month sellout record that she has today.

Stirling has a unique style that you truly cannot hear anywhere else. Not only does she compose her own violin pieces but her compositions are then played over dubstep. While performing on violin, Stirling dances along to her songs for a remarkably personal performance that ties all these elements together.  Stirling doesn’t just attract fans with her unusual style of music; she also reaches gamers and movie buffs with her covers of soundtracks like Lord of the Rings, The Legend of Zelda, The Phantom of the Opera, and Assassin’s Creed.

The night started around 5:45 pm for roughly 60 VIP fans that got the chance to meet Lindsey herself with many carrying their own violins for her to sign. Stirling danced between meeting fans, excited to meet the people that have helped her get to where she is today. After the meet & greet, Stirling hosted a brief Q&A session with her fans, ending the session with a performance of “Crystallize” in sweat pants & a t-shirt.

After her special performance, Stirling disappeared backstage to prepare as the doors opened at Stage AE at 7 pm. The Vibrant Sound, a band Stirling used to play in, took the stage at 8.  A two man group consisting of McKay Stevens and Jacob Skaggs, The Vibrant Sound played a 40 minute set of neo soul and jazz infusion that got the crowds blood pumping. Stevens and Skaggs were very interactive with crowd, giving context to each song, Harlem Shaking on stage, and coaxing the crowd to break out their lighters.

Stirling started at 9 pm on the dot, enthusiastically flying all over the stage. After a few songs, she stopped to thank crowd. “[There is] so much positive energy in Pittsburgh!” she exclaimed before playing “Shadows” accompanied by her own dancing shadow on stage.

The “Lord, Master, Violinist of the Universe” broke up her songs with a comedic video of her being a celebrity diva off of the stage. For another break, Stirling brought a few fans on stage for a friendly dance competition. The fans danced along to a screen similar to the video game Just Dance, one of Stirling’s favorite games, as Lindsey played a cover of Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling”.

But Stirling didn’t stop there with her audience interaction. She would stop to give her audience context to each of her songs, demonstrating how much of herself she puts into each song. “You could really feel the passion in her music,” said audience member, Jamie Crisman. Before Stirling played her cover of Rihanna’s “We Found Love”, Stirling talked of her trip to Kenya over a year ago. The trip and the people she met inspired her to change the lyrics from “we found love in a hopeless place” to “we found love in a whole new place”. A video of the people she met while in Kenya accompanied her as she performed.

Before playing “Zizi’z Song”, Stirling asked the audience to do a slow clap when it was over, something she has always wanted to do. Though a few fans were too excited to wait to applaud, the slow clap was a smashing success. She thanked the crowd for helping her scratch something off of her Bucket List.

For her final song, Stirling’s keyboard player, Gavi, came onto the stage wearing a customized Pittsburgh Penguin jersey with his last name emblazoned across the back. Lindsey and her band took a photo with the audience then played their final song, “Crystallize”.

Throughout the night, the crowd could be seen uploading photos and videos of Stirling’s performance, continuing her popularity the way it started, through social media, YouTube, and word of mouth from her adoring fans.

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“We Want the D!”

by Rachel Mauer

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By 5:00 pm on Tuesday, March 5, 2013, there was already a line wrapping around the corner of Stage AE on Pittsburgh’s North Shore. The fans were anxiously awaiting a sold out show by Tenacious D, the comedic rock band from L.A. consisting of Jack Black and Kyle Gass, known as JB and Kage.

For those who don’t know, Tenacious D, also known as “the greatest band on Earth,” formed in L.A. in 1994 before becoming one of the biggest cult bands of the ‘90s. In addition to their music, Tenacious D had a sketch series on HBO in 1999. The band released the movie and accompanying soundtrack, Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny, in 2006.

Sasquatch, Tenacious D’s surprise opener, took the stage at 8 pm dressed in a furry brown “Sasquatch” suit that matched well with his flowing brown hair and epic beard. Sasquatch revved up the crowd with a 20 minute set of bigfoot & yeti themed cover songs, leaving the crowd filled with excitement for Tenacious D, invoking chants of “We want the D!”

Tenacious D was greeted by a roaring crowd when they took the stage at 9 pm. The duo started off their Old School Acoustic Style show with “Rize of the Fenix”. After a few songs, Black and Gass intrigued the crowd with some playful dialogue and played to local crowd by swinging Terrible Towels on stage and throwing them into the audience. Black joked that Tenacious D was going for the world record of most encores, every song being an encore, and kicked Kage out of the band for attempting to sabotage the plan. The crowd began furiously chanting “Bring back Kage!” Never to fear, though! Black brought Kage back with the song “Dude, I Totally Miss You” from The Pick of Destiny, and the show continued. The crowd loved every song, singing along, and throwing up the metal-horns.

Sasquatch and Tenacious D’s road hand, affectionately known as “Roadie”, would come out periodically and join the performance, clapping and singing. Tenacious D later praised Roadie’s good work by serenading him with the song “Roadie” off of the album Rize of the Fenix.

After an hour and twenty minutes, Tenacious D announced that they were done. Black thanked the guy on drums, No One, and the guy at the computer, No One, and they keyboard player, No One, as the crowd cheered appreciatively for the performance. The duo returned to the crowd’s chants of “Encore!” by coming back out to play three more songs, ended their show in Pittsburgh with a fan favorite “F*ck Her Gently.”

A few fans crowded near the front of the stage remained where they stood in the hopes that the two would come out, as though they were going to continue the record setting barrage of encores. But everyone left Stage AE thrilled after the great performance. Many left the venue continuing to sing the songs they’d just heard outside. As Tenacious D enthusiast, Joanna Forman, exclaimed, “Tenacious D is one of the best shows I have seen in a while.” And we couldn’t agree more! Whether it’s 4 stars or an A+, Tenacious D’s performance at Stage AE was top notch!

Set List:

  1. Rize of the Fenix
  2. Low Hangin’ Fruit
  3. Senorita
  4. Dude (I Totally Miss You)
  5. Kyle Quit the Band
  6. Friendship
  7. Kielbasa
  8. History
  9. Sax-A-Boom
  10. Roadie
  11. Rock & Roll
  12. Rock Is Dead
  13. The Ballad of Hollywood Jack & the Rage Kage
  14. To Be the Best
  15. Cosmic Shame
  16. Tribute
  17. Double Team

Encore.  (The actual encore.)

  1. Baby
  2. You Never Give Me Your Money
  3. The End
  4. Fuck Her Gently

Album review: A$AP Rocky – Long.Live.A$AP

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by Derek January

Whatever you want to call him – dat pretty motherf*cker, Pretty Flacko – there is no doubt that A$AP Rocky has been one of the most vocal reppers of his beloved New York, especially Harlem, since first jumping on the rap scene in 2011 with his critically-acclaimed mixtape Live.Love.A$AP. Along with rappers like Joey Bada$$ and Action Bronson, Rocky is definitely among the leaders of New York’s new school crowd. Joining Kendrick Lamar as the opening act to Drake’s 2012 Club Paradise Tour garnered Rocky a much wider audience building up to last month’s debut album release of Long.Live.A$AP.

This #1 Billboard album opens with Rocky saying “I thought I’d prolly die in prison” on the title track, a major trunk-rattler whose menacing beat recalls Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “East 1999.”  This tone-setting track is followed by the early single, “Goldie.” It’s an all-out brag track, with Rocky boasting about having Cristal by the cases and the latest Ferrari and jeans. “You can call me Billy Gates, got a crib in every state.” It’s definitely a club-banger and easy to see why it’s the first track to introduce Rocky to a worldwide audience.

One of the major differences between this album and the mixtape is the amount of guest stars. Obviously Rocky wouldn’t have had connections for all of the rappers featured here back in 2011, but uses the ones he has wisely. Members of his A$AP Mob are of course on some tracks, along with other up-and-comers like Kendrick Lamar, Yelawolf, Joey Bada$$, Danny Brown, Action Bronson, and Big K.R.I.T., on the major posse cut “1 Train.” There’s even a track on here with Skrillex, “Wild For The Night,” but luckily its dubstep style feels welcome and not out of place.

A major concern was that the excellent eerie and atmospheric production found on Live.Love.A$AP would be totally abandoned in favor of much more polished beats. While the production found here is certainly a bit more polished and thicker, not to worry – the sound itself is still very dark, with newest single “F*ckin’ Problems” as the biggest exception. It was said that the feeling you got from listening to the mixtape was comparable to the drugs Rocky frequently raps about – heavy weed and cough syrup. That feeling is still very evident here, as are other Rocky familiarities like pitch-shifted vocals and flow-switch rhymes.

Going back again to the mixtape, a big part of what made it so successful was Rocky’s choice of producers, some of whom return here. Perhaps most influential was Clams Casino, who is thankfully back with his hypnotically styled production on tracks like “LVL.” SpaceGhostPurrp is nowhere to be found, due to the ongoing beef between the A$AP Mob and SGP’s Raider Klan, but he is hardly missed. Hit-Boy provides the ridiculously catchy “Goldie,” while the rest of the album is handled by Rocky himself among others.

Hesitant fans fearing that Rocky’s unique promise found on his mixtape would be lost once going major have nothing to worry about. All the trademarks are present, along with some interesting experiments and big names like 2 Chainz and Drake, who are about as boastful as Rocky himself. On closing track “Suddenly,” Rocky says “Everything changed before my eyes, by my surprise.” It’ll be interesting to see what kind of changes he makes from here, but until then everyone can lay back and just trill.

Catch A$AP Rocky at Stage AE in Pittsburgh
Opening artist: Taylor Gang’s Chevy Woods
Wednesday March 13, 2013; Doors open at 7 PM
$25.00
General Admission – All Ages
Tickets on sale now at all Ticketmaster outlets!

Shinedown crushes Stage AE

Recently realizing their fourth album, Amaryllis, Shinedown  came across as seasoned professionals on the Pittsburgh stop of the Avalanche Tour.  The tour, which featured openers The Art of Dying and Adelita’s Way, took Stage AE by storm with some high-fidelity, unadulterated rock.

As Shinedown took the stage, they unveiled a first-class stage setup complete with platforms and back lighting that framed  the band members in a godlike ambiance.  Immediately launching in to the explosive “Sound of Madness” fired up fans up from the get go.  When front man Brent Smith shouted from his platform “Let me see those fists in the air!” you could see the crowd’s anticipation being satisfied as they raised their fists to the band.

The powerful vocals of Smith pierced through the venue with ease, creating a haunting experience, which sounded exactly like what you would hear on one of their studio albums.  Smith has a way of capturing your emotions through his personal lyrics.  He is accompanied by guitarist Zach Meyers, who never ceases to impress with his seemingly effortless solos.  The duo is complemented by the heartbeat of the band, drummer Barry Kerch, and room-shaking bassist Eric Bass.

The band managed to keep energy flowing with “Diamond Eyes” as the crowd screamed along with the lyric “Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom!”  They continued with a new song, “Enemies,” which showcased the tours massive lightshow that encompassed the band in a glow.

After the first few ground-rattling hits, Smith asked the crowd to do an unorthodox Shinedown tradition of having everyone turn to their left and right and shake each other’s hands.  He thanked the crowd and proceeded with the rock show by playing another explosive new hit “Nowhere Kids.”

In the midst of all the head-banging power tracks, Shinedown managed to squeeze in a few slower songs.  Capturing the hearts of every girl in the crowd, Smith dedicated the ballad “If You Only Knew” to the women in the venue.  “The Crow & the Butterfly,” a song about a mother losing her child, was a genuine crowd pleaser, touching everyone who has lost someone too soon.

One of the highlights of the night came mid-set when the band played the classic “Save Me”.  The crowd roared in excitement at the first buzz of the opening bass line; the energy continued with Kerch pounding on the drums as Smith and Meyers played off each other until the song ended with Smith screaming the lyric “please don’t erase me.”

The set came to an end with “.45” as Meyers left his guitar on top of an amp, filling the room with feedback.  After a few minutes of restless fans begging for the band to come back on stage, Shinedown opened their encore with their new hit “Bully.”  Just as the crowds energy was beginning to dwindle, their latest single managed to jack everyone up.

Smith addressed the crowd once again, this time more seriously, about Rock & Roll.  He said Rock music is a way of life; that you should live it and  breathe it every day, because Rock & Roll was there for you when no one else was.  He begged the crowd to not let Rock & Roll die.  With this they launched into the crowd-favorite cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man.”

The night ended with “Fly from the Inside” as the band gave every last bit they had back to the crowd.  After a generous 90 minutes of playtime, the crowd left enthralled with the band’s performance.  Shinedown was equally as impressed with Pittsburgh as Pittsburgh was with them, saying it was their best show in the city yet.

CRANZIG III: HOW THE FANS COLOR

CONTEST ALERT: CRANZIG LEGACY aka CRANZIG III: HOW THE FANS COLOR

Last year when Danzig came to Stage AE, we ran a contest called CRANZIG II.

This year Danzig returns to Stage AE on June 5th to perform a Danzig Legacy show, featuring music by Danzig, Samhain and a special performance by Danzig & Doyle of The Misfits.  The time for CRANZIG III: HOW THE FANS COLOR has come.

Fans must submit a CRAYON ONLY drawing of any Danzig related material, from The Misfits to Samhain and Danzig’s solo albums.

To submit your CRANZIG III drawing, set your drawing as your Facebook profile photo and email a copy of it to marketingintern@promowestlive.com with your full name, phone number and a link to your Facebook profile.  Submissions must be in by May 13th. [EXTENDED: We will now accept submissions made through Sunday, May 20th!]  All submissions will be uploaded to a CRANZIG III photo album on the Stage AE Facebook page to be voted on.  The submissions with the most “likes” will win and will be featured on the CRANZIG III poster.  Voting ends on May 31st.

To the Victor go the Spoils:

Ten contestants will receive a copy of the CRANZIG III poster that includes their artwork.

Five contestants will receive two tickets to the show and Danzig will autograph the “CRANZIG III” poster that includes their artwork.

Two grand prize winners with the most votes will receive two tickets and entry into a Meet and Greet with Danzig.