In Support of Pittsburgh (Part 2)

This is the second installment of my two-part look into Pittsburgh’s music and cultural scene. Dig part one right here.

Sleep Experiments-1Friday night, I got myself to Pittsburgh’s newest venue, the Spirit Lodgewhich recently opened in the rapidly changing Lawrenceville neighborhood. Located in a repurposed Moose Lodge, the bar is yer best chance to see what Pittsburgh looked like in the chintzy 70s. Wood-paneled walls pair nicely with the cheap beer prices. The venue boasts to be a multi-purpose event space with over 10,000 square feet divided over two floors. Plus, they even have some of the best Sicilian-style pizza I’ve scarfed, made in the back kitchen, courtesy of Slice Island.

Sleep Experiments-3The band I went to see Friday night was local Pittsburgh ambient indie rock group Sleep Experiments, who last released an album in 2012 and are currently recording their follow-up, shopping the record to local distributors and labels. Their songs are driven by lead singer Morgan Stewart’s dreamy vocals, deeply effected to the point of unintelligibility, but that’s kind of the point. Our dreams are somehow always paradoxically vivid and out of reach–bizarre, yet perfectly reasonable at the same time. Dual lead guitarists (and dually named Phil) Johnson and Jacoby fill a massive wave of texture and undulating melodic passages on either side of Stewart who accompanies the two on keyboards. Judging their performance and the welcoming atmosphere of the Spirit Lodge, I expect the venue to become a critical member of Pittsburgh’s burgeoning musical presence. Cheap beer, gnar-scarf pizza, and two floors of stages, man.

Omniverse-6My final musical taste of the week came the following night at another new(er) Pittsburgh venue, the Pittsburgh Winery, a “boutique urban winery” and intimate music stage playing host to a variety of events both local and national. Saturday night, the winery was host to Pittsburgher Derek Krystek’s Omniverse, a full-length release meant to embody the entirety of Krystek’s musical world. Over the phone, Krystek related the concept of the release to the universe, and more broadly the Omniverse, in that it is comprised of the same things you and I are. It is all different and all the same. According to Krystek, we have been destined to a “curse,” and his is music. The album was recorded at the National Audio Preservation Society in Newark, OH, only 60 miles south of Athens, OH, the birthplace of Adam Torres’ Nostra Nova.

That Saturday, the Omniverse was, for a short while, comprised of Krystek on drums and lead vocals, Ben Greenwood on bass, Gene Vercammen on acoustic guitar and backup vocals, Max Sommerville on keyboards, and Jonathan Hape (who recorded the album at NAPS) on lead guitar. I listened as hook after hook of sweet riffage drove highly syncopated chamber pop. Sudden changes into melodic lines of unison instrumentation made the group jump out from the casks of wine stacked behind the stage. Playful percussion by Mr. Krystek increased the captivation of the Omniverse, whose occasional harmonies, auxilliary percussion, and atmospheric sample served to further emphasize and unify the grand narrative arc of the performance. In the phone interview, Krystek stressed the appropriate Bacchanalian Omniverse-1atmosphere of the Pittsburgh winery making the evening a life-affirming experience, not to mention the event was planned to be Krystek’s birthday, perhaps the most life-affirming anniversary there is. Musically, I was reminded of the chaotic wall of sound a la Phil Elvrum and the Mount Eerie school of thought; cacophonous peaks were challenged by sincere, ultra-vulnerable valleys. Bummer folk? Bummer pop? It’s that beautiful sadness that seems to though each song resulting in the same kind of tired smile that appears when you finish a bottle of wine. The Omniverse seemed to keep telling me: “Life is tough. But that’s why we do it. That struggle forces us to reexamine, everyday, the challenges that define us. Onward, and upward!” Krystek shouts.

I’ve only discussed the club circuit, but I haven’t even mentioned the Pittsburgh Three Rivers Arts Festival that weekend, supported by Jenny Lewis, Alvvays, Hurray For the Riff Raff, and the Felice Brothers, plus strong local support from some the city’s best bands. I didn’t get to go, choosing instead the smaller venues, but the festival is an annual event now in its 56th year.

Looking back over the week and the shows I attended, I realized it wasn’t exactly easy to find them. Adam Torres and company only played fifteen minutes in the middle of an open mic night. Sleep Experiments played at a new bar in a converted Moose Lodge off the main drag behind a Sunoco. The Omniverse was released in a basement urban winery in a business district more known for its ultra lounges and mega clubs. Comparing this experience to Austin, the live music capital of the world, perhaps digging a little deeper to find a new place, or a new face in an old place, made the payoff a little more special. Pittsburgh showed its dedication to foster a creatively nestled scene into the Appalachian hills of Western Pennsylvania.

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