Monday, June 25, 2007

WYEP Summer Music Festival -- Featuring Jon Check, Ike Reilly Assassination, Kim Richey, Sinead O'Connor, and M.o.e.

WYEP FM 91.3 does a free music event every year to cap off their "Live at the Warhol" World Cafe tapings which is just such a fantastic idea. Major kudos to our local independent radio station for being the frontrunner in creating venues for independent artists. This is their tenth year of the event and the attendance just keeps growing. The audience was a real mix - young and old, straight and gay, homeless (thank you, homeless dancing man with the empty fifth in your hand), educated and working class. It's just so great to see so many different people turn out for these shows. The World Cafe broadcasts will take place in July.

Jon Check was up first as the ice breaker. He's a Philadelphia boy that attended the U. of Pittsburgh for a journalism degree and stuck around. WYEP plays his soulful music on occasion and I've always liked his voice and groovy tunes. He played with two backup singers from the area which lent a little more breadth to his sound. I liked them but it was pretty early (i.e. not enough wine and cheese just yet) to really engage me. His voice is deep and reminiscent of Michael McDonald though some have compared him to Van, the man, which I just don't hear. His background includes a blue grass band and a deep love of Otis Redding. He's trying to get picked up in Hollywood right now. You can hear his music at his band's site. "If You Come with Me" is his best-known tune. Catchy and smart.

Ike Reilly Assassination, playing second, is a band I really don't know much about. They had a low key stage presence and the performance (aside from his four rabid fans seated in the middle of the lawn) left me feeling kind of ho-hum. I kept watching the fans to try and tune in to what this guy was about but it just wasn't happening. What kind of ticked me off about him was his total diss of WYEP and the three (THREE) live performance opportunities in Pittsburgh(the Three Rivers Arts Festival, the World Cafe taping, and the free WYEP show). He should have been grateful for the exposure.

His May release, "We Belong to the Staggering Evening," has received some decent reviews and he's considered a long-overdue "up and comer," a "genius drunk" or "brilliant lyricist" depending on which review you read, but I still didn't find any real connection with the outdoor live show having never heard his music first. He's playing the Austin City Limits Music Festival - check him out and let me know what you think. You can hear his music on myspace. Some gritty guitar. Some punk themes. Some hard driving rock. I'm going to check out more of his stuff before pronouncing that I don't care for him.

Kim Richey, the third performer in this day of free music, was as funny and as endearing as ever. She played a great set and garnered some new fans which is great! She deserves more fans that treasure her songwriting although I'd hate to start fighting for tickets to see her intimate shows at Club Cafe. Out of the front three bands, she was the only one to thank the fans and WYEP for providing a great venue for performing. And she knew enough to ask for free beer when she played her last song. My co-worker's husband, Jim, was kind enough to give her one as I'm sure many other fans did too.

One highlight of her performance was when the huge river boat, the Gateway Clipper, cruised past her on the river and blared its river horn a few times. She only heard the last deep blast after her song ended and asked the crowd how long that thing was blowing its horn because she thought it was her guitar player ("What in the WORLD is going on over there?!").

Her new CD, "Chinese Boxes," is due out July 10th and I love the title track and Jack and Jill. Yet another fabulous effort from Kim. We love you, Kim ... keep playing Pittsburgh a few times a year! Still don't know about Kim?! Check out her myspace page and read her blog. The airport entry is funny stuff! Keep your switchblade from Ray Kennedy (a great English footballer ... as in soccer) at home next time, dear.

Next up, the venerable (yes, still adorning a crew cut) Sinead O'Conner dressed in a green frock shirt over green pants (I swear, it was an Irish pantsuit from where I was sitting!). I guess having four children (the eldest now 20+ years old) takes its toll on your fashion options. That's okay ... I wasn't there to see her outfit. I have to keep my natural instinct in check to say something cheesy like ... it's been seven years ... and fifteen days ... since she last released a new CD ... even though it HAS BEEN seven years since her last release. Okay ... and not so much in check. Sorry.

Her shredding the photo of the Pope on Saturday Night Live (still fresh as ever in some people's minds), her dark comments that always seem to make the front page, many references about her leaving live shows because she didn't "feel well," and life since being thrust into fame at age 23 filled with thoughts of suicide and philosophical meanderings about life and death and religion that very few outwardly express to the media, be damned! Actually, I have always admired her truthfulness even if it crushed her career in some ways although it would have ROYALLY pissed me off if she left a show I'd paid good money for because she didn't feel well (I'm catty that way). I should mention here that she was finally diagnosed with bipolar mental illness although swears that didn't cause any of the more notable outbursts. Her meds have really regulated her life into a peaceful calm of family life.

A lot of my friends had come to hear her and her only and I can't say that I really blamed them for leaving early (okay ... in a way, I thought that was just ignorance ... she's a brilliant vocalist and songwriter ... and I had to secretly wonder if they had been living under a rock) but they didn't do their homework on her newest double CD release "Theology." Tsk ... tsk ... early leavers! You missed "Black Boys on Mopeds" for an encore with her soaring legendary voice. And hey folks, she's only playing three U.S. dates - one in NYC, one in LA LA land, and one in Pittsburgh of all of the places! This was special.

Anyhow, I was in absolute awe from the first note to be sitting twenty feet from her. I mean ... OH MY GAWWWWWWWWD ... there's tiny little SINEAD freaking O'CONNOR tuning up on a stage just feet from me!!! Let's just say, she's still angry after all of these years but in a super subdued, let's get 'em with the truth in their faces and no shouting involved, way. She made a good point during her show. God is a much different conversation than religion.

She talked about God and the Palestinians and Israel. She was quiet and purposeful and the audience appreciative of even seeing her. At one point in the show, she scanned the crowd for a rastifarian but could find none until the bald man in the first row let her know that, even though he was bald too, he was, indeed rastafarian. I saw many, many fans with dreds. She played a few reggae inspired tunes including "Redemption Song" with her own twist to the lyrics. Her new CD, a double one, features the same tracks recorded in two different places - a small venue and a fully produced version. I can't say that I'll run out to buy it but it does make for intriguing music. It was such a thrill to see her, no matter what she sang.

M.o.e. closed the evening with a really interesting set of jazz/fusion guitar infused jam band music. The hillsides filled with patchoulli-wearing, glow stick throwing, fans and lots of high end audio recording equipment. They played a great show and, if my ears didn't deceive me, threw out more than just a few licks of Pittsburgh native George Benson's songs. At one point, the dancing throng shouted back "On BROADWAY... on broadway" which so took me back to growing up in Pittsburgh and listening to one native son who made it big. We danced the night away to M.o.e.'s great sound.

It was a fabulous day filled with interesting music in a fantastic venue (Alleghey landing ... with the Pittsburgh skyline and the Allegheny River in the background). I feel so lucky to live in Pittsburgh. Oh ... and we WERE voted Most Livable City once again. Rock on, 'Burgers! Rock on!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Jackie Greene -- "American Myth"

I missed Robert Randolph's band the first weekend of the Pittsburgh Three Rivers Arts Festival (TRAF) because he was a "no show" and stuck in some airport in New Jersey (many, many BOO HISS's followed that announcement amidst the Grateful Dead and Dave Matthews tee shirt-adorned crowd -- we headed over to the Market Square venue and got to catch Phat Man Dee live which was a real treat aside from the Original Oyster House beer nazi but that's a story for another day -- and word has it that amazing mini concerts and drumming circles broke out after that announcement -- DAMN!).

There were plenty of other free music shows to be seen during the TRAF but Jackie Greene and Rickie Lee Jones were high on the "gee ... wouldn't it be GREAT to see them live" list. Kudos to WYEP FM yet again! They bring great shows to the TRAF every year. Jackie Greene highlighted the "Album of the Year " list for WYEP last year so I figured he was a good bet for a free live show. And, while I would have love, love, loved to see Rickie Lee live .... it wasn't meant to be.

Jackie is young looking. Very young looking. And, in fact, if wikipedia holds true, he's only 26. Okay ... yeah ... so ... I'm freaking ANCIENT then at 42 and could, truth be told, be his mother. *snicker* We guessed he was 21. Not bad. But oh, what an ancient soul sings at the mics. Two mics. One a standard and one from the old B movies with the wide, deep sound (sorry I don't know what the name of the mic is ... fill me in, if you do). Reviewers that compare him to Dylan are misguided, I think. Yeah, he's got that Dylan vibe on a few songs but he doesn't pretend to be Dylan in any way, shape, or form. Nor does he pretend to be Mick Jagger. He's just Jackie and he loves what he does which is play amazing live shows.

He entered the stage with black pants, black blazer, black sirt, and black shades ... Johnny Cash or Tom Petty or Dylan ... reincarnate? Nah. Just a Monterey, CA, boy with a great sense of rhythm and nice set of pipes.

His facial expressions, tightening this way (lip curling and cheeks up on high) and then releasing that way (eyes opening and mouth drooping), as he pulled the top note on his Gibson guitar ... tight and filled with vibrato. He appeared calm and reserved and into delta blues overdrive love or harmonica hooting (strung around his neck) ... for the tunes that sunk into that groove (many). His band was really tight and loose, at turns, but he definitely held the lead with his guitar virtuoso and stage presence.

The music carried him (and us) away, at times. He wailed on his numerous guitars and played, simultaneously, the organ and piano. He wailed on the harmonica. He smoked a lot on stage (as much as a live performer can smoke before the next refrain starts - much to the chagrin of a boisterous Mom behind us that kept shouting out -- "JACKIE! DON'T SMOKE!"). He bitched about the piano stool they gave him because it made it hard to play both keyboards at the same time ... but the crowd, they cheered on and he lit into his show closer after a standing ovation, which was so Rolling Stones ... oh SO ROCKING ... and delicious ... we didn't spend a moment's time on the poor stool selection or his lighting up another smoke ("Farewell, So Long, Goodbye").

Women shouted out "I'll Be Thinking 'Bout You" throughout the show and it is a good song but he didn't play it. Two fans near us in the second row sat there for hours with prime spots and were so happy to talk about Jackie and how he hooked them. We were just happy we had a spot to eat our $10 arts fest meals. One guy hopped up on a chair to get his autograph ... screaming his name into the travel trailer. Cool. It's always nice to encounter devoted fans.

Standouts for me included: I'm so Gone (great guitar intro and melody), Closer to You, and Farewell, So Long, Goodbye. Jackie's got a great delta vibe that can really only be experienced live. His CD falls short of his great skill.

If you want to find out more about Jackie Greene, check out his My Space page and his web site which features a huge warning that he doesn't appreciate live photos. Ah well ... Jackie, my man .... puffy eyes ... be damned! You're still cute. is no longer active. Bummer. JG is best experienced live. Go see him if he's around.