The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead

How long have they been having shows there? It seems like I'd never heard of the place, and now I've been to two shows there in a week. Monday last I saw Spoon, a band I used to see when I lived in Austin and when they were a very different sort of combo--a kind of Pixies-influenced, spiky, nonmelodic band. Good, but very different. They're slick and successful now, with their songs on TV shows and ads (and Britt Daniel, Spoon's frontman and leader, did the music for the film STRANGER THAN FICTION), and their show was a little less than spot-on. They are tight, very tight, but there wasn't the energy I remember from their Hole in the Wall and Electric Lounge days. Last night the wife and I went to Homestead to see the New Pornographers and Okkervil River, the last of which is, oddly, another Austin band. The show was a nice mix. We came a bit late and missed Okkervil's opening song, but the next three or four were a bit lifeless and pretentious at the same time, with singing that seemed inspired by the Cure's Robert Smith. Wailing. I was unimpressed. But they then played "John Allyn Smith Sails," with its outro from "Sloop John B," and all of a sudden they were a rock band. Melody is a good thing to include in your songs. From that point they were truly on. A Sonic Youth-style noise/feedback freakout followed, and the rest of the show was energetic, urgent, and connected to the audience. New Pornographers followed; my wife, who isn't all that familiar with them but likes them, remarked that they were a "bit NPR" (she was referring to their "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" stage banter but it's not a bad description for the music in general); I retorted that they were Canadian, which them forced us to think about the fuzzy difference between the two cultural categories. They were really tight, much like Spoon, but at the same time more relaxed, more willing to try to make a connection with the audience. For me, what made their show so much better was the low end: the drums and bass were way out front and powerful, while Okkervil's low end was weak. They played all of their great little power-pop songs, including "Sing Me Spanish Techno," which I think is one of the best singles of the last ten years.

The hall, though. It's a beautiful room with lots of period details, and the stage is small and intimate (both bands looked to be playing on a high-school stage), but it's not a great place to see a rock show. The seats are wooden and very uncomfortable, and the rows narrow. And, you might say, who sits and listens to a rock show? Well, a Pittsburgh audience, or at least some of them. And us. We sat in the front row of the balcony and were strenuously forbidden to stand up (because of the low railing, we assumed). The acoustics aren't good, either. Pros: small and intimate; good sight lines; a beautiful building in an interesting and historical town; a good booking agent, apparently, because the lineup of shows is impressive. Cons: uncomfortable; bad acoustics; sedate.

My favorite venue in town remains Club Cafe. That's a fantastic room. And for larger bands, Mr. Small's Theater in Millvale.

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  • At 8:32 PM, Blogger andrea said…

    Hey, I was at the show that night too, and I totally agree with what you said about the location. Pretty place, but an odd one for rock.


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