I feel bad for anyone who was unable to attend American Eagle Outfitters’ first ever New American Music Union festival in Pittsburgh’s South Side Works.
That being said let me relay what you missed.
The festival differed from most in many ways. First of all, it was set right in the middle of the city. Concertgoers could shop and dine at any of the South Side Works’ many shops and restaurants, including American Eagle, BCBG, Tosca and The Cheesecake Factory. Upon entry, any general admission or student ticket was given a voucher for a festival t-shirt and a BPA-free water bottle, bearing the festival’s logo. I found this fantastic. Not only did we receive a fantastic musical experience, but there are free goodies, too! To go along with the water bottles, NAMU had two free water stations available, where you could fill your bottle with fresh, clean water at no charge whatsoever.
The setting was fantastic for more than just dining and shopping in the city. Once you entered the main stage area, you had the stage before you and turning behind you, were greeted with a breathtaking view of Pittsburgh’s hills and sky, University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning jutting majestically from the lush greenery. One also could not have asked for better weather. Before the festival began on Friday, rain showers made it seem as through we’d have a soggy experience, but by 3 PM, the clouds parted and the rain had cooled the city, giving us a cool, clear, and calm 2 days to enjoy NAMU’s phenomenal line-up.
Opening the show were New York’s Tiny Masters of Today. The tween-aged family act left something to be desired, but was surprisingly adept for their age. Their songs were simple, but something you would expect from twenty to thirty-something hipsters, as opposed to a 12 and 14 year-old brother and sister. While the vocals seemed monotone and off-pitch to start, they improved as the set continued, leading me to attribute it to nerves. The crowd responded to them quite well, despite my suspicion that they are widely unknown to most of the concertgoers. Closing their set with a humorous, but accurate, cover of House of Pain‘s “Jump Around,” Tiny Masters of Today are, at this point, more of an endearing novelty group. However, I can see them evolving greatly with a few years time. Definitely one to watch out for.
I’ve expressed before the difficulty I have with watching a DJ spin a set and being able to review it like a band playing. Orange-jumpsuited duo NASA took this into account and made their set fantastically entertaining. Though the set was a bit too loud, it was far from disappointing. Weaving familiar songs such as Heart‘s “Magic Man,” Blur‘s “Song 2″ and Rage Against the Machine‘s “Killing In The Name Of,” they keep the audience interested in more ways than one.
Not only were our DJ’s fantastically animated and interactive, a few minutes into their se, a pair of girls painted green with silver swimsuits emerged, dancing along as NASA introduces their “Martian Ladies.” Eventually, they are followed by a pair of astronauts in blue jumpsuits. One of these astronauts was a straight up b-boy, while the other is clearly proficient in popping and locking. Finally, some sort of space monster showed up; another dancer wearing what appeared to be a bear suit, topped by a reptilian mask. If you like electronic music, but find yourself bored just watching a DJ manipulate some turntables and a laptop, NASA is a group to catch.
Just as dusk rolled around, The Black Keys took the stage. The Akron, Oh. duo managed to steal the show not only for the night, but for the entire two-day affair. Somehow, they manage to make a guitar and a set of drums sound like so much more as frontman and singer Dan Auerbach writhed around the stage. The guitars were bluesy, soulful, and even a bit crunchy, prompting solos that can only be described one way: face-melting. There are not a lot of words that can be said, other than the Black Keys brought the house down and Pittsburgh to its knees on Friday night.
Closing the night was Pennsylvania’s own hip-hop heroes, The Roots. While their set was flawless, they were still no match for The Black Keys but still managed to bring the crowd to frenzy; couples swayed and made out to their sultry beats and hands were in the air cheering them on. All in all, a good way to close the night.
Saturday’s first big draw was Gnarls Barkley. The full band emerged in matching, burgundy prep-school style vests with Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse standing out in gold blazers. Throughout the set, Cee-Lo lost articles of clothing, ending with his white dress shirt unbuttoned over a white tee, claiming, “my shirt ripped while rockin’ out for y’all!” This group is phenomenal, with every bit of instrumentation live, right down to the xylophone riff on “Gone, Daddy, Gone.” The entire set, the audience was unable to hold still, dancing along to every song.
Following was Spoon, who can only be described as hypnotic. In the same way it was impossible to ignore the group, it was also possible to completely lose yourself in them. The band had brought along live horns, which, frankly, I’m kind of a sucker for. The bass drum drove right into your core…
The Raconteurs took the dusk spot on Saturday night, ushering in the night with—well, frankly–awesomeness. As the highlight of that evening, people in the all-access crowd pulled themselves on top of tour buses to watch them play. Jack White and Brendan Benson share the stage well, each aware of when it’s the others turn to shine. Their songs got longer and longer, the group working their way into a slow, haunting, bluesy feel with every guitar solo being absolutely incredible.
Finally, the biggest draw of the entire festival, Bob Dylan took the stage…and was utterly disappointing. Not once did he pick up a guitar, being known for being a guitar-based songwriter. Dylan stayed on keys and harmonica for his whole set, barely moving and letting his band do all of the work. Sure, he’s known for not being a great vocalist: he’s actually known for being quite a bad singer. This was worse. Age has lent an extremely gruff quality to Dylan’s voice, making him sound as though he’s channeling Tom Waits, and causing his lyrics to be even less intelligible than usual. It was difficult figuring out what songs he was even playing.
What. A. Letdown.
Festival curator Anthony Kiedis expressed interest in keeping the festival going in years to come and I pray to God that he does. I can only hope that something like this gets bigger and better with each year, and if this groundbreaking first try is any indicator.
Pittsburgh’s big new music festival can only go up from here.
Photos: C.C. Chapman for A.E./NAMU and Melissa Franko for wyep.org
Filed under: concerts | Tagged: anthony kiedis, blur, bob dylan, brendan benson, cover whore, dan auerbach, gnarls barkley, heart, house of pain, jack white, music festival, nasa, new american music union, Rage Against the Machine, sara bellum, spoon, the black keys, the raconteurs, the roots, tiny masters of today, tom waits | Leave a Comment »