August 7, 2008

New South Side Festival a Musical Vision

By Regis Behe, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Aug. 7--Anthony Kiedis admits he was intrigued, but also a bit leery, when he was approached by American Eagle Outfitters to curate a music festival. The idea of being able to select bands for a unique event was appealing, but would his vision, his roster of performers, fit with the retailer's idea of a music festival?

"They told me they wanted this bill to reflect my taste in music," says Kiedis, lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. "I said, 'Yeah, but you're a big corporation, and I want to do this thing in a big way.' The lady from American Eagle, Kathy (Savitt) told me I get to decide who's in it. And I told them, 'If I get to decide, I'm in.'"

Because American Eagle gave Kiedis free rein, and because he came up with a killer lineup, the New American Music Union festival has the potential to be one of the area's most memorable musical events in ages. Taking place Friday and Saturday in a parking lot at the SouthSide Works, the two-day event features Bob Dylan, The Roots, The Raconteurs, Gnarls Barkley and six other touring groups. Also, 15 college bands, including Nothing Unexpected from Robert Morris University, will compete for a chance to win a recording session in Los Angeles.

"The lineup Anthony put together is absolutely first-rate," says Savitt, chief marketing officer for American Eagle, which has its headquarters at SouthSide Works. "He was highly strategic in what he was looking for in each and every artist. It was not only about uniqueness and innovation of the individual acts, but the harmony and synergy that would be gained by having them share the bill together."

When the festival was announced in May, Beth Barney, an American Eagle spokeswoman, said, "Music is a defining influence in our customers' lives. We set out to offer our customers an unparalleled music experience at a great value."

Kiedis says he wasn't out to prove anything when he started to assemble his dream concert event. There was no intent to show the connection, say, between the sagest of performers, Dylan, and the youngest, The Tiny Masters of Today, which consist of siblings Ivan and Ada, ages 14 and 12, respectively.

"It's all good music and all musicians I would be personally excited about seeing by themselves, let alone the smorgasbord we've put together," Kiedis says. "There's not anything to prove; those bands have proven it themselves, and it's a great lineup of musicians and people. Juxtaposing different bands together has always been a cool and interesting thing ... but there was nothing I had a need to do by putting certain people on the bill."

Nor was Kiedis shy about going for the gold standard with Dylan. From the very beginning, he wanted "a historically monumental" performer or band to set the tone of the festival.

"That was my first instinct," he says, "to put someone like Ringo Starr or Willie Nelson or Bob Dylan out there, someone who has been alive for a long time and has been shaping the landscape of music, on the bill, and then see how it goes."

Kiedis admits he's looking forward to returning to Pittsburgh for the festival this weekend. When told the city is abuzz about the show, he replies, "I had that buzz you're talking about three months ago when I was devising this thing and going through the efforts to get everybody to play music. I had it then, and now it's coming back, Round 2 of this buzz. I still can't believe all of that musical ability will be playing on a street in Pittsburgh."

The event is sold out, with 10,000 tickets sold for each day.

And will Kiedis himself participate?

"There's always a chance," he says. "I like to play music, but so far no one has reached out to me, and I'm not about imposing my will on any band. I'm not expecting to perform, but I suppose if someone asks me ..."

Friday's lineup (in order of appearance)

Tiny Masters of Today -- The name fits -- they're tiny (relatively) and masterful beyond their years. Siblings Ada, 12, and Ivan, 14, sound like a couple of kids having a blast making music. Fans include David Bowie, Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers.

N.A.S.A. -- N.A.S.A. stands for North America South America, and, as the name implies, the duo of Squeak E. Clean and DJ Zegon are global mixmasters. Their debut album, scheduled to be released in the fall, will feature collaborations with Tom Waits, David Byrne, Method Man, George Clinton, John Frusciante and M.I.A. Curator Anthony Kiedis picks them as the surprise breakout artist of N.A.M.U.

The Black Keys -- The Akron-based duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney might be the best so-called garage band working today. The pair expand the basic guitar-and-drums approach, adding layers of blues, funk and soul. "Attack and Release," the latest release, features songs Auerbach and Carney wrote for a collaboration with Ike Turner and Danger Mouse. Unfortunately, Turner passed away before he could record the songs; fortunately, The Black Keys have a pretty good handle on R&B.

The Roots -- Hailing from Philadelphia, the duo of ?uestlove and Black Thought might be the most bookish band working today. They've named albums after books, referencing Malcolm Gladwell's "Tipping Point" for a 2004 release, and "Game Theory" by Roger McCain for an album of the same name in 2006. "Rising Down" is taken from William Vollman's "Rising Up, Rising Down," and if this sounds antithetical to the spirit of popular music -- well, so be it. But The Roots are unlike most bands, and their live shows are considered to be among the most energetic and innovative in the hip-hop realm.


The Duke Spirit -- They are not alums of the famed university in North Carolina, but an English quintet that came to North America two years ago and played 285 shows before returning to their homes in England. Clearly, they have no trouble working hard; a new album, "Neptune," is filled with breathless, full-throttle energy.

Black Mountain -- Imagine an update of vintage English blues-rock psychedelia. That's Black Mountain's motif, and listening to them recalls the heyday of Humble Pie, the Faces and even Black Sabbath. Black Mountain adds a female vocalist, and this is heavy stuff, updated for the 21st century. Theirs might be the most interesting appearance of N.A.M.U.

Gnarls Barkley -- This might be the most-anticipated set of the weekend, given that the collaboration of Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo has not played in the area before. Certainly, there's an audience for Gnarls Barkley, whose 2006 album, "St. Elsewhere," yielded the hit single "Crazy." Expect a fantastic stage show with mind-blowing costumes.

Spoon -- It's a long way from "Telephono," Spoon's 1994 debut, to "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga," the Austin band's most recent album. They've become, after initially drawing comparisons to Sonic Youth and the Pixies, a pop band -- although it is renegade pop, smart and witty and engaging.

The Raconteurs -- This is turning out to be more than Jack White's side project. The Raconteurs, featuring the White Stripes frontman along with Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler of the Greenhornes, and solo artist Brandon Benson, have become one of the more notable rock bands of recent years. White has become the ultimate Renaissance rocker, given his collaboration with Loretta Lynn on "Van Lear Rose," appearances with Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, and a budding acting career with roles in the movies "Cold Mountain" and "Coffee and Cigarettes." But the Raconteurs stand on their own.

Bob Dylan -- Dylan is arguably the single most influential artist of our times -- in any genre, in any field. Mere words fall short in describing his imprint on how contemporary music is heard, played and perceived. If you have never seen him perform live -- and yes, there are times when Dylan is not as "on" as he can be -- find a way into this show, if only to say you've seen one of the grandmasters at least once in your life.


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