Well, COVID is bad again (has been the whole time, honestly), so who knows if I’ll be able to see Black MIDI, Porter Robinson, Titus Andronicus, or The War On Drugs in the coming months as I had been planning. Who knows how artists just starting to get their show legs back will be able to cope with yet another potential lockdown. Who knows how anyone will be able to cope with another potential lockdown, considering how excellently people handled the first one. This is an uplifting way to begin a piece, right? I will say that, even though it seems like we can no longer have nice things, the Millvale Music Fest, which occurred on August 6th and 7th, was a nice thing amidst the sea of garbage that is today’s world.
NOTE: I attempted to take pictures, but I am not a photographer, so most of them turned out badly. Please forgive me.
On August 6th, after another scintillating workweek, my girlfriend and I made the trek from our new apartment/house on the South Slopes all the way to Millvale, the smoggy air giving me new life in anticipation of a night and day and night of music and food truck food. We avoided the grungy highwayside walk along Forbes Ave between Uptown and Oakland by taking the less grungy, less highwayside walk along Fifth Ave between Uptown and Oakland, passing by the cheerful dog walker who frequents that route. Through Oakland, along Bigelow Blvd’s teeter-inducing “sidewalk,” over the Bloomfield Bridge, down through Lawrenceville, and across the 40th St Bridge we trekked, narrowly avoiding flocks of bikers who had decided that a car-sized lane dedicated specifically for them wasn’t enough room, and now had to flood the sidewalk. Finally, after much sub-audible swearing on our part, Millvale came into view.
After swinging by the Grist House brewery food truck brigade, where I grabbed a hot dog smothered in mac n cheese and pulled pork, we made our way over to Mr. Smalls Theater. There, we encountered the alien rapper Lexa Terrestrial hawking her wares over in a corner while the space gradually filled with people. Thanks, Lexa, for the free CDs, and hope you sold some masks as well. We found some seating in the upstairs balcony, which I actually hadn’t known existed, and I settled into my tall-ass chair, my feet swinging off the ground like those of a little kid, albeit a little kid drinking Sierra Nevada. Soon, the musical Sierra (Sellers) came onstage, clad in bovine-print pants, and proceeded to launch into an effortlessly smooth rendition of some of her signature tracks, backed by a funky live band. Check out the newly-released, slow-burning jam “Need You Bad” if you haven’t heard it; it’s one of Sellers’s best yet.
Midway through the show, some zealous fans ran up to the stage and loudly broadcast their love for Sellers, which she reciprocated, to their giddy amazement. They spent the rest of the set hugging the stage, bystanders, and each other, clearly feeling the spirit of classic R&B music that Sellers’s music channels.
After Sellers’s set, we walked over to the Strange Roots brewery for a sampling of funky, experimental sours, and you’re allowed to hate me for stringing those words together; I had previously thought that watermelon beer couldn’t be good (I once had one from an unnamed Pittsburgh brewery that tasted like cat food), but Strange Roots’s Tartburst proved me wrong.
In the background, the psychedelic outfit Decaffeinated Grapefruit ran through a jammy set filled with quips about Decaffeinated Grapefruit tribute bands and Vanilla Ice. The group’s guitarist played like a man who had both mastered and never before seen the instrument, coaxing outrageous and tantalizing sounds out of it by tapping the fretboard and wailing on the highest possible notes. It was the most innovative six-string work I saw the whole festival.
Then, it was back to Grist House for some eco-folk action, courtesy of Vireo. Grist was packed, as it tends be there; the outside beer line and the inside beer line mingled and merged at various points like two dueling, Sperry-clad serpents, creating one bidirectional clump to rule them all. After grabbing some yummy beer and eye-petting a sampling of the brewery’s many dog attendees, we bonded with an older couple pouring mixed drinks from a thermos as we all shared a standing table.
I couldn’t really see the individual members of Vireo from my vantage point behind speakers and the backs of people’s heads, but, damn, could I hear them. The music was loud, blown-out, and expressive, like Arcade Fire or The Flaming Lips if either of those bands’ singers could hit impossibly high whistle notes. I wouldn’t necessarily associate Vireo’s quirky, haze-drenched strain of indie—executed excellently on albums like 2019’s leaf heap and 2020’s Here Comes The Driftler—with the tech/healthcare/finance crowd that frequents Grist, but they were loving it, so I guess I’m an idiot.
As the sky darkened, the hour of Whisper Nest drew near. Despite the venue’s name, the acts that played there were among the loudest on the bill; I guess the festival organizers have a sense of humor.
When we arrived at the dimly-lit bar, the psych-rockers of Melt were midway through the all-conquering stomp of “Holy War,” one of my favorite tracks from their recent debut album. The rest of the set was stoner rock at its finest, all chugging guitars, howling vocals, and earsplitting decibel levels. My girlfriend had a nasty case of hiccups, so we decided to grab some cervezas–for the limes only, of course (what, they cure hiccups). I shrieked my drink order to the bartender, who asked me the same question five times as I gaped uncomprehendingly, my already fading hearing overwhelmed by pure RAWK (the question was, according to my girlfriend, “We don’t have Corona; is Tecate ok?” It was).
Once Melt finished their set, we moved to the front, where the noisy punkers of Tough Cuffs were already setting up. Their March debut, Wasted Pleasure, is one of the year’s most hard-hitting, cathartic records, Pittsburgh or no, and the pleasure of seeing them live was not wasted (terrible pun, sorry).
As soon as they launched into their first song, a mini mosh pit opened up right in front of the stage, flinging bodies into walls, chairs, and other bodies. I hadn’t realized that the whirling limbstorm had appeared behind me, and was alarmed when I got whomped for the first time, after which my girlfriend extracted me and I cowered against the wall near the bathroom and tried (mostly) unsuccessfully to take pictures over the flailing mass. When Tough Cuffs were through, I could hear even less than I could hear after Melt, but I didn’t care.
By this time, it was getting late, so we hoofed it from Millvale back to Bloomfield to catch the bus to the South Slopes, where we attempted to watch Spirited Away before falling asleep after 20 minutes.
Saturday edition here.