“Rock and the Rain-Ryan Adams and Jenny Lewis slay Merriweather Pavilion, giving fans a show of past and new hits”

Certain things are guaranteed to happen when I go to a rock show, well, at least a show that involves being a fan of the artist for the past 12 years, identifying with the songs that bring back the memories of growing up in my twenties. You see when I go to a show I sing every word and pump my fist in the air while trying not to spill my drink on someone standing in front of me. I mean last time the beer was overflowing and everyone else was drunk too, and besides, people were pushing into me when the show started, so that one doesn’t count! At some point during the show Ryan plays an older tune like “Sweet Illusions”, a rocked-out version to be specific, and it makes me so damn happy that I jump up and down until I’m nearly out of breath. These are the shows I love.

On Friday May 12, amongst a heavy downpour, me and my great friend Dustin, an avid Ryan Adams fan and awesome photographer, (we’ve seen many shows and trashed a lot of hotel rooms while eating nachos and cheese) arrived at the Merriweather Pavilion in Columbia Maryland. I had noticed the same scene from when I was last there six years ago for the now defunct Free Fest. The open dirt and gravel filled parking lot surrounded by trees made my heart pound because I hadn’t been here in forever and I wanted to run through the gates and yell yes, yes, I’m back baby! I walked through the small path alongside eager rock fans and a up a small hill leading to the main gates. The sky was overcast and the air was cold. I got a beer and checked out the merch booth which stood near the lawn. The venue seats around 10,000. After having a few beers I’m feeling great and ready to sing my heart out. I look around the crowd and realize that I’m one of the youngest people here. A guy with a long beard and glasses stands in front of me. His girl is wearing glasses and a sweater. This is NPR land and yes everyone will be quiet and reserved when the show begins. Nothing against that, but I like to stand up and be one with the show. Sorry but I bought a ticket to rock and dance, not sit there like I’m in my living room. Ok, I know, enough of that rant.

The important thing is the actual show, in which Ryan rocked out twenty-five amazingly great jams that left the crowd burning for more. Not to mention the opening act was Jenny Lewis! Ok, let’s just talk about this right now. I’ve been a fan of Jenny since her early days when she fronted the California based band Rilo Kiley. Jenny quickly became the cool California girl with long red hair and a voice that was sweeter than the wine vineyards in Napa. In 2009 I saw her perform songs from her debut solo album Rabbit Fur Coat, but I hadn’t seen her since. She came walking out in a long white and black suit wearing a black hat. Being in the third row I cheered loud and held my beer in the air. I’m confident in saying that I yelled “Jenny!” the loudest. Soon the guitars in her band rang loud to the opening chords of “Just one of the Guys”, a single from her most recent successful album “Voyager”. Jenny walked to the front of the stage, holding the mic in her hands, closing her eyes and looking down at the crowd. Her voice echoed through the speakers and it’s like an angel singing. Following the upbeat tune was “You are what you Love” from “Rabbit Fur Coat”. Yeah this song is slower but that didn’t stop me from throwing my fist in the air and shouting along with the chorus. At this point the rows of seats behind me were filled. You could see the lawn feeling up despite the rain pouring down.

A surprise moment in the show occurred when Jenny introduced a new song “Keep Dreaming”. A slow melodic tune set to Jenny’s irresistible vocals proved to be a jam with a lot of potential. Let’s hope it makes the cut on the new record. So another surprise moment came when Ryan walked out onto the stage and joined Jenny for the song “Wasted Youth”. Ryan played guitar behind Jenny while she belted out the rock tune. Yeah it was very cool indeed.  The set ended with “With Arms Outstretched”, a classic acoustic sing along the campfire Rilo Kiley gem. The crowd sat in unison and yeah, I got the chills. This music goes back more than a decade ago and can be sentimental. Ah my early twenties. Sometimes you need to hear those again in concert for them to really hit you. Man, it’s inspiring. Jenny thanked the crowd as I stood up on my chair. Yeah I didn’t even care. When Jenny says thanks you stand the fuck up your chair, at least I did. A few seconds later security kindly told me to sit back down in which I obeyed. I wasn’t going to ruin the rest of the show for myself and everyone else.

Up next was Ryan Adams, whom I’ve seen eight times before. Most recently being in Pittsburgh last summer at Stage AE. This time he was promoting his new album “Prisoner”. The album features harmonica, ghostly alluring ballads and rocked out jams. Ryan walked out onto the stage dressed in his normal attire of blue jeans and a jean jacket along with black sunglasses. The look goes with his new music releases that harken the mid-eighties rock power chords. His brown hair is long and falls over his eyes. Ryan opened with “Do you still love me?” which features a piercing guitar solo and B3 organ set to a drum beat that had everyone out of their seats. Yes, I was really happy that everyone stood up because I was not going to watch the show sitting down. Um no way. I also noticed a group of guys who looked to be in college standing a few rows behind me. As they held their beer cups in the air they shouted out the lyrics. Upon looking around I noticed Ryan’s onstage set had a new addition, aside from the arcade and pinball machines, there was now a small mountain of mini TV’s on the sides of the stage with static playing on the screen. The band was different too. Not a surprise, Ryan changes his lineup faster than he writes new songs. The set included older classics from “Two” to the jammed out “Magnolia Mountain”. At one point Ryan addressed the crowd and said, “Fuck Donald Trump!” The crowd cheered and it was funny because Ryan just blurted it out of nowhere. The night sky hit while the rain continued to pour on the lawn. I felt bad for those people wearing yellow coats. They were probably drunk like the rest of the crowd anyway. The guy in front of me had a long beard and didn’t show any emotion towards the show whatsoever. He just kept taking pictures and didn’t move. Like come on and just have fun dude!

The past few years have been interesting for Ryan Adams. He released the self-titled LP which brought him back to rock and roll and playing full band shows instead of just acoustic. All of us fans breathed a collective sigh because in my opinion this is the music I want to go see. The acoustic is cool but give me some loud amp version from 1984 and it’s on! He covered 1989 and it got some great reviews, but of course there is always the criticism. You aren’t being honest with yourself if you don’t feel something when you hear his version of “Bad Blood”. And now his latest release continues on the trend of the straight forward rock, which is fucking great. Oh, and he got divorced to Mandy Moore which sounded like it got kind of messy. Well, at least there is new material! So, it was great to see Ryan again, and I’ve noticed that he’s having more fun onstage. He laughs and jams out and there is just this calmness that wasn’t there before.

A surprising moment came when he played “Dear John”. I could hear people saying wow and how he hadn’t played this live-in years. The recording features Norah Jones. So of course, I yelled for Norah to come out. Just once or twice and then I enjoyed the tune. I know, I know. Yes, I did yell a lot during the show. But it’s out of full blooded rock and roll passion that courses through my veins. I can’t help that music moves me in ways and helps me see the world and my own life in different ways. Think deep man. You know what I’m talking about right? This is our scene. Thousands of fans joining together and uniting for these anthems that have defined different parts of our lives. You respect it and its part of you. Breathe that air in, in this case it was chilly air on subpar cold May night, but damn it was worth it.

The show ended with Ryan telling the crowd, “We only have three minutes left. I wish we could play more,” as the fans cheered loudly. “Thank you guys so much. We love you.” The place grew quiet as Ryan stood near the end of the stage with his acoustic guitar and blew into his harmonica, beginning the familiar chords of “Come Pick Me Up”. I immediately got out my phone. I’m not sure why. I have seen him play this song so many times. At this point I was savoring the last song and my beer was empty so I had an extra hand to film it too. The crowd sang along to the chorus as Jenny Lewis walked out onto the stage for an even bigger ovation. The two veteran songwriters leaned close to the microphone and sang the words that we all know. I kept filming on my phone but didn’t sing because I was too in awe of the moment. The song ended as people clapped for more. The house lights came on, which signaled the end of the show as the music played over the pa system. Me and Dustin walked to the merch booth and stood under it as the rain poured. Dustin called for an uber while I stared out into the rain illuminated by the lights on the lawn as fans left the venue. The group of college kids walked past me and I heard them talking about how amazing the show was. I smiled, knowing that they would be back to keep the spirit of rock and roll alive.

Josh McCann- Merriweather Pavilion, Columbia, Maryland


Katy Perry Serves Up New Track

Katy Perry’s “Bon Appetit” dishes out sugary double entendres and bright bouncy synths destined for all the summer of ’17 dance floors. The track is the second single off of her upcoming record which has yet to have a release date. More updates on the singer’s fourth album will be released around her May 20th SNL performance.

Bleached Rules Pittsburgh

On a brisk and cold Fall Saturday night in Pittsburgh, lead singer/guitarist Jen Clavin leads an all out rock and roll assault in the intimate music venue Cattivo. It was a night of high energy punk rock passionate gems which tasted even sweeter in a small confined space.

The Philadelphia based band Beach Slang opened the show with a solo performance. Beach Slang is currently promoting their new LP “A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings”, which is an LP that is best played with the volume all the way up. I didn’t know how the songs would sound without the raucousness of a full band. It turned out to be amazing. James Alex, songwriter and guitarist behind Beach Slang, sounded even more personal when playing his electric guitar to the crowd. You could really hear the lyrics and it proved to be a successful result. It really gave the show an intimate “we are all in this together” type feel.

There was even a point when he asked me what song I’d like to hear next. I requested “Tramps in a Disco Bar”, a passionately sincere rock and roll trip straight to the heart of adolescence. James responded, saying, “That’s after the next one.” The show also featured a cover of “Bastards of Young”. There was even a point when James brought up a dude from the crowd to play drums, along with a girl to sing backup. Yes, the show was as fun as it sounds. Beach Slang speaks to their audience with honesty. The show reminded us all about the raw power of just a guitar and mic.

I made sure that I was in the front row for Bleached. You have to be front row for this type of show. Well, I do at least. I’ve had the California based band’s new LP “Welcome The Worms” on repeat since its release this past March. In my opinion, it is one of the best rock records of 2016. If anything, I love this band even more after witnessing their incredible set.

The band kicked off the show with “Keep on Keepin’ On”, which features a driving guitar from guitarist Jess Clavin. I was jumping up and down for pretty much the entire show. Bleached exude a very contagious energy that makes you want to dance and pump your fists in the air. The band launched into euphoric jams like “Sleepwalking”, a fast paced rager with epic guitar solos where Clavin would come over to me, shaking her hips while standing at the end of the stage, and sing her lungs out to the chorus. There was also “Trying To Lose Myself Again”, a rapid drum pounding anthem, where Clavin dropped to the ground, guitar in hand, while Micayla Grace slayed on bass, whipping her hair to rock goddess levels.

Bleached owned the stage, letting the crowd ride the wave throughout the entire show. One of the highlights was “Sour Candy”, complete with a catchy chorus and an ode to 80’s style rock which begs to be played on a summer road trip. The band also ripped through one of the big heavy hitters off of their new album, “Wednesday Night Melody”. Grace’s bass was powerful as Clavin came over to the end of the stage and sang the chorus in front of me.

It was such a thrill to hear these songs live. Bleached proved that they are an unreal live act. I can’t wait to see them again in the near future. With the success of their current LP and tour, I wouldn’t be surprised if the show is held at a larger venue. They are a band that rock and roll desperately needs right now. Bleached fucking rules.

Josh McCann

Thrival Showcases Synth Pop Spectacle

The 4th annual Thrival Music Festival, held on September 23rd-24th in the Swissvale Carrie Furnaces concluded with an amazing moment: the band Metric performing an acoustic version of their hit “Breathing Underwater” as thousands of fans sang along under the cool September stars. It was a moment that symbolized a fantastic weekend of live performances.

This year’s 2-day music festival drew an estimated 14,000 fans to the Carrie Furnaces, which features a 125-foot-tall blast furnace as a unique one of a kind concert backdrop.  The lawn featured 2 stages, food trucks, beer garden, and a VIP Sky Vodka lounge.  

Fridays acts featured a diverse lineup of artists such as Daya, Chvrches, and the Chainsmokers. Daya, a Pittsburgh popstar who has risen to fame and dominated the charts with her catchy dance pop hits “Hideaway”, “Don’t let me Down”, and “Sit still, look pretty” took the stage to a packed crowd of excited high school/ college kids. At one point she amped up the crowd by waving a Steelers terrible towel. During the set she talked about her upcoming album, and the message behind her debut LP. “I believe you should go after what you are passionate about” she told the crowd. “The message is about youth empowerment and going after your dreams.” It is evident that Daya has done exactly that. In just a little over a year she has released three hit songs and staked her claim as the new rising star of the music industry. 

The crowd went into a frenzy when the opening notes of “Don’t let me Down” began to play. The hit song was a summer anthem this past summer, and the fans were singing every word. The show ended with her first hit “Hideaway”, a song that has a special meaning to the pop star, “This was the first song I recorded and released” she said to the crowd before kicking into the catchy dance jam. Throughout the show Daya commanded the crowd like a seasoned pro, walking to each side of the stage, pointing out her mic to the pumped up fans. Her new LP will be released in a few weeks, and judging by the new material, it’s going to be a huge year. Daya is not only going after her dreams, but achieving them.

Chvrches brought their dazzling array of electro synth pop to the fest on Friday night. I had the opportunity to be in the front row for this show, and it was glorious. Singer Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook, and Martin Doherty make up the Glassgow act, whom are coming off the recent success of their LP “Every Open Eye”. It is clear that Mayberry has become an emphatic, confident lead frontwoman. Dawned in all black, she would stride to each end of the stage; raising her fists, mic in hand, staring into the crowd with conviction. The fans fed off her energy while black and white lights brilliantly lit up the stage. 

A standout point during the show was “Empty Threat” (an up-tempo burner with an undeniable chorus), in which Mayberry pounded away at the drums to the thrill of the fans. In between songs there was some funny banter between the band. Mayberry looked at bassist Iain Cook saying “You sneezed and still didn’t mess up. That must be hard to do playing bass.” Mayberry continued with her charming Scottish accent “One time I was driving and sneezed, and I looked up and noticed I was in the wrong lane.” She turned back to the crowd saying “Ever since joining this band I’ve learned that I’m not that funny. But I won’t quit.” The band continued their set playing material off of “Every Open Eye”, from the driving beat of “Bury It” to the bass building drop of “Clearest Blue”, in which the crowd responded by jumping in unison; Mayberry whirling around in the frantic flashing lights. The show ended with “Mother we Share”, a song that launched the band into headline spots across the world. It was a solid performance that showcased how great they are live. Chvrches gave a beautifully intense rock show.

The Chainsmokers were the last act of the night; playing to an amped up capacity crowd, complete with glow sticks galore. The act has had an incredible year, and they are clearly on top of the music industry. The show was filled with pyro, smoke, and heart pounding bass. From “Roses” to their new hit “Closer’, the crowd ate up every moment. The Chainsmokers loved the audience participation saying “We love playing in Pittsburgh. You guys make NYC look like a bunch of pussies.” There were even some covers in which they sampled MGMT and the Killers! By the end of the set everyone was dancing and yearning for more. The Chainsmokers could have played all night and the fans would have been right there along with them. It was a great way to close out the first night of Thrival.

The festival continued on Saturday with a bevy of local Pittsburgh artists. From indie pop outfit Ballon Ride Fantasy to singer songwriter Brooke Annibale. It was refreshing to see Thrival give local artists a spot to showcase their talent on a big stage. There was some great talent; I hope Thrival continues this trend for next year’s fest.

As the evening winded down there were noticeable amounts of Frisbee, hula hoops, and wind pouches. Yes, wind pouches. They are a new growing trend on the festival scene. Wind Pouches, which can be bought at the festival, are small inflatable hammocks. I’m not sure if this trend will take off, but I really don’t see Bonnaroo embracing the idea.

Saturday night ended with the crowd gathering in high anticipation for the band Metric. The Toronto based four-piece rock act hit the stage at 9:15, performing an illustrious set of face melting synth rock. Experiencing this against the front row guardrail was something. The show began with Metric breaking into the driving “Speed the Collapse” and “Help I’m Alive”, where the crowd passionately shouted the lyrics “beating like a hammer”, while singer Emily Haines reached out and leaned over the front row of the crowd, fist pumping the lyrics. And that was just the start of the show! The energy from the crowd was at an unbelievably high level. Everyone around me was jumping up and down which only added to the chaotically fun atmosphere. Metric reached deep into their catalog with the crowd pleasing “Dead Disco” and kept the energy alive with “Shade”, complete with some amazing guitar solos from James Shaw. Throughout the show Haines and Shaw would trade off the center of the stage; Haines displaying her amazing vocals, while Shaw shred his guitar to grinding synths which pierced through the strobing black lights. The crowd went unhinged when Shaw broke into the opening riff of “Gold Guns Girls”, a rocked out decibel raising anthem that took Thrival to new heights. 

Metric was grateful to the crowd and happy to be back in Pittsburgh saying “We love coming to Pittsburgh. We have family here.” The show ended with “Breathing Underwater” which was off of their 2012 LP “Synthetica”. After playing the rock ballad through, the band left the stage while the crowd shouted to hear one more song. Metric responded by walking back onto the stage with an acoustic guitar, playing the chords to “Breathing Underwater”. Haines pointed the microphone towards the crowd and let everyone sing the words. It was incredible to hear thousands of people singing the chorus to the song together. The four members of Metric stood together in the center of the stage and gazed out into the massive crowd of fans. It was a beautiful moment and fitting end to a magical weekend at Thrival.

Josh McCann- Thrival Music Festival Sept.23,24 2016-Pittsburgh,PA