Friday 5: Movement

  • What’s a song that recently moved you? On my way home last night, one of the local classic-rock stations played Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.” That song gets me every time in an exciting way, and as much as I normally can’t nail down one single song by any artist that I consider to be my favorite, I just might be able to say that this is my all-time favorite Elton song.
  • What’s a song that recently moved you — right out the door? I haven’t had a strong negative reaction to a song in a while. If I don’t like something, I just kind of ignore it, and if I’m somewhere where I can’t escape it, like in public, I tune it out. Tell ya what, though, I’ve tried and just cannot enjoy Cardi B. At all.
  • What kinds of dance performances interest you? Ballet will always be my first love, and that’s the one that I’m most interested in. But outside of that, all dance is kind of even. I love the way dance makes the human body itself an art form, and I’ll gladly watch anyone do what they want with that.
  • What’s a good song with the word move (or some form of it) in the title? The first one that came to mind is “Move Along” by The All-American Rejects, who I still love. But I’m also partial to Elvis’ “I Shall Not Be Moved,” particularly from the Million Dollar Quartet session, with Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins.
  • How do you feel about prunes? Never had them and don’t intend to.

From Friday 5.

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Ah, siblings. You can always count on them to be a pain in your ass.

Paul opted out of the annual Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert this year–in fact, he hasn’t gone since bass player David Z died tragically. So that left me to meet up with Brandon and Kelly in the South Hills to take the T, plus I wanted to hit Lush’s annual after-Christmas sale, where all seasonal items are BOGO. And that’s in addition to what I snagged online the minute the sale started. Like, I got myself two gift boxes worth $100 for the price of one, plus a few other small things.

For starters, Brandon and Kelly both had the day off and I did not, so while I wanted to join them to shop for the new baby, I really couldn’t. I told my brother I had to work and would get showered and head out as soon as I was done, and while I admittedly didn’t tell him what time I thought I’d get there, I figured it wouldn’t be until close to 5.

And the thing is, while friends have joked they’d become the ultimate lazy slobs if they worked from home and they’re not off-base there, when I do go out, I actually kind of enjoy the process of getting ready. Like, since I’m only putting on actual clothes and make-up on weekends, for the most part, I look forward to doing my make-up. So I’m not exactly taking my time with it. I don’t know what my brother expected, but that means I need a little over an hour to get ready, depending on things like whether or not I’m shampooing my hair. Or shaving.

I think Kelly was more realistic about how long I’d be. But alas, every so often, I could count on a text from Brandon asking what’s up or what I was doing or where I was or when I thought I was gonna get there.

Now, admittedly, we when we’re together, we probably get to be annoying just because we act like typical dumbass siblings, and on this night, we were being particularly childish–I intentionally pushed my chair out and smacked into him when he was walking behind me, he made fun of me, that kind of thing. And he managed to get cookies-and-cream ice cream on my white jacket. Just like old times!

But probably the biggest thing, and the one my mother finds hilarious, is that ever since they announced the pregnancy, he’s been asking me about our plans to have kids. I think he’s just anxious for us to have kids, too, which I get, but now when we hang out, I get lots of questions about if we’re actively trying to get pregnant or if I’ve taken a pregnancy test lately. I told my mom, and she laughed and laughed.

But otherwise, it was a fun night out–great concert, unusually warm weather, and we didn’t fuck up and miss the T this time.

I’ve undoubtedly told this story before, but it’s a good time to repeat it.

For a few years, one of my family’s Christmas traditions was going to see local singer B.E. Taylor’s annual Christmas concert. It started with my mom’s friend Fran, who she met through work, inviting her one year, and even after just that first year, both of my parents were adamant that I would really enjoy it. But I resisted. It really didn’t seem like my thing, even though I love Christmas music, so year after year, they’d go and they’d say, “Janelle, you really ought to go next year.” I think I finally caved after my brother went one year and said the same thing.

This is probably a whole separate thing worth exploring, but I think sometimes we resist things our families thing we’d like even though they’re totally right. Like, especially between my parents and brother, I don’t think they’ve ever really been wrong about something like that.

So finally, I relented and went, and sure enough, my family was right. I’m not sure what I expected–and regardless I have such eclectic taste in music that you’d think I’d at least have been more open-minded, but no–but it definitely wasn’t what I got.

And so our new tradition became meeting up with Fran and her husband, often for dinner nearby beforehand, and going to the concert. And the thing is–possibly a crucial thing–this is nowhere near unique. They often played two shows at Heinz Hall in town, often packed with families and friends going together, often for another consecutive year.

I myself did this for a couple years, maybe two or three, before B.E. Taylor died in 2016. I remember sitting across from my best friend out at lunch when I saw the news, and she was home in the middle of marital issues that ended in a divorce, so great year all around, that was.

This year, B.E. Taylor’s son and drummer, B.C., decided to continue the tradition of a Christmas concert, reuniting all the members of the band that had become so familiar to so many people over the years–I may have enjoyed only a few, but the concert itself was a tradition going back something like 20 years. So once again, we all got together. While we didn’t go to dinner, my brother and I met up in the South Hills and took the T and we met my parents and Fran like we had plenty of times before.

The concert was as much as Christmas celebration as it was a tribute to B.E. Pictures and videos flashed in the background, and for a couple of songs, the band played to a track of B.E. singing from a recording of one of the annual concerts. And it included a lot of the elements that made the concert memorable and won me over that very first time, like a local high school drum line coming onstage for a few songs and a local steel-drum band playing along with “Mary’s Boy Child,” which has been one of my favorite Christmas songs since I first heard it and naturally became one of the highlights of the concert for me.

A church choir was also one of the staples, and in the final years of the original concerts, their director had a stroke, and his son now fills his role.

And so it was hard not to be struck by two things.

One, how despite so much familiarity and all the same band and all the songs everyone loves, the concert is really different now, with two big parts of it gone. In a way, it probably reflects the lives of the audience, too. From the start of going to the concerts to now, my brother and I have gotten married, we’ve lost our grandfather, I bought a house and he got an apartment, and now he’s expecting his first child in the spring, and then there’s everyone else in the audience, too, and how their lives look different now than they did even a year ago.

But two, these two men were now onstage following in their fathers’ footsteps, and that the concert is as much a tradition for everyone on that stage as it is for everyone in the audience and they were continuing it. And the concert always was a family affair, but perhaps even more so given that fact.

It was nice to be back after a couple of years without it, and I hope to see it continue.

And so, enjoy my favorite, and one that wormed its way into my head for a few days but stars Jeff Jimerson, perhaps best known as the Pens’ anthem singer.

For a music lover, I have a hard time getting excited about new stuff these days. I don’t know if it’s my eclectic taste or what, but it seems like it’s really difficult. It’s not that I don’t like a lot of what I hear, it’s just that I don’t love it. I’m rarely impressed or engaged enough to buy an album or song–or even put it on a playlist. Most of the big names right now? Don’t care for ’em. I just don’t find them interesting.

So when something does catch my attention, I get excited. It’s a nice change.

Enter The Struts.

So, after a long stretch of exclusively listening to my own music collection in the car, I was like, “Man, I’m so out of touch with the rest of the music world,” so I decided to prioritize radio for my driving–if nothing good is on, then I switch to a CD or my phone, and honestly, that rarely happens, which is kind of awesome. I almost certainly was listening to local alternative station The X when The Struts caught my ear. I don’t even know what song. But it was the kind of rock I’m drawn to, with electric guitars and a hook.

Said local alternative radio station announced their annual Kick Ass Christmas Show with The Struts as their headliner, and although I’d only really kind of dabbled in their music, I liked it enough that I wanted to go. And although my brother is often busy, when I mentioned it, he was in. And then when I shared the flyer on Facebook, his wife’s sister and her boyfriend were interested, too, and the great thing about general-admission tickets is that even though I already bought our tickets, they could get theirs and we could meet up no problem.

I kind of joked about this being a throwback show, because for starters, my brother and I haven’t hit a small-to-mid-size local show in a few years, easily, and it was something we did a lot in high school and college. And second, what that means is four bands on a bill, general admission, standing for a good few hours. Neither of us has done that in a while. A lot of what I’ve been going to lately has been in seated theaters or big stadium shows, so this really was like old times. Especially with four bands, because that’s starting to take up a chunk of time. Two is pretty common, three happens often enough, and then when you hit four, it’s starting to become a different beast. In the end, we were on our feet for about 5 1/2 hours, and the next day, Brandon sent a, “How does everyone feel? I’m exhausted,” message. But…worth it.

Because, see, The Struts put on a show.

The opening bands were all great, for starters, and I’m also a firm believer that way too many people are dismissive of opening acts, thinking of that time as a buffer for getting stuck in traffic or not having to wait in line to get in or to just keep tailgating. Some of the best new bands I’ve heard have been openers, and if you go to concerts even just on occasion, it’s one of the easiest ways to discover something new. I believe so strongly in this that I’d love to pitch a column to a music publication that solely reviews bands I’ve seen as openers. I could give you full lists.

I figured everyone would be good. It was just that kind of all-around vibe, where I could just tell it was gonna be high energy. But like…I didn’t expect the showmanship I got, I guess. From the second The Struts started, it was a fast-paced rock ‘n’ roll party, with the glam look and attitude that I’ve probably been wanting but didn’t know it. I haven’t seen a rock band with a male lead singer come out in glitter and makeup–and multiple wardrobe changes–in a long time, looking kind of like Freddie Mercury, and they won me over so hard like halfway into their first song. I was sold. I loved it. They were one of those acts that’s great recorded but even better live, where all the songs are enhanced and more fun, and that’s my favorite kind of show. (Related to that, the very first time I saw Fleetwood Mac, they played “Second Hand News” so wonderfully that the recorded version isn’t the same anymore.)

And they played a solid, long show. With a big-ish bill, Brandon and I kinda figured their set would be an hour, hour-and-a-half tops, but fuck no! Two hours. And it was great the whole time.

My favorite part, though? They did this stellar cover of “Dancing in the Dark” that had even security bobbing their heads, and about halfway through, the frontman announced he’d be bringing his very own Courteney Cox onstage. And I was a little concerned, to be honest, because rock music still has a sexism issue and stuff like that can delve into weird objectification territory. Now, I don’t know how this goes on a nightly basis, but for this show, his pick was this little girl in a homemade Struts shirt that was maybe 10 years old tops who was, so, so excited to be pulled onstage. She was adorable and her excitement was infectious. It was cool to watch this kid–who said she’d seen them six times!–get brought up to sing and dance with the band. The gimmick was that they’d get the crowd amped then have a dance-off center stage, and in the middle of that, she did this backflip and the crowd went fucking nuts. We all started chanting her name. It was impossible to watch her without a shit-eating grin on her behalf the whole time. She’s gonna remember that for the rest of her life.

I found out at the end that of our group, I was the only one who was seeing them for the first time. A couple years ago, Brandon and his sister-in-law Katie saw them at the same Christmas show except as one of the openers, and while he hadn’t seen them since, she was going for the third time and introduced them to her boyfriend, Gage, who was seeing them a second time. Brandon ended up sending us all a Snapchat of a list of tour dates with an Ohio tour stop this weekend, and honestly, if I wasn’t going out of town with my mom already, I’d be seriously considering it.

Needless to say, a great time was had by all, and we anxiously await their next Pittsburgh show.

Saturday, after a couple hours sitting in Friend Emily’s stylist chair, I came out with a pretty great shade of violet hair and a new subtle undercut in the back, then went over to Sister-in-Law Emily’s dorm to bring her back our way to see none other than Henry Rollins.

We didn’t have enough time to eat nearby–with traffic, parking, and events, especially when I believe there were both Pirates and Pens games that same day, I like a nice two-hour chunk of time to eat, and we didn’t have it. But we did have time to eat elsewhere, so we introduced Emily to the wonders of Mad Mex. It’s a shame she didn’t have the proper appetite to truly enjoy it because it’s the best.

And so is Henry Rollins. He’s one of those guys who’s come through tow a few times in the last several years and I’ve managed to miss him every time, so I jumped on this chance–25 bucks to see him in a small lecture hall in Oakland. Not bad at all. This tour is focused on his travel stories, and he has a lot of great things to say not just about what he’s learned and experienced abroad, but how some of that can apply to us here, with a nice dose of why everyone ought to travel. All three of us loved him.

We came back to the house and slept in pretty late–Paul and I have been experimenting with letting the cat roam the house now that she’s settled in, and the weekend was the first time trying it. I was worried about her getting into trouble so the slightest noise kept waking me up, and on top of that, she has a thing for attacking you under the sheets. We think the issue is that, being a cat, she doesn’t get what they’re for, so when they move, she absolutely must investigate…with her claws. I’ve noticed that for the most part, she only does this right before bed and when she’s awake and ready to take on the day in the morning, so it might also be a play/attention-getting thing, but it hurts and is not conducive to sleep. Which is how I ended up sleeping late into the morning and also why she sometimes gets kicked out with the door shut behind her, as much as I’d love to sleep with a kitty.

We took Emily to our usual coffee run, then took her back to Greensburg. We made a pit stop at the mall for a bit, and after we dropped her off, we headed over into Uniontown to see Million Dollar Quartet.

And turns out half our family was there. I knew my godmother and her husband were going, but my mom’s Aunt Elaine and Uncle Del were there, too, and we were all coincidentally in the same row, just different sections.

Million Dollar Quartet made the Broadway rounds a few years ago, but it’s a great, short musical if you like early rock ‘n’ roll. Brandon and I first saw it when the tour came through Pittsburgh a few years ago and loved it, so hearing it was gonna be in little Uniontown was a pleasant surprise. It has a runtime of just under two hours and is structured almost more like a concert than a musical, so it’s great for the non-musical-theater types, too. And funnily enough, Brandon and I enjoyed it more this time around than the first.

I took Monday off to sleep in, which I really needed, and then we were out yet again Tuesday night. And who did we run into yet again–an hour away from home in Greensburg–but Aunt Lainie and Uncle Del?

We all chose the same place, The Headkeeper, for evening food and beer. We were in the area to see Emily again, this time doing a reading on campus, and they were heading into downtown for a concert.

Emily was one of a few students on the bill opening for a pretty cool, well-known poet, Guante. I’ve never read any of her poetry before, and I was honestly impressed. And she read with the perfect amount of attitude and sass and looked awesome in this jumpsuit she got while we were shopping Sunday. All of the kids were great–and Paul kept saying, “They’re not kids!” We had a really good time, and the only bummer was that my former professor wasn’t there.

And so a solid three days of good times–four if sleeping in counts as a good time–came to and end, and the nice thing is it’s already the middle of the week. Keeping busy can be fun. This weekend, I don’t think we have any plans, but Paul mentioned maybe inviting his parents over. Failing that, my vote’s for a movie. We don’t see enough movies.

Progress on the house has ramped up a bit this week. Floor installation is at last full speed ahead–we’re still not quite ready to move in, but some rooms are done and ready at least for some boxes and small pieces of furniture to go in. We were hoping to be ready to move in this weekend, which didn’t work out, but maybe next. At the very least, bedroom furniture gets delivered Wednesday and we’ll still need to order a mattress after that, but once that’s in, we can sleep there, even if we still have things to get out of the apartment.

So since yesterday ended up not being move-in day, we headed out to a bar back towards our parents’ places–which we still call “home” a lot–to see my friend Emily’s boyfriend play a little acoustic set and had ourselves a grand time. Hung out, had some drinks, heard some tunes.

Today was housework/errand day. There’s not much left to do in the place right now, but we are having to regularly cut the grass now, so we’ve been doing that every few days or so. With our new battery-powered mower, we get a good chunk of the yard cut before the battery needs charged, but with nothing to do while it charges, we usually just wait and come back later to finish. So this afternoon was dedicated to the very back of the yard, where I didn’t make it yesterday, plus laundry and grabbing a few gardening tools. We ended up making a couple trips back and forth, but the good thing is we stopped at the apartment in between and took a couple boxes full of things over to the house. The goal is to slowly empty the place of non-necessities so that come time to move furniture and then ultimately the end of the lease, it’s easy to do and we’re just left with going through junk and cleaning. The funny thing is as things get carried out of the apartment, it looks much cleaner and more organized. I keep joking that we’ll have everyone over when it’s half empty so they’ll have a much higher opinion of it than they would if they’d walk through the door this very moment.

We’d like to keep doing that throughout the week, as long as we’re not in Paul’s dad’s way while he finishes the floor. I think we can make respectable progress.

The last couple of weekends have kind of been packed with plans. First, there was Mother’s Day, which funnily enough, both sides of the family decided to celebrate a day early. We started with lunch with my mom around Belle Vernon, which is about the halfway point between where my parents live and where we live, with my brother and his wife not too far, and then went to said brother’s place to meet their new cat.

Jacob and Katie are officially back from a few years living in California and Julie and Michael came down from Erie, so Saturday afternoon was kind of all the kids/siblings over at my in-laws’. And in the evening, the over-21 couples of the group went to a bar in the middle of nowhere that Michael’s gone to a few times for more food and drinks, which was nice. We hung out with Julie and Michael up in Erie before, but it’s been awhile since we’ve been with Jacob and Katie, so it was nice to have a little bit of time for us three adult couple to go off on our own.

Sunday, we headed back into town to give my godmother her gift, and we squeezed in plenty more, too. First, coffee at the place near our apartment, then a brief mountain trip with my parents and the dog, then straight down to my godmother’s house, where we hung out for about an hour or so before she and her husband went to eat with their own mothers. Then we stopped at the mall, since I still buy CDs, only to be let down by the selection and general state of the mall.

In an effort to get as much done at the house as possible so we’re ready as soon as Paul’s dad can install our new floors, we’ve been there almost every night for about a week or so, doing coats of paint and primer here and there and returning the next night when it’s dry and we can do another coat. We’re almost done–we can easily be done with the painting by the end of this week, but we’re not sure about the floors. We may not have them in for Memorial Day, despite planning a cookout, but we’re gonna go ahead with that plan and just hang out outside, since we have a nice deck.

This past Friday night, we picked up Paul’s sister Emily and took her with us to see Jukebox the Ghost in Pittsburgh. We took her to lunch Saturday, then left her to nap while we met my parents (and Seger, again) to pick out furniture for the aforementioned deck. We got a small set of chairs and a table that’s sitting out there now, then a bigger sectional sofa set to be delivered tomorrow. When we got back, Emily decided she wanted to head out to the South Hills for trips to Lush and Sephora, despite originally saying she didn’t need to spend the money, and when we were done shopping and after I had spent entirely too much money, we took her home and hung out there for a little bit.

Somehow, in the day or so since, I’ve managed to not feel so great–I have a bit of a sore throat right now, so I called in sick and slept in. I’m hoping I’ll be fine by tomorrow.

The weekend was a great success.

Friday night, we had concert tickets in Greensburg, but Paul had a doctor’s appointment he’d kind of forgotten about. It was early enough that it didn’t really mess with our plans, mostly, and he was done fast enough that we grabbed some dinner. The downside was it was late enough that finding parking was a bitch–we got one of two spots left in the garage near the venue.

The show was for Andrew McMahon, of Something Corporate and then Jack’s Mannequin, and for some reason I kept thinking I’ve never seen him live before when, in fact, nope–I’ve seen both of those projects live one time each. I think maybe I keep thinking of them as separate from him, I don’t know. But the point is it was a great show. I remember Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin being a bit more raucous, and this whole tour is more stripped down, so that was nice. He reimagined a lot of those old songs to fit a softer, more acoustic sound, too, which was pretty cool.

We grabbed dessert in town before we hit the road back home, and Paul and I switched roles–I drove, he fell asleep partway down the interstate.

Saturday night brought the return of the annual Dancing Queen fundraiser for the fire hall near where Terra lives, and after our pre-wedding dance lessons, I got Paul to come with this year. For someone who claims to not really enjoy dancing, he sure did dance a lot.

And Sunday, we went to my parents’ house to watch the Pens game and wrangle Seger. My dad was out of town for the weekend and rambunctious puppies don’t do much for productivity, so to help my mom get some work done, we went over, hung out, and played with him. The game was good, too–we won, ending the first round of playoffs. I’m hoping to make it out to watch games at Primanti’s and the big screen at the arena, but the house has been keeping us busy.

I can’t remember exactly how it happened–I think it was how easily Paul ends up in YouTube black holes–but we found out about Puddles Pity Party, a super tall dude who dresses like a clown and his this amazing deep singing voice and does tons of great covers. And we were both pretty into it. Like, his voice is so great, and it’s the kind of performance-art type thing I can really get into. He honestly reminds me a little bit of Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” clown, just strangely not as weird.

It worked out pretty well that right around the time we were listening to a lot of Puddles, one of the local concert venues announced a show from him, and I remember the timing being so good that I thought, “If I’d seen this a few days ago, I would’ve been very confused.” And naturally, we got tickets, and me being me, when I saw that we could get like third row, I was like, “Fuck it, why not?”

The show was last night, and I’ve already written about it in the new AXS listicle style they want for articles, but I have to admit I like that–it’s a style that works kind of well for live reviews, I think, because it hones in on the highlights without being wordy. Sometimes when I do live reviews, I struggle to find the words for them, particularly if I loved it, because I can’t just write, “It was fucking amazing,” a few hundred times and call it a day. As much as I’d love to see him really just go for it and put in a serious, moving performance, he throws humor in and it works pretty well, and there is a benefit to not having a concert full of sad songs. He pulls people up onstage and I realized really quickly our third-row seats put us in the danger zone, but fortunately, he honed in on other people and never came for me. His sets, like his releases online, cover a wide variety of music over the years and he nails them all, and like I said, his voice is amazing.

Afterwards, he meets with fans in the lobby, so we were like, “It would be a great picture and he’s awesome, let’s do it,” and I find the result hilarious. Puddles and Paul in reality are very close in height–Paul’s about 6’5″, 6’6″, and I think he said Puddles only beat him by a tiny bit–but he stood on his tiptoes for the picture and gave himself a boost. And then there’s me on the end, and they both tower over me. And they’re both going for the sad-face schtick, and I’ve got this shit-eating grin. I mean, really.

I love it.

It was nice to meet him, but part of his thing is he never speaks, which is kind of cool because it makes the whole thing very in-character and performance-oriented. But he seemed very grateful when we gushed a little.

So yeah, we had a good time. We had dinner at the Waterfront beforehand, walked around a little bit, and since Mondays are my days off all month, I got to not necessarily sleep in since the alarm wakes me up when Paul gets up, but I did get to nap and play with new hair stuff meant to keep my pink dye job bright. If you look in the picture, it’s a tiny bit pink, but today, it’s a lot more vibrant, so I’m pleased. And then it gets redone in a week anyway, so I’ll be back to officially having Cool Hair again.

I leave you with one of the only–maybe the only–original songs Puddles Pity Party has worked on. It’s called “Palms” and it’s a collaboration with Sxip Shirey, and I fell in love with it.

Now that the holidays are over, we haven’t had a lot of set, definitive plans for our weekends, which is kind of nice. So we ended up at Terra’s brother’s deli two Saturdays in a row for their Supper Serenade, where they have a different dinner special each week and live music, usually from Beautiful Bob, who’s probably one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. Bob has an impressive science background but kind of get fed up with some bullshit, quit, lived in an Occupy Pittsburgh camp, and now wears women’s clothing, plays music, and cleans out abandoned buildings in the city.

It’s been kind of a fun, casual hangout atmosphere for us. We get to eat, hang out with friends, hang out with new friends, meet new people, and enjoy some tunes, so it’s fun. It gets us out without being, like, a whole thing, plus we’ve been coming back with deli goodies. We bought lady locks the first weekend, and the second, muffins to take to my parents’ house the next morning and haggis Terra’s brother made that Paul wanted to try.

It’s not gonna be a weekly thing–we have plans for the next couple of Saturdays, most likely–but it’s something fun to do for when we need it. Plus food.