The Pittsburgh Press from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on August 12, 1984 · Page 450
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The Pittsburgh Press from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania · Page 450

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Issue Date:
Sunday, August 12, 1984
Page 450
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PITTSBURGH house parties where the bands would play," Wagner remembers. "We even had movies shot at some of them. One I remember is 'Death Begins at 20,' featuring the Cardboards and Hans Brinker and the Dykes." But punk, volatile element that it is, proved to have a short half-life. Now, anger shattered, its fragments can be found in a variety of jagged, difficult-to-define forms. Though the beat is new and the lyrics still shocking to many, the punk scene; in Pittsburgh and elsewhere, has evolved from the rebellious, working class anger that spawned it in England. There is still a hardcore, elemental group of fans and bands that wants its music lean and mean, but in the last two years, punk and modern music have stabilized become almost melodic. Replacing the original political, counterculture attitude is an avant-garde groping for newness; rebels without a cause. The Americanization and commercialization of the sound is reflected in the way the punk thrift shop fashions have been cooped by commercial designers. The look today may still be outrageous to conventionally dressed Pittsburghers, but trendy and designer priced. Much of the modern dance music, especially that heard on the radio, is original only in the way musical genres from the past 30 years are fused by disc jockeys. Many of the old, hard-core, bands have dropped off, and while the new "new music" may be more lyrical, more danceable, much of it hasn't got the same soul. "In 1977 the kids were trying to communicate, and it wasn't the music so much that was important, but rather the message," says Wagner, trying hard not to badmouth his bread and butter. "It was a protest in England, against the government, against capital punishment, against unemployment. The old punk is dead, but the new punk isn't dead. It's just changed. "The talent is still here, but the old people have quit and the new people don't have the courage to play out." A list of local "new music" bands now includes November's Children, 96 Tears, The Shunts, Kids After Dark, Modern Anxiety, the hard-core Half-Life, Denn Vetta, The Garden, Sync, Thin White Line and the up-and-coming The Beating. The Five, top punk group on the" local scene, shipped out for Boston in June after working Pittsburgh for 3 Ms years without getting a break. "It's hard to get booked into places and clubs now. When I started a couple of years ago it was easier. A lot of the places are just afraid to try out original music," says Joe Bendik, a guitarist, songwriter, percussionist and keyboard man, who has been in several punk bands that have come up and gone down in the last few years. "The whole club scene is in a rut. They all want rhythym and blues cover bands. They don't want new. They don't want original." Except for the Electric Banana in Oakland, which is the No. 1 club in the city for live punk music, and a handful of other clubs that occasionally book punk, new or modern music bands, the consensus from club owners, disc jockeys and music makers is that safer, more commercially acceptable bands get the majority of the bookings. "This whole (punk) scene has sort of given music a shot in the arm, but it's not punk now," Bendik said on a recent Monday night at the Sanctuary. "It's an imitation of punk. The music got a lot more important. Six or seven years ago, the vital thing of punk was its frustration. Now it's sort of positive." Punk music fan Rick Sheridan, a Johnstown native who's lived in Pittsburgh for the last year and a half, claims the genre is one of extremes. "It's changed, even in the last year," says Sheridan, who at one time bleached his hair white, then dyed it black. "It was a lot more hard core before. Around here, a lot of the better bands have dropped off. There's just no money in it. It takes people in this town too long to appreciate something new." At New York New York, a trendy clothing boutique for "innovative fashion" that has benefited from the punk movement and its fashion spinoffs, store manager Eric Ra-jewski says Pittsburgh is just following new music trends already set in his store's namesake town. "In the music there's a fusion, like always happens," Rajewski says from beneath a sweeping, Duran Duran-style haircut in The Bank Center, Downtown. "A lot of the music, like the dressing, is androgynous. Europe started it during a time of political and social uprising, but America turned the angry sound into something more danceable, loose and carefree, and that's the way the clothes are moving too. "It's gone from violent to upbeat, romantic," he says. "Like they say, 'girls just want to have fun.' " Rajewski likes the softer sound, but thinks it may have gone too far already. The progressive music is regressing, he says, and so is the club scene. "It's getting monotonous now. There's no defiance. There's got to be a little bit of an edge to clothes and music to make it interesting." Most nights, a 6-foot-long yellow banana outlined in lights assaults the eyes just a split-second before the pulsating music fills the ears of Pittsburghers seeking the city's live punk scene. I , r,'.- 7) r.-M ( Ji J).':, ') y 1 yy Sif?? . j r 5J tv -A " flv : A-jtJ Wl iff "W 5 L- r-" -v . if - -A Ir't-i fi- QMS L A z rj i V lsfl'r mt- - ' 11 , f -- - ' Band leader Denn Vetta seems slightly out of season as he shares a Still on the musical cutting edge, the Electric Banana is a funky bandbox of a club with a checkered past that by default has become Pittsburgh's best punk and new music bar. The banana sign is like a bulbous nose on the club's flat, black face, otherwise adorned only with a "Rock 'n Roll" sign and an assortment of scribbled, band-name graffiti. From its exterior, through a dark, littered, tunnel of an entrance, to its beat-up stage, the Banana is determinedly untrendy. But trendy it's been. Originally named the Spotlight Lounge, it was the first city bar to have go-go girls. A few years later, it scored another first by employing male go-go dancers. Later it be came one of the most popular black discos in the city before switching to rock and roll bands. "It was while doing rock and roll that a band called Carsickness came in," owner John Zarra, 41, recalled in the bar recently during a rare quiet night caused by a band's last-minute cancellation. "I said 'What kind . of a name is that?' but they brought in the kids." And Zarra brought in the punk bands. Local groups, including The Five, Modern Anxiety, November's Children and Half-Life have recently been the backbone of the Banana, while Australian, English, Canadian and Californian groups have added out-of-town accent. bench with a sun lover in Market "People looking for something different come here," says Zarra, whose paunch and receding hairline combine to make him a Neil Sedaka look-alike. "At first I thought this punk thing would peter out but it seems to be getting bigger. Our new, Sunday night under-21 dance is doing very well." But despite the popularity Zarra is puffed out about, and its more commercial, danceable forms, punk music may never attain the breakthrough status in Pittsburgh that it has already enjoyed in more musically progressive cities. John Maxson, sound engineer for The Five, says the Pittsburgh band's recent relocation to Boston was caused by a frustration with the city's radio stations and nightclubs Square Andy StarnesThe Pittsburgh Press which, he says, have consistently ignored local punk talent. "People only know what they hear on the radio and that means no local bands," says Maxson, sporting black leather jacket, studded leather wristband, f ingerless black leather gloves and an earring - fashions favored by many of the club's regular patrons. "The record companies are telling the stations to push this band or that album," he says, "while at the same time a lot of hardcore, quite good, original bands like us are not being touched. "We did a 10-day mini-tour in Boston, in June, and were very well received," he says. "We played in a bunch of good clubs and the future there looks good." THE PITTSBURGH PRESS 8. 1284 16 17

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