The Pittsburgh Press from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 26, 1981 · Page 81
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The Pittsburgh Press from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania · Page 81

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Issue Date:
Sunday, July 26, 1981
Page 81
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Section The Pittsburgh Press Sunday, July 26, 1981 Lively Arts Theaters ..1-6 Presstige Events 4 Books & Music ..7-9 Travel 10-14 6 7 t 10 II btaf-S-IPunk Rock Bands And Their Fans Are Pretty Tame Here By GARY BRADFORD Scene: Around 10:30 on a Friday Bight at the Electric Banana on Bigelow Boulevard in Oakland. Its a tiny, cramped bar. The "stage" is part of the floor. The . Five, one the city's premier punk rock bands, is charging through its first set of the evening. n EAD SINGER Reed ("my last 1 1 name doesn't matter") is try-U ing to liven the few spectators, but they are more interested in drinking and listening to the band's throbbing, bass and drum-heavy sounds than dancing to it. The public, which often thinks "freaks'1 with purple crewcuts and razor blades through their nostrils are the only ones attracted to the loud, abrasive rock 'n' roll known as punk, would be surprised to see this polite, blue-jeaned, early-evening gathering. Reed short, thii and dressed In a billowing white shirt, tight black pants and boots snarls at the audience, bnt bo one will dance. . Is this really a punk bar? Aside from a few girls with scraggly, "spike" hairdos, most of the listen ers would seem to be more at home in college hangouts like Peter's Pub or the wooden Keg. Even Johnny Zarra, the Banana's owner, appears out of place. With his shaved head, Jimmy Cagney-ish voice and white-on-white clothes, he should be more comfortable in an Atlantic City casino than where he is. But he isn't. "I think the punk movement is going pretty strong here," he said. sThe music took me a while to get used to, but now I like it. Mine was the first joint to advertise punk exclusively." BUT WHERE are the boys and girls with green and orange hair and ' safety pins or other ornaments through their noses? Where's the savage "slam-dancing" of the Los Angeles punk clubs, where dancers collide at top speed on the dance floor and crash into bystanders. "That's becoming like a thing of the past," Zarra said. "It never really caught on here, anyway. Most of the kids I see are well-read college students. A lot of them are from Carnegie-Mellon." In the mid-1960s, the Banana (then the Spot Light) showcased go-go dancers. Then it became a black-oriented disco. But now it's home to punk or "new wave" groups like the Cardboards, Carsickness, Mission of Burma and The Five. Their music is rhythmic, laced with electronics with ironic, sometimes obscene, often improvised lyrics. "We like things to be strong. Reed said. "It's hard to put a handle on anything, but we like to sound mean and aggressive and get a reaction. "I'd rather have somebody hate us than be totally numb with us." While the audience remains numb and "cool" during The Five's first set, it's time to find out where punk in Pittsburgh started ... THE PUNK MOVEMENT in general grew out of the discontent of British lower-middle-class youth during the mid-'70s. Musicians like the Sex Pistols and The Jam played harsh, "primitive" music with "anti-love" lyrics to bring back an energy they felt was lacking in mainstream rock music. Wt 4 Ha V -V if fr ," - i l ;i$Y ' '"I 1 mm The waitings of Reed of The Five get a reaction from punk rock fans at the Electric Banana in Oakland. "We like to be mean and aggressive," says Reed, but the punk rock scene here is tame compared to Los Angeles and New York. Punk, which some critics say actually began with glitter-drenched American bands like Alice Cooper and the New York Dolls, filtered to America and caught on in New York and Los Angeles. Smaller cities, such as Pittsburgh and Cleveland, developed grassroots bands and audiences. W.T. Koltek, who calls himself the first local disc jockey (at WYEP-FM in Oakland) to play English and New York punk music, said the punk movement surfaced here about three years ago. 1 "Pittsburgh has never had an indigenous music scene, unlike Cleveland," he said. "It has always been a matter of bands playing the top 40 hits. But around 1978, the New York and English punk bands got the attention of some Pittsburgh kids who felt they could do the same type of music." Phase Three, a Swissvale nightclub, was the rallying point for the new wave. Reed, 26, a Brooklyn native and now leader of The Five, first hung out there and later booked acts at the club after "sobering up" and dropping out of Carnegie-Mellon University. "Phase Tlu$e gave people a place to congregate and meet one another," he said. "I was hooked up with a group called the Apes of God. But none of the local bands could play at Phase Three, so that's why I insinuated myself there and was able to book acts that I wanted, to give them some legitimacy." But, Reed said, the owners eventually shied away from the bands he brought in and turned the club into a "strip joint" The place later burned down. The punk bands found few places to play outside Of private parties. "We'd get busted by the cops every week and sometimes thrown in jail," Reed said. THE EARLY BANDS included the Shut-Ins, the Cuts and the Puke, who eventually appeared on local TV, Koltek said. "The Puke was the definitive embodiment of punk," he said. "Pat D. Hearse, Barney Scum on guitars and Bill Board on bass drum really took it as a joke and a sort of way to get back at the kids who gave them a hard time in high school. "They did songs like, 'I Want to Kidnap a French Industrialist' and 'When I Get Bored, I Play One Chord ("I play one note to get your goat").' A lot of the early appeal of punk was that you didn't have to be a good musician, as long as you could bash away. "It was a very cohesive thing at one time and the bands all knew each other, which may be because of the party nature of the thing. It was more a question of energy, rather than musicianship. Now, the Cardboards, Carsickness and The Five "wm ' WISH th xt ' ' 40-: yy.: "fcWftS I'&l s ' tfM"'S Vv Press Photos by John Heller Kim Troiani of Mt. Lebanon is the lead singer for The Five, one of several punk rock groups making a ripple in Pittsburgh's music scene. When the public thinks of punk rock, it has an image of purple crewcuts and obnoxious behavior, but in Pittsburgh, the fans have mostly been polite and blue-jeaned. have developed into quite good players." Good players or not, punk groups still find it difficult to survive financially In Pittsburgh. Reed, who said he's "unemployable," lives above an art gallery with some fellow band members. In his bedroom cluttered with empty liquor bottles, heaps of clothing, musical instruments a cassette tape of The Five's movie soundtrack plays loudly. "The film is called 'Knifepoint' and it's a Grade B, trash remake of 'Los Olvidados.' It was made locally by Rich Morocco and has lots of blood." Reed is always scrounging for gigs or trying to set up recording sessions for The Five. Other than the Banana and Charlie's 10 Cents Bar in Swissvale, there are no local clubs that consistently book punk bands. Or "independents," as Reed prefers to call them. "Punk, like rockabilly, is an easy genre term to me," he said. "Calling The Five, Black Flag, Mission of Burma and Spandau Ballet all punk is like looking at every item in this room and calling it 'Fred.' Punk is a catch-all phrase. "1 DON'T THINK there was ever any real punk movement here. It was just a new attitude. The common ground is that it's a grass roots thing involving independent record labels ... "People realize they can put out a single on their own and promote and manage their own gigs. You can actually now get gigs playing your own stuff, where before it was impossible to get one if you weren't a Top 40 cover band." The Five has privately recorded a 43 rpm single and Carsickness has an album out, but Reed feels the city's conservative atmosphere may be a hindrance to the growth of "independent" music. "I don't think Pittsburgh is low-class or blue-collar, but I do think it's ignorant, xenophobic and scared of anything different. It's traditionally years behind anywhere else . . . (Continued on Page E-5.) Lenora Nemetz Rides 'Seesaw' To CL0 CHIROPRACTORS, masseurs and masseuses IGin Ohio and Michigan were delighted as VJ Pittsburgh's Lenora Nemetz starred in "Bye, Bye Birdie" the past four weeks. They did a brisk business after her performances with the Kenley Players in Akron, Dayton, Flint and Columbus. "In the Shriners' Ballet number, they throw me around quite a bit," Miss Nemetz says. "They hold my legs and swing me. My spine goes out of whack, and I had to go to chiropractors or get massages to straighten me out. This week Miss Nemetz will be at Heinz Hall for somewhat less hazardous duties, the Civic Light Opera's production of "Seesaw," which also stars Don Howard, brother of Ken Howard, TVs "White Shadow." (Show times are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., with a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. and a performance next Sunday at 7:30 p.m.) John Kenley, who for years drew about 25 percent of his audiences from Pittsburgh when his operation was in Warren, Ohio, did well with "Bye, Bye Birdie" in Akron and Columbus this summer. "THE REVIEWS were favorable in all four cities," Miss' Nemetz says, "but the economic picture is so bleak in Flint with the layoffs in the auto industry that the hall was only half filled. We didn't draw big crowds in Dayton either, reflecting the economic problems in that community." The trail, coionui, irreverent neniey, weu-known in local and national theatrical circles, has offered Miss Nemetz a part in an upcoming musical he has written, "Greenwich Village Scandals," and she is considering it. Kenley was the one-time casting director and adviser for theater magnate Lee Schubert. One play be advised Schubert to ignore "Little Foxes" went on to become a smash bit and is till playing on Broadway starring Elizabeth By CARL APONE, Press Music Editor Taylor. Kenley and Schubert quickly parted company after that one. "I have read the script for 'Greenwich Village Scandals,' which deals with Kenley's early years in the theater," Miss Nemetz says. "The show is something like the current 'Sugar Babies' on Broadway. He has signed up Cyd Charisse and Rip Taylor and rehearsals will start sometime in August "He has invited representatives of the Schubert and Nederlander chains in New York to see the September tryout in Akron and has hopes of taking it to New York." Miss Nemetz points out that she stayed in Pittsburgh last year, "doing a nightclub act for a couple of months at the Old Allegheny with Joe Franze. I enjoyed doing the show because for the first time I played myself on stage, rather than a character, and it gave me the chance to ad-lib and think fast before an audience. But realistically, it is difficult to make money performing in Pittsburgh all year. And I think I may return to New York to pursue my career." HER NEW YORK credits include the original Broadway production of "Cabaret," "Chicago" and "Working." In Bob Fosse's "Chicago," she was a standby for Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli and took over Miss Rivera's starring role of Velma Kelly at one point in the show's run. In "Working," based on the Studs Terkel book, she was nominated for the New York Drama Desk Award for her performance as waitress Delores Dante. Last season Miss Nemetz starred as Charity Valentine in the finest Civic Light Opera production of the season, "Sweet Charity." In this week's "Seesaw," she should feel very much at home. Her role of Gittel Mosca is almost a continuation of the romantic adventures of Charity. And Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, who collaborated on "Sweet Charity," are also responsible for the music and lyrics of "Seesaw," -it based on the William Gibson play, "Two for the Seesaw." "I have never seen the musical performed," Miss Nemetz says, "but it is a fabulous love story and there is a lot of dancing for me and the ensemble. Gittel is a wonderful kook. Very giving of herself. She is a Jewish girl who is struggling with her life because she has never made anything of herself as a dancer and as a result has an ulcer and a guilt complex. She is a very warm and aggressive woman, something like a biblical broad. "Most people don't remember th: am&; d the songs from the show but they will recognize the melodies. Shirley MacLaine uses one of the show's songs, 'It's Not Where You Start,' in her nightclub act." Two other songs Gittel performs also stand out "Nobody Does It Like Me," a confession of her chronic ineptitude in affairs of the heart, and "Welcome to Holiday Inn," telling of favors offered overnight guests. "SEESAW" HAD a rocky road from the start The out-of-town tryout in Detroit was a near-disaster, and Michael Bennett later of "A Chorus Line" fame, was hurriedly called in to revamp the show before its scheduled Broadway opening. He was aided by Neil Simon who sliced about 40 minutes from the musical. Bennett, Coleman and Miss Fields were so pleased with the results they poured their own money into the show. But there was not enough time or money to make all the changes they wanted in book and casting before and after the show opened on Broadway. The musical played to a standing ovation and solid reviews from the critics on opening night The dean of New York critics, Walter Kerr of the New York Times, wrote: "The show is just dandy, wonderfully satisfying simply as fun and then again as honest eavesdropping on two troubled but thoroughly engaging people." But his raise and that of other critics was not enough, he show closed after 296 performances. f 0 1 1 mmmmmm 1 ,&i . K . . . I -ji f K&&KM? !Z&i " mt IFv f ( !l A ; i i i t I li! JK I Press Photo by Robert J. Ptvuchak Pittsburgh's own Lenora Nemetz and Don Howard are hoping for a bell-ringer as stars of "Seesaw," the Civic Light Opera production which opens Tuesday and runs through next Sunday at Heinz Hall. 1

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