Meeting of Important People
w/ Working Breed
Frick Art and Historical Center
June 17, 2016
Photos and review by Melanie Stangl
The evening sun filtered through the leaves of the trees on the gorgeous estate of the Frick Art and Historical Center on June 17th, as hundreds of people gathered for the first free Summer Friday show of the season. Clustered in camp chairs or spread out on blankets, many attendees took advantage of the picnic atmosphere with baskets of food and bottles of booze. The wide age range present was also a testament to the nontraditional concert setting: toddlers and young children danced and ran through the grass, while young adults, parents, and grandparents sat in groups and chatted. On the bill were two Pittsburgh rock bands notable for the energy, fun, and unique twists they bring to both the genre and their performances: Working Breed and Meeting of Important People. The acts were well-chosen to kick off a summer-long series of free concerts, and they didn’t disappoint.
To put it simply, no one else is doing what Working Breed is doing. Describing their genre as “art rock,” the band transitions between instruments, tempos, and styles (often within the same song) with creativity, cohesion, and apparent ease. They embrace classic jazz, powerful rock, and groovy funk, and wrap it all up in pop packaging that, due to each member’s skill at their respective instruments, never feels cliché. The four-piece consists of Erika Laing on vocals, brass (trumpet and trombone), and musical saw, Michael Dugan on guitar and backing vocals, Jonah Petrelli on bass, and Sam Stein on drums. They began the show with “For Cryin’ (Out Loud),” a midtempo lament about a lover turned cold, then moved into “Folle de Toi,” a faster tune with French words sprinkled throughout. This, in addition to charming harmonies between Laing and Dugan and the first appearance of Laing’s trombone, gave it an appealing old-school feel.
Before they began their third song, Laing addressed the audience: “Do you guys want more brass? The only answer to that question is ‘yes.’” “Sensitive Plant” delivered, featuring a prominent trumpet part and offering the funkiest groove of the set thus far. Dugan’s fuzzy loud guitar and Petrelli’s bass both got to shine as well, and the varying instrumentation was paralleled in a beat that travelled: slowing down towards the end, then picking back up, before immediately transitioning into the next track. “Mother F***ing Rock n Roll” was a celebratory song, in which Laing’s clear, strong, commanding voice was highlighted. She was, however, conscious of the young ones in the audience, and changed the words to the still-rhythmically-satisfying “mother-loving rock n’ roll.”
Up next was “Cicada,” for which Laing broke out a “special treat:” a musical saw. Unlike a typical saw, this one was flexible, played with a bow while sitting down, and produced higher-pitched, warbling tones. The word “sexy” might not be the first connotation that comes to mind with this instrument, but that’s exactly what “Cicada” was: verses that shook back and forth between subdued and loud, interspersed with powerful, in-your-face choruses. Laing’s voice explored the upper registers of her range, and Dugan’s complex guitar solo was sick (in the best way.)
They kept the alluring groove going with “Original Amateur Hour,” Laing taking the time to thank the universe “for this beautiful day” in between. This song was a highlight of the set, with the relentless, upward-climbing “thrum-thrum-thrum-thrum-thrum” of the bass, jazzy trombone solo, and the gradual stripping-down of the track to just Stein’s drums (which he was playing with his hands), only to build it back up again for a strong finish. Following this was “Orange Fluff,” a happy tune with more of a straight rock sound that complemented the season with its surf-y, Beach Boys vibe.
They concluded their set with an enthusiastic cover of Joe Cocker’s version of “With A Little Help From My Friends.” It suited them well, Dugan taking the lead on the song’s call-and-response harmonies, and balanced good vibes with gritty rock. Their next performance will be on July 9th as part of the Deutschtown Music Festival, at 3 PM at the James Street Gastropub’s Ballroom. It was a truly enjoyable set, enhanced by the perfect weather, and many took advantage of the time between acts to grab food from the Franktuary or South Side BBQ food trucks, or peruse the racks of the Vintage Valet mobile pop-up clothing shop.
When Meeting of Important People took the stage (er, the grass), lead singer/guitarist Josh Verbanets’ infectious positivity came through immediately: he initiated a round of applause for the “beautiful summer weather.” They kicked things off with two of their upbeat, foot-tapping classics, “Innocents Abroad” and “Gotta Clean Head.” The tight sound and cohesiveness of the trio (with Aaron Bubenheim on bass and backing vocals and Matt Miller on drums and backing vocals) was indicative of their long history of playing together. Before their third track, Verbanets announced, “We’ve been challenged by Working Breed to play the greatest baby boomer rock n’ roll song.” Opinions on exactly which song that is might vary, but their pick of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” was a damn strong contender, made stronger by how perfectly it matched their brand of energetic pop rock. Verbanet’s subsequent quip of, “If you’re wondering why we’re staring at our phones, we’re not millenials…we’re not millenials, we just control the sound through our phones,” was even more appropriate in contrast.
Next up was another MOIP classic, the slower Yinzer-uncle ode “I Know Every Street,” followed by the first pick of the evening from their newest album, Troika, “Tell Me It’s Not Too Late.” They then moved into another cover, Verbanets introducing it with, “This next song is for anyone who remembers the seventies…if you remember the seventies…you weren’t really there.” Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” is a fairly recent addition to MOIP’s sets, but Verbanets handled both the complex guitar rhythm and soaring vocals with impressive skill and finesse. Miller’s drumming and backing vocals also rose to the challenging occasion. The dance-friendly “Leap-the-Dips” followed that, and another Troika track, “Matt New Wave,” matched its high energy.
Long-time Meeting of Important People collaborator, violinist Cara Garofolo (who Verbanets praised as “our dear friend, the greatest violinist on the face of the planet”), joined the band for the next four songs. The instrument adds a beautiful layer of complexity to the band’s music, but it took several minutes for its sound to properly carry. Those towards the front could only just hear it, which was a shame because her playing was spot-on. Nonetheless, the next three tunes, all from Troika, were enjoyable: “MOIP Intro,” the cheerful “Take Action!,” and the more contemplative “I’m Flying (Close to It.)” Eventually the violin’s volume picked up, just in time for another cover, the down-home country favorite by Loudon Wainwright III, “Dead Skunk.” All four musicians were clearly enjoying themselves during this one, and its ridiculous lyrics and fun beat encouraged some kids in the crowd to start dancing. Verbanets, whose between-song banter was a notably funny aspect of the show, dedicated the tune to “safe driving this summer—stay in your lane, activate your airbags, and check out your warranty.”
After prompting a second round of applause for Garofolo, the trio moved into another MOIP classic, “Brittney Lane Don’t Care.” The band brands themselves as pop on their Facebook, but Miller’s forceful, fast-paced drumming and Verbanets’ intense guitar solo during this track demonstrated their rock sensibilities and chops. Before moving into “Only Half Grown,” a gritty, blues-y highlight from Troika, Verbanets casually asked the audience the very timely, cheer-inducing question, “Who won the Stanley Cup?” He also pulled off the unique trick of using his iPhone as a guitar slide, admitting, “I don’t think they’ll let me trade it in after this.”
With three songs left, the energy remained high in another older track, “Dead Man,” ironically lively and straight-up fun rock. “All Rode Off Together” was next, a midtempo Troika tune about camaraderie, in which anyone was invited up to Bubenheim’s microphone to sing along with the chorus. (There were, alas, no takers bold enough to test their chops in front of the hundreds-strong crowd.) They concluded with a final classic cover, “Gloria” by Them, in which Verbanets’ expressive vocals and Bubenheim’s funky bass were displayed. MOIP’s next performance is also at the upcoming Deustchtown Music Festival: they take the Main Stage on Saturday, July 9th at 8 PM.
Before beginning their last song, Verbanets expressed heartfelt thanks, sang Pittsburgh’s praises, and dedicated it to “everyone here at the Frick,” most of whom were sprawled out in the grass in the now-twilight. One of the lyrics in “Leap-the-Dips” epitomized not only the night, but the connected, down-home feeling of the city that makes such nights possible: “Sittin’ on a chair in my hometown, wait a little bit ‘til the sun goes down.” Summer Fridays at the Frick are sure to be a great way to spend that time, while you “wait a little bit.” They run through September 2nd, with the next show on June 24th featuring Pittsburgh music scene veterans the Kardasz Brothers. Don’t miss out.
Meeting of Important People