Bindley Hardware Co.
Pop Thief & The Grand Larceny
James Street Speakeasy
May 19, 2016
Photos and review by Melanie Stangl
Descending into the dimly-lit Speakeasy at James Street Gastropub on the North Side evokes a certain vibe: a sense of old-school cool, of intimacy, a feeling that what you’re coming down there to see is a lesser-known diamond in the rough. For fans of folk, blues, and funk alike, Thursday night’s show proved the accuracy of that premonition. Featuring Grandadchilds as the headliner, with openers Bindley Hardware Company and Pop Thief & The Grand Larceny, what marked this show more than anything else was a sense of fun. Both the musicians and the audience members were enthusiastic and clearly enjoying themselves. Whether sitting at a booth, at the bar, or getting up close and personal in front of the stage, guests enjoyed both great tunes and good vibes.
Pop Thief & The Grand Larceny kicked things off a little after 8:30. A Philadelphia transplant which now calls Pittsburgh home, the band describes their sound as a mixture of Afropunk, neo-soul, and R&B, citing such influences as James Brown and Bootsy Collins. Comprised of lead singer/guitarist Virgil Hawkins, bassist Forrest K., and drummer Zach L., their funky rhythms and fast-paced lyrical dexterity shone through in their short set. It was an unexpected and delightful way to start the evening, keeping the crowd nodding their heads to the groove. Their next gig is on Friday, May 27th, opening for the Scroll Downers at Brillobox.
Next up was Bindley Hardware Company. Led by frontman Jon Bindley, three recent lineup changes expanded the former five-piece to six members. Ryan Kantner (on stand-up bass), Christopher Putt (on backup vocals/electric guitar), and Greg Marchetti (on keys and accordion) have been playing with BHC for about six weeks. Drummer Brian Ganch, who also drums for Lovedrug and Balloon Ride Fantasy, and electric violinist Waylon Richmond have been part of the Hardware Company lineup for years. Their sound was cohesive and full, a mark of musicians who both enjoy and know what they’re doing. The addition of keyboards and accordions provided a great new dimension to BHC’s folk-rock, classic Americana sound.
They opened with “Left Well Alone,” a midtempo tune that advises listeners not to “go messin’ with a natural progression.” During the song’s final chorus, Bindley pointed to his friends in various places in the audience, remarking “You know, you know, you know, you know, and you know…” before moving into the last line: “It’s best, if it’s left well alone.” Following that was “The Ballad of Manuel Garcia,” long a staple in BHC shows but recently debuted as a studio track on the new two-song release by the band, titled “Vol. I.” They then moved into Vol. I’s other song, “Stars and Stripes,” which Bindley described as a “sarcastic national anthem, if you can get with that.” The audience certainly could get with that: when Bindley asked if he could get an “awooo,” they howled back without hesitation. Next up was “Penelope,” another BHC standby, followed by “Future Trippin’.” Bindley introduced the latter by saying, “Who’s got shit to do tomorrow?” Several audience members raised their hands, to which he replied “Fuhgeddaboutit,” and provided the context for the song: constantly worrying about the future instead of enjoying the present.
For their next track, “Water,” which was released in 2013 on Bindley’s “Son of Someone” EP, the band was joined by Kay Rush, a violinist for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the mother of John Rushlander, frontman of Grandadchilds. (Waylon sat this one out.) Her remarkably skillful additions made a strong case for talent being at least partially genetic. Bindley reveled in the collaboration, smiling and dancing around his bandmates, and occasionally venturing among the concert-goers. Their penultimate song, “Hey There (You’re Alive),” was preceded with “This is for anyone who’s got dead homies, I know we all got dead homies.” A soothing, melancholy-yet-hopeful number, it celebrates the gift of life, despite whatever hardships are faced, from the perspective of the deceased. This sentiment was epitomized in the line, “The time on your hands is worth more than gold.” They wrapped up their set with the uptempo, crowd-pleasing ode to Pittsburgh, “Three Rivers.” Bindley intermittently stepped away from the mic to hear the crowd sing during the song’s final bridge: a repeated anthem of “Monongahela! Ohio! Allegheny!” Both the city pride and the voices were strong, and Bindley remarked genuinely, “You sound beautiful.” It was an engaging, entertaining performance—and if you missed them this time, their next show is this coming Friday, May 27th, at the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern.
When Grandadchilds took the stage around 10 PM, opening with the groovy, energetic “Terracotta Skyline,” the audience’s enthusiasm was immediate and infectious: several people in the front started dancing. The three-piece band is the newest outfit for John Kono “Moon Cat” Rushlander, the second student to have an EP produced by Point Park University’s record label, Pioneer Records. He’s previously performed both as a solo act and as one half of the duo Red Meat and Whiskey. His current lineup includes two bandmates, Tyler McLaughlin on bass and Evan Pearson on drums. They complement his skill as an electric guitarist and vocalist, and make for a talent-packed trio whose musical compatibility and genuine enjoyment of what they do is obvious to everyone who watches them. Their blues rock sound is equal parts powerful and heartfelt, energetic and nuanced, straightforward and skillful.
The second song was “Captain,” which Rushlander preceded by flattering the crowd with, “There are some really good-looking people in this room.” They then moved into “Billy Raynes,” followed by “Jabberwocky Blues,” a tune Rushlander used to play by himself, but the added instrumentation turned it into a driving powerhouse of a number. It also allowed him to take one of many extended guitar solos, whose staggering fluidity indicated not only immense technical skill, but an authentic, intuitive feel for how the blues—his blues—should sound. One audience member showed his appreciation by playing on the band’s name, yelling, “Love you, gramps!” Rushlander responded in kind with a smile. Next, they played “Beautiful Alien” for the first time ever, fittingly described as “very new, very fresh, very virgin.” It was a standout among standouts that night: the crowd absolutely loved it, cheering a couple of times midsong, particularly after Pearson completed an impressive drum solo. The band revealed afterwards that the song had been written only the night before. If its reception was any indication, it will likely show up in future Grandadchilds sets.
They kept the momentum going with “Just Got Paid,” “Go Around,” (during which Bindley and Ganch from BHC were spotted dancing along at the front of the crowd), and a spirited cover of Slim Harpo’s “I’m A King Bee.” They followed that up with “Horseman,” and then Bindley joined them onstage for a cover of the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young tune, “Almost Cut My Hair.” Bindley’s acoustic rhythm guitar and vocals allowed Rushlander to focus solely on a face-melting, cheer-inducing distorted guitar solo. Afterwards, seemingly caught up in the fun they (and the crowd) were having, the trio moved into an instrumental jam, with some lyrics towards the end advising that you “can’t ever lose if you’re born to love.”
By this point it was past midnight, and while some audience members had departed, those that remained fed off the band’s unfaltering energy, continuing to dance and cheer with gusto. The band closed out their set with their take on the blues classic, “Crossroads,” and another standby from Rushlander’s solo days, “Crystal Ball.”
It was a night defined by pure fun, authenticity, and raw talent. Grandadchilds’ next show is happening this coming Saturday, May 28th, also at James Street Gastropub, as part of the Memorial Day Weekend Ballroom Bash. They’ll also be playing the Layer Cake Festival, returning to the Speakeasy at 7 PM on June 3rd. If you have even the smallest amount of love for rock or the blues, they’re an act you definitely won’t want to miss.