Photos and article by Melanie Stangl
It was a warm, early spring evening in Lawrenceville as I headed into Cattivo last Saturday for Nevada Color’s first headlining show of the year. Between the recent Daylight Savings Time leap and the music starting at 6:30, it felt strangely bright and early to be going to a concert. But descending the steps into the cool, dimly lit performance space soon pushed that discrepancy out of mind. Band members and attendees lined the walls, chatting, but it wouldn’t take long until the room began to fill.
And rightfully so: the bill was a sample of some of Pittsburgh’s finest. From the smooth dreaminess of the Jacob Klein Band, to the energized hard edge of Daily Grind, to Nevada Color’s animated, irresistible mix of catchy and complex, each band offered their own distinct blend of rock and pop. But the differences were complementary, not clashing, and the connecting threads of solid songwriting skills and genuine passion were obvious. Each act was engaging, talented, and damn fun to watch. These are expectations I’ve come to have for any Nevada Color show, and they were undeniably, decisively met.
First up was Jacob Klein and his band: Wayne Smith on guitar, Nick Baxter on drums, and Dan Bozek on bass. Klein himself sang and played the keys, and was all smiles for the already amped crowd. Their first track, the midtempo “Molly,” featured cheery church-organ keys and set the tone for their set: pleasant and mellow, while still energetic. They thanked the headliner for inviting them to be part of “an awesome night of music” before moving into “Change My Love,” a dreamy number with a solid guitar solo that got the audience nodding along.
He prefaced the minor-chord-heavy “Moon Song” with some context: “I f**ked up real bad…and then I wrote this song…true story.” With cool instrumental touches, such as a guitar slide and the use of a shaker by Baxter, this honest, sad number was a standout. “Beautiful” was next, in which Klein’s smooth, gorgeous voice shone, as did the swoony vibe from Smith’s guitar.
For the following track, “Stay,” which he played alone, Klein warned, “I’m gonna get a little ballady on you.” He was right—the song was moody and pretty with simple vocals and keys. The band rejoined him for “Dreams,” a Fleetwood Mac cover that was a cool, soulful surprise. They slowed it down and made it their own, before concluding with the more upbeat “Feel So Right.” Klein made it a point to thank the appreciative (and steadily-growing) crowd “for showing up, and supporting local bands…this is what it’s all about.” It was an enjoyable start that set a promising tone for the evening.
That tone took a sharp turn into hard rock when Daily Grind took the stage. The first note I made about their set, verbatim, was, “They are loud and they are proud.” It would be close to impossible to overstate how fun it was to watch these guys play—their passion could not have been more evident or authentic. Their contagious energy started at the roof and stayed there for all eight songs, beginning with the swaggering headbanger “Australia.”
The band (which consists of Brad Hammer on lead vocals and guitar, Myles Mahoney on lead guitar, Matt Majot on bass, and Clay Hoover on drums) is one of several local acts signed to Misra Records. Six of the tracks they played came from their newest album on the label, ‘I Did Those Things,’ including the second one, “Tom Sawyer Is Your Brother.” Mahoney jumped all around the stage while Majot packed a punch with an in-your-face bassline. “The World Is Yours” slowed it down slightly, but the recurring low guitar riff and strong vocals from Hammer kept things catchy and captivating. They then took a moment to thank the crowd and acknowledge Nevada Color: “This is our first time playing with them…it’s nice to share the stage with them this time.” “Blacktops and Boulevards” showed both their contemplative side (with lines such as “I live for you, you give me what I need/I’m free enough to know what I believe,”) and their knack for highlighting the often-underused potential of the bass.
Hammer introduced the next track, “Call Me Out,” with, “Got a few more for you…we’re gonna rock out a little bit here,” before imploring, “Don’t be afraid to get a little closer, we don’t bite.” The audience eagerly complied, filling the space right up to the barely-raised stage, just in time for an impromptu singalong. Clapping his hands above his head, Hammer led the crowd in a call-and-response rendition of “Hit the road Jack, and don’t you come back, no more, no more, no more, no more…” A cappella at first, the band gradually added layers of sound and energy before diving into the actual gritty, charged song itself. It was a really cool, unexpected move that amped up everyone’s already-tangible excitement.
“Haystack” hit us with heavy distorted guitar and fast-paced vocals, matching the sentiments of the lyrics: “I can sleep when I die/I’ll lay down when my legs give out.” By the time they moved into “Sense of Relief,” the place was getting packed, and the “Woo!”s were growing more frequent. This song was a standout, epitomizing their knack for mixing contagious grooves and serious grit. They wrapped up with “The Answer,” just as animated as they were at the start. They might not be the first band you’d think of to pair with Nevada Color, but once you’ve seen their passion, exuberance, and excellent songwriting for yourself, the combination makes sense. My last note for Daily Grind’s set sums it all up: “These guys kick ass.”
Anticipation and audience numbers both grew as we waited for the headliner—by now Cattivo seemed close to capacity. When the lights came down and smoke drifted over the stage, you could feel the shift in the crowd’s attention, how anxious they were to see the performance. There’s a reason Nevada Color evokes, and delivers on, that reaction. If you’ve seen them before, you know how hard they work to engage the crowd and make their shows exciting. Bouncing balloons out into the audience, having consistently impressive and dynamic lighting, lead singer Quinn Wirth never failing to enter the audience and interact with people for at least one song—and above all, the unmistakable sense that there’s no place else that any of them would rather be. This is what they love, what they put their energy into, and it shows.
The band (with Wirth on vocals, Adam Valen on lead guitar, Max Kovalchuk on rhythm guitar, Chris Cichra on bass, and Jeremy Westhead on drums) began with two high-octane tracks, “Follow Me Down” and “Higher.” Wirth rocked a drum pad and held the mic out to the crowd a few times, while the slightly slower “We Belong” prompted a clap-along. I can’t exaggerate just how engaging, skilled, and charismatic they were. Lots of artists appreciate their fans and the chance to play, but NC truly takes that to the next level—they’re having the time of their lives up there, and they’re going to make damn sure you do too.
“Floating” featured an insistent bass line from Cichra, followed up by their biggest hit yet, “New Mexico.” Wirth quipped beforehand, “This next song you might recognize.” Judging by the volume of the crowd’s singalong and the raising of many hands into the air for this fast-paced, powerhouse track, they definitely did. The frenzied, multicolored light show made the whole thing even more exciting. Another dance-friendly standby, “Up,” was next, during which Wirth offered high fives to audience members and individual shout-outs to his bandmates.
The pace slowed, and their range showed, with the processional-esque “Brother.” Westhead’s drums were the instrumental star of the show, while Wirth took the opportunity to enter the crowd, still singing, and hug people in the first few rows. The fairly recent foot-tapper “Take Me Away” got the audience moving again with its infectious beat and particularly on-point vocals.
It’s worth noting that my handwriting grew steadily more illegible, and my notes shorter, as Nevada Color’s set progressed. This is a good thing—a sign of their contagious energy which left me hard pressed to just record and not participate (i.e. dance like the uncoordinated white girl I really am.)
Next, they debuted the first of two brand new songs, “Gold.” It was catchy, happy, and rhythmically interesting—though that didn’t stop Wirth from throwing a drumstick into the audience at the end. “Shoulder” brought a similar, if a bit smoother, vibe, as well a perfectly-executed key change. The following track, “Spotlight,” was introduced with, “So, we shot a music video a while back…raise your hand if you were there for that.” Several hands near the front shot up. This funky song is one of my favorites from the demo collection they released on USB wristbands last summer, and they killed this rendition of it.
The second brand new track of the night, “Home,” had apparently been written by Kovalchuk earlier that week. Not that you could tell—this slower, nostalgic song sounded cohesive, and was a cool change of pace. A vibe-y distorted guitar riff from Valen to start, as well as the steady, driving lines throughout from Kovalchuk and Cichra were highlights. Safe to say, it’s a keeper.
Wirth thanked the audience and invited them to come say hi after the show (“I’d like to talk to as many people as I can,”) before moving into the upbeat, showstopping “Closer Now.” This is probably my favorite song of theirs, period, and they pulled out all the stops for it—strobe lights, black lights, even confetti. It was impossible to not to get caught up in the energy: everyone danced, cheered, and clapped along, ecstatic, embodying the central plea in the chorus: to “shine your light to mine.” Finally, they wrapped things up with their only cover, Billy Idol’s frenetic “Dancing With Myself.” They did it justice, not a hint of tiredness showing even after such a strenuous set. It was an entertaining finale to a truly remarkable show.
The plus side of a starting a concert at 6:30 is that the night is still so young when it’s over. Cattivo staff kindly (but firmly) encouraged people out of the performance space after a bit of mingling in order to prepare for the late show, which opened at 10. Attendees and band members moved out into the mild Lawrenceville night, talking and laughing, buzzing and happy from what they just experienced—a reminder of the energy, heart, and skill that permeates the Pittsburgh music community.
In short? Believe the hype.
Jacob Klein Band