On Justin Timberlake

Monday, March 19, Justin Timberlake performed to a near-capacity crowd at the Mellon Arena in downtown Pittsburgh. His act featured an array of dancers and four runway-type structures along which Justin strutted during his act. The seats that lined these “bars,” which reportedly sold for upwards of $500 a pop, were regarded as the best in the house. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said that Timberlake performed as a superstar, and the production racked up “style points.”

A few days later, on March 22, Field Music and Land of Talk opened for Menomena at Lawrenceville Moose on 52nd street in Lawrenceville. Amidst a crowd of hipsters and undergraduates looking forward to the headliner, Field Music might have felt a smidge underappreciated (this author missed Land of Talk’s performance), but in fact they simply fell victim to the infamous “Pittsburgh audience,” whereby the crowd’s reaction, even to precise, virtuosic performances of solidly intoxicating pop or what have you, is a bit of polite applause along with the continuation of ongoing conversations. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the music — because we do, really — we just don’t feel obligated to show it.

Justin Timberlake’s performance, by my rough and by no means authoritative estimates, could have raked in close to $1 million in ticket sales. Admittedly, this might not have paid off all the dancers and event staff, but simply as a matter of scope it is impressive, compared to a few hundred folks in a dimly lit moose lodge auditorium decorated with strings of “ ’70s” aluminized confetti.

Some time after the Timberlake performance, one of the staff members at WRCT, who was in attendance during an executive meeting, suggested that we add Timberlake’s newest album, FutureSex/LoveSounds, into our regular rotation. This sparked what could be called a spirited debate as to the relative artistic quality (some asserted the term was being loosely applied) of Timberlake and, say, Electric Wizard, which I was not qualified to evaluate critically. I am not too familiar with either artist, though in the interests of disclosure I must admit a measure of considered displeasure at the notion of Timberlake’s sensational stadium-raising. But I do hope to say with some measure of authority that Timberlake’s album shall never be shown the light of our record library, except possibly in the future, in the interests of archival. He doesn’t need our exposure.

On local artists

It’s common to hear complaints about Pittsburgh’s “horrible” music scene — remarks about how many venues have been closed down, how many mainstream bands bypass Pittsburgh on national tours, or even how nothing creative comes out of Pittsburgh. These statements are totally untrue, especially the last one. To prove it, here’s a list of local bands that are starting to gain national attention (at least within their genres).

Caustic Christ. Formed in 2000, Caustic Christ is a hardcore punk band akin to Municipal Waste and the Subhumans. Caustic Christ has toured throughout the US and Europe. When in Pittsburgh, the band often plays at the Mr. Roboto Project, which is a cooperatively run show space in Wilkinsburg.

Xanopticon. If you’ve been to an electronic show in Pittsburgh, you’ve probably seen Xanopticon open. Remember the guy in the black hoodie with the long greasy hair? Wait, that’s everyone. Well, he was probably the opener, twitching spastically on the crossfader, thinking melodies are unnecessary. If you’re into breakcore, which redefines the meaning of “relentless,” then Xanopticon’s a decent choice. Check him out at basically any Garfield Artworks show that’s even kind of relevant.

Grand Buffet. Pittsburgh is also home to a burgeoning hip-hop scene, and Grand Buffet is right there at its forefront. A duo made up of two Pittsburgh natives, they’ve been producing satirical hip-hop with a local bent for 10 years, and have long been known for their entertaining (usually with lots of audience participation) shows. Now, they’re starting to get really big, having just toured with Of Montreal and played with Sage Francis, Sole, Magnolia Electric Co., and Wesley Willis. You should probably look into their shows before they get as big as…

Girl Talk. You already know all about him. Or, if you don’t, just go read Pitchfork or Stylus or something — he’s an indie darling. Still a nice guy, though; he was only playing basement shows last year and is already getting international contracts. Still, you can catch him around Pittsburgh for cheap fairly often. No one is able to make stoic indie kids dance like him, and it’s not possible to interact with the crowd more. (Last year, when he opened for Prefuse 73 on campus, he smashed a mic into his head, drawing blood, and told the audience to call University Police on a girl for “having too much fun.” Definitely a fun night.)

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