What is it about fine pop music coming out of dark former industrial places - the Beatles from Liverpool, then the Manchester bands, and Western Pennsylvania's own Newmen of Titusville?
Once the town was such an important hub of industry that its weddings were reported in the NY Times. Today, on their MySpace page, the band Newmen refers to their home, only slightly ironically, as The Shire. (Of course, nerds like myself understand that there may be a deeper logic to the reference as well. Remember, it was industrialization that threatened to ruin, not improve life in the Shire. Indeed, the rebellion of the Hobbits and the restoration of the pre-industrial Shire may be interpreted as a prescription of voluntary simplicity as a remedy to the problems of modern society. )
I've had conversations with Jerome Wincek of the Old Hats and about his efforts to take the terroir of the region and distill it into music. For Wincek, that means working on the gutbucket end of things, For Newmen, it means something completely different, creating a mythology, once personal, now public through sheer for ce of will. And music of course.
So it was that I and my intrepid posse made our cold way on Saturday night, Valentine’s Day, to the new location of Brother Bean to catch the first local Newmen show in quite a while.
The New Brother Bean feels like a smaller space than its previous incarnation – the stage is oriented differently as well – patrons have to walk between the stage and the audience to get to the coffee bar. For most bands its a nuisance, but for Newmen whose brand of sometimes dreamy but never twee pop folk functions best not as background music , but as part of a conversation between listener and performer, it was an issue making it difficult for the listener to make a connection and concentrate on the word play.
Midway through the show, a middle aged woman in embroidered jeans and a hair wrap sidled up beside my table and engaged in a long, loud discussion with her friend (you can hear some it in the second clip) involving breast cancer, hyperthyroidism, preschool and all the other travails of people of a certain age. After each song ended, she would stop mid sentence and turn to the band and emit a loud classic rock style ‘Whoo!” as if to say, “Ah yes, I’m listening to you and you, gentlemen, you rock.”
Which of course, they don’t. Not really. Newmen is less about rocking and more about talking – most of their lyrics work as poetry – real poetry as opposed to Dylan or Jewel. The band has the melancholy sound of finding a forgotten photograph tucked in a book, painful and precious because it is painful.
The band sounded rough through out the night. During the second set, Proper commented that it was the first time they had practiced in months and a friend confirmed that they had sounded similarly rough during a Meadville show last month. It sounded as if they were still getting comfortable with each other, as if they were starting over – a feeling I didn't get at last summer’s Indie Songwriter’s Festival. You can hear them struggling to find their places with each other at the start of this clip:
When a band has a defined sound, eventually they run into a forked path. One fork leads towards recreating that same sound over again – perhaps a bit easier and certainly more pleasing to die hard fans (read The White Stripes) or they can try something different, taking the best of what they do along with them and trying something completely new (read Yankee Wilco Foxtrot –era Wilco) -- more artistically satisfying but running the risk of alienating said long time fans. The thing is, I’ve always believed since the first time I saw them that Newmen are a jewel in the rough, the band most equipped to achieve popular success far beyond Northwestern Pennsylvania – but at this point, I think the question is, do they want it?
With all that said though, my biggest complaint of the evening was that Newmen has a new EP and didn’t mention it. Luckily I, like you, can buy one at their online storefront.
- Jesse Proper of Newmen also runs Titusville’s Queen City Sounds Recording Studio
- Buy Newmen's albums at their etsy store.
- Friend them on Myspace.
Sometime within the next 60 days, the building , formally known as The Roadhouse Theatre and Theatre 145, at Erie’s 145 West 11th St will close.
The Cummings Art Gallery of Mercyhurst college opens “Hateful Things” - images and artifacts from the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia with a reception from 7-8 pm. The show runs until Feb. 25th .
Pittsburgh Opera has announced its 2009-2010 season.
The operas on the 2009-2010 mainstage season include Bizet’s Carmen, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Verdi’s Falstaff, and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia will be performed by the Resident Artists at CAPA Theater.
The company also launched its new website today.
Subscription renewals begin February 16; subscription prices are $42 - $562 for the mainstage series of four operas. For more subscription information, call 412-281-0912, ext. 1.
Works are currently being accepted for the Erie Art Museum’s 86th Annual Spring Show, a regional juried exhibit, running April 18 through June 14, 2009 in the Erie Art Museum’s Main Gallery, 411 State Street.
All artists residing within 250 miles of Erie are invited to enter works not previously exhibited in the Erie area. A total of $10,000 in awards is offered, including $2,000 in juror’s cash awards, the $500 Northwestern Pennsylvania Arts Association Award and at least $7,500 in guaranteed purchases. The cash awards will be divided among the juror’s selections of the best work in the show.
Purchase selections will be made by the firms and individuals offering purchase awards. Each entrant may submit three works. The entry fee is $5 per entry for members of the Erie Art Museum and $10 for non-members.
Work is currently being accepted at the Erie Art Museum Annex, 20 East 5th Street on:
Saturday, March 14, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday, March 21, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Friday, March 27, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday, March 28, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sunday, March 29, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Out of town works may be submitted by prepaid shipment. Deadline for submission of entries is Saturday, March 28, 2009 at 5 p.m.
Jerome Wincek and the Old Hats have new music availble on their Myspace page.
Sam Hazo has announced Pittsburgh’s International Poetry Forum is closing. I’m very sad to see it go, but at the same time hope that we as artist begin to understand that we too have been living beyond our means thanks to corporate largesse. And it hasn’t been healthy for us.
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