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A literary evening with James McBride

September 22, 7:30 PM
Corresponding with the Carnegie Museum of Natual History's ongoing exhibit RACE: Are we so different?, 2013 National Book Award Winner James McBride kicks of the museum's new season of the Monday Lecture Series. McBride will read excerpts from his award-winning novel The Good Lord Bird, which focuses on the fictional memoirs of a slave named Henry as he encounters and becomes involved with famed abolitionist John Brown during the "Bleeding Kansas" era of border disputes. As Henry follows Brown on a journey that eventually leads them both to Brown's famous raid on Harpers Ferry, W.Va., he meets with important historical figures such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.

McBride's literary voice is "as comic and original as any we have heard since Mark Twain,” according to the National Book Award judges. His additional work includes the acclaimed 1996 novel The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to his White Mother; screenplays for two of Spike Lee’s most recent films, 2008’s Miracle at St. Anna and 2012’s Red Hook Summer; and feature-length journalism for Rolling Stone, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. Don’t miss this chance to hear McBride discuss his most recent work and incredible career. Ticket holders will also be given access to the RACE: Are we so different? exhibit from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. before the lecture on Sept. 22. Tickets and event information are available here. (4400 Forbes Ave Pittsburgh, Oakland, Carnegie Music Hall)

Celestial Shore stop by the Smiling Moose

September 17, 6:30 PM
Brooklyn-based math rock trio Celestial Shore brings their mishapen explosions of unwieldy compositions to the Smiling Moose tonight.

The musicians seem determined to explore the ways in which the jazzy excesses of math rock can be shoehorned into more traditional pop and rock compositions, specifically those influenced by British Invasion groups like The Zombies and The Hollies.
But Celestial Shore's use of time-signature warping rhythms and noodly guitar lines serves a larger purpose than fueling an experimental music theory thesis from the Berklee School of Music. Like elaborately drawn exclamation points scribbled in a journal, the band provides the chaotic weight that a broken-down relationship deserves. Their 2013 debut album
10x is an emotional whirling dervish of spindly guitar riffs and Buddy Rich drum fills, highlighted by lead singer/guitarist Greg Owens' disaffected vocals that seem to infer he’s preparing to calmly go insane over the course of 10 tracks.

“Valerie” has Owens quitley haunting the edges of a trip to the beach where he observes the track’s namesake from afar, detailing what was a disastrous fling that still resonates deep in his memory. Tumbling bursts of guitars and drums intermittently rumble beneath Owens' vocals. The lyrics oscillate between creepily banal -- “let’s get in the water/ let’s go for a swim” -- and bitterly emotional -- “but you don’t want me girl, I know you want him.” It’s an unsettling track that reflects the greater strengths of Celestial Shore as a band: they deploy their brand of mind-melting math rock in expertly calculated ways, underlining rather than ovewhelming their quieter, brutal moments moments of emotional pop music. Tickets and concert information are available here. (1306 E. Carson Street, South Side, The Smiling Moose)

Pop City presents "Blood Simple" at Row House Cinema

September 26, 7:30 PM
At Pop City, we're passionate about highlighting and celebrating Pittsburgh's cultural assets, especially those tucked away into one of the city's most successful homegrown business corridors.

Lawrenceville's latest draw is a two-in-one dream team at 4115 Butler Street: Row House Cinema, a single-screen revival movie theater, and Atlas Bottle Works, an expertly curated craft beer bottle shop. The joint venture personifies the ways in which Pittsburgh's many business districts are transforming with the help of inventive reinvestment. And with the impending arrival of Smoke Taqueria under the same roof-- forming a holy triumvirate of beer, movies, and tacos-- Pop City decided to get involved and support cultural programming at this new anchor establishment.

The Event
We're excited to unveil Pop City Presents at Row House Cinema, a (hopefully) recurring event where we pick a film that corresponds with the theater's movie of the week and pair it with a delicious beer that reflects that theme. Our inagural run takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 26 during the first day of Row House's Coen Brothers Movie Festival. We'll pair the cinematic legends' first feature film-- the hypnotically stylish prairie noir Blood Simple-- with Troegs' Hop Knife Harvest Ale: an American IPA with citrus, resin and tropical aromas. As for Hop Knife tying into Blood Simple? For those who haven't seen the film, explaining their connection would definitely constitute spoilers. Suffice it to say: A knife plays a significant, bloody role.

The Movie
For any self-respecting movie buff, a deep dive into the Coen brother's oeuvre is a serious rite of passage. The pair is up there with contemporary film school favorites like Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh and Terrance Malick. And while the Coens could be considered remarkable for their consistency over their 30-year career, their early work is a stunning run of films with an expert combination of vision, technical proficiency and peerless writing craft. The 1-2-3 punch that brought them worldwide critical acclaim-- 1987’s Raising Arizona, 1990’s Miller’s Crossing, and 1991’s Barton Fink-- has seemed, in hindisght, to eclispe their stunning debut, Blood Simple.  

Filmed in Texas for $700,000 in 1984, Blood Simple is a small, brutal, and incredibly stylish neo noir with a title ripped from Dashil Hammet’s famous novel Red Harvest. Ruthless in its plot construction, Blood SImple has no qualms about grubbing around in the sticky web of consequences from a series of trecherous decisions. John Getz and Frances McDormand (in her feature film debut) play Ray and Abby, an adulterous couple who have fallen into bed together behind the back of Marty (Dan Hedaya), Abby’s husband and Ray’s boss. Marty quickly uncovers the affair after he hires a slithery, sweaty private investigator (M. Emmet Walsh). An unfortunate series of events unfolds involving $10,000, a revolver, a hunting knife and a corpse that won't seem to stay dead. 

While the edges of the film occasionally seem amateurish, the Coens show a preternatural understanding of what would become their signature style: labyrinthe plotting, stylized dialogue, inventive cinematography, horror-movie tropes in unexpected places, and an eccentric streak of wry humor spiked with horrific violence. Sequences in this movie have stayed with me for over 10 years, dating back to my first viewing as a high-school sophomore.

Watching it again recently, I was struck by the film’s hypnotic pull as the plot inexorably stalks toward its shocking conclusion. 
Blood Simple has endured because its events, and they way they're presented, seem almost cosmically preordained; one bad decision turns into a misunderstanding, which evolves into a panic, and then a gun is fired, a pool of blood appears, and so on. But most importantly, Blood Simple does more than show the early promise of two legendary filmmakers; it showed the world what a "Coen Brothers film" could be, and why everyone should pay attention. (4115 Butler Street, Lawrenceville, Row House Cinema)

The 'galactic melt' of Com Truise comes to Altar Bar

September 17, 8:00 PM
Upstate New York native Seth Haley, who records, produces, and performs under the spoonerism Com Truise, takes over Altar Bar in the Strip District tonight.
Com Truise is a disciple of early house music, glitch, and the foreboding synthesizer compositions that, during the 1980s, were most commonly found on feature film soundtracks. That last point is the reason the word “cinematic” gets tossed around so much when describing Haley’s output; composers like John Carpenter, Jan Hammer, Giorgio Moroder, and Vangelis favored analog synthesizers to create pulsing, colorful but desolate compositions where you could practically hear the binary code coursing through the rudimentary circuit boards. Most of their work was wordless, set to the ebbs and flows of plot and cinematography. Haley’s work relies on that fluid sense of songwriting, but imbues what would otherwise be simply nostalgia for his influences with the rhythmic thudding of house music beats, and what sounds like the glitchy pyrotechnics of an Apple 2 slowly burning to death.

Wave I, his most recent release from earlier this year, veers ever so slightly away from the darker, sci-fi inflected moods of his earlier albums, 2011’s Galactic Melt and 2012’s In Decay, and the results are startling. Opening track “Wasat” starts out with the paranoid humming of idle electrodes, before snapping into a chilly keyboard riff that slowly aims for the stratosphere, buttressed by a sturdy four-on-the-floor beat that skitters into double time in the final minute. On “Declination,” which features silky, modulated vocals from Joel Ford, Haley turned up the energy even more, crafting a bona fide day-glo dance floor banger that doesn’t lose the character of his favored, old-school synth palates. The change of pace is particularly promising for his live show, which, in the past, could be easier to admire than enjoy. Haley seems ready and willing to get crowds moving in ways that would make even John Carpenter nod with approval. Ticket and concert information is available here. (1620 Penn Ave, Strip District, Altar Bar)
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Society for Contemporary Craft

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