Indie Fest '97
Club Laga, Pittsburgh, PA
16 June 1997posted: 29 June, 2021 00:36
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Here's an all-time weird vibe concert, one I remember parts of vividly and other parts of not at all.
I don't remember how many times Manny booked a mini-festival and called it 'Indie Fest' but this was surely the peak era for me to be excited about it; 17 years old and just out of high school and excited to go to as many shows as possible on that summer, the first taste of independence of sorts. The Kelley Deal 6000 being the headliners probably says everything in terms of dating this to a certain era. Out of this fairly random-seeming list of artists, clearly the Mountain Goats have been the most enduring, the Radar Brothers probably burning out the fastest, and Simon Joyner being a brilliant artist who has had an equally long and rewarding career as John Darnielle though with less acclaim.
This was at Club Laga, a 'mid-sized' (and therefore rather large) venue in the University district of Pittsburgh that I also saw a few non-Manny shows at, most memorably Stereolab, Archers of Loaf, and Yo La Tengo -- three different shows that is -- as well as a terrible Kool Keith gig where he showed up super late and played for 20 minutes just rapping over his own records, not even instrumental versions. But anyway, Indie Fest was the rare time Manny booked such a big venue, as maybe there was a thought that enough Breeders fans would want to see the 6000; sadly, it was not to be, as hardly anyone came to this.
I myself was most excited about the Mountain Goats and Simon Joyner but also locals Vehicle Flips, who I loved but only saw a few times during their time in Pittsburgh. I can't remember who was drumming for them by this point, but I think Tim Williams. My memory of their set is that Laga's big space did not work for them, as they were definitely a three piece at this point, and without the second guitar the songs didn't hold together so well in such a big room.
Edith Frost I half-watched but I wasn't interested in that style of songwriting then, though now I'm gonna make a note to go back and check out her records from that era. I think Some Velvet Sidewalk cancelled, as I remember a friend was really excited just to see them and she left disappointed . Ladybug Transistor were a very melodic indie pop band on Merge; one of their members later moved to Pittsburgh and I knew her to say hi but I think that was a few years later. I was a fan of that sound then, and I think Saturnine was maybe similar or maybe more spacey?
Joyner was great. I bought The Cowardly Traveller Pays His Toll AND Heaven's Gate AND i think the Iffy AND Room Temperature cassettes all on that day, and maybe even the Why Are You All So Thief? 7", and I definitely bought the t-shirt commemorating this Sing,Eunuchs! tour of Mountain Goats/Joyner, featuring a photo of Rasputin on it. The first time I put it through the washing machine all of the ink washed off except for Rasputin, which was eerie given the legend of his alleged death. It was a known problem and I emailed or wrote to Sing, Eunuchs! and received a refund, which came as a $10 personal cheque from Simon Joyner. This was all pretty great stuff when you're 17 and now, 24 years later, it feels even more like a relic of another era. Every once in awhile I communicate with him over email about something or the other, and of course Grapefruit is one of my top places to shop online.
Darnielle was great too. I remember a few of my faves from Nine Black Poppies, 'Stars Fell on Alabama', and I think he ended the set of did 'Cubs in Five' as an encore with some shouting, extemporaneous lyrics, including a quote from They Live! about kicking ass and chewing bubble gum, though I hadn't seen the film yet at that point. And of course 'Going to Georgia', which some of us were calling out for from the very first song until he actually said 'Of course I'm not going to shoot my load that early.'
And after his set, I went and talked to Darnielle for about an hour backstage, missing the two headlining acts, which I don't regret at all. I'm sure he enjoyed the ego boost of a 17 year old fanboy telling him how certain ones of his albums made me think of certain seasons (Zopilote Machine I felt was a spring album even though I think it's quite blatantly summer, but he was open to my interpretations) and telling him how I had just quit eating meat and he was supportive, being a vegetarian himself. He was a bit miffed because Full Force Galesburg had just come out and it gotten a bad review from this stupid in-store magazine from the Sam Goody chain, and he said the review really bummed him out even though he knew it was a stupid thing to care about and he was maybe a little bit embarrassed about feeling that way. And I remember him giving me relationship advice as well about how if I ever were to actually have a relationship (that wouldn't come for a few more years for me), that it was important to always be upfront with what was on my mind if something was bothering me and never bury things or let them linger. It was a lot more than the standard chat at the merch table; I went home also with a CD of Galesburg (still, I think his masterpiece) and a promo poster for it that I lost many years ago but would kill to have again because it was adorned with the most Darniellean of slogans: "When you're young, you think that nothing can hurt you. Something can." There's no better encapsulation of the early era of Mountain Goats up to that point than that line, or that feeling I still get when I listen to this stuff.
I wrote him once or twice in Iowa, saw them play again in Lexington 7 or 8 years later where he remembered me but we only chatted for a minute, and gradually moved on and stopped being a huge fan, though I still listen to everything he releases at least once, and I thought his first novel was stunning.
Manny lost a LOT of money on this show, I'm sure hundreds. It felt like only about 25 or 30 people were there, but it could have been 100, who knows -- laga probably had space for 400 or 500 so anything less really felt sparse.