By Brendan Sullivan
Rock music can be classified and subdivided seemingly endlessly, but when you walk into a bar or club and you can hear the drums upstairs pounding the floor and the guitars and vocals are bursting through the doors and into your ears, you know you’re in the presence of some hard-hittin’ garage rock. The bands you’ll read about below span a variety of genres — classic rock, ’60’s psychedelic rock, folk rock, and so on — but they all have one common feature: they are awesomely loud, exciting, and fun to see live and in-person. You owe it to yourself to see one of their shows, and since they’re all Pittsburgh locals, you’ll have plenty of opportunities.
“The Cynics” are a Pittsburgh rock ‘n roll institution. They released several albums in the late ’80s and early ’90s, then went on hiatus for awhile, but have burst back on the scene with a bunch of albums in the ’00s. Their latest, Spinning Wheel Motel, just came out in July 2011. Founding members Gregg Kostelich (lead guitar) and Michael Kastelic (lead vocals) have kept the band alive with various accompanying bassists and drummers, and their current incarnation features two native Spaniards, which might explain their popularity in Europe. Their songs are perfect examples of ’60’s psych-rock with a little bit of punk thrown in, and crafting album after album full of these gems just goes to show that these guys are pure students of the genre, and not mere copycats. When you think “Pittsburgh rock & roll,” you should immediately think “The Cynics.” Check them out on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.
Meeting of Important People
Formed from members of other local rock bands, “Meeting of Important People” have been playing their upbeat and catchy garage-pop tunes since 2008, and they have two albums under their belt. Their self-titled debut was actually re-released on vinyl earlier this year by Get Hip Recordings, which is run by The Cynics’ guitarist Gregg and his wife. The band’s music video for “Brittney Lane Don’t Care” features a sprawling cardboard city built by local artists. As a live act, this trio totally rocks. Singer/guitiarist Josh Verbanets bounces and jumps around onstage, Matt Miller pounds the drums, and Aaron Bubenheim fills in the bass lines and backing vocals. They also work in a few covers of rock staples by The Animals, Nirvana, and The Who. A “Meeting of Important People” show will be one of the funnest concerts you’ve ever seen, guaranteed. Keep up with them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.
Nik & the Central Plains
On their recordings, “Nik & the Central Plains” may fall more into the folk-rock style, channeling Neil Young and The Byrds with the pop sensibilities of The Kinks stirred in. As a live band, their songs are just as pretty and catchy, but they turn up the volume and reverb and really rock out. All three guys in the band–Nik Westman (guitar/vocals), Kraig Decker (bass), and Colin Bronnenkant (drums)–are seriously talented, and putting them together on one stage yields wonders. Lately, they’ve featured a trumpeter onstage for some songs, which makes them stand out even more amongst the other guitar-heavy bands of the city. Like them on Facebook.
The Slow Reel
Original songs in the classic rock vein — that’s what “The Slow Reel” does, and they do it really well. There’s a twangy tinge to lead singer/bassist Rob Collier’s voice that recalls John Fogerty and, indeed, the whole band’s sound fully embraces the best of ’70’s Southern rock, a la Lynyrd Skynyrd and Creedence Clearwater Revival. The band strikes a presence onstage, too, with five members, including drums, guitar, bass, keyboard, female vocalists, and some excellent beards. When you see “The Slow Reel” play, you just can’t help but tap your toe and dance along. Like their page on Facebook.
Know of any other garage rock bands? Leave some comments and let us know. This is just one writer’s opinion, and he’s only seen so many bands in his life here in Pittsburgh, so make some recommendations!
Brendan Sullivan is a graduate student in mathematics and avid music fan/blogger. You can find more of his music writing at www.drawuslines.com.