Jamming for a good cause:
College is often the best time to explore the local music scene. The Graduate School of Public Health auditorium at the University of Pittsburgh, located at the corner of Fifth and DeSoto, hosted Jamnesty, a benefit concert organized primarily by Pitt?s Amnesty International chapter, last Friday. The concert was set up to raise awareness ? and money ? to combat the sustained violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and it featured four local student bands and a unique performance by Open Circle, a group of Pittsburgh-area student breakdancers.
The Defenestrators were the first to hit the stage, and they hit it hard. A large portion of the audience in the admittedly small venue seemed to be rabid Defenestrators fans, because most of the middle section cheered wildly before and after every song. The guitarist took time to crack jokes between songs, even going so far as to make fun of the concert?s master of ceremonies; the band as a whole had a very satisfying stage presence.
The vocalist/keyboardist demonstrated huge talent in both his roles, with a voice reminiscent of Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age. The keyboarding will inevitably remind many listeners of the Doors, though the overall sound of the Defenestrators is more akin to recent acts. The band?s guitarist/bassist, who seemed to fulfill more of a bassist role for much of their set, was also apparently the writer of many of their original songs. Their act reached a crescendo when the guitarist introduced their song ?Spanish McDonald?s? ? a song he had written after sleeping in a McDonald?s in Spain at four o?clock in the morning. According to the band it was the first time they had played it in public and it was a huge hit with the crowd; the band was driven into a frenzy with fast-paced (if somewhat nonsensical) lyrics and powerful guitar riffs. The drummer contributed steadily and skillfully, but as many drummers, never really drew extra attention barring one or two drum solos.
Next to play was Carnegie Mellon band Handface. Another threesome, Handface was a big change from the Defenestrators. They played to a nearly empty house, as many people had only come to see the first band. Nevertheless, Handface played on. They were a peculiar sight, though that cannot really be avoided considering one of your main instruments is a Game Boy. Jonathan Brodsky played his Game Boy with fervor, and on one song even lent a few barely audible vocals, which ended up being drowned out by Yann Seznec?s roaring guitar and Alberto Almarza?s frenetic drumming.
By the second half of Handface?s set, the crowd was finally getting into the music, with several audience members dancing in the aisles. Handface?s last song was accompanied by the master of ceremonies and others dancing wildly in front of the stage ? it was truly a spectacle.
Open Circle served as an extended intermission for the show. The breakdancers rolled out a mat on stage, taped it down with duct tape, and began showing off their moves. Their set was a bit underwhelming only because they were simply playing their music off of a portable stereo ? it didn?t even sound like it was connected to the amplifiers. Nevertheless, their performances were laudable, combining regular dance moves with breakdancing and even the ?robot dance.? Several times the audience ? which had grown since Handface took the stage ? burst into applause after stunning flips or even a headslide, where one dancer got into a headstand position and managed to keep himself upright as he glided across the mat. The experience was memorable and added a huge shot of variety to the evening?s proceedings.
Soulpatch began playing after a long break to set up and calibrate their equipment. They, like the Defenestrators, drew a large crowd of fans who knew most of their songs by heart. Soulpatch also had the distinction of being the largest band playing at the concert. The quintet featured a great mix of standard alternative rock elements, plus the added bonus of a female vocalist. Quinn McIntosh offered her talents and sang as back-up to Dustin Stiver, who also played an amplified acoustic guitar. Tim Matthews contributed his electric guitar to the mix, with Chad Eckert on bass and Mike Samella on drums. The band had a very mature sound ? the members have been working together for more than three years. The acoustics of the auditorium were not the best for a band with such varying sound as theirs, but the fans were ecstatic to hear Soulpatch play anyway.
The last band to play was Despite Best Intentions, a political hard-rock band. Their sound was completely different from the rest of the bands at Jamnesty; thrashing guitars and drums combined with shouted and growled lyrics to produce a sound with limited appeal. Not surprisingly, the audience for Despite Best Intentions included many people who only came to see them play, so the band?s music was still enjoyed. The guitarists ascended above everything else, and it was fairly easy to appreciate their technical prowess. However, their lyrics were less than profound. The chorus to one song, ?Bullets Hurt,? was simply vocalist Adam Joad shouting the phrase ?Bullets hurt; corpses stink!? over and over again.
The master of ceremonies took time between each act to briefly discuss the problems in the Democratic Republic of Congo and how Amnesty International was trying to help. However, it was easy to lose the political backdrop of the concert as each capable band took the stage and simply enjoy the music at hand.