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House of Assassins, Buddy Nutt and the Gothees

With an opener like Buddy Nutt, how could I possibly miss my first House of Assassins show?

I just found out recently that Buddy's first live performance was at an open mic I hosted at Squirrel Hill's tiny-and-sweet Te Cafe. He played a song on the saw, and we were impressed enough to call for an encore, but with a humble shrug he says "that's all i've got" and leaves the stage. A few months later, he shows up at the first Globalista Jam with a three-ended didgeridoo and proceeded to play a 10-minute instrumental piece that ended with coins spewing out the end all over the floor.

That being said, Buddy is one of the best entertainers in Pittsburgh. Whether his set is strictly his (un)usual one-man-band-insanity, or the even-more-wonderful experimental side of things, he has yet to disappoint an audience.

Saturday was no exception. Starting out his set by saying he's never peed on stage at the BBT (or any other BBT for that matter) was not his usual introduction, but you can never expect something to be expected at a BN performance. The set included most of my favorite songs, including "To Watch Her Blow", a sing-along song about a girlfriend who plays the euphonium, creates balloon animals, and acts in amateur porn); "Open Mic King", a telling song about a man ("say what?" "Buddy Nutt!") who goes from zero-to-royalty due to "this tiny guitar" (read: ukulele); and the "Ping Pong Song", which aptly describes a (different?) man's journey from the underbelly of American vices to the zen of table tennis. Yes, another extraordinary set from a man who is easily one of the best performers in Pittsburgh.

Additionally, his stage antics would teach even seasoned performers how to play off things you just can't avoid easily (like having to sound-check with an audience present, or having your phone go off in your pocket). I have seen people answer their phone on stage. This is simply a bad practice. Not only does it totally bore your audience, it also tells them that your friends don't even show up for your shows. The only time I've ever seen Buddy pull out his phone was at Lawrenceville's Art All night, where he followed the action with "It's my mom. I'll have to call her back." I'm actually convinced he was simply checking the time to see how much of it he had left. Bravo, Buddy, well played.

Comedian Zack Weston kept people laughing during the set breaks, with such humorous lists as World War II pornography titles ("Torpedo your U-Boat"), and names of songs on an if-I-wrote-a-blues album ("This god-damned train is too loud"). A story about the trash-eating lion at kennywood and a nasty little kid kept the audience in stitches.

The same cannot be said for the other comedians, however. Didn't quite get the mathematician humor, but perhaps I just need to be broken in to the idea of laughing at a math teacher talking about her students. I can't even remember what the third comedian was poking fun at.

The Gothees weren't all that much more impressive. Self-described as "bubble-goth", they may be interesting to someone who loves Bauhaus, has a fetish for cardboard cutouts, or secretly wants to play Theremin in a rock band. I fall into only the later category, and therefore cannot say a whole lot here without feeling like I'm talking without authority about something which I could simply care less about. In that case, on to something else to dig my teeth into...

House of Assassins' myspace page self-proclaims them as sounding like "Yinzer Bukowski". This simple statement helped bring about a thought I've been having for a while on Pittsburgh Music. Just refer to the city in a genre-title, and, to those in the know, it becomes a bit more defined. Devilish Merry as "Traditional Pittsburgh", Girl Talk as "Pop-burgh REEEmix", the 9th Ward as "Larryville Punk", etc. It's a nice reflection of the city, from the immigrant/freedom-trail/religious-mecca/nativeland roots, to our blue-collar golden-years (perhaps steel-years is a better choice for this), up to the present robo-silicone boom. There are so many small genres in Pittsburgh, and so many variants of the more common genres, that it may come as a suprise to folks from here and beyond that there is a common theme running through. We're from Pittsburgh, the music says it whether we do or not.

This genre may be even more real than that little synopsis. Ethnomusicologist Robert Metil has defined it for a class at Chatham College. I'm in the process of defining it in my own way, with an essay on the history of music in Pittsburgh. Give me a few years, though.

Featuring Jason "The Underwater Culpret" Baldinger on vocals, Rob "I Do Everything" Grey on bass, and Alan "Drummer" Butera, House of Assassins do have a true-to-yinz, interesting sound. There are elements of country and psych-rock that are obvious (and delicious, i say!), but dig a little deeper and you find some goth, punk, and vague trip-hop elements. Very Pittsburgh, to combine such diverse sounds. Or very dork-music-fans, as their collective album collections can attest to.

Chad described their sound as "Crunk Punk-try", which seemed very appropriate. We also decided that if Mazzy Star had in fact been three male love-children of O'Death and . However, I did not, off the top of my head, recognize any of their myspace influences.

HoA spent much of the night redefining what a beginning and end of a song should sound like (whether or not this was on purpose is still, from this vantage point, indeterminate). My only major tsk-tsk is that the audience mainly saw their backs. Even if that was on purpose, it still does a band no justice at all.

The audience very well could have been packed with a rowdy college crowd, screaming back the obscure and poetic lyrics while drinking. I do hope, come fall, this happens. This music would indeed go great in a dank and crowded basement with a few kegs of Pabst. Or licensed for Quentin Tarantino's next film.

"Singing like an Albatross at a funeral for a friend" : what a beautiful line! Chad thinks it was a Superman reference, which i could not validate as fact or fiction. HoA plays again at Howlers in Bloomfield on August 10th

An important note: Several ConclusionsRob Grey's haunting solo project should be immediately recognized as a force to be reckoned with. Another band that sounds very Pittsburgh, with a bit of old-timey roots, a few eerie samples, on a solid foundation of 90's alternative. I look forward to seeing this project progress.

As for "Maudeville"? Well, I am a bit miffed about the whole Bea Arthur, or Maude of Golden Girls fame, thing. After a bit of internet searching, it doesn't seem like she has the type of cult fan-base that would inspire whole evenings of bizzaro music at staple Pittsburgh venues. Perhaps that is just the point: find someone/thing interesting to idolize, find the best/most quirky parts of that person, and run with it. Create weird evenings. Call it beautiful. That I do like. Like Princess Di with less of the humanitarian aspect, or Harry Potter on a smaller scale.

After a bit more research, I find out that Bea is a renaissance woman not unlike myself: commedienne, singer, actress, activist. Call me converted!

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