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Sunday October 13th, 2013 at Howlers Coyote Cafe in Pittsburgh, PA
Josh Berwanger Band, Cobalt Cranes, Diva 93, KMFD, & Stranded Aliens

This is an abbreviated show account documenting just the barest essentials of the Fall 2013 Josh Berwanger Band tour. With a show every night there's no time for details. So bands, please accept my apologies.


Without history it's impossible to guess any and venue's popularity. The Little Italy section of Pittsburgh seemed to hold real promise – record stores, book shops, cafes, and used clothing stores made me think that Howler's Coyote Cafe might be a hip space that would pack 'em in. But a Sunday night, a five-band bill (included three solo electronic acts and three touring bands of no renown), turned out to be just too high of a hill to climb.

The evening began with Stranded Aliens – the solo electronic project of Nick QuickL – although when his set actually began was a bit of a mystery. Initially everyone assumed the set began when his sample-rich compositions began rolling out of the PA, but when he left the stage, allowing his music to continue on autopilot, it did cause some confusion. So maybe it didn't really begin until QuickL returned to the stage a bit before 9:30 to struggle through a few live numbers. No one was sure – not even the sound engineer who seemed miffed by QuickL's early disappearance. When performing live, QuickL played keyboards, awkwardly sending out one bended note at a time while a relatively spartan mix of backing tracks and beats played below. Although I caught spoken snippets stolen from Depp's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," QuickL soon revealed that technical difficulties kept half of his samples from triggering, forcing an early end to his set.

Mysterious DJ KMFD followed with a short set of dense and distorted electronic loops layered on top of thin beats and buried samples. This is music geared not for the dance floor, but for headphones. Although he added heavily distorted vocals to the last song, the alias-only producer never addressed the small audience directly. Instead he hurriedly moved from knob to knob, trying to tame the volumes that swung wildly as he layered in additional sounds. Whether it was this, the darkened corner of the floor that he was forced to set up in, or the tiny turnout, the experimental musician never found his groove.

It was 10:30 when the sole member of Minneapolis' Diva 93 climbed the stairs up to the tall stage to stand behind a small synth and several pedal boards. Whereas the first two acts were DJs or maybe producers (I just don't understand electronic music), Diva 93's Jessica Buns was a performer, providing heavily processed vocals (often looped over and over) and live keys or squelching synths while pre-recorded beats happened in the background. While the majority of the set skewed heavily into experimental low-fi territory, I was most excited by a bubbling synth pop interlude that surfaced on a song early in the 20-minute set, and the clean vocals that made only a passing appearance.

At 11pm it was time for LA's Cobalt Cranes The (live) foursome is fronted by Kate Betuel – a tiny women who positively brutalises her bass creating a muscular dark wave undertone in the band's otherwise commercial alt rock. Her brassy vocals are countered by those of guitarist Tim Foley, who lends the band an aggressive post-grunge rock element. His dirty guitar tone told a similar story as did that of the other guitarist. The band limited its set to a quick 30 minutes, owing to the small crowd, and general disinterest from the band itself. The latter highlighted by Betuel's banter with began "This is our first time in [long pause] this town."

This left Josh Berwanger Band to finally kill the show just after Midnight – well after even the casually curious had left. Two broken strings, jokes that fell flat (an audience member seriously considered Josh Berwanger's query about Buffalo Wild Wings' hours), poor sound, and a pedal board that came unplugged in the middle of a song all plagued the 35-minute set. But when things went right (as in the unrecorded "Bis"), the band sizzled. Sadly very little went right.

Afterwards the band quickly packed its gear before silently pointing the van towards the closest cheap motel. I tried editing photos sitting atop the worn bed, but the enticing snores from the four people sleeping about me sounded too good to resist, so at 3am I went to bed, setting my alarm for for 8am to make sure I could take advantage of the free continental breakfast before Michael's 9am lobby call. Two days in.