Posted by Brian McFarland on 05/31 at 09:48 AM
Standing outside the old church in the strip district, I could have sworn we were in the wrong place except for the hipsters who seemed to be migrating to each other. I stood, amidst cigarette smoke, looking up at the stone basilica turned rock ‘n’ roll forum. Walking into Pittsburgh’s Altar Bar was like passing through to a different dimension. As I walked in I was shocked at the beautifully unique venue. On the right stood a bar the length of the wall with three 10-foot projection screens and nine 50-inch LCD TVs laid out like a quilt across the wall. Ahead of me were tables that circled around and ran along the left wall. In the middle of the room stood a spiral staircase, lit up with red lights, that lead up to a bar and balcony that circled the stage below. Rising even further up was an octagonal tower with eight stained glass windows above the nave, standing as a testament to the original world that once lived there.
At the front of the room stood the stage where the bands preached their sermons.
Texas In July was the first to take the pulpit. Not many people had arrived but those in attendance for the opening act were obviously not first time listeners. They moshed, danced, and sang along to every song. The second band to take the stage was The Swellers who encouraged everyone to get up and move their feet. People were still arriving and filtering into the building. Those already inside were either standing there, staring at the band or sitting at tables or on couches. It was all too apparent that most of the audience was there to see Silverstein and Bayside.
It wasn’t until Polar Bear Club took the stage that the standing space started to diminish. People were finally filing in just in time for the final two acts. When Silverstein took the stage the crowd erupted into cheers and applause for their long awaited preachers. Off their new album Rescue, they played ‘The Artist,’ ‘Sacrifice,’ ‘Burning Hearts,’ and ‘Replace You.’ They also played classics like ‘Smile in Your Sleep,’ ‘My Heroine,’ and ‘If You Could See My Soul.’
From the drum blasts in the breakdown of ‘Smile in Your Sleep’ to the beautiful vocals of ‘Replace You,’ Silverstein had the entire crowd in a trance. The reason for having 12 different screens projecting the stage finally became apparent as the crowd stretched all the way back to the door with people shoulder-to-shoulder. Drummer Paul Koehler finished up the set by tossing his sticks into the crowd of over zealous fans, before walking off stage. At this point the crowd filtered out revealing the remaining Bayside fans willing to stick through the entire show.
Bayside took the stage to flashing yellow, pink, and blue lights. The fog machine mounted above the band, on the balcony, spit out smoke until the entire room was in a haze. By this time, every band had mentioned at some point or another that it was one of the hottest (temperature and enthusiasm) shows they ever played. When Bayside took the stage the audience was drenched in sweat. “We are the only friends we ever had,” goes their words to ‘It’s Not a Bad Little War,’ a hit off the new album Killing Time. Just looking at the crowd, one could tell the devotion that the fans and the band had to each other. We fed off each others’ excitement and intensity.
Lead singer Anthony Raneri then asked the crowd if they wanted a sing-along. The crowd answered back in a roar (and I actually leaned over to my friend and called that it would be ‘Don’t Call Me Peanut’). Playing mostly alone with his acoustic guitar, Raneri played with the help of the crowd singing word for word with him. He didn’t even need a microphone seeing as he could barely be heard over the collective voice of the audience. They went on to play ‘Sick, Sick, Sick’ and ‘Already Gone’ off Killing Time, both of which had, what seemed like, everyone in the building off their feet, shouting. They also played older songs like ‘Masterpiece,’ ‘Montauk,’ ‘Blame It On Bad Luck,’ and finally ending with ‘Devotion & Desire.’
Overall the night was incredible. The opening bands did a great job of keeping people interested, dancing, and lively. I am sure that they even won over a lot of fans that weren’t there to see them. Silverstein and Bayside, the co-headliners, did not disappoint. They both played a plethora of songs off old and new records a like. Whatever the case, every line to every song was memorized and shouted by heart. The thing I love the most about small indie venues like the Altar Bar, is the close personal connection between the crowd and the bands. It’s a unique experience that only those people, in that building will share together.
Author: Brian McFarland
Bio: Brian McFarland is a senior print journalist major with a minor in English. He has a passion for all forms of original, creative music. In his spare time he likes to attend shows, play sports, read, and write. He loves the indie scene but still loves music of all genres and sounds. Favorite bands include Brand New, Emery, Thursday, and Blink 182.
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