For a live rock ‘n’ roll band, the mark of greatness should be its ability to make concertgoers uncross their arms, stop standing still, and move. On Saturday evening, The Park Plan made their mark, playing the last set in the basement of Javo Studios.
Can’t Stand Still
The Park Plan’s set was a highlight of the fifth annual Rock All Night Tour (RANT) in Lawrenceville, a three-day festival of local music. The moment when the crowd, mostly hipsterish twenty- and thirty-somethings, went from passive observers to active participants came during “Memoria,” the third song played. The song opened with a blast of distortion, guitarist Joe Tarowsky kept up the fuzz while guitarist Adam Jannon-Fischer plucked notes and sang vocals over Tarowsky’s sonic backdrop. Bassist Jenn Jannon-Fischer, harnessing her inner riot grrrl, scream-sung the chorus—“Memoria! / Tried to remember. / Memoria! / Tried to forget.”—the words’ cadence reminiscent of Devo’s “Whip It.” Drummer Ian White, who also drums with punk rockers Brazilian Wax, drove the song forward without derailing it, thanks to a steady, strong hand on the cymbals and snare.
In the audience, a guy began kicking like a rockette. A woman headbanged. Two other women soon joined her, and the trio danced like the “Peanuts” characters in a circle while The Park Plan seamlessly transitioned into “Good Guy with a Guy,” off of 2015’s Junior Achievement EP. The song refutes certain gun-rights groups’ alliterative, albeit arguably reductive, solution to America’s gun violence. As Adam Jannon-Fischer sang, Tarowsky worked his fingers up and down the neck of a Squier Jazzmaster.
Bands are often just as guilty of performing while standing still. Not this group, though. A reflection of the lively crowd, both Jenn Jannon-Fischer and Tarowsky jumped around the cement floor, a reminder that playing in a band is supposed to be fun.
Another standout of an overall spectacular performance was “OK Cupid,” a tune which the band played live for the first time, with Jenn Jannon-Fischer singing lead. The song cleverly detailed a date night, its protagonist at one point contemplating the potential disparity between her date’s personality and his online profile—a timely number as modern romance increasingly becomes digitized.
Cries of “One more song!” met the band’s last number, “Us, You, and Them,” which thanks to the audience’s demands, quickly became the next-to-last number. They launched into “Baby’s New Board,” which Jenn Jannon-Fischer said was a song about “misogyny and surfers.” It’s told, satirically, from the point of view of two male surfers disparaging a female surfer. The instrumentation, meanwhile, had a surf-rock sound.
Thanks to a solid sound technician, The Park Plan’s instrumentation and most of the vocals were clear. Impressive, considering the quartet played an acoustically unfriendly garage. A parked blue BMW did provide a luxurious background for the group.
Among the audience were the members of LoFi Delphi, who had just finished an equally impressive set in the large, banquet-hall-like room upstairs. The quartet played originals, including cuts from their new EP, Always the Quiet Ones. They also covered Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer,” which saw Becki Gallagher channeling Jerry Harrison and David Byrne, the keyboardist and vocalist, respectively, of the legendary New York City band. Throughout LoFi Delphi’s set, Gallagher showed off her vocal range all while playing the keys effortlessly. Her husband, Andrew Belsick, threaded bass lines through guitarist Andrew MacDonald’s strumming and Tyler Jessup’s drumming, weaving a tapestry of hook-filled rock, like on “Goodbye.”
Belsick is also a co-organizer of RANT. He started helping out in 2014, then mostly menial labor tasks, like setting equipment up in Arsenal Park. As for how he got involved, he’s known Mary Jo Coll, beloved local music advocate and booking manager, for years. She also does most of the booking for RANT.
“I could kind of tell they needed a little help, like from a core organizer perspective, so I asked her in 2014, ‘If you guys need help, let me know,’” he said. “And she did, and here we are.”
He also gave props to Michael “Zombo” Devine, another organizer. “He does a million different events in Pittsburgh.”
Belsick was excited that this year’s RANT was the biggest with approximately 215 acts spread over 33 venues including Spirit, Belvederes, Hambone’s, Nied’s, and Cattivo. He also liked the new youth stage in front of the Boys & Girls Club on Butler Street, where children as young as 11 got to perform. “It’s a cool thing just because they don’t get a chance to get out and play a lot. There’s just not a lot of places for them to do that.”
Carrying the Torch
Those kids are going to have some big shoes to fill when it comes time for them to play the other stages. After The Park Plan’s set, I rushed upstairs to catch the last few songs of Wreck Loose. Max Somerville played the piano and sang like Elton John while the entire band had a My Morning Jacket-esque vibe about them. Guitarist Nathan Zoob has also been a fixture of the local scene for years.
But, alas, I heard just one and a half songs before their set ended, closing all of Javo Studios. Seeing them abridged was sort of like a microcosm of all of RANT, where a few hours in any one venue means missing dozens of other great performers and genres. However, unlike a national festival, where the musicians quickly disperse to all corners of the globe, nearly all the acts that played RANT will be playing other shows in the ‘burgh soon, ready to prove their greatness to future fans just as these three bands did for me.
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photos: Rick Handler and Christopher Maggio
Christopher Maggio is a Pittsburgh-based writer and editor and loves local music.