Richard Patrick, lead singer and founding member of the alternative rock band Filter, made it clear that he came to The Altar Bar to have fun, whether it be by mocking hair metal bands, rejecting the thought of xylophones in popular music or by singing while hidden in a wall.
On Sunday night at The Altar Bar, a Strip District Club housed in a former church, Filter played for more than an hour, including tracks both new and old. MENEW, Sick Sense, Through These Walls, Patron Saint and The Show each took turns opening for the band during the event.
The Altar Bar was still well lit by the sun shining through the stained glass when The Show took the stage at 6:30 p.m. The Show, formed in 2007, two years after singer/songwriter Johnny Saint-Lethal picked up fellow singer/songwriter Brandon Mitchell, who was hitchhiking towards New York. Mitchell never made it to his destination, but instead stayed in Pittsburgh with Saint-Lethal, who would eventually become his bandmate. In an interview after the performance, Saint-Lethal said “I wasn’t picking up a hitchhiker, but rather, a future best friend.”
Many of the band’s family members and supporters showed up for the set, helping to create an intimate atmosphere. At one point during the performance of the song “Black and Blue,” Saint-Lethal stepped into the audience and invited a friend of the band to sing along. With Saint-Lethal’s entrance into the crowd, the precedent was set for the other performing acts.
Following The Show, Patron Saint took the stage, and within minutes, lead guitarist Troy Heiser was in the audience shredding on his Ibanez seven-string guitar. Heiser paraded around, guitar in hand, occasionally stopping to sit and jam on the divider between the over and under 21 crowds. In an interview after the performance, he stopped to explain that all of his solos were improvised.
Like many musicians, his instrument is a vehicle for his personal emotions, and on this particular night, the smile on his face conveyed a great mood. The sound mix could have been a bit better, however, as his solo was unable to rise above the heavy backdrop laid down by the rest of the band.
Through These Walls was next on the bill and many of their supporters donned T-shirts with the band’s insignia. Based on a showing of T-shirts, Through These Walls definitely had their crowd out.
Following Through These Walls was Sick Sense, a band with a burly vocalist calling for the crowd to show him “the middle finger.” He held his high screams for long intervals, but his energy didn’t quite ignite the crowd.
Sick Sense carried itself well, standing on stage like seasoned vets, playing songs filled with frequent tempo changes and heavy, down-stroked guitar work. Later in the set, the band also dipped into the realm of hard, bluesy riffs. At set’s end, I was left wanting more.
The last of the opening acts, MENEW, a band from Toronto, created a wall of anthemic sound with the use of guitar, drums, bass and keyboard/synthesizer.
MENEW’s sound was at times an electrified, synthesized blend of melancholy, while at other moments it transitioned into an upbeat, industrial blast. The band played as a unified whole and their stage presence hinted at a tight-knit group, despite the fact that they have just released their first LP, “Wide Awake Hello,” earlier this year.
Filter, the headlining band, opened its set with “Welcome to the Fold,” a song from the band’s 1999 album, “Title of Record.”
It wasn’t long into the set when lead singer Richard Patrick began commenting on society, the Iraq war and the younger generations’ use of xylophones in music.
After “Welcome to the Fold,” Patrick introduced “Drug Boy,” a track from their latest record, explaining that the song is a comment on today’s society. The song amped the audience and they began to crowd the stage.
As an interlude between songs, Patrick used his voice to degrade hair metal, a genre that was passe by the early 90’s after the explosion of grunge music. And he didn’t stop there. “The world is a crazy place, and we don’t need drama,” he continued. “We just need more fun.”
During the next song, “No Love,” Patrick joined the crowd. He hand-slapped the fans and playfully stole a Pittsburgh Pirate hat from a man in the balcony. Then he taunted the rest of his band members with cries of “Free Bird” before continuing his rounds.
Later, Patrick disappeared from the stage with his microphone, proclaiming that he was “in the wall.” The band broke into a rendition of the Pink Floyd classic “Another Brick in the Wall,” and abridged the lyrics stating “Sandusky needs to leave those kids alone.” A covers medley continued with a brief rendition of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and Pantera’s “I’m Broken.”
While Patrick made it clear that he wanted to have fun, he did bring the crowd to solemnity after voicing his opinion of the Iraq war during his introduction to “Soldiers of Misfortune,” a track about a friend who passed away while fighting in the war-torn country. He also asserted that the U.S. hasn’t intervened in other countries, such as Darfur or Rwanda, because America has no oil interests in these nations. After paying tribute to all of the soldiers risking their lives, he changed the heart-in-throat mood with a crowd favorite, “The Best Things,” a track from the band’s 1999 album.
The show concluded on a self-reflective note, with Patrick acknowledging that his music is not “Top 40.”
“We’re no Lady Gaga,” he continued, although the band has certainly had it’s share of success.
Filter provided a strong finish to the show with “Hey Man, Nice Shot,” a track that peaked at 19 on Billboard’s 1995 “Mainstream Rock Tracks” chart.
Michael Ringling is a freelance writer and a student at the University of Pittsburgh.