The half-moon was high; the backdrop of the Carrie Furnace lit purple and yellow as Wiz Khalifa closed the second and final day of Thrival Music with hits, theatrics, and love of his hometown of Pittsburgh.
After some stage banter and a few puffs from a joint, Khalifa launched into the night’s first song. Three video screens announced its title, “Bake Sale,” in electric blue font. What was baking? The screens alternated between animation of cherry-topped cupcakes and marijuana buds.
The concert was about more than pot, however. The music capped off the larger Thrival Festival, a week of innovation in the Pittsburgh area, and Khalifa amplified the positive vibes.
“I’m so happy to be in Pittsburgh again,” Khalifa said. “If you love your city, say, ‘Yeah!’”
“YEAH!” the concertgoers hollered back. The young crowd was now at full festival strength after steadily growing throughout the evening. Sparks shot from downstage as another early crowd-pleaser, “Roll Up,” a laid-back love song, began.
Throughout the concert, Khalifa’s vocals were crisp, his enunciation clear. His backing band, Kush and Orange Juice, seamlessly mixed live bass, keys, and drums with samples courtesy of DJ Bonics. The band is part of the larger Taylor Gang, Khalifa’s Pittsburgh-based record label. The name, which was emblazoned on the DJ booth, harks back to Taylor Allderdice High School, his alma mater, and his admiration of Chuck Taylor shoes.
During a cover of Tyga’s “Molly,” members of the Taylor Gang threw inflatable, baseball-bat-sized blunts into the audience. Khalifa proclaimed his love for another city, Los Angeles, in “Pull Up,” which saw the rapper all smiles as he shimmied around the stage.
The concert turned somber during a cover of Ty Dollar $ign’s “Blasé” as the screens alternated between white crosses and photos of police brutality. It wasn’t the night’s only serious moment. Khalifa later called for the legalization of marijuana to help those with medical ailments and to create jobs. Cue “Medication,” a TGOD Mafia cover. The inflatable blunts returned, this time longer than dining room tables.
Khalifa passed the mic to Chevy Woods for “Alright.” A seal with a gold star, around which were the words “Taylor Gang Or Die,” appeared on the screens. Some of the other members got their turn on the mic before Wiz thanked them for years of friendship and support. “These guys have been with me from the very beginning,” he said. He then launched into a newer song, appropriately titled “Something New.”
Temperatures had plummeted, but the autumn chill didn’t stop Khalifa from removing his shirt and showing off his tattoos late in the set for “Black and Yellow,” arguably the greatest Pittsburgh anthem since “Here We Go” by Roger Wood.
The slow club-number “On My Level” came next. Khalifa then asked the audience to hold up their cell phones for the poignant “See You Again,” from the Furious 7 soundtrack. The music video for this song, which featured Charlie Puth, was briefly the most-viewed video on YouTube when it surpassed “Gangnam Style” in July. “See You Again” was written as a tribute to the late Paul Walker, a star of The Fast and the Furious franchise who died in a car accident before Furious 7 was finished.
The banger “We Dem Boyz” followed. Wiz Khalifa thanked the crowd and Pittsburgh before officially closing his set, and all of Thrival, with the blithe “Young, Wild & Free.”
Griz, a DJ and saxophonist from Michigan, played before Khalifa and got the crowd ready for the night’s main headliner. Griz’s music was ultimately electronic even as it drew from other genres. He mixed samples, which ranged from “Humble” by Kendrick Lamar to “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas, with live alto saxophone instrumentation. Pop art-esque visuals, often accompanied with positive messages such as “Love Wins,” cycled on a screen behind the DJ booth.
Assisting in the live, organic counterbalance was Muzzy Bearr, who added some hot guitar licks to the dance party. Griz and Bearr traded riffs on the saxophone and guitar, respectively, over house beats. Griz paused the music toward the end of his set to announce that it was Bearr’s birthday. The crowd and Griz sang “Happy Birthday” to him. He said at the singalong’s conclusion that this birthday was “the best one yet.”
Certainly the fifth annual Thrival Music was a contender for “best one yet,” particularly if you were a fan of electronic music and rap. Earlier in the day, duo Missio performed. They used a live drummer to build a hard-rock bottom, upon which they built beats and sang. “Killing Darth Vader with my motherfucking kick drum” was one line that really got the crowd bouncing.
One of the band members paused to offer solace to those suffering from depression or other mental illness and substance-abuse issues. “If you’re struggling, you’re not fucking alone,” he said before urging those who were struggling to seek someone to talk to. He cited too the rock stars who have died unexpectedly this year.
Rapper Ugly God brought more beats and some stage antics. In the middle of his set, the rapper threw bottled water into the audience. Concertgoers soon uncapped them, creating a watery mosh.
Kiiara, who has opened for The Chainsmokers at PPG Paints Arena, offered a nice respite from the barrage of beats with her angelic vocals, all while still using samples and electronic flourishes. Her songs often spoke to female empowerment.
Many of the complaints from last year’s festival (long lines, limited access to water) were non-existent this year, while the food trucks, clothing booths, and ironwork artists were back in full force. Let’s raise a glass of Voodoo brew, on-site and in nearby Homestead, to every Thrival being even better than the one that preceded it.
photos: Rick Handler
Christopher Maggio is a Pittsburgh-based writer and editor and enjoys seeing live music whenever he can.