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Lemonhead And The Red Sweater
A Journey Through Pittsburgh's Local Music Venues
"Ain't it just like the night to play tricks when you're trying to be so quiet?"
I first encountered Lemonhead in the fall of 2001, while visiting the great Steel City. The weather was beautiful that October weekend, ideal for an overdue respite from the toils of earning a living. Pittsburgh's aroma is that of Home, and she's always welcome to guests, not to mention her musicians, for whom she offers a thriving arsenal of venues.
Friday evening began in the South Side, at the Beehive Coffeehouse on East Carson Street. We met up with Tom and Ken Fec, the phenomenal satanstompingcaterpillars, and shot the breeze for a bit while my photographer Nick took in for the first time the plethora of sexy vixens who lurk in the City. "There must be something in the chicken out here," he affirmed, "this is absurd!"
"Damn straight," I conceded, "and this is only the beginning." Nick's a good friend of mine, so I knew he'd appreciate this safari, for he is a true Hunter, and this surplus of gorgeous women was sure to arouse his instincts.
"God bless America," he declared as a group of four young ladies sat down across from us and smiled in unison, staring directly at the noble Patriot. Thus, the Prowl had begun.
From there we journeyed north to Oakland, and made our way to the four-story building at 3609 Forbes Avenue. We climbed the stairs toward Club Laga, located on the top floor, where an event called "Groove" takes place every Friday night. Assembled by Ted and Tim Zelch of Twin Productions, local and national DJ's are given the stage and free to do their thing from 11pm until 5am.
As it were, we arrived a tad early, and therefore advanced no higher than three levels. Luckily, this is where The Attic can be found, a wonderful low-key tavern that provided us a bit of Black Haus to tangle with as we waited for our green light.
Ted came down around 10:30 and escorted us to Laga. Since they were still setting up, the floor was empty, exposing how large the place actually is. Boasting to fit more than 800 people at one time, Groove usually involves a brief stint in line, as the show often attracts beyond capacity. Across the floor from the main rostrum is a fenced-in lounge, referred to as the Cage, which permits only those who can prove legal stupor age. Hooch is restricted to this area, effectively negating teen intoxication from transpiring at the club. Raised slightly above the dance floor, this point is quite a vantage, for it was from this perch that I first spotted Her.
She stood about 5'9", her straight, blonde hair fell just past her shoulders, and her body tempted hours of trouble. Alone, she entered Laga a little before midnight, by which time an impressive crowd was rapidly growing. Running low on libation, I had retreated to the Cage to refill my system, while Nick roamed the floor like a shark with beautiful mermaids collecting in his wake. When she passed through the door, the music seemed to shift to her rhythm, tracing her tempo as she sailed into the dancing sea. My gaze fixed instantly upon her, but was just as quickly broken by a tap on my shoulder.
"Meet Jennifer and Heidi," I heard Nick say, and I turned around to greet the two stunning ladies now accompanying him. "We're going out to their van, want to join us?"
"No thanks," I declined as my shot of 1800 was delivered, "I'll take a rain check."
"Right on. I'll be back in a bit," Nick replied with a grin, and then led his debutantes away. I followed them in another survey of their Beauty, and as I rotated I realized that the seat next to me had been filled by the same vision I'd gawked at moments before.
"You don't mind, do you?" she asked.
"Of course not, I'm an American," I retorted. Ironic, I thought, remembering the tequila waiting for me.
"That's good to know," she giggled, her soft, inviting lips stretching upward as her deep green eyes flickered in accordance. "What are you having?" I told her, and she ordered the same. "It must be Fate," she said, "I have an extra lime with me."
"Do you sell produce?"
"No, I grow my own fruit. I hate fruit from the store." She then pulled a lime from her purse, sliced it, and placed a wedge beside each glass. We sprinkled our hands, and just as we were about to lick the salt, she queried, "Do you know why you're here?"
"Checking out the music," I explained after a quick ponder. "And yourself?"
"I'm here to pick up my sweater."
"Good enough," I said, and proceeded to drink. With the lime still in my mouth, she stood up and gathered her things.
"I'll talk to you soon," she announced, and then descended once again onto the dance floor. I watched as she approached a tall character standing alone in the shadows, who turned and, after a brief pause, handed her a soft, red sweater. At the same time, Nick came up to the bar and sat down.
"Hot damn," he sighed, "I'll never listen to Britney Spears the same again." I was about to crack on his speedy excursion, but when I glanced at my watch, the time was 5:04am. I looked up, and the club was empty. "Let's get out of here," Nick said, and bewildered I rose with him, then headed for the exit.
The forecast for Saturday promised strong gusts of weird behavior, but no Doplar radar, nor even Ms. Cloe herself, could have predicted the strange air that was about to fill our lives.
Returning to East Carson Street, we arrived at the Memphis Lounge shortly after 2pm, just missing the start of the Funktine Festival. Organized by The Hud, a trio native to the City, the fiesta revolves around an elixir they created and dubbed "Funktine." This delicious beverage, with an orgasmic potency, is concocted of various liquors and secrets familiar only to the elite.
I was particularly excited about this event, for the illustrious Lemonhead has been known to show up when The Hud plays. I've been fascinated by this anomaly for some time, and therefore craved an opportunity to dispel the prejudice cast upon him. Apparently, this fella seems threatening to some folks, who are afraid of what is not deemed "normal." On the other hand, I saw nothing to be scared of, for he seems like a pretty decent guy, hence my desire to set his record straight.
As we entered the Memphis, we were greeted by Joe DeGroot, who provides the lead vocals and guitar for The Hud. He informed us that Lemonhead had been missing for several weeks, a tragic state of affairs indeed. Still, Joe appeared hopeful, and expressed confidence in finding their friend. He then introduced us to the Funktine.
The Memphis Lounge is housed in the lower part of a two-story building and topped by another bar called Zythos. The eastern wall of the Memphis is adorned with several incredible paintings, and the opposite is where booze is sold. A bronze god rests above the alcohol, glaring viscously at all who contemplate shady actions. In the back, an acoustic show was underway, with Jeremy DeGroot delivering an excellent performance resembling what Neil Young and Bob Dylan used to do in similar environments.
The party then moved upstairs to Zythos, where Melonious Blue was rostered to throw some jazz into the mix. Contrary to its counterpart, the ambiance of Zythos is almost saturnine, with darker shades of paint and dimmed lighting. The floor is open, so the stage is visible from almost any point, affording a laid back atmosphere equivalent to that of the lower Lounge. The art in Zythos is found in the walls, as they're coated by a bizarre mosaic that's entirely captivating.
As I was taking all this in, the room began spinning, and my vision suddenly blurred. Assuming it was solely the Funktine, I reveled in the buzz for a bit, but when my legs went numb, I grew slightly alarmed. I looked over at Nick, who was at the other end of the bar charming three gorgeous ladies who had crowded around him. I got his attention, said, "I'm going outside for some fresh air," and staggered to the stairwell. Nearly falling down the steps, I stumbled over to a table and sat down to collect myself. The City's redolence has a relaxing effect, and I was soon at ease, peacefully watching the street accumulate more people as time passed.
The jazz band upstairs was into their second song when I noticed the red sweater heading my way. Just like the prior evening, her Beauty manipulated our surroundings, and even the wind seemed to keep pace with her. As she neared, she slowed down just enough to toss me a smile, whisper "I'll see you in a little bit," and then kept walking. My puzzled stare followed her down East Carson, and remained locked until I heard The Hud starting to groove from above. I leapt up the stairs to the bar, refilled my glass, and found Nick sitting at a table with two of the three women caressing his shoulders and pampering him like some sort of king.
"Everything kosher?" he asked. "You've been gone for hours." I checked the time, and sure enough, it was after 9pm; I'd been out there for about five hours.
"Yea," I answered, "everything's roses. What's so funny?" I now saw that he had a devious smirk upon his lips. Before he could respond, my foot hit the third girl, who was under the table showing Nick her affection. With a chuckle I nodded at him, then took a sip of my Funktine.
The Hud doesn't merely play, they offer an experience. As aforementioned, Joe DeGroot handles the main vocals and guitar, while Andrew "Delly" Vandall twists the beat on drums. Fueled with the powerfully dynamic bass of Jon Bell, their sound resembles the result of locking Pink Floyd and Mr. Bungle in a room with their instruments and feeding them all acid (that's the best I can come up with). Cam Bauer's light show makes this ordeal even more enchanting, and the crowd is quick to feel hypnotized by The Hud.
I started feeling odd again as we left Zythos and headed once more north, this time toward the corner of Penn Avenue and 31st Street. Nothing seemed to sit still, especially the street signs, who were leaning back and forth as if they were constructed of rubber. The lights in the traffic signals were engaged in some silly dance, like in the electronic Simon game, and I could even hear tones emitting from each. Sweat began to creep from my pores, so I rolled my window down and stuck my head out to catch the breeze. For a minute or so, all was well, but the gentle hum of the wind grew into a loud roar, until it sounded like some morbid choir was chanting an evil hymn, their tongue foreign beyond my comprehension. I pulled my head back into the car and looked over at Nick, who was calmly driving us to our destination. Clearly, something was amiss, for no domestic liquor could inspire this fierce inebriation, but I refrained my thoughts, lest I disrupt his tranquillity and his ability to drive. "Happy thoughts," I begged silently, "happy thoughts, happy thoughts..."
Suddenly, we were at the 31st Street Pub. I tried to gather my sanity, for this place would certainly not be kind to some poor bastard should he break and start screaming about poltergeists and the like. I noticed a strange glow coming from above, and almost lost my grip when I looked up to see a giant meteor about to pounce on us.
"This is where it all ends," I stammered, but then I realized that the fire in the sky was nothing more than a billboard, and I could even barely make out a guitar in flames, though the message was far too bleary to mean anything to me.
"Are you alright?" Nick asked as we walked to the front door of the pub.
"Sure, everything's everything," I mumbled, "I just need some water, that's all." Before he could add words to his confused expression, we were greeted by the club's owner, Joel Greenfield, whose presence alone is enough to discourage insubordination. Without the slightest effort, he's capable of strangling me with my own leg, a vision that flashed before me as he extended his hand to shake. I met his gesture, and somehow kept my cool.
Almost entirely polar to the scene we'd just left, the 31st Street Pub is known for promoting HARD rock. Nestled in the Strip District, this is the place to go for a healthy dose of loud, aggressive talent. The stage is set in front of an open floor, leaving plenty of room to enjoy the numerous bands that perform here.
On this particular evening, the Pub was hosting a CD-release party for Pennace, a local metal band that has earned praise nationwide. With their hefty following, I anticipated a full house, so we quickly made our way to the eastern wall in order to establish seats at the bar while we still had the chance.
I was in the throes of a meltdown, and desperately needed to get my head straight. I'm a seasoned Lunatic, and experience has taught me that 80% of any trip, whether sickness induced or chemically inflicted, is determined by environment. I knew that Trouble was near if I didn't find solace, despite the fact that the source of my dementia was clandestine.
A comforting wave of relief swept over me when a gorgeous woman with dark brown hair approached and asked me what I wanted to drink. With a glass of water she brought a shot of Salvation, for just her smile was suffice to relax me for a bit, and when Nick pointed out that there was also a cute blonde behind the bar, I knew that I was safe here.
A crowd swiftly gathered, and the Pub was quite dense by the time the opening band started their set. Foolishly, I left the security I had found and wandered out into the multitude, hoping to get a closer feel of the music. Intense vibrations jumped from the speakers and blasted me like a dump truck, instantly flooding me with anxiety. I frantically looked around for Nick, and spotted him still at the bar, surrounded by yet another sexy batch of eager young women. I began to push my way through the excited pack of fans, but was stopped when a soft hand grabbed mine. I looked down, and recognized the sleeve of the red sweater.
"You can't leave yet," she said, her gentle voice somehow penetrating everything else, "the fun's just starting." I turned around and faced the mysterious vixen. As her Beauty enveloped me, she leaned forward, lightly pressed her lips against my ear, and breathed, "Let's go somewhere quiet." She led me outside, around to the back lot, and when we reached my car, she thrust her body upon me, pinning me against the Pontiac.
"Are you ready?" she asked, her nose brushing against mine. By this time, my perception was entirely warped, and my senses of Sight and Sound were blending into one magnified stimulus. All wit was lost, and as I fumbled on a snappy response, I felt a sharp jolt in my stomach, then I dropped to the ground as my body went limp. I strained to move, but I couldn't even lift my head as she sat down on top of me, a stun gun in her right hand. I was rendered speechless as my whole world erupted in an explosion of terror.
"I've been waiting for you," she lulled as she shoved the gun into her purse and pulled out a long, jagged knife in its place. "The lime I gave you had a little something special in it, to make sure that you couldn't take off when you wanted. I'm sick of all these games; I just want a man to treat me right. Fate brought you to me. I want everyone to know you're mine, so I'm going to carve my name in your chest to make sure no bimbo tries to steal you." She sliced my shirt open, exposing my flesh, and dug the blade in. Then out of nowhere, a flash of yellow whisked from behind me and caught her chin, sending her flying back into the door of my car.
"What are you?!" she shrieked in horror.
"I am Lemonhead," I heard, but I still couldn't move, and was unable to see who had come to my rescue. At that point, I fell unconscious.
On any regular night, I would have no problem waking up with seven beautiful girls circling me, but under these conditions, I felt like a complete jackass.
"What happened?" asked Nick, who was kneeling next to me.
"I have no idea," I answered. "Some sexy freak would've had her way with me, if Lemonhead hadn't stopped her." They all looked at me like I was strange, but that didn't deter me from telling this story.
Considering the Chaos that engulfed us, we decided to skip the rest of our agenda and head home early. Although we missed out on several great times to be had, our journey was an overall success. Besides, Pittsburgh is heavily equipped with many different venues, and it's only a matter of a couple hours to get back into her welcome arms. And as long as chivalrous guardians like Lemonhead look over her streets, I long for my next embrace with the Steel City.