This Saturday December 1st, Taco and I ventured to Pittsburgh with a crew of friends to see our first show at The Rex Theater. We have been following the stellar acts featured at the venue for quite some time and were excited to experience it for ourselves. We check into the Wyndham Grand and head out to have some sushi with The Werks, their crew and friends, and members of theCAUSE, who are opening.
After hot towel throwing shenanigans, lots of hot sake, and way too much dragon roll, everyone is well fed and ready for the show. Taco and I wander in during theCAUSE just in time to hear an awesome rendition of “New Speedway Boogie.” The vocalist, Jill Paone Simmons, gave me an appropriate Donna Jean Godchaux vibration and her harmonizing with the lead guitarist was perfect. The song was one of a few Grateful Dead covers they played including “Friend of the Devil,” “Sitting on Top of the World,” and “Truckin’.” I got to catch one of guitarist Eric “Pappy” Weingrad’s originals “Katie Moon,” and for their last song Chris Houser and Norman Dimitrouleas of The Werks joined them onstage. The skilled musicians showed off their musical chops by playing “Turn on your Lovelight” and everyone in the theater was dancing.
When I got a moment to look around, my first impression of the theater was that it was packed! In fact over 400 people had bought tickets to the show and there was not an empty dance spot in the whole place. A gate separated the theater into two areas since it was an all-ages show, one side with no drinks allowed, and the other, much more crowded side, filled with audience members sipping beers. Both sides were filled with excited patrons, though, and everyone was anxious for The Werks to get on stage.
After hanging out at the merch table with El Presidente and watching everyone eyeball the stylish Grassroots hats, I pried Taco away from lighting guy Jim Dewey’s side since it was about time for him to get busy. The band started with their face melting “Cloudhopper” with colorful lights to match, getting me super excited from the jump. I love to dance at shows and this song makes me want to jump up and down in a frenzy! The next song was the funky “Burnin’ Groove,” and Norman was in rare form, pounding the keys and even lifting up his keyboard in his arms like a key-tar at one point. Their song “Rollin’” segued into a The Doors cover, “Roadhouse Blues” and back into “Rollin’”, then the spotlight was on the talented Rob Chafin for a moment as he killed it on the drums. They finished off the song in their seamless jam sandwich style making the crowd go wild.
I take a moment to do shots with some West Virginia friends that came up for the show, and am pleased with how friendly and efficient the bartenders are. A patron behind us tells my friend to “please get out of the way,” and for a moment I’m afraid there might be an altercation, but she calmly asks if she can finish her shot, and he apologizes profusely. The crowd is in fact incredibly friendly, and although the bar is shoulder-to-shoulder packed, everyone says “excuse me,” and “sorry” as they try to bustle by. I dodge LED hula hoops as I go back to the stage, but am pleased that the two hoopers have boxes (I heard someone call them “hot boxes” ) to stand elevated above the crowd. I make my way to the left side to stand by Norm’s keyboard, as my WV friends stay on what they referred to as the “big kid’s side” on the right.
The touching song “Carry Me Back Home,” brought some audience members to tears with their heartfelt vocals. After we dried our eyes it was back to jammin’ with their song “Going Round.” They then played some old favorites from their album Synapse, “Plain White Toast,” and “Heading South.” Even though I’ve attended around 15 Werks’ shows so far, I’ve never heard “Plain White Toast” live, so I excitedly sang along to the upbeat tune. “Heading South,” is one of Taco’s favorites, and is another song the band doesn’t often play. Guitarist Chris Houser steals the show with this tune, his guitar licks cutting through the air and into our hearts.
At one point during their set we noticed a strange noise cutting into the music. It was the fire alarm going off. The Rex employees handled it incredibly well, turning off the noise but allowing firemen to arrive and check everything out for safety. Thank goodness everything checked out and there was no one hurt.
Donald, the tour manager gets on stage to thank the crowd for coming out and encourages us to yell for an encore. The band doesn’t disappoint and walks back out to give us another song. They break out “Onslaught,” letting us know they plan to go out with a bang. The crowd shouts an enthusiastic “Woo!” between the beats and I stomp the heck out of the dance floor, wishing it would never end.
The show is finished and the band is packing up as the crowd spills out the doors and into the streets. It seems they plan on having an after party right there on the corner, I even see someone selling glowing LED toys to happy passers-by. It’s a couple hours before people start to scatter, but everyone is smiling in the afterglow of the exciting show. I surely won’t forget my first show at The Rex Theater and plan to come back very soon!