Dreaming of Tigers and Piano Teeth (or, Long Live Live Music)

To watch reverently as a riveting under-the-radar rock band rattles the rafters of an offbeat small venue is one of the exquisite joys associated with being human.

It’s also a little costly, when you treat it as a destination hobby. And my wife Dani and I happen to be quite frugal, by choice and by necessity. We keep a close, watchful eye on every dollar we spend.

But when it comes to concerts, we blindfold ourselves. Some things are worth the money.

Take last weekend, for instance. We drove 7 hours round-trip to see 2 great bands. We spent $46 on tickets, $36 on gas, and $21 on tolls to enjoy 3½ hours in the basement of an old church with 75 people we didn’t know.

And it was worth every penny because of 2 great (and greatly underrated) bands named Dreamtigers (the blue-tinged pic below) and Pianos Become the Teeth (the red-tinged pic), who will henceforth be referred to as DT and PBTT.

The evening was a dizzying cocktail of joys and jams. Rather than a chronological retelling of events, here is a scattered pile of joy leaves that I’ve raked together for both pleasure and posterity. So huck yourself into the leaves like a kid in the backyard in early November!

  • The venue, Preserving Underground, was a charming old building. A Presbyterian-church-turned-Salvation-Army-turned-combination-record-store-and-basement-music-mecca. The edifice itself reminded me of every drafty old church building I ever visited in my youth… but with noticeably more hardcore and death metal albums for sale.
  • The man who owns the venue is A.J. Rassau, and since the record store was open all evening I went up and grilled him about its inception. He explained that he had started the music-store-slash-venue in a large garage when he was a teenager (!). Then years later, he bought the former church for $85,000, get this, one week before Covid arrived. Such ghastly timing. A.J. said that it got so bad during lockdown that his savings dwindled to $120 at one point. But now, from all appearances, the place is thriving. I also talked to A.J.’s amiably buoyant mother, Kathy, who sells concessions during each show, right downstairs from her son’s record store. She was thrilled at how thrilled I was to be at such a thrilling venue. Best. Family. Business. Ever.
  • Phil, the frontman of Caspian (my favorite band of all time, as well as my wife Dani’s) plays bass for DT on the side. He’s the biggest reason we know about that band, and the Caspian guys are friends with PBTT too. So both bands exist in the Caspian Cinematic Universe (or CCU), which I’d take over the MCU or the DCU any day of the week, and twice on this particular Friday.
  • The entirety of DT’s lineup are good people, to put it mildly. I chatted extensively with Jake (lead vocals, guitars, head songwriter) and gushed praise in the direction of both Aisha (stellar violin and backing vocals) and Joe (insane drums). I didn’t get a chance to talk to Andy (the other superb guitar). Which leaves Phil (towering bass). More on Phil later. Man is it thrilling to find out that a band you love consists of nothing but compelling people. Talent is cool, but being cool is even cooler. (And if you want to know what’s cooler than being cool, please consult Outkast.)
  • We bought a $20 T-shirt from the merch table to support DT. Because even more than buying concert tickets, buying merch is how you support low-to-mid-tier bands. Touring is not profitable anymore for bands like this, sadly, but it’s slightly more profitable if everyone buys a shirt or a vinyl. Heck, even a $5 coozie helps.
  • As mentioned earlier, the venue is a hardcore music palace and a former church. But it also happens to be an all-ages venue that ends every gig at 10pm, offers Beyond veggie burgers as it’s only non-snack option, and serves zero alcohol. Have you ever hard of an old church building that honors veganism, hardcore music, and sobriety? Yeah, me neither.
  • The lead singer of PBTT, Kyle Durfey, gave off Conor Oberst vibes at first. His stage presence was mesmerizing. It looked like he couldn’t decide between passionately kissing the mic or strangling it with the cord he had wrapped around his arms. And he sounds like… someone famous. I couldn’t put my finger on who. I mentioned this to someone and they leaned over and uttered a single word in my ear: Morrissey. And now I can’t un-hear it. Kyle Durfey is a new Morrissey for people who are tired of the real Morrissey. Or just for people who think the world needs 2 of ‘em.

But all of that wonderfulness — the venue, the live music, the merch table hobnobbing — doesn’t even measure up to the best part of the night. And that’s rubbing shoulders with Phil, the aforementioned side bassist for DT and the front man for the one and only Caspian. Throughout the night, I (and Dani) chatted with Phil numerous times, at the merch table and on the venue floor while watching the opening bands and running into each other near the bathroom-adjacent green room.

And at the end of the night, we stuck around long enough to swap notes for 20 minutes with Phil on a mostly quiet street in a steady drizzle, while band equipment was being packed into vans before the show hit the road for Chicago.

There’s a lot I could say about that chat, and my connection to Phil and all the Caspian guys. But I’ll save it for another day. Phil Jamieson is the kind of guy who deserves his own post.

So there you have a kaleidoscopic view of our epic Friday night in Pittsburgh. Yet another night for the ages, just like Dani’s night in Toronto, and my nights in Detroit and Philadelphia, and our 3 nights (on 2 separate trips) in Boston.

All of which were nights in the last 13 months.

All of which leaves only one thing to say.

Long live live music.

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