In a Crowded City for Concerts, Rivers Casino Steps Up
The casino's new Events Center proves itself more than worthy of competing for big-name acts.
A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article broke down the recent boom in live-music venues in the Pittsburgh area. The lead referenced the impressive glut of options for concertgoers last Friday, June 7: among other shows, India.Arie, in her first local performance, at the Three Rivers Arts Festival, Death Cab for Cutie at Stage AE, Twenty One Pilots at PPG Paints Arena, Luke Bryan out at the former Star Lake Amphitheatre and George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic at the Rivers Casino Events Center.
It was that last concert that grabbed my attention; as noted in this month’s After Dark event picks, the dual allure of Clinton’s farewell tour and opening act Fishbone was too much to resist (despite invitations from friends heading to both Death Cab and the Arts Festival). It also provided an opportunity to investigate the Casino’s new venue, one of a few high-profile openings in recent months.
As an aside: It’s odd to see Parliament, in any form, in 2019. Clinton is 78; the big hits by Parliament and Funakdelic are more than 40 years old. While the current incarnation of P-Funk has a few long-standing members, none but Clinton are among the roster inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; it’s very much a legacy act at this point. Still, George Clinton and a cast of dozens, live on stage, grooving to “Flashlight” at the conclusion of the 2010s? That’s remarkable.
The Events Center proved a more-than suitable host for the venerable outfit. It’s a modular space that will likely be used more for conferences and private functions than live entertainment; it has, however, hosted a number of major acts since its opening in March (with fellow ’70s hitmakers Kool & The Gang). Upcoming bookings include Blues Traveler, “Weekend Update” host Colin Jost and a pair of anniversary shows starring Franki Valli and the Four Seasons.
The Events Center is set up for 2,000 patrons, which makes it among the largest in the region; while Stage AE can comfortably fit more, it dwarfs the capacity at Mr. Smalls, the new Roxian Theater and smaller concert halls such as the Byham and the Carnegie of Homestead. Yet its broad and open construction lends a more intimate feeling than expected; with a standing-room ticket, I could easily position myself on the far wall with a great vantage point, even during a sold-out show.
For Parliament, at least, it sounded great. Despite a decidedly chaotic stage setup — I made several attempts to count the number of people performing at any given moment, usually landing somewhere around 14 — the music was clear and crisp, without creeping up to an ear-splitting volume. (This has become a notorious fact of life at the smallest local venues; I can name a good number of concert spaces in Bloomfield and Lawrenceville that leave me deaf despite maximum capacities in the dozens.)
There are early-stage jitters yet to work out at the Events Center; I’m familiar with the casino, so I had no trouble finding the show, but there were clearly guests exiting the elevator with no clear idea where the show was located. (The Events Center is above the casino floor, down the hall from the Grandview Buffet.) And I was dismayed to arrive in what seemed to be the middle of Fishbone’s set, despite walking in at 8:05; a Facebook post had claimed the music began at 8, and Fishbone were not advertised as the first band of the evening. (An opener had been inexplicably relegated to an earlier time slot at a stage in the Drum Bar.)
Overall, though, I’m excited to see who turns up at the Casino; it’s a great-sounding and amenable new stage that, even in the presence of dozens of competitors, has immediately established itself as a worthy addition to the concert landscape.
And parking is free. In Pittsburgh, the importance and allure of free parking cannot be overstated.