Sound Series in the Sculpture Court: The Ladybug Transistor and Bill Callahan
The Ladybug Transistor and guests Toujours and the Toys du Jour perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 7. Bill Callahan and guests Hidden Ritual perform at 8 p.m. Friday, July 8. Both are in the outdoor Sculpture Court at Carnegie Museum of Art.
Tickets for individual shows or two-day passes are available online.
In the 1990s, Bill Callahan’s “band” Smog (really just Callahan under a band-esque moniker) defined rickety minimalist indie cool. For certain elements of society that chose college radio and dank basements over the more confidently social life of Singles-era America, Callahan and the Drag City record label he represented provided an artistic blueprint. With a sole ill-tuned guitar and mournful low-fidelity production values sleeved in shakily drawn record covers, Smog rejected the ’90s penchant for polish and sheen with Callahan’s folksy soul laid bare. And thousands of maladjusted 20-year-olds understood.
Working with one of the other touchstone record labels of that era, Merge Records, Brooklyn band The Ladybug Transistor imagined a world similarly free of the period’s gloss. Recording in a basement in King’s County (before the millennium brought Williamsburg and Greenpoint to national hipster prominence), The Ladybug Transistor reimagined urban America as a swirl of sylvan melancholia and bubbling West Coast pop. The same rejections applied, even if the resulting music was far more orchestrated and full than Smog’s minimal launch pad.
But along with just a scant few members of that generation of do-it-yourself psych-rockers and folk-strummers, Callahan and Ladybug grew up with their audiences. Unlike other bands of the era now reuniting (Pavement, the Pixies), neither Callahan nor Ladybug’s sole permanent feature, Gary Olson, have ever gone away. Callahan has gone from Smog to his proper name, and The Ladybug Transistor has gone through numerous lineup changes—including the move of founding siblings Jennifer and Jeff Baron to Pittsburgh, where the Barons have become integral parts of the city’s creative fabric.
So as their audiences have grown from fumbling college-radio obsession to adulthood, these artists have followed, creating music able to emerge from the 8-track in the basement to the full-on recording studio with its soul undeterred. Now, Carnegie Museum of Art and The Andy Warhol Museum join forces to bring these artists at the height of their creative powers to a literal emergence: Into the sunshine of a Pittsburgh July, on stage at a renowned museum of art, the indie royalty they were always meant to be.