Club Laga was the destination venue for punk, hardcode, and hip hop in Pittsburgh from 1996 to 2004. It was an all age 1,400 capacity showcase club that presented national and Pittsburgh area acts. Hosting 12 to 20 shows per month over 1000 national acts appeared at Club Laga. Artists who played to sold out crowds at Laga included Less Than Jake, Blink 182, Macy Gray, The Roots, Godsmack, Jimmy Eat World, Kottonmouth Kings, Wu Tang Clan, Snapcase, A New Found Glory and others. Laga was recognized as one of the Top National Venues by Pollstar Magazine from 2000 to 2004. Pittsburghers voted Laga as one of the top all ages clubs. Ron Levick owned and managed the club. Jon Rinaldo of Joker Productions booked the acts and made Clug Laga his home base. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ranked Joker Productions as one of the Top 50 Cultural Power Brokers in Pittsburgh two years in a row.
Three Clubs in OneClub Laga was located on the third floor of the Strand Theater building at 3609 Forbes Avenue between Atwood Street and Meyran Avenue. Located in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh it attracted college students from nearby Pitt, CMU, Carlow, and Duquense universities, The four story Strand building also housed two other clubs. On the second floor was the Upstage Lounge, a DJ Dance Club. Opened it 1991 as a rock club it was the first music venue in the Strand building. Promoter Manny Theiner booked local and national acts at the Upstage for two years. In 1993 the club was remodeled with upgrade lighting and sound to convert it to a dance club. Dances, held 6 nights a week, were hosted by DJ “Harry the Wire” Wagner and other spin misters. Thursdays were “Retro Night” and Fridays were “Gothic Night” at the Upstage.
Bill Matscherz managed the Upstage until closing it in 1999. Ron Levick reopened Upstage in 2001 operating it until 2006. The Attic on the fourth floor was a classy lounge opened by Ron Levick in 1992 that was decorated with abstract artwork, neon lighting, and cushy sofas and chairs. A spiral staircase connected the Attic to the upper-level of Club Laga. The Strand building offered a one stop venue for indoor club hopping. One could dance and do the pick-up thing at the Upstage Lounge, then climb the stairs to go wild in the mosh pit of Club Laga, and make another stair climb to chill down in the Attic.
Gaga for LagaClub Laga was located on third floor of the Strand building. It offered a well designed 8,000 square foot open dance space for moshing to live bands that performed on the wide raised stage. Springboard Design gave the club a colorful industrial look. The club’s riveted steel columns were highlighted with overhead lights. The bar, stage, and the eight-foot datum were constructed from a palette of industrial materials including aluminum, galvanized steel, raw steel and rough plywood. The ceiling was black and the red walls were enhanced lighted perforated metal wall sconces. Behind the long bar was a striking 275 gallon tropical fish tank. The over-21 drinking area and bar was enclosed behind a low steel tension cable fence that provided a clear open view of the stage. The large dance floor that wrapped around the stage was bathed in a variety of theatrical lighting effects. Tarp covered sofas and chairs were located behind tension cable screens to create private space for socializing away from the dance floor. It was a cool space to hang and dance to live music.
Joker Productions Books Hardcore, Punk, & Hip Hop
Club Laga, which opened in 1996, became the most popular Pittsburgh East End club after closings of the Decade Lounge in 1995, the punk showcase the Electric Banana in 2000, and the 500 seat Graffiti Showcase in 2000. With a capacity of 1,400 Club Laga was three times larger than those defunct venues. In its first year business was slow. The new club hosted dances and new local bands. Business took off in 1997 when promoter Jon Rindaldo of Joker Productions moved his concerts featuring national touring acts from the Grafitti to the new larger Club Laga. Graffiti as a policy did not book Hip Hop, hardcore, and punk acts. Rindaldo was able to bring those types of acts to Club Laga. He booked promoted around 200 dates every year bringing hundreds of up-and-coming bands to Club Laga for their first appearances in Pittsburgh. Offering “all-age” shows Club Laga attracted large crowds of 18+ age high school and college age students who could not get into the over 21 showcase venues like Graffiti. Laga became a must stop on national tours. New bands wanted to play Laga. Among the new bands who sought out gigs at Club Laga were Dashboard Confessional, Stereolab, Bouncing Souls, At The Drive In, and Alkaline Trio. Club Laga offered punk, hardcore, skacore, emo, alternative rock, rap / hip-hop, funk and mainstream acts. Punk / Hardcore / Emo bands who performed at Club Laga included Insane Clown Posse, The Dead Kennedys, They Might Be Giants, Danzig, The Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly, Dashboard Confessional, Less Than Jake, Death Cab For Cutie, Chevelle, My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday, The Dresden Dolls, The Donnas, Coheen and Cambria, Fall Out Boy, and Jimmy Eat World. Among the Hip Hop artist who appeared at Laga were Public Enemy, Wu Tang Clan, the Roots, Ghostface Killah, DJ Shadow, Everlast, Trik Turner, Bone Thugs N Harmony, and Ja Rule. Mainstream artists included Macy Gray, John Mayer, Brian Setzer, The Derek Trucks Band, George Clinton with P-Funk, Smashmouth, Erykah Badu, and Maroon Five.
Pittsburgh Bands at Laga
Several Pittsburgh bands built their fans base at Club Laga before they broke out on the national scene. Politically charged punk rockers Anti-Flag packed Laga before they became international stars on the RCA and Fat Wreck labels. Juliana Theory, Punchline, Don Caballero and the Clarks also played to sold out Laga show. Other popular Pittsburgh band who were regulars at Laga included Brownie Mary, The Buzz Poets, and The Berlin Project.
The Party's OverClub Laga went out of business in April of 2004. The Berlin Project played the last show. Rick Levick purchased the entire five story Strand building and converted it into sixty student apartments and offices. He said he was losing money on Club Laga shows. Providing housing for Pitt and CMU students was a more profitable enterprise. Joker productions moved it’s concerts to Diesel on the Carson Street.
Strand Movie Theater and Bowling Surround SoundThe five story 40,000 square foot Strand building that was constructed in 1895 was originally the home of the Oakland Athletic Emporium and Natatorium. In 1926 the building was remolded. The 708 seat Strand movie theater opened on the ground floor. The 36 lance Strand Bowling Alley opened on the second floor in the 1940s. The Stanley Warner Brothers company took over the movie theater in 1936 and remolded it. The Cinemette Corporation of Pittsburgh bought the theater in 1973. During the 1970's the run down Strand Theater presented counter culture movies like The Kentucky Fried Movie, Bambi Meets Godzilla, the Andy Warhol films (Thrash, Heat, Flesh, and Bad), Cheech and Chong, Pink Flamigo, and more weird stuff. While watching Warhol's drunken junkies slobber around on the screen one could hear overhead bowling balls slamming into the alleys and the crashing of pins. The Strand movie theater closed in 1978 and was converted into two retail store spaces. The Upstage, Attic and Club Laga came in the 1990's and closed around 2006