Bethlehem rock city.

The salaryman went out and saw himself some live music tonight, from a most unexpected source.

In the past few years, part of the old Bethlehem Steel plant in south Bethlehem has been revamped into a performing arts complex with several stages, a cafe, and sundry other new-urban tweaks.

At least one of the stages — the one I visited tonight, Levitt Pavilion — backs directly up to the rusty tangle of the Steel’s old industrial complex.

It’s a wild view; several artists who have played in Bethlehem have tweeted pictures of the stage, with a note to the effect of, “Isn’t this the coolest stage you’ve ever seen?”

Levitt Pavilion at SteelStacks.


An attempted panoramic view of the site, with Levitt Pavilion at far left. You’ll probably have to click to enlarge this for a better view.

I went to see a free show featuring Shonen Knife, the long-running all-female Japanese punk-pop trio.

I have no special fondness for Shonen Knife. But I remember them knocking around 20 years ago when I was in college — I even played one of their songs on one of the two college-radio shows I ever DJ’d.

I figured if they were still out there working at it, they were a cause I could support. Plus, it was free.

Guitarist and singer Naoko Yamano.

They played for 70 minutes or so, and the music was about what you’d expect — big and bouncy and simple and slabby and candy-colored and fun.

There were songs about banana chips, and songs about eating barbecue, and songs about rubber bands, and a song called “Osaka Rock City.” Oh, and a surprisingly charming cover of the Carpenters’ “Top Of The World” to encore.

Are you having a good time, Bethlehem?

The Ramones, of course, were a major influence on Shonen Knife, who covered “Rockaway Beach” at one point in the show. And as I listened, I couldn’t help but think back to the one time I saw the Ramones.

It was the spring of 1994. I was an exchange student in Australia, and the band played Sydney as part of an alternative festival tour called the Big Day Out.

The Ramones played closer to the end of the day than the beginning. And they sounded like a jet taking off, only without the bass frequencies. It was so painful that I had to retreat to the back of the rugby oval, or whatever the hell the outdoor venue was, and sit in a seat at the rear just to escape the murderous treble.

At Levitt Pavilion the sound was perfect, not overwhelming in the least, no matter how close I got. The music was fun and the setting was beautiful; I could easily spend a full day at the arts complex, walking from stage to stage and listening to different bands.

As one gets older and fatter and greyer, it is easy to romanticize how much fun the old times were. But I am reassured to know I am capable of having a better time than I did back then, and there can still be plenty of pleasant evenings of live music if I only go find them.

Oh, yeah — before I snap out of the reverie, I’ll mention one other flashback to my yout’.

Before Shonen Knife performed, a local band called Taking Tomorrow played on a small stage across the street. They’re either high school students or recent graduates. And at first they were playing fairly current stuff — Franz Ferdinand covers, things like that.

And then they burst into back-to-back Hendrix covers — “Purple Haze” followed by “Voodoo Chile.”

I’m pretty sure I played at least one of those songs with my own high school band, a quarter-century ago.

I guess it’s a tribute to Hendrix’s chops and charisma that — even after the coming of grunge and post-grunge and punk-pop and ska and God knows what else — high school kids with guitars are still throttling his music. (That’s a little unkind; these kids were quite good.)

I suppose that as long as there are guitars and basements and teenagers, there will be “Purple Haze” and “Voodoo Chile.”

Taking Tomorrow.