September arrives with the humbling realization that another summer has again slipped through our fingers. It’s a month haunted by the constant feeling of being stuck in between something and something else — it’s 84 degrees and humid, but the pools are closed.
Musically speaking, September also seems to be stuck between nostalgia and regret, with the early 2000s now getting their turn in the recycling bin. Still, there’s plenty of good live music this month — and, well, Post Malone.
Sept. 6: Interpol, Spoon: Stage AE, North Side
Please don’t tell me it’s time for the 2000s nostalgia. I’m not ready. It’s not that it’s a bad thing — I’ve enjoyed both Interpol and Spoon in the past — but I’m just not old enough to get that wistful feeling for Joy Division-worshipping, early-2000s post-punk bands. (Fact check: I am). OK, fine.
Sept. 6: Boris, Nothing: Mr. Small’s Theatre, Millvale
Nothing about these guys makes sense, but Japan’s Boris has somehow become one of the most consistently weird and surprising rock bands of the past two decades. Sometimes they’re playing around with innards-rattling volumes and soul-shaking noise. Other times, they’re making subtle, minimalist dream pop. This show is going to be great no matter what, but I’d bring earplugs just in case.
Sept. 7: Snail Mail: Mr. Small’s Theatre, Millvale (POSTPONED)
Lindsey Jordan (aka Snail Mail) says she fielded offers from 15 record labels while still in high school. Her boundless talent as a singer, songwriter and dexterous guitarist made that inevitable. Also, inevitably, she wasn’t prepared for the scrutiny and social media mobs, and ended up in rehab at age 21. Her latest record, “Valentine,” is a comeback from these early lows, flirting with pop music superstardom while prostrate on the floor of her childhood bedroom in unwanted pandemic exile.
Sept. 8: The Mountain Goats: Roxian Theatre, McKees Rocks
John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats is possibly the poet laureate of indie rock (give or take a Will Oldham), and his intricate story songs encompass everything from theology to death metal to pro wrestling.
Sept. 9, Aaron Dilloway, Cock Scene Investigator, Anna Azizzy, Estelle, Crater, Josh Bonnett: Collision Electronics Lab: Homewood
A night of strange electronic sounds at Collision, headlined by noise goblin Aaron Dilloway (Wolf Eyes), whose grimy, textured sonic creations (often made with 8-Track tape loops) are often warm and playful instead of abrasive and off-putting. Locals Crater and Josh Bonnett perform on another stage, the beautifully-named “Chamber of Doomscrolling Ambient Horrors.”
Sept. 9-10: Four Chord Music Festival with Bad Religion, The Descendants, Pennywise, Jimmy Eat World, All Time Low, and many more: Washington Wild Things Park, Washington
Pop-punk and its many descendants — mostly descended from, ironically, The Descendants, who are part of the package — pack the stage at this small-town ballyard in Washington. Though all of these bands sound pretty similar, there’s a nice mix of OGs (Bad Religion, Pennywise), second-wavers, breakthrough acts (Jimmy Eat World) and lesser-known newcomers (Look Out Loretta, Mom Jeans). Good thing you can’t really overdose on fast guitars and shout-along choruses, because this is a lot.
Sept. 9: Front 242: Mr. Small’s Theatre, Millvale
The Belgian industrial band Front 242 was formed in 1981, an eternity in the small universe of electronics-first music. They were perhaps the logical conclusion of a collision between punk rock aggression, disco rhythms and postindustrial grimness of Europe in the ’80s. They called it “electronic body music,” or EBM, which is way different than the now-dominant electronic genre of EDM.
Sept. 9: Blue Oyster Cult, Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead: Munhall
As the genre of “classic rock” fades further into ancient history, it’s worth pointing out that it has given us a few songs that will be with us until the end of time. “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is one of those songs. Blue Oyster Cult was more than a one-hit wonder, but that song about death is, frankly, immortal.
Sept. 10, Spirit Summer Recess Festival with Panther Modern, Blinder: Spirit, Lawrenceville
L.A. synth-punks Panther Modern share the outdoors stage with locals Blinder — with incongruous interludes from the grapplers of ENJOY Wrestling (!). There will also be all kinds of local food, art, clothing and other vendors around Spirit’s indoor/outdoor campus (can we call it that–?). Look for distinctive diversions like Pittsburgh Modular’s “Synth Playground” in the lodge, “Bingo-aoke” in the tent, and special t-shirts silk-screened on-site by Commonwealth Press.
Sept. 13: Idles: Stage AE, North Side
As we struggle through two or three world-historical crises at a time, it can be hard to find the words to address it in something shaped like a song. So Joe Talbot, vocalist for Britain’s post-punk/post-everything Idles, just kind of rains down words on a target like a rolling artillery barrage. Sometimes, it’s brilliant, and sometimes it’s just a broke British bloke yammering away at the end of the bar. Either way, it works.
Sept. 14-15: Highmark Blues & Heritage Festival with New Breed Brass Band, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Steel Pulse, Fantastic Negrito, Walter “Wolfman” Washington: Highmark Stadium, South Side
This festival puts “Blues” in the title but interprets that as broadly as possible — ranging from the New Orleans street-parade stomp of the New Breed Brass Band to the Mississippi blues guitar wizard Christine “Kingfish” Ingram” to the old-school reggae of Steel Pulse.
Sept. 16: Elton John: PNC Park, North Side
Wow, so first Metallica, now Elton John. PNC Park is becoming a real venue for live music — which is great because they’re not using it for baseball. (Yes, I know the Pirates technically play there). This is a way better place (than, say, a hockey arena) for the grandiose pop majesty of Elton John, with Pittsburgh’s skyline in the background as dusk descends on the Allegheny River.
Sept. 16-18: Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival with Ron Carter Foursight, Stanley Clarke N 4Ever, Average White Band, Ledisi, Incognito, Chief Adjuah, Laurin Talese, Gonzalo Rubacalcaba & Aimee Nuviola Band, many more: Highmark Stadium, South Side
This started out as an incredible free festival where they closed off Penn Avenue, Downtown, and turned it into a giant block party that drew some of the most diverse crowds of any Pittsburgh event ever. Now the Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival is a ticketed event at the Riverhounds’ stadium at Station Square. There are still legends aplenty this year, such as bassists/bandleaders Stanley Clarke and Ron Carter, Latin jazz with piano virtuoso Gonzalo Rubacalcaba, vocalists Ledisi and Laurin Talese, and Average White Band.
Sept. 18: The Homeless Gospel Choir, Short Fictions, Endless Mike & The Beagle Club: Mr. Small’s Theatre, Millvale
Pittsburgh underdogs The Homeless Gospel Choir are just so easy to root for. If there’s a better anthem out there arguing for the transformative power of music than “Normal,” then it better show itself soon. They’ve got a song for every situation, including the constant end-of-the-world anxiety we’re stuck with (“Armageddon”): “When morning comes, we’ll see who’s left alive/The apocalypse was really bad this time.”
Sept. 19: Echo & the Bunnymen: Roxian Theatre, McKees Rocks
The ‘80s are now cemented in the public mind as a time of comical sonic excess — all smooth, shiny surfaces and synthetic gloss. Yet, it was also a time when weirdos like Echo & The Bunnymen could find a niche on the pop charts. Echo & The Bunnymen started in Liverpool in 1978, and became simply one of the best bands of the 1980s, a gloomy not-quite-New Wave antidote to the creeping insipidness of rock and pop at the time. If you’re making a moody, mysterious, wistful drama set in the ’80s, and you don’t have songs like “The Killing Moon” and “Bring on the Dancing Horses” on the soundtrack, are you really even trying?
Sept. 21: The Get Up Kids, Sparta: Mr. Small’s Theatre, Millvale
“Emo” — well, you can’t credit/blame The Get Up Kids entirely for starting it, but they did sort of put the template for sincere pop-punk about “feelings” into an easily digestible format, and invited others to partake. And so, plenty did (say hi, Four Chords Music Festival).
Sept. 24: Pusha T: Stage AE, North Side
Ever since he exploded onto the scene with the duo Clipse in the early 2000s, Pusha T has been at or near the center of the hip-hop world — a major feat in a hip-hop world that usually prizes the newest thing. His snarling, polysyllabic clarity as a lyricist and refusal to keep the streets far from his sights has kept him on track, as dozens of trends have come and gone.
Sept. 23-24: They Might Be Giants: Mr. Small’s Theatre, Millvale
If you want an enduring career in pop music, but want to keep your integrity, have fun, and pursue a totally original sound that others won’t even attempt to duplicate — behold the mighty works of They Might Be Giants. They’ve been questing after the perfect pop song for 40 years now (!). That’s not to say all their subsequent music has been great, or that all their experiments have worked. But, come on — they recently picked up a Tony for “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical,” and made a couple of albums for children (“No!” especially) that are better than their albums for adults.
Sept. 23, The Avett Brothers: Stage AE, North Side
Banjos. They’re just everywhere nowadays. You can thank the Avett Brothers for that. These North Carolinians weren’t the first, obviously, but they’ve been bringing spare, acoustic simplicity to some really big stages — such as the Petersen Events Center in Oakland on March 1 — and doing it in a way that satisfies the purists and authenticity police, as well as the newbies (unlike, say, their upper-class English sort-of-rivals Mumford & Sons).
Sept. 24: Earth, Iceage: Spirit, Lawrenceville
They’ve been around long enough to have influenced Nirvana and The Melvins, yet Earth is still a name that gets far less attention than it deserves (though, to be fair, it’s quite un-Googleable). Formed in 1989 by guitarist Dylan Carlson, they occupy a heavy space in the ether adjacent to slow-grind stoner metal behemoths like Sleep (“Earth” was the first name for Black Sabbath), heavy psychedelic blues, noise-rock and avant-garde minimalist drone. It’s cool for “deep listening” — but also invites just spacing out and enjoying wherever each endless tune takes you.
Sept. 27: Big Sandy & His Fly Rite Boys: Club Cafe, South Side
There was a brief time in the ‘90s when it seemed every tattooed club kid in Pittsburgh looked like a Bettie Page pin-up girl or a juvenile delinquent from a ‘50s biker movie — and it was kind of cool, actually. Not entirely sincere, and kind of corny in retrospect — but the music itself wasn’t the problem. I mean, The Cramps and Gene Vincent will always be great, no matter what’s in fashion. Big Sandy is a big-voiced singer who clearly loves the sound of early rock and roll when its roots in the blues and Western swing were still clearly showing. Sometimes music doesn’t have to be anything but fun.
Sept. 30: Rebreather, Cold Mass, Mirakler, Rated Eye: Government Center, Deutschtown
Youngstown’s Rebreather is a breath of fresh air in a metal realm that’s starting to begin to stagnate after a solid decade of creative ferment. It’s hard to tell whether the band is arriving at its destination from a post-rock/indie or a stoner/doom-metal starting point, or somewhere else. And that’s kind of the point. Again, this venue is also a record store AND full bar, coffee shop — and probably a half-dozen other things by the time this is published.