It’s that time of year when football fans wait wide-eyed to see which playoffs Santa has left them, while visions of Super Bowl rings dance in their heads.
Well, Christmas is canceled this year — at least for Steelers fans.
But Santa is coming early for live music lovers. There is, of course, plenty of holiday music if that’s your thing. Here are our picks for the best Pittsburgh concerts (festive or not) this December.
Dec. 2: Soup Rave with Modsyvoxynth, Brednotbred, DJ Furniture, Heather Harper, C-Robo, andrea_andrea, Soup Girls, Undaughter, Collision, Homewood
Yes, it’s literally eating soup at a rave! Sounds better than drugs. Just add soup to a cold day and suddenly a Western PA winter isn’t so bad. Work up a sweat dancing to techno, breakbeats and brain-melting visuals — then cool off in the ambient experimental soundscapes room brain-melting visuals. And slurp soup all night long.
Dec. 2: ‘Tis the Season with The Beach Boys featuring The Holiday Vibrations Orchestra, Benedum Center, Downtown
This is the Mike Love Beach Boys, not the Brian Wilson Beach Boys, obviously. Brian Wilson is the troubled genius of orchestral pop majesty behind masterpieces “Pet Sounds” and “Smile.” Mike Love … isn’t. But hey, it’s still iconic Christmas music from (some of) The Beach Boys!
Dec. 3: Molly Alphabet, The Beagle Brothers, Mr. Smalls, Millvale
Lawrenceville is one of the last places you’d expect to give rise to great country music — it’s as far from “country” as the dark side of the moon. But Molly Alphabet was born and raised in the former industrial neighborhood, now home to many of Pittsburgh’s tech firms, best restaurants, independent shops and bars. This show is across the river in Millvale (Lawrenceville’s ornery little brother).
Dec. 7: A Very Yinzer Christmas — Benefiting Band Together Pittsburgh, Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall, Munhall
‘Tis the season to be a charitable sort, and there are quite a few places asking nicely for your holiday dollar. This one seems particularly good. Band Together Pittsburgh helps people on the autism spectrum create and perform music. The collective has released an album of Christmas music with local luminaries such as Gene the Werewolf, Joe Grushecky and Johnny Angel, and will perform some of that music with the Yinzer House Band and Band Together Pittsburgh performers.
Dec. 8: Liturgy, Mr. Smalls, Millvale
When the lo-fi hellish noise and theatrical evil of black metal took root a few years back, it seemed like a breath of poisoned air from the tomb — hey, it’s metal, that’s good. But like a lot of intense subcultures, fans put up (metaphorical) walls to defend orthodoxy and keep outsiders out. So interlopers like Liturgy got a lot of hate when they pushed the boundaries of the genre past the breaking point. Liturgy was Hunter Ravenna Hunt-Hendrix’s attempt to address complex theological, philosophical and musical questions — and wasn’t afraid to bring bagpipes, glockenspiels, violin strings, brass sections, mystical chants and other forbidden elements into their night-black bursts of transgressive metal. The corpse-painted gatekeepers of black metal were unhappy, but that’s sort of their natural state.
Dec. 8: Nikki Lane, Thunderbird Cafe & Music Hall, Lawrenceville
New West Records has been a cultivator of a lot of country music’s unexpected reawakening, and Nikki Lane continues this tradition. Her latest album, “Denim & Diamonds,” also works as a rock record, and was produced by one of rock’s most solid dudes, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age. It’s pleasantly spare and laid-back, and a little angry, letting Lane focus on her storytelling.
Dec. 9: The Bad Plus, Club Cafe, South Side
More than 20 years ago, The Bad Plus seemed to point the way forward for jazz improvisers everywhere. Built around a heavy rhythm section and the even heavier piano pounding of Ethan Iverson, they reworked tunes by Nirvana, Apex Twin, Radiohead, David Bowie and others with thrilling dexterity, and wrote originals that were similarly unpredictable and exciting. That future never really came to pass, but The Bad Plus kept making good music, even after Iverson departed. Now, they’ve got a new lineup with guitarist Ben Monder and tenor saxophonist Chris Speed, which makes it seem like they’re sort of starting over from scratch.
Dec. 9: Summer on Mars featuring Lexa Terrestrial, Princess Nostalgia, Lys Scott, DJ Femi, Mr. Smalls, Millvale
Hip-hop is 50 years old in 2023! There will be plenty of “What It All Means” think pieces to come, but what I think is most interesting is that Pittsburgh’s musical claim to fame in the past decade has been almost entirely hip-hop-related (i.e., Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa), and that may not be changing. Beyond that, it’s cool that you can rap and be a complete weirdo nowadays. Case in point, this bill featuring all local women that includes Lexa Terrestrial, who wears gigantic bows in her hair and looks like a princess from a Japanese video game. It’s also got Lys Scott, a queer Thai-American Pittsburgher who took a pandemic layoff from her restaurant job in stride and became one of the sharpest, most original lyricists to emerge from the Steel City.
Dec. 9-10: We Want the Funk Festival with Morris Day & The Time, Alexander O’Neal, Bar-Kays, Con Funk Shun, August Wilson African American Cultural Center, Downtown
I finally watched Prince’s “Purple Rain” (hey, I was a baby in the ‘80s), and OH MY GOD, yes, I do want the funk. Specifically, the Minneapolis sound — the synth-heavy, upbeat electro-funk of Morris Day, who was the unforgettable villain of “Purple Rain.” This festival at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center also brings the underrated Bar-Kays and Con Funk Shun to town, so the funk may indeed be in the house.
Dec. 11: Blackberry Smoke, Roxian Theatre, McKees Rocks
The first independently released artist to hit No. 1 in the Billboard Country Album charts in modern history, Blackberry Smoke was an early mover in country’s current renaissance. Though that was almost 20 years ago, these guys always intended to stick around for a while. They make a purely old-school style of country crossed with Southern rock (leaning more toward the latter lately), and pull in some jam-band fans as well. The Roxian is pretty big, but it will still be packed. Hope they’ve stocked up on whiskey.
Dec. 12: Chase Petra, Black Forge Coffee, McKees Rocks
There was a time when pop-punk bands were the fun bands — irreverent and obnoxious with songs that ended before they had a chance to get annoying. Long Beach’s Chase Petra makes “music for your quarter-life crisis” back when stakes were lower but seemed much higher, and the right tune could help you power through it.
Dec. 14: Lingua Ignota, Mr. Smalls Theatre, Millvale
Lingua Ignota’s songs could all be horror movies. Not the jump-scare Hollywood slashers, but some truly unnerving scenes set in the medieval wintry wilderness where gods and devils aren’t liturgical abstractions, but real protagonists lurking in the darkness looking for souls to claim. It’s god-haunted nightmare fuel, reminiscent of Nico’s “The Marble Index” and Patti Smith’s most off-the-rails moments in “Radio Ethiopia.” The classically-trained singer’s slow-burning “Pennsylvania Furnace, for instance, is about an “18th-century ironmaster whose dogs return to drag him down to hell after he throws them all into his furnace in a rage.”
Dec. 17: The 1975, UPMC Events Center, Moon
These guys always seemed like a bit of a throwback to the era of Britpop dominance, when the affected whine of Oasis and Radiohead wafted from every radio. The 1975 are unafraid to make pure pop out of the cheesiest production flourishes, wrapping it around cloyingly catchy (yet effective) hooks. Singer Matty Healy is a very English nexus of contradictions, enticed and repelled by fame, entranced by artifice yet sincere in his need to communicate.
Dec. 18: Sonny Sharrock’s “Ask the Ages” performed by Patrick Breiner, Josh Wulff, David Throckmorton, John Shannon, Ava Lintz, Alphabet City, North Side
If you’re looking for pleasant jazz to eat dinner to — a valid use for music (!) — this isn’t that. The late Sonny Sharrock was a visionary guitar weirdo, who only was put into the jazz bin because he didn’t fit anywhere else. His style was aggressive, abrasive and difficult, and he fell in with the first wave of “free jazz” improvisers in the 1960s like the recently departed Pharoah Sanders, then spent years as a chauffeur and caretaker for mentally challenged children. Later Sharrock was rediscovered in the 1980s, made some extraordinary albums (some experimental, some accessible) and the soundtrack for “Space Ghost Coast to Coast,” which is its own kind of immortality. At City of Asylum’s intimate Alphabet City venue, a group of Pittsburgh’s best improvisers will pay tribute to Sharrock’s brilliant album “Ask the Ages” (1991).
Dec. 31: Inner City, Spirit, Lawrenceville
Long before its center of gravity shifted to Europe, techno began as a Black response to the mechanized reality of Detroit — internalizing the rhythms of auto assembly lines and echoes of Kraftwerk’s future funk heard across the electronic ether. Consisting of Kevin Saunderson (one of Detroit techno’s triumvirate of originators, The Belleville Three) and vocalist Paris Grey, Inner City cranked out dance floor hits like “Big Fun” and “Good Life,” and later downshifted their grooves into more mellow territory. They’ll be ringing in the New Year — and making their Pittsburgh debut — at Spirit, a rare and perhaps singular experience unlikely to be repeated.