Primal Scream. Photo courtesy the band.

Chalk it up to global warming: the summer concert season came to Pittsburgh a month early this year. Big name performances from Mastodon, Interpol and the Replacements set the bar high for June. Top it off with a homecoming from William Fitzsimmons and Primal Scream’s first Pittsburgh show in 20+ years, and you’ve got the start of a long, beautiful summer.

Steve Gunn. Photo Credit: Constance Mensh
Steve Gunn. Photo Credit: Constance Mensh

Steve Gunn, w/ Sagas

Saturday, May 2. 8 p.m.

Spirit – 120 51st Street

$10 (21+)

I’m a big fan of sitar in rock music, but for as many times as I’ve mellowed out to “Norwegian Wood,” I have never actually seen a sitar played live. I thought that might change when Steve Gunn comes to town, but it turns out he only tunes his guitar to sound that way. Gunn is a chameleon on the guitar. One moment he sounds like Ravi Shankar, the next, Blind Lemon Jefferson. Each of Gunn’s compositions are steeped in this collection of far-reaching influences, and the product is something truly original. Gunn was in town last October for VIA. Oh, and he can sing, too. Opening is Sagas, AKA Pittsburgh-based musician Matt McDowell.

The Replacements

Tuesday, May 5. 8 p.m.

Stage AE (indoors) – 400 North Shore Drive


I don’t know why I keep including these sold-out shows. Part of me thinks, hey, this is still a significant show—I have to include it. And then I think, no, this will probably just make people angry. “Hey, remember that great show you couldn’t get tickets to? Well, it’s right around the corner! Can you imagine how much fun you’re missing out on?”

If you really want to go, there’s always the resale market. At last check there were over 20 tickets available for just $10 more than face value, at $65. That’s what you’d pay to see the Steve Miller Band at Highmark Stadium this summer. Hey, it’s all about perspective.

FIDLAR. Photo Credit: BB Gun Press.
FIDLAR. Photo Credit: BB Gun Press.

FIDLAR, w/ Nox Boys and Umbrella Corporation

Thursday, May 7. 7:30 p.m.

Altar Bar – 1620 Penn Ave.


FIDLAR stands for “F*** it dawg, life’s a risk.” Now that that’s out of the way, FIDLAR’s first, self-titled album took its cues from fellow Los Angelenos the Descendents, circa Milo Goes to College. Said Pitchfork: “the quartet’s self-titled debut is about today—being young, broke, drunk, ecstatic and not worrying too much about what happens next.” It’s loud, vulgar and brash, but with tongue planted slightly in cheek. Who can find fault in a line like, “Stop wearing tight jeans/And put on some board shorts.”

Primal Scream

Thursday, May 14. 8 p.m.

Mr. Smalls – 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale


This is the first time Primal Scream have played Pittsburgh since 1994, when they opened for Depeche Mode at Star Lake. These Scots hardly ever tour North America, so it’s nothing short of incredible that Pittsburgh made it on this ever-so-brief nine-date swing of theirs. Over their 20-plus-year career Primal Scream have been constant innovators—from the acid-house dance pop sensation Screamadelica (a huge influence on Daft Punk), to the trippy, industrial electronica of Vanishing Point and XTRMNTR. Even their new stuff is good:

The Baseball Project

Thursday, May 14. 8 p.m.

Club Cafe – 56-58 South 12th Street

$16 (21+)

This is one of those themed bands that you swear can’t be true the first time you hear about it. You’re telling me that Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey of The Young Fresh Fellows got together with two of the guys from R.E.M. to make an album made up entirely of baseball songs? Sure, buddy. Next you’ll try to tell me that Macaulay Culkin is in some strange, pizza-themed Velvet Underground parody. The Baseball Project, which includes Peter Buck and Mike Mills, is touring in support of their third album, 3rd, which includes a track about the time Dock Ellis tried to bean the first five Cincinnati Reds’ batters he faced.  (He hit three of them.)

Freedom From Fracking

Freedom From Fracking: A Benefit for The Friends of The Harmed w/ Rusted Root & More

Saturday, May 16. 5:30 p.m.

Mr. Smalls – 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale

$30 (21+)

When Joan Jett was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this past Saturday, she had this to say: “I come from a place where rock and roll means something. It’s more than music, more than fashion, more than a pose. It’s a subculture of rebellion, frustration, alienation and the groove.”

Rock, rap and other genres unite as Rusted Root, Jasiri X, Mike Stout, Kellee Maize and more take the stage for this benefit concert at Mr. Smalls, which will feature over a dozen artists. Like it says on the flier: “We all must unite to protect our future.”

Beauty Slap

Saturday, May 16. 10:15 p.m.

Cattivo – 146 44th St.

$10 (21+)

I missed Beauty Slap when they headlined Pittsburgh Winery during the Strip District Music Festival, and judging from the video I was one of the only ones not there. Beauty Slap combine a four-piece brass band, electric guitar and DJ into one mean dance party. The band is a regular at the monthly Pandemic dance party, and you can catch them May 2 at Pittonkatonk as well. Hear more on their Soundcloud page.

William Fitzsimmons, w/ Denison Witmer

Monday, May 18. 8 p.m.

Mr. Smalls – 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale


William Fitzsimmons grew up in Pittsburgh the son of two blind parents, in a household where sound necessarily played an outsized role. He is currently on tour supporting his new EP, Pittsburgh. As the story goes, in October 2014, his grandmother passed away and during the three days spent putting her to rest, Pittsburgh was formed. The seven songs are in memoriam to her and in remembrance of the city they shared. Pull up Fitzsimmons on Pandora, and you’re bound to hear a lot of Sufjan Stevens and Iron & Wine. Here’s the video for the song “Pittsburgh.”

Palma Violets. Photo Credit: Ed Miles.
Palma Violets. Photo Credit: Ed Miles.

Palma Violets, w/ Public Access TV

Thursday, May 21. 9:30 p.m.

Brillobox – 4104 Penn Ave.

$12 (21+)

From London, Palma Violets hit it big in late 2012 when NME named their debut single, “Best of Friends,” best track of the year. The band’s debut album came out in early 2013 on Rough Trade, and the sophomore follow-up comes out May 4, just two weeks before the band play Brillo. “English Tongue” is their newest single. It’s a boozy singalong with plenty of piano and shouted group refrains. This will be the band’s first performance in Pittsburgh. Get there early for the openers, post-punk NYC band Public Access TV.

Rubblebucket, w/ Vacationer

Thursday, May 21. 8 p.m.

Rex Theater – 1602 E. Carson St.

$15 (21+)

Rubblebucket played the Rex in October and it was so much fun that I’d go back and see them again some six months later. I remember horns, flutes, confetti cannons, a giant flower monster … okay, I’ve said too much. The night ended when the band traveled mariachi-style through the crowd and set up shop over by the merch table to jam. CMJ called their live show a “psychedelic tribal horn fiesta,” and I don’t think anyone can put it any better than that.


  • ILoveMakonnen, the guy behind hit song “Tuesday,” with Drake, brings his Loudest of the Loud tour to Mr. Smalls May 4.
  • Even though Kevin Barnes is pretty much the only remaining member, Of Montreal always throws a great live show. May 5 at Mr. Smalls, w/ Icky Blossoms.
  • Anti-Flag play a SOLD-OUT show upstairs at The Smiling Moose May 9, with all proceeds from the show going to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank
  • Mastodon and Clutch co-headline Stage AE outdoors May 10, promoting albums that came out in 2014 and 2013, respectively.
  • Finnish metal band Apocalyptica, which includes three cellists, pay a rare visit to the McKeesport Palisades May 16.
  • Interpol perform at Stage AE May 16 in support of their excellent new album, El Pintor.
  • Avant-garde, industrial Slovenian ensemble Laibach peform at the Rex Theater May 17.
  • Once-underground Kansas City rapper Tech N9NE performs at Stage AE May 18, w/ Chris Webby and more.
  • Local “bad trip, cemetery, psychedelic, garage rock” band Shaky Shrines celebrate the release of their new EP with a Memorial Day block party May 24 on Willow Street in Lawrenceville, between 43 ½ & 44th St (around the corner from Cattivo).
  • NEXT’s own Jennifer Baron performs w/ her band The Garment District at Space downtown May 29, w/ Butterbirds, as part of the monthly Music SPACE series.
  • Grand Piano release their new EP at Cattivo May 30, w/ Wreck Loose and Working Breed.

Looking for more fun times? Check out our “Top 10 Pittsburgh Events Not to Miss in May.”

In search of fun for the whole family? Don’t miss our “Top 10 Family Adventures for May in Pittsburgh.”

Brian Conway is a writer and photographer whose articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and local publications. In his free time, he operates Tripsburgh. Brian lives in the South Side.