Introducing NEXTpittsburgh‘s Sound Picks, a monthly music guide to the city’s can’t-miss concerts. Sound Picks strives to highlight Pittsburgh’s most compelling upcoming shows, featuring bands of all genres, both local and national.

Looking for something new? Scroll to the bottom to find some Deep Cuts, a short list of picks for those feeling a bit more adventurous.

RJD2, photo copyright Dan McMahon.
RJD2, photo copyright Dan McMahon.

Get down(tempo) with RJD2

Most everyone will remember that it was Moby who closed out last year’s Thrival Festival. But who can recall which DJ capped off the inaugural Thrival, in 2013? That would be Ramble Jon Krohn, better known by his stage name, RJD2.

RJD2 first hit the public consciousness in 2002 with the release of his first album, Deadringer, one of the finest instrumental hip-hop albums to ever come along. The artist splices up vocals from one track, pairs it with the drumbeat from another and bass or guitar groove from a third, the result being an almost cinematic soundscape that bears little resemblance to the source material. Ever since his debut, he’s put out a cavalcade of well-regarded albums, singles and remixes, and his track “A Beautiful Mine” even became the theme song for Mad Men. But don’t be mistaken: this isn’t just a man pushing buttons on a laptop. Expect RJD2 to work the decks with wax in hand, the mark of a true turntablist.

RJD2, with Chrome Sparks (dj set), Headphone Activist Feb. 20, 8 PM at Mr. Smalls, $20.

Twilight Sad, photo copyright Nic Shonfeld.
Twilight Sad, photo copyright Nic Shonfeld.

Swoon over The Twilight Sad’s Connery-level brogue

There’s been a lot of speculation online recently as to why certain pop stars, especially from the UK, seem to sound American when they sing. Adele could be from London, Ohio, the theory goes, given the way she belts out “Rollin’ in the Deep.”

This is definitely not the case for The Twilight Sad. The Glasgow quartet is distinguished by My Bloody Valentine-level guitar swells, but especially by lead singer James Graham’s heavy Scottish accent. The band, which broke internationally around the same time as fellow Scots Mogwai and Frightened Rabbit, are currently touring in support of their fourth full-length album, Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave. The album, voted as the best of 2014 by some in the UK music press, sees the band dial down their sonic assault just a bit, leaving space for Joy Division-style gloom to seep through.

ed kowalczyk

The Twilight Sad, with Port St. Willow:  Feb. 27, 10 PM at Brillobox; $12.

Re-Live one of the great ’90s alternative rock albums

Which is the more quintessentially ’90s remark: Rolling Stone comparing your band’s new album to Soundgarden and Nirvana, or Beavis and Butthead calling you a “buttmunch.” Both of these things happened to Ed Kowalczyk of Live, after his band released Throwing Copper, in 1994. The album went platinum eight times over, spawned hit singles “I Alone” and “Lightning Crashes,” and landed the band an evening on Saturday Night Live.

Today, Kowalczyk, who Rolling Stone once compared to Michael Stipe, is out on his own. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of his former band’s best and most popular release, he is performing the album live, in its entirety, unplugged. There’s precedent for this: in their heyday, Kowalczyk and the rest of Live played a set on MTV’s Unplugged. Talk about something quintessentially 90s.

Ed Kowalczyk (of Live) – Throwing Copper Unplugged

mariage blanc

February 22, 8 PM at Altar Bar, 1620 Penn Avenue, Strip District; $20

Consummate your love of local pop with Mariage Blanc and three new local bands

Can’t get enough local indie-pop? Did the Donora album release show make you hungry for more? Enter Mariage Blanc. Around the time of their self-titled debut album in 2010, the band was profiled in Paste’s recurring “Best of What’s Next” feature. Yet aside from a one-off gig at Brillobox last summer, Mariage Blanc hadn’t played a proper local show since April, 2012. Finally they’re back and with a new album, too, the band’s first new music since a five-song EP in early 2013. In anticipation of the album’s April release, the Huffington Post premiered the band’s new single, “Blue Eyes,” comparing it to the music of the late-60s Laurel Canyon scene in LA (The Byrds, CSN, The Doors).

Joining Mariage Blanc will be a handful of newer local bands. How new? The four ladies of Dream Phone, which includes Carrie Battle of The Harlan Twins on drums, are the only ones that even have a Facebook page. They played their first gig in October and recently appeared at Bloom-Fest. Ricky Moslen & Friends played at Bloom-Fest too, while Mantiques (featuring Jesse Ley of Delicious Pastries) played at Wigle Whiskey during the Strip District Music Fest, in addition to a “Psychedelic Harvest Party” with Andre Costello and the Cool Minors at Bloomfield Bridge Tavern in November.

Mariage Blanc, w/ Mantiques, Dream Phone, and Ricky Moslen & Friends

Paul Collins Beat

Feb 7, 9:30 PM at Cattivo in Lawrenceville; $5. Yes, that’s right.

Shake some action with a power pop legend

Fun, fast and full of hooks. Punk wasn’t the only genre to rebel against the excess and bloat of progressive rock, so why didn’t power pop ever get any bigger than Cheap Trick? We’ll leave that to the music historians to decide, but the genre did leave us with some unforgettable records, including Big Star’s Radio City and Cheap Trick’s Live at Budokan.

One of the seminal bands of the era, The Nerves, from Los Angeles, left us with even less. The trio recorded just a four-track EP during their brief heyday in the late ’70s. One of their songs, “Hanging on the Telephone,” was a minor hit in its own right until it was covered by Blondie on Parallel Lines. Drummer Paul Collins went on to form another power pop band, The Beat, where he sang and played guitar. Their first, self-titled album is considered to be another power pop gem. Today, the band performs as The Paul Collins Beat, to avoid mix-ups with the English band of the same name. Opening are Cleveland’s 45 Spider and Detroit’s Boss Mustangs, a pair of newer bands that take their cues from late-60s garage rock like MC5 and The Stooges.

The Paul Collins Beat, with 45 Spider and Boss Mustangs; Feb. 13 at 9:30 PM at Howlers Coyote Cafe – 4509 Liberty Avenue, Bloomfield. Ticket info. TBD.

Relive your Nick’s Fat City days with some local favorites

Along with The Clarks, Brownie Mary was the city’s biggest, most popular rock band of the mid-90s. Kelsey Barber fronted the group, and it was her enticing vocals that set the band apart. The group’s popularity led them to sign with the short-lived Blackbird Recording Company, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. And while the album did produce their biggest hit, “Naked,” it failed to make much of an impact nationally, and the original lineup called it quits after 2000.

Today, the band consists of Barber (now Kelsey Friday), Mike Marks and Jay Constable (who both appeared in a reconstituted Brownie Mary in 2002), and local legend Rick Witkowski, founding member of Crack the Sky. Barber has performed some solo shows of her own as of late, and sometime between Christmas and New Year’s the current lineup played a show at the Hard Rock Cafe. This time they’re back on the South Side, just a few blocks from where it all began.

Brownie Mary

Feb. 20, 7 PM at Club Cafe – 56-58 South 12th Street, South Side; $15

The New Pornographers, photo copyright Marina Chavez.

Spend Valentine’s Day weekend with The New Pornographers

Outside of Arcade Fire, there’s probably no better Canadian band on tour today than Vancouver’s The New Pornographers. Perhaps better known as the outfit that launched the careers of Neko Case and Dan Bejar (aka Destroyer), the indie rock supergroup has released six critically-acclaimed albums since forming in 1999, including 2014’s synth-heavy Brill Bruisers, the outfit’s first release in four years.

Due to the demands of their respective solo careers, the big question for this show is whether Bejar and Case will perform with the rest of the band. Full-time band member Kathryn Calder is a more than able replacement for Case, but isn’t the Broadway original almost preferred over the traveling cast? For what it’s worth, both Bejar and Neko performed with the band on their most recent tour, which ended in November. On that leg, the band’s setlist regularly approached 30 career-spanning songs. Also of note: Dan Boeckner, of Divine Fits and Wolf Parade, will open with his new band, Operators. Anyone who caught Spoon or Future Islands in Pittsburgh last year will remember their industrial, New Order feel.

The New Pornographers, with Operators.

Feb. 13, 9 PM at Mr. Smalls. $30

Deep Cuts:

  • Polyphonic Afro-pop sensation Zap Mama visits the Byham February 4.
  • Avant-garde saxophone quartet Battle Trance play the Warhol February 7.
  • Estonian indie rock group Ewert and The Two Dragons, winner of the European Border Breakers Award (past winners include Mumford and Sons, José González and Lykke Li) perform at Club Cafe February 25.
  • Buckwheat Zydeco, the most famous Zydeco artist of all time, also visits Club Cafe, February 27.

Looking for more Pittsburgh happenings? Check out our Top 8 Pittsburgh events not to miss in February.

Looking for family activities? Check out the Top 10 Family Adventures this February 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.