As I tried to console my son after his Little League team crashed and burned at the Halloween Havoc tournament in McKeesport, I spoke the timeless words: “They can’t all be winners.”
Every winning streak must end, and this November in live music is…just OK. Can I recommend a nice film festival instead: The Three Rivers Film Festival, Nov. 10-16?
After some scrutiny, there are some good shows this month. And it’s always a good month to check out Pittsburgh’s local music scene(s) and smaller, more DIY venues, such as The Government Center and Collision.
Nov. 1: Anita Velveeta, DJ Rozwell + burnt-feathers, Embrasa, County Conservation District, Modsy Voxynth: Collision, Homewood
An Anita Velveeta mix on Soundcloud is titled “Music For the Chaotically Depressed (Nightcore, Emo, Breakcore, Jungle),” which is surprisingly descriptive. Those things don’t usually go together, but the frenetic, skittering drums of breakcore and through-line of bright, jangly guitar makes this a buoyant, even danceable concoction that’s way more fun than the title indicates.
Nov. 2: Sky Creature, Trovants, Take Me With You: The Government Center, North Side
One of Pittsburgh’s most mercurial, unusual bands, Trovants, is releasing its first proper album, the amusingly named “I Hope Your Town Has Good Bands” — and it’s just as strange and magical as its namesake. Trovants are a geological oddity — giant boulders in a small town in Romania that appear to grow and move (local lore likens them to dinosaur eggs, fossils or alien pods). Trovants the band makes slow-moving, immersive soundscapes out of almost unidentifiable elements, a soundtrack for ineffable mysteries buried for millennia in the earth. New York female-fronted punks Sky Creatures provide a fittingly discordant contrast for this show at the North Side record shop Government Center.
Nov. 3: Trampled By Turtles: Stage AE, North Shore
There are probably worse ways to go, right? Being trampled by turtles sounds like it would tickle. (Herpetologists love this band. Source: I know exactly one herpetologist). These guys play bluegrass — born in the frigid north woods of Duluth, Minnesota — which is about as far removed from Appalachia as Malibu. But hey, even bluegrass queen Gillian Welch was born in Hollywood, so authenticity is where you find it.
Nov. 3: Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin: Carnegie Library of Homestead Music Hall, Munhall
There was a time when the layered synthesizers and progressive rock ambitions of Goblin sounded dated, symbolic of an era of sonic excess. Now, they’re hailed as legends, and copied by hundreds of electronic musicians, trying to find the secret to Goblin’s sinister cinematic soundscapes. It helps, of course, that the Italian band composed and performed music for some of the greatest horror films ever made: from Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” (1977) to George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” (1978). This time in Pittsburgh, they’re playing the artsy slasher “Suspiria” on a big screen and performing the soundtrack live.
Nov. 4: Fuzznaut, The Long Hunt, Altar and the Bull, Moldfarmer: The Government Center, North Side
Elvis Costello once said “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” and he’s not wrong. Going by the name alone, Pittsburgh’s Fuzznaut seems like it would be all “Supernaut”-strength Sabbath grooves and doom-laden distortion, but it’s more subtle than that. Instead, composer/guitarist Emilio Rizzo makes massive, towering guitar instrumentals focused on droning guitars and slow-building intensity. This is the release party for Fuzznaut’s newest record, “Apophenia.”
Nov. 5: Loudon Wainwright III: Kelly Strayhorn Theater, East Liberty
After 52 years on the road making music, you’d expect a Merle Haggard/Bob Dylan-type ragged husk of a man, wearied by the world. But Loudon Wainwright III is sharp, energetic, and still in the fight. Wainwright’s candid, confessional songs are clearly about real people — like his singing children, Rufus and Martha, who occasionally retaliate in songs of their own. In 2018, he made a Netflix movie “Surviving Twin” about his complex, difficult relationship with his father, a famous journalist. In the Wainwright family, nothing is simple; no one gets the last word.
Nov. 9: Qwanqwa: Alphabet City/City of Asylum: North Side
Ethiopia is perhaps the most influential musical nation in the world, relative to its size (give or take Iceland). Someday, the sultry, languid Ethio-jazz stylings of Mulatu Astatke, Hailu Mergia and others will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with giants like Fela Kuti and Miles Davis. The five-piece Addis Ababa ensemble Qwanqua works in the same tradition but combines traditional stringed instruments with a modern, worldly musical sensibility.
Nov. 11-13: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra: Heinz Hall, Downtown
This is the real “best local band” in Pittsburgh and they’re taking on Tchaikovsky’s final symphony No. 6, “Pathetique.” “Pathetique” in this sense doesn’t translate to “pathetic” — rather, it means “passionate,” and the symphony is known for its solemn, emotive power. This is way more in the PSO’s lane than a concert of ABBA hits or whatever, so expect them to go all out.
Nov. 12: Indie Rockfest with Standard Broadcast, Sierra Sellers, Surefire, Bleepy Things, Hearken, Old Neon, Jess Klein: Thunderbird Cafe, Lawrenceville
It’s not easy to get your arms around Pittsburgh’s local music scenes, which often overlap and intersect — but sometimes, they just don’t. So it’s great to just get as many onstage as possible in an evening, have a few drinks, and enjoy this sampler platter of local music (the 6th annual, the poster says). There’s everything from acoustic indie-folk (Jess Klein) to anthemic pop-punk (Old Neon).
Nov. 13: Godspeed You Black Emperor!: Roxian Theatre, McKees Rocks
These apocalyptic times of armored invasions, planet-wide pestilence and nuclear stormclouds require music that rises to the mood of the world. And, like Godzilla emerging from the irradiated seas, Godspeed You Black Emperor! has arisen to do battle. They don’t create songs — they invoke looming horrors, towering monoliths of sound ranging from neoclassical minimalism to eardrum-shattering crescendoes of amplified violin, cello and electric guitar.
Nov. 16: Turnstile, Snail Mail, Sheer Mag: Stage AE, North Shore
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, perhaps 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. Post-everything hardcore punks Turnstile are co-headliners, which is a strange choice, and openers are glam/garage-punks Sheer Mag, one of the most underrated rock bands in existence.
Nov. 16: Chameleons, Not of This World, Doors in the Labyrinth: Spirit, Lawrenceville
Sometimes, the public gets it wrong — Manchester, UK’s semi-forgotten legends Chameleons (founded in 1981) were easily the equals of the dark/Goth-rock giants Echo & The Bunnymen and Psychedelic Furs, melodically and conceptually. Their layered, atmospheric sound was too subtle and the hits never came — but they persevered, and fans stuck with them.
Nov. 18: Moon Hooch: Mr. Small’s, Millvale
They started out busking on subway platforms in New York City — where you’ve got to be good, and you’ve got to give the people what they want, or you’re going to get clowned by seen-it-all New Yorkers. So Wenzl McGowen and Michael Wilbur developed a sound that was far from their roots (they met at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music) and close to the streets — danceable, funky, upbeat. Now, they’ve got a drummer and play big clubs. Only, now the NYPD doesn’t roll in and kick them out for making people dance too close to the edge.
Nov. 19: Kendell Marvel: Spirit, Lawrenceville
Country music has split into more feuding factions and irreconcilable sub-genres than any musical style but metal — almost all of them irrelevant to the casual listener. If Kendell Marvel has a spot in all this, it’s the New Old School (or whatever), a rawboned throwback style with songs like “Don’t Tell Me How to Drink” with the like-minded Chris Stapleton. He’s been playing in honky-tonks since he was 10 so the dark punk club environs of Spirit won’t faze him.
Nov. 22: Soweto Gospel Choir: Byham Theater, Downtown
World-changing music tends to come from hard places, from the red-light districts of turn-of-the-century New Orleans to the burned-out tenements of the South Bronx in the early 1980s. Soweto is a famous neighborhood in Johannesburg, South Africa — formerly a segregated ghetto under the apartheid regime and a hotbed of resistance to it. It’s a crowded, sprawling, sometimes dangerous place, home to shocking poverty and shantytowns, as well as the family home of Nelson Mandela. The Soweto Gospel Choir draws most of its singing talent and inspiration from there. Singing is simply part of the culture in Soweto, and it played an outsized, unique role in toppling the apartheid government. Soweto Gospel Choir spans the spiritual/secular divide musically, and their massed voices rising in song is one of the most singular sounds in music.
Nov. 25: The Cynics: Thunderbird Cafe, Lawrenceville
One of the greatest bands to ever emerge from the Steel City. OK, it probably depends on how old you are, but The Cynics have been great since 1985, pioneering a style of psychedelic garage-punk that’s still going strong. They formed their own independent label, Get Hip Recordings, which operates out of a vast warehouse on the North Side (and features a great record store).
Nov. 30: Amon Amarth, Cattle Decapitation, Carcass, Obituary: Stage AE, North Shore
Heavy metal’s splintering into various odd alloys and apparitions has honestly been a great thing — and this bill has it all. In the mood for rampaging, pillaging Viking metal? Well, here’s the mighty bearded Swedes Amon Amarth ready to lay waste to the stage. In the mood to crank up the evil to almost slasher-movie levels? Well, there’s the “hardgore” kingpins Carcass. Want a throwback to the glory days of death metal? Well, here’s Obituary, formed in ’84. Want gross-out deathgrind from militant vegans? Well, here’s Cattle Decapitation. Now everyone’s happy!