Does anybody else love October in Pittsburgh? The hills and valleys are exploding with color, the Pens return to the ice, and zombie movie marathons and hot chocolate are lurking nearby. Live music perks up a bit, too (although I suspect the big spooky season gigs at the end of the month have yet to be announced).
The Warhol’s Sound Series Block Party with Kurt Vile, Mexican Institute of Sound and Sudan Archives could point the way to a new cross-genre, cutting-edge music festival — which Pittsburgh needs. Everybody, it seems, is hitting the road, from outstanding newcomers (Shakolin, Fontaines D.C., Oso Oso) to old friends (Anti-Flag, Jon Spencer).
Here are our picks for the best October concerts in Pittsburgh:
Oct. 1: Anti-Flag, Four Year Strong, Microwave, Save Face, Catbite: Roxian Theatre, McKees Rocks
Pittsburgh’s Anti-Flag has flown the flag for anti-everything political punk for decades now, taking it all seriously, and acting like a song or two can still change the world. Who knows? Maybe they’re right. They’re headlining a long night of punk and punk-adjacent rock.
Oct. 1: Shakolin, Aaron Clark: Hot Mass, Strip District
Even during wartime, people dance. Before the war, Shakolin was a resident DJ at Kyiv, Ukraine’s Closer club, central to the nation’s booming underground dance scene. Now, with club operations disrupted, he’s helping raise money to resist the Russian war machine; 25% of the proceeds will go to the charity Kyiv Angels.
Oct. 4: Fontaines D.C.: Spirit, Lawrenceville
Every time it seems like rock music is finally played out, and nothing new is left to be said — along comes a band like Fontaines D.C. These Dublin, Ireland, underdogs might be the most vital band in the world now, having absorbed the entirety of transatlantic post-punk (The Fall to Billy Bragg to Manchester/Factory Records) and spitting out something entirely different. “Boys in the Better Land” and “Jackie Down the Line” belong on every jukebox in the world for the next 20 years. Mark it down.
Oct. 6: The Killers: Petersen Events Center, Oakland Rescheduled for March 19, 2023
Nothing about The Killers really stands out — they don’t have much in the way of a distinctive sound, a charismatic vocalist, or even a memorable name. And yet, they might be the most successful rock band of the past 20 years, give or take a White Stripes. Now they fill arenas like the Pete and sings songs (like “Mr. Brightside”) that will still be playing after the sun burns out. Being “rock stars” without the attendant celebrity nonsense seems like a pretty good gig.
Oct. 8: Earth Wind & Fire: UPMC Events Center, Coraopolis
Wait, these guys still exist? These absolute legends? Their website claims to be “The official site of the mighty elements of the universe: Earth Wind & Fire” — that’s some bold rhetoric, and I’m just going to give it to them. They’ve sold 90 million records, with a sound that encompasses every trend in R&B, jazz, funk, soul and disco — and enough pop chops to have songs played at, like, everybody’s wedding. Respect.
Oct. 8: Jon Spencer & the HITmakers: Club Cafe, South Side
Jon Spencer has always understood that the raw, unschooled euphoric energy of punk rock and the low-down, heartbroken vibes of the blues were a match made in heaven (or perhaps a bit lower). The impresario and frontman of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is back with a new band, making outsider rock-and-roll like a man possessed.
Oct. 10: Death Cab for Cutie, Thao: Stage AE, North Shore
Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of Death Cab for Cutie, who seems to collect all of the most annoying aspects of post-indie rock. However … Thao is always worth hearing. Thao Nguyen recently left her band Thao & The Get Down Stay Down after a decade — a great band name that always seemed to suggest the sudden violence of a stickup or hostage situation, which was mostly meant in jest. However, there was a certain kinetic spontaneity to the music — while not explicitly violent, it can be unpredictable, brutally honest and occasionally a bit disturbing.
Oct. 10: Celebration of Jazz Appreciation: Heinz History Center, Strip District
Jazz — do you appreciate it? Well, then, it’s probably a good idea to check out the Black Political Empowerment Project’s (B-PEP) annual gathering of the scene. This includes the likes of drum legend Roger Humphries, young pianist Craig Davis, bassist Dwayne Dolphin, saxophonists Tony Campbell and Don Aliquo Jr., guitarist Colter Harper and like 30 other Pittsburgh-based jazz musicians.
Oct. 13: Oso Oso: Thunderbird Music Hall, Lawrenceville
One of the few recent breakout stars of the emo scene, Oso Oso basically lived in the studio during the pandemic, tinkering around the edges of the genre with pop flourishes and intricate song structures. They’re getting bigger quickly, so this may be the last time to catch them in an intimate club setting.
Oct. 14: Sistas of the City with Clara Kent, Sierra Sellers, Simone Davis, Chandra Rhyme; Mr. Small’s Theatre, Millvale
Some of the most exciting music in the world in the past decade has come at the intersection of R&B, hip-hop and soul, where a storied past and odd future intersect uneasily. Most of it has been driven by women (FKA Twigs, Kelela, Solange, Janelle Monáe, etc.). Pittsburgh quietly has a lot going on in this space too, as this Sistas of the City showcase indicates. To take just one, Chandra Rhyme has an impressive sense of style and polish as a singer, and could easily find her way to big things outside the region.
Oct. 15, Sound Series Block Party with Kurt Vile, Sudan Archives, Mexican Institute of Sound; Andy Warhol Museum, North Side
The Warhol recently announced plans to create the “Pop District” for their immediate North Side neighborhood, which is kind of hard to explain. However, if it involves more of this — and the Warhol’s amazing music programming in general — I’m all for it. The headliner here is Philadelphia’s Kurt Vile, whose laidback lyrical approach veers into stream-of-consciousness at times. Still, his classic multi-guitar attack is familiar enough to get Neil Young or Tom Petty fans nodding their heads. However, make sure you get there early for Mexican Institute of Sound (Mexico City-based beat maker Camilo Lara), and daring vocalist/violin virtuoso Sudan Archives, who makes unclassifiable music informed by hip-hop, North African folk music and neoclassical minimalism.
Oct. 20, Gogol Bordello: Mr. Small’s Theatre, Millvale
Born in Ukraine, chased from his home by the Chernobyl disaster, Eugene Hütz took refuge in black market tapes of Western post-punk bands and a deep exploration of the ultimate outsider music — the raucous, mystical music of his homeland. The self-described “immigrant punk” landed in New York City and began a wedding band that soon spiraled out of control, and Gogol Bordello was born. With accordions, violins, guitarists, drummers and dancers from as far afield as Russia, Ecuador, Ethiopia and Scotland, Gogol Bordello embraces traditional Roma music, punk rock, dub, reggae, Italian tarantellas, Brazilian rhythms, and ties it all together with Hütz’s heavily accented singing and underdog-championing lyrics.
Oct. 22: Smashing Pumpkins: PPG Paints Arena, Uptown
In two decades of writing, I’ve never gotten more (or weirder) hate mail than the time I gave a slightly spicy review of a Smashing Pumpkins concert. Nevertheless, this is an important band and I will vouch for its first two albums. “Gish” and “Siamese Dream” are near masterpieces that pretty much explain the entire ‘90s.
Oct. 22, Andy Stott, Vasculator: Spirit, Lawrenceville
Andy Stott has long been a pivotal figure in underground dance music. The Manchester-based electronic musician has been pushing at the boundaries of dub techno in ever-darker and creepier directions, occasionally finding hints of beauty and transcendence in a murky musical netherworld of urban dystopias and discarded dreams of the future.
Oct. 25: The Joy Formidable: Thunderbird Music Hall, Lawrenceville
It’s usually a good sign when an artist (or rock band) comes from a real, identifiable place — instead of, say, an anonymous record label’s boardroom. That said, The Joy Formidable comes from Mold. The town of Mold is in rugged, windswept North Wales — about as remote a place as you can get on the U.K. mainland, best known for a coal miners’ riot in the late 1860s. Somewhat incongruously, the stylish, photogenic power trio plays an instantly familiar style of modern rock — boiling down the last few decades’ worth of noisy late-’80s shoegaze (My Bloody Valentine), post-grad indie rock (Rainer Maria) and post-grunge pop-rock (Foo Fighters).
Oct. 25: Napalm Death, Brujeria, Frozen Soul: Mr. Small’s Theatre, Millvale
It’s always considerate for a band to sound exactly like what their name suggests — take Napalm Death. These English grindcore leviathans formed in the bleak industrial West Midlands in 1981, combining aspects of crust punk, death metal and distorted down-tuned guitars, extreme tempos, blast beats and incomprehensible screamed vocals. And really, they’ve stuck to their lane since then, as entire genres of heavy music have been born in their wake.
Oct. 27: Angélique Kidjo: August Wilson Center for African American Culture, Downtown
Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo is her full name, and the Grammy-winning Benin-born singer contains multitudes, as her name suggests. She’s one of Africa’s most accomplished vocalists, adept at Afropop, Caribbean zouk, Congolese rhumba, gospel, jazz and the endless oeuvres of Nina Simone, James Brown and Aretha Franklin. It would be awesome if the August Wilson Center did this sort of thing all the time — but, unfortunately, there’s only one Angélique Kidjo in the world.
Oct. 28: Squirrel Nut Zippers: Vinosky Winery, Belle Vernon
Us Gen Xers did many cringe-worthy things, but few defy explanation like the weird, brief swing revival in the mid-‘90s. Even rap-rock/nu-metal has aged better. But if there were one band that built music to last, it’s these guys. Most of the bands zeroed in on the kitschy Rat Pack aspects of the ’40s and ’50s big band swing. But the Zippers chose a winding path through ’20s French hot jazz, Western swing, Dixieland, blues, vaudeville, and even early cartoon music. It holds up.
Oct. 29: Saintseneca, Yowler: Mr. Roboto Project, Garfield
I was thinking of all the great bands that I saw first at The Roboto Project, mostly in its old Wilkinsburg locations — and it’s a lot. The cooperatively-run DIY venue in Garfield is still going strong and bringing in good bands like Saintseneca from Columbus. They come from the low-key, folk-inflected school of indie rock and love to employ unusual instruments such as the balalaika, mandolin, dulcimer and bağlama (Turkish lute) in the service of finding a warmer, fuller sound.
Oct. 11: King Princess with St. Panther and Boo Barrymore at Stage AE, 7 p.m.
Oct. 20 & 22: Zombi with Seaclones and Shawn Rudman at Brillobox, 8 p.m.
Oct. 22: WYEP’s Hellbender Ball: The Return of Hellbender with Anti-Flag, Lindsay Dragan, Chandra Rhyme, The Ghost Club and Jordan Montgomery at The Thunderbird Café and Music Hall , 7 p.m.
Oct. 23: An Evening With Judy Collins at the Byham Theater, 7 p.m.