May 21: Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, North Side
Though his last name recalls the land of leprechauns, Arturo O’Farrill was born in Mexico to a Cuba-born giant of Afro-Cuban jazz trumpet, Chico O’Farrill. Arturo works within this style too, which is probably the most accessible and danceable permutation of jazz ever created. Of course, he rebelled against his family as a youth and dabbled in the avant-garde and bebop realms, but eventually came back to his roots. He won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Album, “Final Night at Birdland,” in 2014.
May 22: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Jess Cornelius: Mr. Small’s Theatre, Millvale
Australia is just shipping bands here by the boatload this month; psychedelic prog weirdos King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard are bringing their poly-genre dexterity and terrible band name to town the long way. Completist collectors and record promoters alike stare in despair, while King Gizzard puts out album after album (they’re up to about 20), dabbling in whatever musical digression (improvisational jazz, microtonal music, a sci-fi metal concept album) strikes their fancy. This one is sold-out so find a friend with an extra ticket.
May 23: Battles, Living World: Mr. Small’s Theatre, Millvale
America’s most inventive and exciting instrumental band, full stop. Powered by the brilliant one-handed finger-tapping guitar stylings of Pittsburgh-born Ian Williams (of Don Caballero and Storm & Stress), Battles has pushed past several musical dead ends (post-rock, math-rock) into something wholly original. It’s extremely catchy and occasionally danceable while maintaining a streak of combustible experimentation. Unfortunately, that means you’re most likely to hear them in car commercials nowadays, but hey, it’s hard to make living as a musician.
May 24: The Afghan Whigs: Mr. Small’s Theatre, Millvale
Formed in Cincinnati back in 1986, the Afghan Whigs only superficially fit in with the nascent grunge and indie rock scenes, which were slowly mutating out of metal and post-punk. They were loud, heavy and relentlessly dark — but added a little bit of soul. The dynamic tension and swagger of classic soul music — Stax through Motown — just happened to fit seamlessly with bombastic guitar rock. Singer Greg Dulli’s anguished vocals and pitch-black lyrics played out like lost film noir scenarios, but they began to break through into the mainstream with “Gentlemen” (1993). Though they broke up in 2001, the lure of the road and the music were sufficient to pull them back into existence.
May 29: Dethlehem, Lords of the Trident, Iron Brigade: Club Cafe, South Side
If you think metal ought to be mighty, well, you may be in the market for some property in Dethlehem. Sure, the crumbling, fog-shrouded castle has seen better days and may require fumigation, but it’s worth it for the view — just imagine the sunsets sinking below Deth Mountain, as your impaled enemies arrayed in the valley below slowly succumb to the gathering darkness. Pittsburgh’s Dethlehem make “RPG-Nerd Metal,” which pretty much says it all (RPG = role-playing games = “Dungeons & Dragons”). Expect adept technical metal with songs about wizards, dragons, hell beasts and the dudes who slay them. And no, leather pants and T-shirts aren’t going to cut it — go chain-mail or go home.
May 29: The Citizen ScienceLab presents Flying Beyond Intergalactic Boundaries Through STEM (featuring Rakim, Slick Rick, Jazzy Jeff, Das EFX, Big Daddy Kane and Positive K): Stage AE, North Shore
End May with the wildest show of the month. I’m not sure what a lineup of Golden Age rap legends from the ‘80s and ‘90s can teach kids about the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). And yet, this lineup blasts beams of pure nostalgia straight into my Gen-X brain. Rakim is a top-5 lyricist of all time; Jazzy Jeff was so much more than Will Smith/The Fresh Prince’s straight man; Slick Rick’s storytelling skill still bests his many descendants. Has there ever been a gathering of this many hip-hop legends in one place in Pittsburgh? Will anyone younger than 36 care?
For more things to do in Pittsburgh, check out 11 May events not to miss, from a chalk fest to a lager fest.