If there’s a theme for March concerts, it’s “show up early.”
It’s a great month for live music and also a weird one because many of the most interesting acts are undercards: Mdou Moctar, L’Rain, Kali Uchis, Vince Staples, Melvins, Negative Approach.
The value of a good opener is underrated. It’s a great way to find something new and unexpected. Even when all the music in recorded history is at your fingertips, sometimes it needs to be live and right in front of you for it to make sense.
And if the openers happen to suck — hey, it’s still a great time to grab a beer.
As always, please note that most venues require proof of vaccination, negative Covid tests and/or masks, so check with each club. (But really, do that stuff anyway). There are also likely to be additional Covid-related cancellations, so double-check before you go.
March 1, Tool, The Acid Helps: PPG Paints Arena, Uptown
Maynard James Keenan is reclusive and elusive for a rock star, but he’s never wanted it any other way. To hear him tell it, making music is something he does in the off-season when things get slow at his winery (Merkin Vineyards and Caduceus Cellars in northern Arizona). Then again, Keenan’s bands — particularly the progressive-metal behemoths Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer — have had no problem selling millions of albums and selling out stadiums without much in the way of catchy singles, airplay and/or the usual glib promotions. They only make albums when they feel like it, and if that means they skip a decade or two … so be it. The fans come back anyway.
March 1, Son Volt, Jesse Farrar: Mr. Smalls Theatre, Millvale
As half of the songwriting strength of the beloved early-1990s band Uncle Tupelo, Jay Farrar helped launch an unlikely revolution in pop music — the resurrection of old country music for the indie-rock crowd. Farrar and Jeff Tweedy were uneasy equals in the band, each songwriter’s strengths filling in the voids that the other one left. It was like having Neil Young and Bob Dylan trying to share a stage. Obviously, that was too combustible a combination to last. Tweedy went on to become an actual rock star with Wilco, and Farrar formed Son Volt — and didn’t. Son Volt is a very good band, though. Farrar still sounds like he’s carrying the weight of the world in his voice, even if his mercurial, introspective take on Americana will keep him free from the pesky burdens of stardom.
March 4, Ministry, Melvins, Corrosion of Conformity: Stage AE, North Shore
Ministry started out preaching the gospel of New Wave/synth-pop in 1981, before taking a radical turn into grinding, confrontational industrial metal. But Al Jourgensen and company have always kept a few pop nuts and bolts inside the machinery, and it’s helped them sell more records than anyone in the genre but Nine Inch Nails. They even put out a record last year (“Moral Hygiene”), with guest spots from members of Megadeth, N.W.A. and the punk prophet Jello Biafra. The Melvins have been around almost as long — singer/guitarist Buzz “King Buzzo” Osborne literally introduced Dave Grohl to Kurt Cobain. Their spiky, aggressive post-punk and heavy, doom-laden Black Sabbath-style metal was a huge influence on Nirvana and a hefty percentage of all the bands, good and bad, that followed in their wake.
March 4, Flower Crown, Glam Hand: Spirit, Lawrenceville
Pittsburgh rockers Flower Crown are releasing their new album “Heat” this month. With a band name like that, you’d be tempted to guess that they make woozy psychedelic pop — and you’d be right. However, the mirror ball on the cover suggests a new sheen of bright, twinkling mid-tempo music, and infinite replay-ability — and something that you could probably even dance to. One of Pittsburgh’s best bands has just hit a creative peak.
March 7, Tame Impala: Petersen Events Center, Oakland
Aussie rockers Tame Impala started out in 2010 as purveyors of groovy Technicolor psychedelia, throwbacks to the optimistic side of the ‘60s. However, slowly over the past decade, they’ve evolved into a synth-driven, dancefloor-ready pop group — and thus became one of the biggest bands in the world. That’s why they’re at the Pete, a basketball arena, whose acoustics will be challenged by Tame Impala’s delicately layered sound.
March 11-13, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with Pablo Sáinz-Villegas: Heinz Hall, Downtown
The always sublime PSO combines with Spanish guitar master Pablo Sáinz-Villegas, thought by some to be the greatest classical guitarist alive. They’ll be performing Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” for guitar and orchestra, along with works by Prokofiev, Debussy and Lutoslawski, led by Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena.
March 12, Tyler, the Creator, Kali Uchis, Vince Staples, Teezo Touchdown: Petersen Events Center, Oakland
It’s funny when the most dangerous, disruptive musicians unexpectedly mature into something acceptable — like how Dr. Dre was in the notorious N.W.A., but just performed at the Super Bowl halftime show. Similarly, Tyler, the Creator stormed into hip-hop like some kind of vicious punk upstart a few years back. And now he’s headlining arenas and topping critics’ year-end best-of lists. Liberated from the need to play the bad guy, he’s making some of the most artful, original moves in hip-hop. Again, the undercard here is astounding. Vince Staples is neck and neck with Tyler and Kendrick Lamar as one of the most vital lyricists in the game. Columbian-American retro-Latin soul singer Kali Uchis went from living in her car to winning Grammys and collaborating with Mac Miller in just a few short years. I have no idea who Teezo Touchdown is, but kudos on the name.
March 12, Khruangbin, Nubya Garcia: Stage AE, North Shore
With a suite of influences extending well beyond the musical Anglosphere (Thai Luk thung, Persian pop, Japanese folk-rock), Houston-born Khruangbin has become a big deal here in the States. They’re mostly instrumental, which makes their popularity doubly confounding and surprising. It’s fun, funky all-purpose psychedelia, and refuses to stay quietly in the background when you put it on. To their credit, the Houston trio truly loves music that falls outside the Western rock canon and is turning kids on to music that would normally be found only in the dustiest reaches of the world’s most analog, off-the-grid record stores.
March 12, Le Vent du Nord: Kelly Strayhorn Theater, East Liberty
Le Vent du Nord plays traditional francophone folk from their native Quebec. If that doesn’t exactly set your coeur racing, think of them as a take on wildly energetic Celtic music — which thrived in both Brittany (Northern France) and Canada — with vocals in French. Their instruments tell the tale — guitar, Irish bouzouki, hurdy-gurdy, button accordion, acoustic bass, and jaw harp. This is something you don’t hear every day in Pittsburgh. Hope they bring some poutine!