Pittsburgh, 200 million years ago. It’s hot. It’s swampy. Dinosaurs roamed the Earth. So, pretty much like August in Pittsburgh right now. Rock dinosaurs like Metallica, Anthrax and Alice in Chains are leaving giant footprints (and crushed IC Light cans) behind, while more obscure creatures (Matmos, Heilung) scurry out of the muck onto land for the first time.
Outdoors or in, it’s a good time for live music while summer’s at its zenith.
And, of course, Covid is clearly still a thing, so check your venue’s policy on masks and such before you go.
Aug. 1: Coheed and Cambria, Alkaline Trio: Stage AE, North Shore
It’s hard to pick three veins of rock with less in common than prog, emo and metal. I mean, bombast (and lack of subtlety) must be the connecting thread, but Coheed and Cambria built something durable where others flamed out spectacularly (Smashing Pumpkins, sorry). Their albums are all based on a series of science fiction novels, which is pretty exciting to a certain sort of dudes — and it’s mostly dudes — and of course, they can really play.
Aug. 2: Carnegie Hall Youth Orchestra with Sean Jones, Jazzmeia Horn: August Wilson African American Cultural Center, Downtown
This concert features some of the best teenage jazz players in the world, led by former Pittsburgher and trumpet virtuoso Sean Jones, and accompanied by wildly talented professional singer Jazzmeia Horn. It’s the future of jazz — and the present of jazz — together on one stage.
Aug. 2: Rob Zombie, Mudvayne: The Pavilion at Star Lake, Burgettstown
You’ve simply got to admire a guy who commits to an aesthetic and won’t change, no matter which way the trends are blowing. Rob Zombie likes gory, nasty, grade-Z grindhouse horror movies from the 1970s, and makes them himself. He also makes music along similar lines — with Sabbath-like grooves and lyrics about monsters, a bit like a less primitive Misfits when they started to go metal a little. It’s fun, it’s ridiculous, it rocks — why change the formula now?
Aug. 2: Matmos, Jeff Carey: Andy Warhol Museum, North Side
For experimental electronica duo Matmos, music is everywhere and in everything. You just need open ears and an open mind to hear it. They’ve built a song around the sound of blood rushing in band member M.C. Schmidt’s carotid artery. They’ve plucked and bowed a rat cage like a violin, recorded the clink of dishes and amplified human hair. They made an entire album from sounds of liposuction and plastic surgery, turned into beats and melodies. You could call it “sound art” — but this is the rare conceptual art that actually is fun and even works as dance music. Though their artistic rigor has earned them exhibitions at places such as the Whitney and the Warhol, the duo also exhibits the inexhaustible curiosity of 12-year-old kids, willing to pluck, poke, crush or squish just about anything to find out what sounds it makes. I don’t know what they’re doing at the moment — but in Matmos’ case, I’d prefer to be surprised.
Aug. 5: Charli XCX: Stage AE, North Shore
It’s weird how dudes have sort of given up on doing anything creative in the pop music realm, and women just keep pushing it forward relentlessly like it’s their job. Well, it is now. Charli XCX is almost impossible to pin down, except that the British singer has a thorough knowledge of everything from feminist punk to neon-hued electro-pop to illegal warehouse raves to the latest innovations in trans-Atlantic hip-hop (pro tip: London is where it’s at right now). But she’s also got a singular, overriding dedication to cracking the code of pop stardom. And she’s almost there — this will likely be her last stop before the stadiums.
Aug. 8, Andrew Bird, Iron & Wine, Meshell Ndegeocello: Stage AE: North Shore
Andrew Bird is that rare bird who’s both a virtuoso instrumentalist and an outstanding lyricist. But he’s also a hard-to-market musical chameleon, wielding the skills of a classically trained violinist with a background in gypsy jazz and swing — and playing the xylophone and electric guitar, too, sometimes in the same song. Using a sampler pedal, he often plays both the rhythm and lead. Plus, he whistles with an eerie, unearthly sound like a theremin or musical saw — or some undiscovered avian species. Iron & Wine is another big draw, with a subtle, cinematic take on indie rock that pairs well with Bird. Unclassifiable singer/songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello is a cool and unexpected bonus.
Aug. 9: “Jazz Harpists: the music of Alice Coltrane” with Yoko Suzuki: City of Asylum, North Side
Alice Coltrane should be a religion. I mean, there’s a Church of John Coltrane (her late husband), so why not? With the harp as her primary instrument, she created a style of brilliantly complex, spiritual jazz that doesn’t fit into any particular style or category — and her later deep dive into Hindu devotional music is also amazing. Anyway, this isn’t her (she doesn’t tour much), but Yoko Suzuki has curated a spotlight on Coltrane’s music featuring a presentation of Alice Coltrane’s life by Tammy L. Kernodle, professor of African American music, jazz and gender at Miami University, followed by a concert including Nuiko Wadden, principal harpist for the Pittsburgh Opera and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Orchestras, with Suzuki on alto sax, Jeff Grubbs on bass and James Johnson III on drums. Like everything at this venue, it’s free.
Aug. 10: Alice in Chains, Breaking Benjamin: The Pavilion at Star Lake, Burgettstown
Layne Staley is deceased, so this seems like an ugly bit of grave robbery. And yet … Alice in Chains made some of the most durable music of the 1990s, with uncanny vocal harmonies elevating them above the expected grunge guitars. Metal that you can sing along with! This was once a thing, and maybe will be again someday.
Aug. 12: Craig Davis Trio: Con Alma, Downtown
Pittsburgh has always had a few great jazz clubs, some of them bordering on legendary (Crawford Grill, James Street, Walt Harper’s Attic, etc.). Con Alma has definitively joined their ranks. The Shadyside Con Alma is outstanding, but the Downtown Con Alma is simply at the right place — across from Heinz Hall — at the right time, with the right food (outstanding pan-Caribbean, with some surprises), right drinks and people who care about the music. Pianist Craig Davis is a great example of the kind of talent that (still) comes out of this city — a guy who can play with anyone, anywhere, at any time — but chooses to do it (mostly) right here.
Aug. 14: Metallica: PNC Park, North Shore
At what point did Metallica go from Best Metal Band Ever to total, absolute suckage? (Correct answer: after the doom-laden, unexpected pop smash of the “Black Album”). Well, they can still physically play everything from “Ride the Lightning” and “Kill ‘Em All,” so this is still probably a good time since it’s at PNC Park, the best ballpark in baseball. Plus, Metallica has more hits than your average Pirates game, so … “Enter Sandman,” if you will.
Aug. 16: Kehlani: UPMC Events Center, Coraopolis
Kehlani is a pop/R&B phenomenon with a backstory that encompasses stadium-sized triumph and almost unbearable tragedy, and everything in between. Suffice it to say, the 27-year-old has seen a lot and thus has the option to go deeper with her songs than many of her contemporaries, which she chooses to do quite often.
Aug. 19: Soul Glo, YDI, Rebelmatic, Minority Threat: Thunderbird Cafe, Lawrenceville
Philadelphia’s Soul Glo keeps the loud/fast/abrasive template of hardcore punk alive but otherwise discards the rest. There are guest rappers and vocalists, horn sections, moments of vulnerability, occasional weird humor and moments of pure rage at a system that seems rigged against young Black men from the jump.
Aug. 20: Rock, Reggae & Relief with UB40, The Original Wailers, Maxi Priest, Big Mountain, more: Market Square, Downtown
Reggae has always been an odd fit for Pittsburgh, with our microscopic Jamaican community (but ample hippie contingent). This show is particularly interesting because of its venue — Forbes Avenue Downtown near Market Square — and that “reggae” has been interpreted quite broadly. There’s the English ’80s mega-hitmakers UB40, who have had more than 50 (!) songs hit the U.K. Singles Chart. “Red Red Wine” is a reggae classic (written by Neil Diamond) that they turned into an ’80s anthem. Maxi Priest is a South London reggae/R&B fusion star, who won a Grammy in 1994. Big Mountain is American, and is best known for covering Peter Frampton’s “Baby I Love Your Way,” which was a Top 10 hit in 1994. Proceeds from ticket sales for Rock, Reggae & Relief will go to supporting Café Momentum as it establishes here in Pittsburgh to help youth in the juvenile justice system gain hands-on experience working in the restaurant industry.
Aug. 22: Anthrax, Black Label Society: Stage AE, North Shore
Out of the Big 4 monstrous behemoths of the Thrash Metal era (Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax), Anthrax was perhaps the most creative. Remember, their 1991 collaboration with rap gods Public Enemy on “Bring the Noise” shook music to its core, and the band navigated the transition from thrash-metal to grunge better than Metallica (way better).
Aug. 23: Messer Chups: Thunderbird Cafe, Lawrenceville
So, a Russian surf-rock instrumental band that has inhaled all the lessons of Dick Dale and Link Wray and Los Straitjackets, with a bassist (Svetlana “Zombierella” Nagaeva) who literally looks like Bettie Page. Hmmm … bet that will find an audience.
Aug. 26: Thundercat: Stage AE, North Shore
When I said that dudes had really fallen behind in the pop music innovation game, I wasn’t referring to Thundercat. He’s a unicorn — a guy who can play jazz bass with the best players in the world (like his good buddy Kamasi Washington), and writes and sings wildly eccentric pop with a lot of soul and a touch of yacht-rock, which puts him in a class of his own. He’s not a studio cat, either — he can actually play, improvise (that’s the jazz thing again) and no two shows are the same.
Aug. 28: Wiz Khalifa: The Pavilion at Star Lake, Burgettstown
No, Star Lake isn’t burning to the ground. It’s just Wiz Khalifa, weed connoisseur and world-spanning rapper, back in his hometown. He’s graduated to much bigger venues, and even raps about things other than weed occasionally. “Renegade” might seem like the Steelers’ anthem for all time, but “Black and Yellow” is coming for you, Styx. Just don’t forget to take off that Dodgers hat we’ve seen you wearing, OK?
Aug. 28: Cheick Hamala Diabate: Summer Sounds with Weather Permitting at Hazelwood Green, Hazelwood
Though I’ll miss taking my son to the all-ages Weather Permitting shows when they were full of squirt guns and hula hoops, sunsets and the lush foliage at the Shadyside Nursery, we’ve all grown up now. Now at Hazelwood Green, the headliner here is Cheick Hamala Diabate, a Mali-born griot and adept at playing the ngoni, a banjo-like African instrument with a history that goes back 800 years. The music is free, but you’ll want to bring some cash for the food trucks and vendors, including Pure Grub 412, Tango, Kung Fu Tea, East End Brewing, Barmy Soda Company, Hazel Grove Brewing and Empath Mocktails.
Aug. 30: Heilung: Stage AE, North Shore
Pastoral, occult folk-horror — drawing on ancient folklore and collective nightmares — is the hottest thing in horror movies right now (see “The Witch” or “Midsommar,” etc.). Heilung is the musical equivalent. This Danish/Norwegian/German group makes experimental folk music based on texts and runes from the Viking Age, Bronze Age and even earlier — and even absolute metalheads are transfixed by their total commitment to this aesthetic. Oh, and their instruments include human bones, goat-skin drums painted with human blood, and a clay rattle filled with human ashes. Then there are the vocals — which occasionally adopt Tibetan or Tuvan throat singing styles. Obviously, you’ll know if this is your thing or not pretty quickly.
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