April Music Preview: Rising Stars, Oldies, Metalcore and More

Foxygen's core members Jonathan Rado (left) and Sam France (right) performing at Mohawk in Austin, TX. photo: Bryan C. Parker

Foxygen’s core members Jonathan Rado (left) and Sam France (right) performing at Mohawk in Austin, TX. photo: Bryan C. Parker

The concert scene in Pittsburgh is starting to perk up for the spring and summer season. Although no true mega-acts are in town this month, some niche and mid-range acts are sold out, including our profiled alt-J and Modest Mouse. Rising stars Foxygen and Dan Deacon are in concert at Mr. Smalls, while Broadway sensation Audra McDonald comes to the Byham Theater.

If you’re into classic rock and vocal groups as well as Pittsburgh music history, there’s a tremendous event for you—The Pittsburgh Rockn’ Reunion with an all-star lineup of The Marcels, Lou Christie, Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners, Donnie Iris, Jimmie Ross and the Jaggerz, and Chuck Blasko’s Vogues! Another top local talent performing this month is hometown boy done good, Chris Jamison, whom many will remember for his reaching third place on “The Voice.” He and other skilled local acts will be playing in support of our environment on Earth Day. Meeting of Important People are playing the Warhol Sound Series gig with The Van Allen Belt and Morgan Erina.

Impressive legacy artists performing in the ‘Burgh this month include Neil Diamond, Rosanne Cash, and Todd Rundgren. The Christian music scene has some hot artists and two of them will be playing here—metalcore group The Devil Wears Prada and rapper Lecrae. There are many other top concerts in town, too numerous to mention, so remember: The only real April fool is the one who doesn’t get out and enjoy some good live music.

Thursday, April 2

At a time when rock n’ roll is becoming less a part of the mainstream, it’s nice to see a rock band like alt-J playing venues like the Benedum Center. Part of the band’s success has to do with their incorporation of the mainstream. Early singles like “Fitzpleasure” take a cue from dub step; “Hunger of the Pine,” meanwhile, samples Miley Cyrus. The latter single comes from the group’s sophomore album, 2014’s This Is All Yours. It received a 2015 Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Album. Such accolades are part of what have helped to propel the band from Leeds, England, to venues like Mr. Smalls, and now to the Benedum, all in less than eight years. 8 p.m. 237 7th St., Cultural District. This event has SOLD OUT, tickets may be available on re-seller sites.

Saturday, April 4

Hey man, this is the kind of event that only happens once in a “Blue Moon”! It’s the Pittsburgh Rockin’ Reunion, and with Lou Christie joining Pittsburgh’s doo-wop Marcels, “Lightning Strikes” again! The concert brings together six great local acts who were instrumental (and vocal) in putting this city on the rock-‘n-roll map. Along with Christie and The Marcels, the lineup includes Jimmy Beaumont and the SkylinersDonnie IrisJimmie Ross and the Jaggerz … and the pride of Turtle Creek, Chuck Blasko’s Vogues, who just might do “Five O’Clock World.” But don’t let that throw your timing off—there are two shows, and they’re at 4 and 8 p.m. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District.

“Amie, what you wanna do?” It’s one of the sweetest refrains in country rock, and if you wanna hear the latest incarnation of the group that broke to national fame with “Amie” (above) back in the ‘70s, you can catch Pure Prairie League at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille. PPL’s lineup has changed over the years, of course, and the music has evolved somewhat, too. But when it comes to that easy-rollin’ Pure Prairie sound—with bluegrass inflections, from the band’s origins in Waverly, Ohio, midway between Chillicothe and the Kentucky line—the sound is still there. Country music star Vince Gill was a member of the band in 1979. With guests Steeltown Religion. 8 p.m. 285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale.

Tuesday, April 7

He learned his chops as a songwriter in New York’s legendary Brill Building. He’s got a voice that has landed him on various lists of “best baritones in non-classical music.” He has sold more records than Springsteen or Dylan. He is in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—and for one night only this spring, Neil Diamond is in Pittsburgh, at Consol Energy Center. Be prepared to sing along with Neil if needed, as you can bet he will do the song that’s become the unofficial anthem of sports teams from the Boston Red Sox to the Pitt football Panthers: “Sweet Caroline.” 8 p.m. 1001 Fifth Ave., Uptown.

Wednesday, April 8

You know that a famous performer’s kid has made it on her own when people stop referring to her as, say, “Judy Garland’s daughter.” Liza Minnelli has done it and so has Rosanne Cash. The artist formerly known as Johnny Cash’s daughter is having a pretty good year: so far, she’s won three Grammy Awards. Cash will be at the Byham Theater for a duo concert with her husband, instrumentalist-composer John Leventhal. They’ll perform songs from The River & The Thread, Cash’s Grammy-winning Best Americana Album, including the track which took two more Grammys (for Best American Roots Song and Performance), “A Feather’s Not a Bird.” 7:30 p.m. 101 6th St., Cultural District.

Thursday, April 9

A little over a year ago, Baltimore’s Dan Deacon warmed audiences’ dancing shoes as an opening act for Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire. While on the road with the band, he worked on his newest release, 2015’s album Gliss Riffer. He’ll be playing tracks from it and his expansive back catalog tonight at Mr. Smalls. Gliss Riffer marks a return to form for Deacon, an electronic artist who worked with live musicians on his last two releases. The new album, like 2007’s breakout Spiderman of the Rings, is pure Deacon—self-produced and layered with gorgeous electronic sounds and modulated vocals that he’s known for. Be ready to participate. Deacon is known to coordinate unorthodox dance steps during his live shows. Prince Rama and Ben O’Brien open. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale.

 Monday, April 13

Foxygen’s “How Can You Really” has been a favorite among the EC staff, so we are excited to see them playing Mr. Smalls this month. If you thought the single was by the band Star Power, you’re half-right. Star Power is the fictional moniker of Foxygen, created specifically for their double concept album, 2014’s …And Star Power. SiriusXMU plays the Californian indie rock duo on heavy rotation, and they’ve also appeared at SXSW. The duo has lately expanded to a nine-piece for the Star Power tour, although all eyes will probably be on lead singer Sam France. During live shows, France often hits himself in the face with his microphone, scales equipment, and addresses the crowd in non sequiturs. As long as the music’s tight, we won’t mind. Alex Cameron opens. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale.

Wednesday, April 15

Audra McDonald, one of the great singers of our time, is being brought to town by Hill House Association for a concert at the Byham Theater. McDonald is best known for her work on Broadway, recently starring as Bess in a revival of Porgy and Bess and as Billie Holliday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill. But the Juilliard-trained soprano also sings opera, and she likes to spice her concerts with some offbeat numbers, too—such as selections from Gabriel Kahane’s song cycle Craigslistlieder, which is craigslist ads put to music. Most impressively, along with her many music awards, McDonald has won six Tony Awards for acting. (She’s the only person to have won in all four acting categories: for supporting and lead roles in both musicals and plays.) That’s a hard act to follow. And maybe an act not to miss. 8 p.m. 101 6th St., Cultural District. RESCHEDULED to May 11.

Wednesday, April 15 

Representing a few areas of culture we don’t often see converge, The Devil Wears Prada is a Christian melodic metalcore band named after a chick-lit novel. They’ve worked hard to earn the respect of the metalcore world. (With their name and religiosity, they had to.) The Dayton, Ohio-based musicians are on their Zombie 5 tour in which they will be performing their album Zombie in its entirety. Opening are special guests The Word Alive, Born of Osiris, and Secrets. 7 p.m. Mr. Smalls Funhouse, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale.

Thursday, April 16

They Might Be Giants started in 1982 with two guys living in Brooklyn, both named John, who recorded energetic rock songs with zany lyrics (like this one). The next 30 years breaks down like so: 16 albums, the big crossover radio hit (“Birdhouse in Your Soul”), themes for shows like Malcolm in the Middle and The Daily Show, a new generation of young fans following a slew of children’s albums, Grammys, platinum sales. (Whew!) 2015 offers little in the way of a breather. This January the duo began posting a new recording each week on DialASong.com. They also began a monthly residency at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Finally, they plan to release three albums within the next 12 months, the first due this spring. Somewhere in between, they play Mr. Smalls tonight. And although they have done kids’ shows in the past to promote their children’s albums, this concert will be 14+. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale.

Saturday, April 18

Pittsburgh’s own Meeting of Important People are releasing a new single, “All Rode Off Together” (here’s a live version from last year). To celebrate, they’re playing The Warhol as part of its Sound Series. Since releasing their self-titled debut LP in 2009, this indie pop trio has opened for groups like Ok Go and The Secret Machines, all while garnering international exposure on the British radio station XFM. Their music has been heard on shows running the gamut of The Real World to The Ghost Whisperer, and in 2009, they played a cardboard city. The trio are sharing tonight’s bill with fellow Pittsburgh artists The Van Allen Belt, a quartet reminiscent of ‘60s pop, though they dabble in other genres. During their 2012 tour, the quartet left the drums at home and went electronic, and their latest single, 2014’s “Different Storm,” finds them in a more haunted mood. Morgan Erina opens. 8 p.m. 117 Sandusky St., North Shore.

Sunday, April 19

Anomaly is right. In 2014, Christian rapper Lecrae’s seventh studio album, Anomaly, simultaneously went to number one on the Christian charts, the gospel charts, and the Billboard 200—the first album ever to do so. The title track, meanwhile, name-drops OutKast, all while grappling with universal themes of acceptance and fitting in. Lecrae is also the co-founder and president of the independent record label Reach Records, and his sixth album, 2012’s Gravity, became the first hip hop album ever to win the Grammy Award for Best Gospel Album. Lecrae, from Atlanta by way of Houston, is sure to draw a diverse crowd for his show at Stage AE. Andy Mineo and DJ Promote open. Doors open 7 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore.

Monday, April 20

Indie rock band Modest Mouse has been no stranger to the concert stage in recent years, but it’s been a long dry spell between album tours. This month the drought broke with Strangers to Ourselves, the band’s first full-album release since 2007. The first single, “Lampshades on Fire,” came out in December and instantly showed not much had changed—it’s a bouncy, upbeat track with rapid-fire lyrics delivered in singer Issac Brock’s distinctively frantic, off-kilter style.

Forming in Issaquah, W.A., in the mid-90’s, Modest Mouse earned critical acclaim and a cult following for their quirky, lo-fi sound. However, mainstream success didn’t come their way until 2004’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News, and its irrerpessible single,” Float On.” The 2007 follow-up, We were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, hit number one on the billboard charts, but it’s been a long wait since then. Fans have obviously stuck with them for the ride though—tickets to the show are already SOLD OUT. Some tickets may be available on ticket reseller sites. Special guest is Turn to Crime. Doors open at 7 p.m. Stage AE, 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore.

Wednesday, April 22 (Earth Day)

A young singer rises out of the North Hills and reaches fame through a TV show music competition. Jackie Evancho? No, it’s Chris Jamison. Following a similar career trajectory, Jamison grew up in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh, honing his talent by performing locally with the Pittsburgh CLO Academy and CLO Mini Stars, then landing a spot on NBC’s “The Voice” last fall. During his blind audition each of the four coaches (Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani, Blake Shelton, and Pharrell Williams) turned around to see who the gifted singer was. Jamison chose Adam Levine as his coach and made it to third place in the competition.

Just a regular—albeit highly talented—guy, Jamison, a recent student at Capital University, where he pursued studies in business marketing and is a member of Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, is also the lead vocalist of his own Chris Jamison Band. Jamison is playing a free Earth Day concert in Mellon Square Park Downtown from 6 – 7 p.m. Opening for him is 3 Dudes Chillin. There’s actually a full day of musical acts on tap, starting with Appalachian bluegrass band The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers at 11 a.m., followed by Cello Fury at noon. Then Gene Stovall with Alien Faces and Kyle Lawson Duo will play through the afternoon. Jamison will also be performing at Lattitude 360 on April 9 and Altar Bar on April 12. There are really cool environmental and musical events happening throughout the city today; for more info visit Pittsburgh Earth Day.

Saturday, April 25

“Can We Still Be Friends,” “Hello It’s Me,” and “I Saw the Light” were three monster hits in the 70’s for accomplished pop rocker Todd Rundgren. A musical composer, performer, and producer who plays many different instruments, Rundgren is a free spirit whose creativity is limitless and songs melodically beautiful. He’s produced top albums for many individuals and groups, including Hall and Oates, Cheap Trick, Patti Smith, and The Psychedelic Furs. Rundgren is currently touring in support of his latest release State. This is a great chance to see a top pop composer and musician. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.  Stage AE 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore.

Tuesday, April 28

“Everybody Loves the Sunshine” is certainly a true statement—it especially relates to us Pittsburghers as we emerge from a dreary late winter, and it’s also the title of one of funk/soul/jazz musician Roy Ayers’ top songs. Ayers—who plays keyboards and vibraphone—likes creating feel-good music because he says that type of music most closely matches his personality. He has the noted distinction of having more of his songs sampled by rappers than any other recording artist. Current music industry phenom Pharrell Williams has said that Roy Ayers is one of his main musical influences. 8 p.m. Cabaret at Theater Square, 655 Penn Ave., Cultural District.

Wednesday, April 29

Progressive heavy metal band Queensryche formed in Bellevue, Washington in 1982 and rose to national prominence with the 1990 hit “Silent Lucidity.” The song was nominated for two Grammys and five MTV Music Awards, winning for Viewers Choice. After some breakups, reformations, and controversy over who owned the name Queensrcyche—with two different bands touring under the name—all legal matters have been settled and the band (only one) is touring again. Isn’t rock ‘n roll grand! Icarus Witch and Vermithrax open. 8 p.m. Altar Bar, 1620 Penn Ave., Strip District.

Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central Pittsburgh and a lover of great music.

Chris Maggio, Mike Vargo, and Heather McCracken also contributed to this music preview.