August Concert Guide: Mars, Kings, Dance Elements, Yes, Stills and Blue Eyes

Bruno Mars playing keyboards at a Houston concert in 2010. Photo: Brothers Le and Wikipedia.

Bruno Mars playing keyboards at a Houston concert in 2010. Photo: Brothers Le and Wikipedia.

We’re in the last month of the summer season, and it promises to be a month of musical bliss. There hasn’t been many mega shows this summer. The biggest act this month is Bruno Mars, who is in concert at PPG Paints Arena.

There are, however, a steady stream of high-quality, mid-size acts. Like Twang-rock? Florida Georgia Line is at KeyBank Pavilion. Classic rock is prominent with shows from Foreigner/Cheap Trick/Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Experience, also at KeyBank. There’s a Yestival at Greensburg’s Palace. What’s a Yestival, you ask? It’s a mini-festival with Yes, Todd Rundgren, and Carl Palmer. Tesla, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, and The Outlaws also have Pittsburgh dates. Two outstanding performers who were once a couple, but never performed together until this year, are playing our region: Judy Collins and Stephen Stills.

Other notable concerts include Kings of Leon, Phantogram, The Shins, Social Distortion, and Nickelback. There’s going to be a big funk soul dance party at PPG Paints Arena when Earth, Wind & Fire and Chic take the stage. There’s also a bevy of top Pittsburgh talent performing free, outdoor concerts at North and South Parks. We’ve spotlighted Billy Porter, The Gathering Field and Brownie Mary, and The Commonheart. Many concert options are out there; enjoy our suggestions, or follow your own musical pleasure.

Tuesday, August 1

“New Slang” and “Caring Is Creepy” appeared on 2001’s Oh, Inverted World, The Shins’ debut album, but the songs gained additional exposure after appearing on the Garden State soundtrack three years later. 2007’s Wincing the Night Away, the band’s third album, charted at no. 2 on the Billboard 200. Then The Shins disappeared. Frontman James Mercer broke up the original lineup and started Broken Bells, his collaboration with noted producer Danger Mouse. The Shins, still fronted by Mercer but with an otherwise new lineup, returned in 2012 with Port of Morrow. Singles like “Simple Song” proved that Mercer could still write Shins songs that would “change your life,” to quote Sam (Natalie Portman) in Garden State. 2017’s Heartworms is The Shins’ latest. The group plays Stage AE. Tennis, an indie husband-and-wife duo, opens. Doors open 7 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (CM)

Electronic, pop-rock band Phantogram, from Greenwich, N.Y., is made up of Josh Carter (vocals, guitars) and Sarah Barthel (vocals, keyboards), who perform at Mr. Smalls. An optical illusion that makes two-dimensional objects appear three-dimensional inspired the band’s name. The duo recorded its first album, 2010’s Eyelid Movies, in a remote and rustic barn called Harmony Lodge in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Phantogram epitomize the kind of genre crossing that’s become common among an internet-flattened landscape. “When I’m Small,” off of Eyelid Movies, appears across a myriad of Pandora stations. The group appeared on The Flaming Lips’ The Terror in 2013 and on Miley Cyrus’s Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz in 2015. The Game’s “Mula” (featuring Kanye West) sampled “Fall in Love,” off of 2014’s Voices, Phantogram’s sophomore album. With rapper Big Boi, they formed Big Grams in 2015 and released an EP. Phantogram’s third album, appropriately titled Three, was released in 2016. Skott opens. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (RH, CM)

Thursday, August 3

Social Distortion, an American punk rock band which formed in 1978 in Fullerton, California, plays Stage AE this month. Frontman Mike Ness started the group with Dennis Danell in high school. After their debut album, 1983’s Mommy’s Little Monster, things almost fell apart—the band went on hiatus while Ness entered rehab. He and the other members persevered and released Prison Bound in 1988.  “Ball and Chain” and “Story of My Life,” two hits from their self-titled third album, remain immensely popular 27 years after their initial release. Danell died in 2000, and Ness remains the group’s sole original member. (Drummer David Hidalgo Jr. is the son of David Hidalgo, guitarist and singer for Los Lobos.)  Their last record was Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes. It was released in 2011, but Social D often perform new songs on tour, so enjoy some early listens. Jade Jackson open. Doors open 7 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (RH, CM)

Friday, August 4

Classic rock mainstay Chicago has remained vibrant and popular throughout the decades despite lead singer Peter Cetera leaving the band for a solo career in 1985, personnel changes, and a lack of latter-day chart successes. Why has Chicago remained so popular? The answer is in the music. Every musician is highly accomplished and the band’s big wall of sound brings it all together. Best known for its brassy horn section—which gives extra depth to hits like “25 or 6 to 4,” “Saturday in the Park,” “Just You and Me” “Beginnings,” and “If You Leave Me Now—Chicago had a longer name at its start in 1967. The rockers called themselves Chicago Transit Authority but were forced to change it … by the Chicago Transit Authority. The band will give a FanJam Postgame Concert, which begins at PNC Park after the Bucs play the Padres in a 7:05 game. 115 Federal St., North Shore.

Sunday, August 6

One of Pittsburgh’s hottest bands during the ’90s—Gathering Fieldreunites occasionally with the original lineup of Bill Deasy (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Dave Brown (lead guitar), Jim DiSpirito (percussion), Eric Riebling (bass), Ray Defade (drums), and new member Clark Slater. Gathering Field gained rock radio success in the mid-’90s with the song “Lost in America” and was signed to Atlantic Records. The band members created their first studio album in many years, Wild Journey, in 2014 and are performing tonight with another top Pittsburgh band from the 1990s that reunites occasionally, Brownie Mary. The band is set on a foundation of Kelsey Friday as the wailing lead singer and guitarist Rich Jaques. Friday (formerly Barber) has a professional career and several children. Most of the time now she sings about the sun, being happy, and why it’s OK to be afraid sometimes, as the leader of the cutely named children’s music outfit Kelsey Friday and the Rest of the Week. She’s not relying on that material tonight however. She and her Brownie Mary bandmates will be ripping it up. Special guests are Scott, Rob, and Greg of the Clarks playing an acoustic set. This strong Pittsburgh rock performance billed as Nick’s Fat City Night is part of the Allegheny County Summer Concert Series. 7:30 p.m. Hartwood Acres Amphitheater, 4070 Middle Rd., Allison Park. (RH)

Monday, August 7

Nickelback get a lot of flack. The Internet scoffed when frontman Chad Kroeger said in a recent CBC radio interview that “I even think the critics like Nickelback. … We’re that guilty pleasure.” Critics or not, somebody, in fact, a lot of people like the rock quartet. The band’s worldwide album sales surpass 50 million. Nickelback formed in Hanna, Alberta, Canada, in 1995. 2001’s Silver Side Up and its first single, “How You Remind Me,” were multi-platinum successes. “Seinfeld” fans can appreciate the music video for “Trying Not To Love You;” it stars Jason Alexander, arguably best known as George Costanza. He plays two baristas, who vie for the love of Brooke Burns of “Baywatch.” (Seriously. Watch it above.) The group is touring in support of this year’s Feed the Machine, including a stop at KeyBank Pavilion. Daughtry, fronted by Chris Daughtry of “American Idol” fame, opens as do Shaman’s Harvest. 6 p.m. 665 Rt. 18, Burgettstown. (CM)

Nickelback performing in Brisbane, Australia in 2012. photo: Thakingdome and Wikipedia.

Nickelback performing in Brisbane, Australia in 2012. photo: Thakingdome and Wikipedia.

Tuesday, August 8

Tesla formed in Sacramento, California, in the 1980s and was originally called City Kidd. However, their manager didn’t like the name, plus there was another band with that name, so they found inspiration from inventor and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla. The band really hit its stride in the early ’90s with a tight group, the rich vocals of Jeff Keith, and the ability to craft some popular power ballads. Breaking up in 1996 and reuniting in 2000, the band remains popular and continues to create new works. Their latest album was 2014’s Simplicity. They are currently working on a new one scheduled for release this year. Tesla’s best known songs include “Love Song,” “What You Give,” and “Signs.” The band has sold over 25 million albums. Opening is The Cringe and Voices of Extreme. 7:30 p.m. The Palace Theatre, 21 W. Otterman St., Greensburg. (RH)  

Thursday, August 10

Earth, Wind & Fire is one of the most successful soul/funk bands of the late ’70s and early to mid ’80s. There are many reasons for the band’s success, mainly the musical genius of EWF’s leader, the late Maurice White. White fused musical genres together, including soul, funk, African rhythms, gospel, rock, and jazz. He combined that with a tight band of top-notch musicians, including a horn section, mystical lyrics and staging, and the soaring voice of Philip Bailey. White and Bailey were the two lead singers with Bailey possessing a beautiful falsetto voice with a four-octave range. 1975’s That’s the Way of the World was the band’s first big album and produced the hits “That’s the Way of the World,” “Shining Star,” and “Reasons.” EWF has received 20 Grammy nominations, winning six as a group and White and Bailey garnering two individual awards. White’s brother Verdine is the longtime bassist for the band.

“These are the good times” sang the band Chic in 1979 in their song “Good Times.” And they were good times for the band and their fans. The song is actually one of the most sampled songs of all time and was used by the Sugarhill Gang in their hit “Rapper’s Delight.” Chic had many other top songs that pulled people onto the discoteque dance floors too including “Le Freak,” “I Want Your Love,” and “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah).” The band had its own musical mastermind in Nile Rodgers, who produced and tweaked Chic’s sound and lineup during the formation. A little “horse trading” by Rodgers allowed Chic and the Chic-produced band Sister Sledge to trade songs to get what each group wanted. Sister Sledge got the Bernie Edwards and Rodgers song “He’s the Greatest Dancer,” and Chic got the song intended for Sister Sledge, “I Want Your Love.” Edwards, who co-founded Chic, has since passed to the great disco in the sky, but Rodgers still tours. 7:30 p.m. PPG Paints Arena, 1001 Fifth Ave., Uptown. (RH)

Friday, August 11

Southern rock finds its way north to South Park as part of the Allegheny County Summer Concert Series with the Outlaws. For over 40 years, the band has been thriving in the Southern rock genre along with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels, and The Allman Brothers (now permanently disbanded with the death of Gregg Allman). Founded in Tampa, Fla., in ’67, the Outlaws put forth a Southern rock opus with “Green Grass and High Tides” and scored a major hit with “There Goes Another Love Song.” Outlaw trademarks include beautiful vocal harmonies and intricate lead guitar play. Surviving the test of time, the inevitable evolution of popular music, and bandmates’ deaths, the Outlaws are definitely alive, kicking, and, it would seem, stronger than ever. Some things really do get better with age. The Steppin Stones open. 7:30 p.m. 3700 Farmshow Dr., South Park Township. (RH)

Saturday, August 12

KeyBank Pavilion is hosting a classic rock show with Foreigner, Cheap Trick, and the Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Experience. Veteran rockers Foreigner are famous for power ballads such as “I Want To Know What Love Is” and rockers like “Rev on the Red Line” and “Juke Box Hero.” Mick Jones is the only remaining original member of the band, which started out in 1976 and had a hit with its eponymous, five-times-platinum first album a year later. Their latest major release, Acoustique, came out in 2011, featuring unplugged versions of their classic hits. Foreigner is one of the world’s top selling bands with over 80 million records sold.

Cheap Trick is a quintessential ’70s rock band.  They sang “Mommy’s alright, Daddy’s alright, they just seem a little weird, surrender …” for their big hit “Surrender.” Other highly successful songs are  “I Want You to Want Me,” and “The Flame.” Cheap Trick formed in Rockford, Illinois, in 1973. Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen, and crew released their latest album, We’re All Alright!, in June. And to round out a great lineup, Jason Bonham, son of the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, has masterfully recreated his father’s band’s music with his own band. He (and Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart) gave an amazing performance of “Stairway to Heaven” when the Kennedy Awards honored Led Zeppelin in 2012. 7 p.m. 665 Rt. 18, Burgettstown. (RH)

Wednesday, August 16

Yes started out in 1968 performing original songs and reworked covers. Their first two albums were mostly uneventful, and they were even on the verge of being dropped by their record label. Then the band made a dramatic turn into experimental (progressive) rock. A few personnel moves were made, and guitarist Steve Howe joined the main founding members Jon Anderson and Chris Squire. Their fortunes also turned as their next album, The Yes Album, released in ’71, was a breakthrough success. The album reached no. 4 in the UK and no. 40 on the U.S. charts. “Starship Trooper” and “Yours Is No Disgrace” were top songs from the release. The band is known as one of the progressive rock pioneers. The members’ innovative vocal harmonies, guitars, rhythm section, and keyboards left a mark on the music industry despite breakups and reunions. There are currently two Yes outfits: Yes and Yes Featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman. Yes is lead by longtime band members Howe and Alan White (drums, percussion). The group’s last release was 2014’s Heaven & Earth. Yes was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this April.

“Can We Still Be Friends,” “Hello It’s Me,” and “I Saw the Light” were three monster hits in the ’70s 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 & Oates, Cheap Trick, Patti Smith, and The Psychedelic Furs. Rundgren is currently touring in support of his latest release, White Knight. It is the prolific Rundgren’s 26th studio album.

Carl Palmer was a member of another pioneering progressive rock band, Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Spawned in the 1970s, ELP is best remembered today for an eerily mellow number, “Lucky Man.” But the boys could also do thunder and lightning—especially Palmer—and he has kept doing it with various acts including the band Asia. Palmer, noted as one of the best rock drummers of the 1960s, is touring with his group ELP Legacy. 7 p.m. This rock lineup is being billed as Yestival. The Palace Theatre, 21 W. Otterman St., Greensburg. (MV, RH)

Friday, August 18

Not once, but twice Stephen Stills has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and on the same night! Stills garnered that double accolade through his work with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills & Nash. In Buffalo Springfield, he teamed up with Neil Young, who has called Stills a genius, and his other bandmates to create the seminal counter-culture song “For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey What’s That Sound).” After Buffalo Springfield disbanded, Stills joined up with David Crosby and Graham Nash to form CSN. They had a cornucopia of hits including “Helplessly Hoping” and “49 Bye-Byes.” On Stills’s self-titled, first solo album, he had some help on guitar from Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, and Ringo Starr assisted on drums (credited only as Richie!). Stills has also been a member of the bands Manassas and most recently The Rides.

Legendary songstress Judy Collins was a piano prodigy by 13, and as she came of age, she used her music to rail against social and environmental problems. She’s known for reinterpreting traditional and contemporary folk music standards to create rich, insightful, poetic-like songs about life’s ups and downs. Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger influenced her with their use of storytelling through songs about hard-luck people. Collins, in turn, inspired others—Stephen Stills wrote the classic song, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” while breaking up with Collins. Collins’s version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” garnered her the Song of the Year Grammy Award in ’76. Stills and Collins are performing together for the first time ever on this tour and have an album, Everybody Knows, which will be released September 22. 8 p.m. The Palace Theatre, 21 W. Otterman St., Greensburg. (RH)

Nashville’s Kings of Leon charted three albums in the top five of the UK Albums Chart before finally breaking in their homeland. Hits like “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody,” which won three Grammys, buoyed 2008’s Only by the Night, their fourth LP, to number four on the US Billboard 200. The band performed a victory lap of festival dates, including Lollapalooza, in 2009. Come Around Sundown followed in 2010, and the quartet took a needed hiatus in 2011. They regrouped two years later for Mechanical Bull. Members include brothers Caleb, Nathan, and Jared Followill, and cousin Matthew Followill. Jared attended Mount Juliet High School in Tennessee. (Mount Juliet is the home of country rocker Charlie Daniels.) Leon was the name of their grandfather. Their latest album is 2016’s Walls, their seventh LP. They play KeyBank Pavilion. Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats open. 7 p.m. 665 Rt. 18, Burgettstown. (RH, CM)

Kings of Leon in action earlier this year. photo: Raph_PH and Wikipedia.

Kings of Leon in action earlier this year. photo: Raph_PH and Wikipedia.

Saturday, August 19

Country duo Florida Georgia Line consists of Tyler Hubbard (he’s the Georgian half of the pair) along with Brian Kelley from Florida. They’ve been headlining their own tours in recent years after opening for Luke Bryan, Taylor Swift, and Jason Aldean. The duo formed in Nashville in 2010 and have since put out three albums: 2012’s Here’s to the Good Times; 2014’s Anything Goes, which went to No. 1 on both the Billboard 200 and the Country Albums chart; and last year’s Dig Your Roots. They were the first group to be labeled as “bro-country,” a rock and hip-hop influenced style best demonstrated by their smash single “Cruise” (which was later remixed by hip-hop artist Nelly and given an even more leery video). Opening is Nelly, Chris Lane, and Ryan Hurd. 7 p.m. KeyBank Pavilion, 665 Rt. 18, Burgettstown. (HM, RH)

Tuesday, August 22

One of the nation’s hottest and most talented pop music artists, Bruno Mars, plays the PPG Paints Arena. Mars has enjoyed success with hits like the Police-esque “Locked Out of Heaven” and the retro-funk “Treasure.” Born Peter Gene Hernandez in Honolulu, Hawaii, he got the nickname Bruno from his dad, who thought he resembled Pittsburgh-based wrestler Bruno Sammartino. Mars performed in his family’s band, The Love Notes, as a child. As an adult, he kicked around L.A. and found early success as a writer for musicians such as Adam Levine and Flo Rida. Mars is now a Grammy-award-winning solo performer, who has had 13 consecutive singles chart in the Top 10 on the American Top 40. The Super Bowl 48 and 50 halftime shows saw appearances by him, the former as a headliner, the latter as a special guest with Coldplay. Mars is traveling under the 24K Magic World Tour banner. 8 p.m. 1001 Fifth Ave., Uptown. (RH, CM)

Chris Robinson is best known for the long-time, highly successful, collaborative effort with his brother Rich: The Black Crowes. The Robinson brothers sometimes had differing opinions on how to do things, and this led to production and touring breaks from the band. The Crowes have been in a dormant state now for a couple of years. Chris, formerly married to actress Kate Hudson, has been rolling along with what once was his side project—The Chris Robinson Brotherhood. The band’s style is of a blues/rock nature with Robinson’s rich vocals combining with great guitar, organ, keyboard, drum work, and a touch of southern jam rock. Don’t expect to hear many Black Crowes’ tunes in the sets; Robinson and band are playing songs from their latest albums, Any Way You Love, We Know How You Feel; If You Lived Here, You Would Be Home By Now; and 2014’s Phosphorescent Harvest, plus songs from past side projects and noted covers like Carl Perkins’s “Boppin’ the Blues.”

Chris Robinson in a past website bio summed up the spirit of the Brotherhood: “We don’t make music that can sell iPads. Our music will not sell you a Prius. I like that. Writing songs has always led me to good things in my life. The songwriting saved me through the dark times, and the songwriting makes it that much sweeter when it’s good. Real success can only come in pursuit of an authentic sound. We’re all very committed to this music, beyond money and egos. That’s a unique place to be.” The group’s local visit promises to be a top concert and one that may be flying under the radar. 8 p.m. Mr. Smalls, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (RH)

Friday, August 25

The Commonheart  is one of the hottest bands on the local music scene. Led by frontman Clinton Clegg and his impressive rock/soul pipes, the band delivers inspiring performances. Strong guitar, rhythm, and horn sections along with harmonious background singers add to the aural delight. The Commonheart recently released their new album Grown and have been on a U.S. tour since April. This fall, they will be opening for JJ Grey & Mofro in multiple cities. You can catch them on their hometown stop at South Park. Opening is Telephone Line. This show is part of the Allegheny County Summer Concert Series. 7:30 p.m. South Park Amphitheater, 3700 Farmshow Dr., South Park Township. (RH)

Sunday, August 27

The Allegheny County Summer Concert Series features a diverse concert mix with offerings in rock, jazz, funk, classical, and more. Now it’s time for the multi-faceted entertainer Billy Porter. Porter, best known for his Tony Award-winning role as Lola in the Broadway musical “Kinky Boots,” is a Pittsburgh native. He attended Pittsburgh CAPA and then Carnegie Mellon University for drama. Porter has had a variety of roles over his career in Pittsburgh and New York. He started out with an ensemble called Flash, which performed during the summer at Kennywood Park. He went on to various roles in Pittsburgh and New York including one that he wrote and cast himself in, the autobiographical Ghetto Superstar (The Man That I Am). His love of singing has always been an important part of his life and career. His first album, Billy Porter, was released back in 1997. Porter’s fourth album, Billy Porter Presents the Soul of Richard Rodgers, came out this year.  7:30 p.m. Hartwood Acres Amphitheater, 4070 Middle Rd., Allison Park. (RH)

Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central and enjoys great music.

Christopher Maggio is a writer and editor who likes seeing great concerts.