February Concert Preview: Carrie Underwood, Buckwheat Zydeco, and Cleveland Rappers

 

Carrie_Underwood_2,_2012

Wow, what a diverse group of concerts we have in Pittsburgh this month! Truly something for every taste. Usually top country acts roll through town in the summer months like a fast-moving storm, causing both excitement and sometimes turbulence. Happily, in the midst of February to heat things up we have country mega-star Carrie Underwood—who is also this month’s biggest act. Classic R&B artists The Spinners are bringing their catalog of top ’70s hits to Greensburg’s Palace Theatre. A beautiful voice of more recent vintage is Carolina Chocolate Drops singer and solo artist Rhiannon Giddens, also a talented multi-instrumentalist. If you’ve got a case of winter blues, let Blue Man Group cheer you up. Also sure to bring a wide grin to your face are ORieL & the Revoluters—part of the Reggae Fusion Fest—and Buckwheat Zydeco, who our writer Mike Vargo says is an older musician but is “no geezer—he’s a squeezer.”

Performers with Cleveland ties coming here this month are Kid Cudi and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. Have no fear about a Cleveland musical invasion; we have the Granati Brothers showcasing what ‘Burgh rockers can do. Some other interesting acts include Givers, Never Shout Never, Bullet for My Valentine, Disappears, and RJD2. A lot of great musical performers both national and local are playing our fair city this month, so head out and catch a few.

Tuesday, February 2

Listen to Givers’ single “Up Up Up” and try not feeling, well, up! The song is all light vocals and sparkling instrumentation. (You may recognize it from a Windows 8 advertisement that was on TV a couple of years back.) That sense of optimism continues with “Record High, Record Low,” a single off the indie pop quintet’s sophomore album, 2015’s New Kingdom. Before that was 2011’s In Light, a debut which garnered them an appearance on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” Givers began in Lafayette, Louisiana after members Tiffany Lamson and Taylor Guarisco were displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. But from tragedy came opportunity—an impromptu jam with the future members at a Lafayette pub and, voilà, a new indie band was formed. They’ve opened for idols Dirty Projectors in the past; now they headline. This is the group’s second stop in Pittsburgh in less than a year. In July, Givers wowed a packed house at Club Cafe, with Lamson especially showing off her multi-instrumental prowess. This February, they come to a similarly sized venue, Cattivo. Doe Paoro opens. 7 p.m. 146 44th St., Lawrenceville. (CM)

Friday, February 5

Kid Cudi’s song “Day ‘n’ Night” is the paragon of a debut rap single. If the haunting synthesizer line fails to hook the listener, then the way he stutters “at night”—what a hook!—will. It was later included on his debut album, 2009’s Man on the Moon: The End of Day. That record features a “who’s who” of popular musicians of the time. Common narrates it. Indie rockers MGMT and Ratatat play on a track. “Make Her Say” samples Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” Most conspicuous is Kanye West, who was one of the album’s many producers. That wasn’t the first time West and Kid Cudi collaborated. Heck, West signed Kid Cudi to his GOOD Music label after hearing the latter’s mixtape. Kid Cudi is also featured on West’s “Welcome to Heartbreak,” a single off the groundbreaking 808s & Heartbreak. Kid Cudi has released five studio albums total; the latest is 2015’s Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven. Born Scott Ramon Seguro Mescudi, he is from just up the road—Cleveland, Ohio. He will be crossing state lines to bring his hip hop stylings to Stage AE. Doors open 7 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (CM)

Saturday, February 6

Pittsburgh has an island tradition: It’s the fourth annual Reggae Fusion Fest at Altar Bar, headlined this year by ORieL & the Revoluters. Oriel Barry is from the Caribbean island of Dominica, and the above video of the title track from his EP Confidence will give you a hint of what’s up. The current Fusion Fest celebrates the life and music of Bob Marley, born 71 years ago this month. Marley played his last concert at Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theater (now Benedum Center) in 1980. Artists performing in his spirit include Truth & Rites, Ras Maisha, cellist Joe Bischoff, and an African dance and drum ensemble. 9 p.m. 1620 Penn Ave., Strip District. (MV)

Monday, February 8

Did you ever think it odd that in the music industry there is a Grant-Lee Phillips and a Grant-Lee Buffalo? Well, they are related. After Grant-Lee Phillips grew up in Stockton, California he moved to Los Angeles and took classes at UCLA. He then teamed up with an old friend from Stockton—Jeffrey Clark—to form, with several others, the band Shiva Burlesque. With ’80s glam rock all the rage the group failed to catch on. Phillips formed Grant-Lee Buffalo in the early ’90s with some ex-Shiva Burlesque bandmates and had modest success. He then embarked as a solo artist using his own moniker. His first solo release, 2009’s Ladies Love Oracle, put him on the radar again and his follow-up album Mobilize made him a successful recording artist. On Mobilize, Phillips played every instrument and used a drum machine for every track except  “Hugo’s Theme” and “Sunday Best,” where he enlisted other musicians. He even had a recurring part on the WB network’s TV series “The Gilmore Girls” as the Town Troubadour. Phillips proudly touts his Native American roots which includes Creek, Blackfoot, and Cherokee lineage. Phillips is touring in advance of his latest release The Narrows, which will drop on March 18.  The album examines themes of marriage, fatherhood, and moving from L.A. to Tennessee. Steve Poltz opens. 8 p.m. Pittsburgh Winery, 2815 Penn Ave., Strip District. (RH)

Friday, February 12

For those in the know, ALJO is an acronym that stirs up flashes of hot rhythm layered upon a mellow mood, and it isn’t a chemical stimulant. It’s the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, a New York-based big band led by Arturo O’Farrill. ALJO headlines regularly at that city’s famed Birdland club and the band is visiting Pittsburgh for a concert in the MCG Jazz series. O’Farrill is son of the late composer and bandleader Chico O’Farrill, an emigrant from Cuba who was instrumental (pun intended!) in introducing Afro-Cuban sounds to the U.S. jazz scene. The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra keeps his spirit alive with a repertoire that runs from spicy to haunting, as in this rendition of Luis Demetrio’s “La Puerta.” ALJO has won two Grammy Awards and its latest album, last year’s Cuba: The Conversation Continues, was recorded in part to commemorate re-opening of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba. The band is here for two shows, at 7 (Sold Out) and 9:30 p.m. Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, 1815 Metropolitan St., Manchester. (MV)

Sunday, February 14

The Spinners, a male vocal and dance group who originated in the suburbs of Detroit, enjoyed considerable success in the ’70s with top 10 hits including “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love,” “The Rubber Band Man,” and “I’ll Be Around.” In ’74, they teamed up with Dionne Warwick to produce the number one smash hit “Then Came You.” During the 1960s The Spinners were with Motown before switching to the Atlantic label in the ’70s. The Spinners still tour regularly and have one original Spinner remaining—Henry Fambrough, who has been in the band since its formation in 1954. That’s a lot of R&B. The beat goes on in a Sunday matinee at The Palace Theatre, with Eddie Holman opening. 3 p.m. 21 W. Otterman St., Greensburg. (RH)

 

Prolific. That’s one word to describe Never Shout Never’s frontman, Christofer Drew. Now 24, Drew, of Joplin, Missouri, began the Never Shout Never project when he was just 16. He and his band have released seven studio albums, plus a handful of EPs. (At least one of those EPs, Me & My Uke, showcases Drew’s ukulele prowess.) Originally a solo act—and stylized nevershoutnever!—Drew was part of that wave of musicians discovered on Myspace circa 2007. The touring band quickly became the studio band, one which has consistently bashed out poppy rock songs resplendent with hooks. Check out “Red Balloon” off their newest, 2015’s Black Cat. They’ve been a Vans Warped Tour mainstay for years, but that doesn’t mean Drew’s forgotten home. When a tornado struck Joplin in 2011, Never Shout Never posted a video on YouTube asking fans to donate to relief efforts. The video uses their song “Time Travel.” Never Shout Never will headline Mr. Smalls on Valentine’s Day. Metro Station, Jule Vera, Waterparks, and Get The Picture open. 6:30 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (CM)

Wednesday, February 17

Winner of the fourth season of “American Idol” in 2005, Carrie Underwood has been on an upward trajectory ever since. Underwood, an Oklahoma native, already has been inducted into the Grand Ole Opry and has won seven Grammy Awards, 17 Billboard Music Awards, and 11 Academy of Country Music Awards. Best known for her pop country ballads and light rockers like “Before He Cheats,” she will be performing here as part of her Storyteller Tour: Stories in the Round in support of last year’s Storyteller release. This is her first tour in three years and a dollar from each ticket sold will be donated to charity. Underwood was a guest star on the CBS comedy “How I Met Your Mother,” playing a doctor. She is married to Mike Fisher, who plays center for the NHL’s Nashville Predators. Two nights before her Pittsburgh concert she will be appearing on the Grammy Awards telecast. Easton Corbin and The Swon Brothers (here for First Night two years ago) open. 7 p.m. Consol Energy Center, 1001 Fifth Ave., Uptown. (RH)

Friday, February 19

Hermie, Rick, Joey, and David are the kinfolk who make up the Granati Brothers. To add a little different musical flavor a non-family member—Tony Bonomo—is also in the group. The Brothers’ strength comes from classic rock power combined with tight harmonies. In the ’80s they opened for Van Halen at 78 sold out shows and have also shared the stage with some of rock’s top names including Bruce Springsteen, The J. Giles Band, The Doobie Brothers, and Peter Frampton.  In ’81 David Granati’s killer riffs garnered him a nomination for player of the year by Guitar Player Magazine.  The band has also played under the banner of G-Force. The Brothers’ concert in Midland is a CD release party for their latest work The Show and also a benefit for Lincoln Park Arts. 7:30 p.m. Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center, 1 Lincoln Park, Midland. (RH)

Saturday, February 20

Mack Avenue is one of Detroit’s major thoroughfares, running through areas from midtown into the suburbs. Mack Avenue Records, founded in 1999, is a label that has won notice as a significant new pipeline for jazz talent. And the Mack Avenue SuperBand, founded in 2012, features a rotating lineup of some of the label’s best. The SuperBand brings an intriguing crew to town for a concert in the MCG Jazz series. On saxophone is Tia Fuller, who, along with being a relative rarity as instrumentalist—there aren’t a lot of women playing jazz sax—is also a composer and bandleader. Sean Jones, on trumpet, is ex-lead trumpeter of the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra and a former music professor at Duquesne University. Rounding out the current roster are Gary Burton (vibes), Carl Allen (drums), Christian Sands (piano), and Christian McBride (bass and leader of the Mack Avenue SuperBand). Two shows, 6 and 8:30 p.m. Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, 1815 Metropolitan St., Manchester. (MV)

Sunday, February 21

Is there any genre Rhiannon Giddens can’t perform? She studied opera at Oberlin Conservatory, and, in 2005, cofounded the Carolina Chocolate Drops. The group promotes and performs African-American string band music. In addition to vocals, Giddens also contributes 5-string banjo and fiddle. Their fifth album, Genuine Negro Jig, scored the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album. Despite such accolades, Giddens was far from a household name. That is until Another Day, Another Time, a folk concert curated by T Bone Burnett to celebrate the music of Inside Llewyn Davis, a Coen brothers film. Giddens impressed the New York crowd with a performance of Odetta’s “Waterboy.” She’s since recorded Tomorrow Is My Turn, an album which sees her dabbling in country, jazz, and gospel and also appeared on Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes, a collection of Bob Dylan songs never before recorded. For her show at Club Cafe, Giddens will perform music by African-American protest singers and songwriters. Joining her will be Bhi Bhiman and former Carolina Chocolate Drops bandmate Leyla McCalla. 8 p.m. 56-58 South 12th St., South Side. (CM)

Tuesday, February 23

In addition to Kid Cudi’s show, Pittsburgh’s got plenty more Cleveland rap this month. Jury’s out on whether Kid Cudi will still have an audience in 20 years; not so for Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, who are celebrating 20 years of “Tha Crossroads.” That 1996 single won the Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. Bone Thugs-n-Harmony dedicated it to the late Eazy-E, of N.W.A. fame. Eazy-E signed the rap group to his record label, Ruthless Records, in 1993 and was the group’s friend, mentor, and business adviser until his death in 1995. Though crushed by his loss, the group persevered and have continued to make music. Their lyrics are heavy. Their raps, melodic. It’s perhaps this novel combination that’s kept them relevant for so long. They also hold the distinction of collaborating with 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G., Eazy-E, and Big Pun while all four men were still alive. They play a sold-out show at Mr. Smalls. DJ Afterthought opens. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (CM)

 

Blue Man Group is something else, and that’s not a cliché; it is a fact. Calling the Blue Men “musicians” would be inaccurate because they do much more than play music. They are mimes and comedians (though not the comedy-club kind). They never speak or sing on stage, but their shows use amplified voice-overs, and they’ve created concerts with rock/vocal artists ranging from Venus Hum to Tracy Bonham. Some of their multimedia pieces provide edutainment—like “Rods and Cones,” which explains the thingies in our eyes—and altogether, the Blue Men are so ostentatiously weird that they verge on self-parody, which seems to be fine with them. Founders Matt Goldman, Chris Wink, and Phil Stanton formed Blue Man Group in 1991 after starting as street performers in New York City. They have built the concept into a global show-business enterprise with resident Blue Man Groups in Las Vegas, Berlin, and elsewhere. There’s also a touring Blue Man Group, which visits Heinz Hall for a six-day, eight-show run starting Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. 600 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (MV)

 

Ghosts of Music Past, Present, and Yet to Come will haunt the stage when Disappears appears at the Andy Warhol Museum. The Chicago-based indie rockers have put together a show that opens with a set of their own new songs … and finishes with a full live performance of David Bowie’s 1977 album Low. All of it will be cutting-edge. The first set may include numbers like “Irreal,” the title track from Disappears’ latest LP, and the group will play unreleased material as well. As for Low: It was one of Bowie’s more controversial experiments—especially side 2, with tracks such as “Warszawa,” which Bowie co-composed with Brian Eno. Disappears records on the Kranky label and has Pittsburgh native Noah Leger on drums. 8 p.m. 117 Sandusky St., North Side. (MV)

Wednesday, February, 24

Bullet for My Valentine are from Bridgend, Wales, close enough to the Welsh capital of Cardiff to be considered part of Cardiff’s rich music scene. Cardiff boasts the oldest record store in the world, Spillers Records, and the list goes on and on of bands associated with the area: Stereophonics and Funeral for a Friend, just to name a few. The music scene there has shifted to the kind of heavy metal/hard rock style that Bullet for My Valentine exemplifies. The quartet’s debut, The Poison, was released in 2005 in the U.K. and, appropriately, on Valentine’s Day, 2006 in the States. The band’s American Invasion was swift. The Poison peaked at 128 on the Billboard 200—not bad for a debut—and a single from that album, “Tears Don’t Fall,” still holds the most YouTube hits for a Bullet for My Valentine song, over 76,000,000. They’ve released four more albums since, most recently 2015’s Venom. They are touring that album now, including a stop at Stage AE. Asking Alexandria and While She Sleeps open. Doors open 6:30 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (CM)

Friday, February 26

Not often does a jazz concert feature a dancer, but Savion Glover is special. Glover has been hailed for re-invigorating the art of tap, and he taps the way some people rap, laying down lightning-fast lines full of twists and surprises. In the improvised piece above—done on a tiny stage, with no room for broader dance moves—it’s as if he is playing a drum solo with his feet. Now imagine him paired with an actual drummer. MCG Jazz is bringing in Glover for a gig co-headlined by Jack DeJohnette, one of the great jazz percussionists and another highly inventive soloist. Both artists have wide-ranging creative talents. Glover won a 1996 Tony Award as choreographer of the Broadway musical Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk, in which he also danced and acted. DeJohnette played with Miles Davis during Davis’s ventures into jazz fusion and has teamed with many other luminaries while evolving his own distinctive drumming style. The MCG Jazz concert includes DeJohnette’s ensemble and Glover’s fellow dancer Marshall Davis, Jr. To call it a hot ticket is an understatement. Two shows, 7 (Sold Out) and 9:30 p.m. Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, 1816 Metropolitan St., Manchester. (MV)

 

If you have ever watched the first five minutes of a Mad Men episode, then you have heard the music of Ramble Jon Krohn, who goes by RJD2. The hit AMC series begins with an instrumental version of “A Beautiful Mine.” The original version appears on Magnificent City, a studio album by rapper Aceyalone accompanied by RJD2, who produced the release. Krohn grew up not far from Pittsburgh—Columbus, Ohio—and has spent much of his professional life in Philadelphia. He has recorded under a variety of monikers: sometimes solo, sometimes with other musicians. But he’s arguably best known for his six studio albums as RJD2, including the upcoming Dame Fortune, available March 25. Pittsburghers have an early chance to hear the new songs, plus his back catalog, at Mr. Smalls. Many of his songs bridge electronica with instrumental hip-hop, like “Ghostwriter” from 2002’s Deadringer, his debut. He often invites guest vocalists, like the rapper Blueprint, onto his records as well. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (CM) 

Sunday, February 28

“Country noir”—that’s the genre Neko Case classifies herself as. It’s a genre that was years in the making. She’s contributed lead and backing vocals to numerous songs by indie rock band The New Pornographers while also displaying a decided twang on her alt country solo records. The “noir,” meanwhile, comes from her sometimes macabre lyrics, such as on “Star Witness.” That track is off 2006’s critically acclaimed album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Her most recent release, 2013’s The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, was met with similar acclaim. (Check out the bitingly ironic “Man.”) Her musical stylings and wit make her the perfect artist to play out February at Mr. Smalls. Jennifer O’Connor opens. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (CM)

 

Don’t call Buckwheat Zydeco a geezer rocker. His music isn’t actually rock, though it rocks, and despite his age, he’s no geezer—he’s a squeezer. The man born 68 years ago as Stanley Dural, Jr. is an accordion superstar. Raised in a musical family on a Louisiana farm, Buckwheat was an organist for R&B/soul acts before switching to the squeezebox and getting so deeply into Creole-and-Cajun-based zydeco music that he named himself after it. A virtuoso of zydeco’s raucous, high-spirited sound, he has released over 20 albums, and has recorded and performed with musicians ranging from Ry Cooder to Robert Plant. Now Buckwheat and his band will unleash their whirlwind playing style within the cozy confines of Club Cafe. 9 p.m. 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (MV)

Carrie Underwood photo courtesy Dephisticate via Wikimedia Commons

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

Christopher Maggio and Mike Vargo also love great music and were major contributors to this preview.