February Music Preview: Performers Include Garth, Buckwheat, Two Guys Named Chris, and a Young Lady Named Jackie

February is a short and often cold month (this year especially), but the joy that music gives us is a great way to cope. And we have some big-name entertainment this month with Garth Brooks performing six concerts over three days, Chris Robinson (of The Black Crowes fame), Branford Marsalis, The New Pornographers, Buckwheat Zydeco, Bush, and Anti-Flag. If you’re looking to get in some tropical Island atmosphere, the Reggae Fusion Fest is the place to be. Local music gems performing this month are the latest revival of Brownie Mary with Kelsey Friday and also the hard-working, fun-lovin’ Beagle Brothers band. There are many interesting shows occuring that are too numerous to mention; these are just a few highlights. So get out and embrace the cold as you head for entertaining concert performances by both local and national acts.

Thursday, February 5

Garth Brooks sings about having “Friends in Low Places,” but he also has a lot of friends in Pittsburgh, as he is performing six concerts in four days at Consol Energy Center. He last played in Pittsburgh 17 years ago, so there is definitely some pent-up demand. Brooks shot to fame quickly with his first traditional-style country album Garth Brooks, rising to number 2 on the U.S. Country charts. Not bad for a young Oklahoman. Next up he combined the country twang in his voice and guitar with rock sensibilities and garnered a huge success with the 1990 album release No Fences. The album produced the hits “The Thunder Rolls,” “Friends in Low Places,” and “Unanswered Prayers.” The release spent 23 weeks at number 1 on the Billboard Country charts. Brooks is a multiple Grammy Award winner and the number one overall album seller since 1991.He is touring in support of his latest release Man Against Machine. Also performing is Grammy Award winning country music star, author, and Brooks’ wife since 2005, Trisha Yearwood. Don’t forget your boots and beer money. Concerts Feb. 5 – 8. 1001 Fifth Ave., Uptown.

 

Portland, Oregon native and sublime trumpeter Chris Botti opens a three-night concert run at Heinz Hall. Botti has had four of his albums reach number 1 on the Billboard Jazz charts and was nominated for Five Grammy Awards—winning the 2013 Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album. He was a McDonald’s All American High School Jazz band member and played Carnegie Hall with the rest of the winners. Botti has toured with music legends Frank Sinatra, Buddy Rich, and Paul Simon. He’s also gained large exposure through numerous television appearances, including his 2006 PBS special “Chris Botti Live: With Orchestra and Special Guests.” 7:30 p.m. 600 Penn Ave.

 

Friday, February 6

Pittsburgh-based, internationally known punk rockers Anti-Flag will be playing their album The Terror State in its entirety at Mr. Smalls. The concert is billed as “celebrating ten years of The Terror State,” although the album came out in 2003. Maybe they’ve been celebrating for the past two years? Whatever, many of the album’s themes still apply, and the work certainly represents a creative peak for the band. Their fourth full-length release, it criticizes the Bush administration’s handling of the War on Terror. “Post-War Breakout” uses lyrics by Woody Guthrie but with original punk instrumentation. The album also contains essays by both the band and political commentators. Oh, and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello produced it. Today, Anti-Flag still performs, protests, and is set to release a new album, American Spring, this May. Such Gold, The Homeless Gospel Choir, and Divorce open. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale.

 

“Good evening” is putting it mildly when the event is An Evening with Branford Marsalis, part of the talented jazz-performing Marsalis family of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Branford is a Grammy Award-winning saxophonist who comes to town as part of the MCG Jazz series at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, and Marsalis himself is an exquisite craftsman. With his own quartet, he plays jazz in moods from sweet to hot and makes every note matter. He has played with other prodigious musicians such as Dave Matthews, Sting, and Béla Fleck; he performs classical music with symphony orchestras; he is renowned as a composer and a music educator. At MCG, school is in session for two shows, 7 and 9:30 p.m. 1815 Metropolitan St., Manchester.

Saturday, February 7

Pittsburgh has an island tradition in the making: It’s the third 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 70 years ago this month. Marley played his last concert at Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theater (now Benedum Center) in 1980. The groups performing in his spirit include Truth & Rites, Jah Ques, Ras Maisha, and an African dance ensemble. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8. 1620 Penn Ave., Strip District

Sunday, February 8

Chris Robinson is best known for the long-time and highly successful, collaborative effort with his brother Rich, which created 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. Now Chris, formerly married to actress Kate Hudson, has reignited 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 and 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 album Phosphorescent Harvest, plus songs from past side projects, and noted covers like Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go” and “Poor Elijah / Tribute to Johnson” by Delaney & Bonnie.

Chris Robinson in his bio info sums 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.

Monday, February 9

Singer-songwriter-guitarist Jason Isbell is making a Pittsburgh stop at Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall in support of his latest release Southeastern. This is the sixth solo album by Isbell, who hails from  Green Hill, Alabama. A former member of Drive By Truckers, Isbell continues in the alt country tradition. Songs like “Cover Me Up” and “Goddamn Lonely Love” showcase his rich vocals and songwriting talents. Damien Jurado opens. 7 p.m. 510 East 10th Ave.,
Munhall.

Thursday, February 12

After data scientist Matt Daniels measured the number of unique words used within hip hop artists’ lyrics, the results were unequivocal—Aesop Rock has the largest vocabulary in all of hip hop. Aesop’s rating not only was off the chart but also beat better-known artists like Gza and The Roots. Born Ian Matthias Bavitz, this San Francisco-based rapper boosts his word count by employing homonyms and a rapid flow. His latest album, Skelethon, was released in 2012, where it bubbled just under the Billboard top 20. Since then, he’s collaborated with Kimya Dawson as The Uncluded and with Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz as Hail Mary Mallon. Tonight he takes his expansive lexicon to Altar Bar. Rob Sonic, Homeboy Sandman, and DJ Abilities open. 8 p.m. 1620 Penn Ave., Strip District.

Friday, February 13

Who knew there was a world-class voice talent living in the Pine-Richland area north of Pittsburgh? Well, evidently, Jackie Evancho knew! She started out by entering talent contests including St. Barnabas’ Kean Idol, singing at various events, and even landed the coveted spot of singing the national anthem at a Pirates game. Acting was also in Evancho’s early repertoire, she performed in Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s version of High School Musical in 2007. She cut an independent album Prelude to a Dream, and what a prelude to a dream it was. Evancho posted videos of her performances to YouTube. She was turned down twice in auditions for “America’s Got Talent.” The third time was indeed the charm. The ladder to mega-stardom presented itself in 2010 after the nation heard her incredible classical song performances on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” She came in second. Since then she has recorded five albums all of which achieved success on the music charts and is the youngest artist every to achieve platinum sales status. Evancho;s latest album is Awakening.

Her work has included numerous singing appearances, acting roles including playing Robert Redford’s daughter in the 2013 film The Company You Keep, and some modeling. She is active in many charitable organizations and was named one of the Ten Best-Mannered People in 2011 by a national organization. Needless to say Kanye West didn’t make that list. What a great opportunity to see a hometown gal done good. She will be appearing with the recently Grammy Award-nominated Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. 8 p.m. Heinz Hall, 600 Penn Ave., Cultural District.

February Music Preview: Great acts in town include The New Pornographers. (Photo: Simon Law)

February Music Preview: Great acts in town include The New Pornographers. (Photo: Simon Law)

The New Pornographers are one of the great indie rock bands that emerged in the early ‘00s. This is the kind of band your favorite substitute teacher listened to. The kind of band your wannabe hipster friend wouldn’t shut up about at the lunch table. The title of their newest album, 2014’s Brill Bruisers, connotes many images, among them The Brill Building in New York, where songwriters churned out some of the greatest hits of the ’60s. It’s not a stretch, really. The New Pornographers’ albums or solo albums by one of their members ranked in the top 40 of The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop year-end poll from 2000 to 2007. The Canadian group brings its harmonies and hooks to Mr. Smalls tonight. Operators open. 9 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale.

 

Saturday, February 14 

If you recently “let go,” “are on your own,” or simply don’t have a Valentine today, Jukebox the Ghost will be at Mr. Smalls to reassure you that “there’s something waiting for you / in the great unknown.” These lyrics come from the group’s mega-uplifting single “The Great Unknown,” off 2014’s album Jukebox the Ghost. The power pop trio got their start in D.C. and average 150 shows a year. They’ve opened for acts like Ben Folds and Motion City Soundtrack and, in 2010, made a coveted appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. Couples are welcome to tonight’s show, too, of course, but men, be warned—the members of Jukebox the Ghost are not only accomplished musicians but also are intimidatingly good-looking. Little Daylight and Secret Someones open. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale.

 

The Beagle Brothersa high-energy country and honky-tonk group hailing from the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Bloomfield—built up their following over the past ten years by playing local bars like Sonny’s Tavern and The Thunderbird Cafe. Their hard work has paid off and for the second year in a row the band was the opening act for Punxsutawney Phil at Gobbler’s Knob on February 2. Jon Stewart even made note of the band’s Groundhog Day appearance on “The Daily Show.” 9 p.m. The Thunderbird Cafe, 4023 Butler St., Lawrenceville.

Sunday, February 15

Snocore was conceived as a touring event to combat a slow time for live music and, even better, as an excuse for musicians to play mountain resort towns. The latter goal has waned in recent years, but the former still applies, and that’s all that matters if you have tickets to tonight’s show at Altar Bar. Flyleaf headlines this year’s Snocore. It has been a tumultuous couple years for the Texas quintet. Their lead singer quit in 2012 and their new singer, Kristen May, was saddened by the breakup of her previous band, Vedera. Flyleaf soldiered on, channelling this tumult into their newest album, 2014’s Between the Stars, to recreate their heavy metal sound. They are best known for the 2009 album Memento Mori, which hit number 8 on the Billboard 200. Adelitas Way, Framing Hanley, Fit For Rivals, Descendsion open. 7 p.m. 1620 Penn Ave., Strip District.

Tuesday, February 17

Bush—a British grunge rock band formed in London in 1992—gained early success with its first album Sixteen Stone, an immediate hit that is now certified as a six-time multi-platinum seller. The rockers’ 1996 release Razorblade Suitcase went to number 1 on the Billboard album chart. Their signature mix of grunge and metal, with an occasional ballad, has won them a worldwide fan base. Led by lead vocalist/guitarist Gavin Rossdale, Bush is currently touring in support of the 2014 release Man on the Run. Theory of a Deadman and Stars In Stereo open the show. Doors open 7 p.m. Stage AE, 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore.

Thursday, February 19

Did you know that the city of New Orleans has an official Cultural Ambassador? His name is Irvin Mayfield, Jr. He announces his presence with a very mean trumpet. And for his visit to Pittsburgh, he’s bringing his full retinue of movers and shakers, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. Expect more than the traditional Dixieland jazz their city is known for, because Mayfield and the NOJO play jazz, period—with authority and with feeling. This is an MCG Jazz event. 9:30 p.m. 1815 Metropolitan St., Manchester.

 

Shemeika Copeland photo: Sandrine Lee

Shemekia Copeland
photo: Sandrine Lee

Harlem-born blues singer Shemekia Copeland gained a lot of notice with “Never Going Back to Memphis,” which featured her resonant blues/soul vocals, storytelling lyrics, and fantastic guitar and drums. Copeland—the daughter of Texas blues guitarist and singer Johnny Copeland—started out singing professionally as her dad’s opening act while still in high school. A two-time Grammy nominee, she’s performed with such notables as Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Mick Jagger, and Eric Clapton. Copeland has also performed for President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at the White House. She’ll be at Club Café with her band, so bring your own top guy or first lady and join the fun. The Blues Devils open. Doors at 7 p.m., music at 8. 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side.

Friday, February 20

Having kids changes everything. Just ask Kelsey Friday. Those present in the Pittsburgh rock scene of the ’90s may recall Friday as the wailing lead singer of downbeat alt-rock band Brownie Mary. Fifteen years and two pregnancies later, she is now singing about the sun and 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 at Club Cafe however. She and her former Brownie Mary bandmates will be ripping it up all night—or at least for as long as she could arrange a sitter. Keep on rockin’ Kelsey! 7 p.m. 56-58 South 12th St., South Side.

 

Tuesday, February 24

Unrelated to the conga drum or to the Kongo people of Africa, the band name “Kongos” comes from the last name of all four band members, all of whom are brothers. And if you need further proof that music runs in the family, the brothers’ father is singer-songwriter John Kongos. The brothers are South African but have made Phoenix their home since 1996. Appropriately, the band blends alternative rock and kwaito—South African house music heavy on bass and drums. Singles from the band’s sophomore album, Lunatic, received heavy rotation in South Africa before jumping stateside late 2013. Perhaps you heard their single “Come with Me Now” in The Expendables 3. Tonight they play Stage AESir Sly and Colony House open. Doors open 7 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore.

 

New Madrid follows a long line of great bands from Athens, Georgia (R.E.M., Neutral Milk Hotel, Drive-By Truckers). These musicians have already conquered their hometown; next, Club Cafe. The four-piece’s newest album, 2014’s Sunswimmer, sees them working with David Barbe, who engineered their last record as well as music by Deerhunter and R.E.M. Songs like “Manners” exemplify their melding of psychedelic with just the right amount of indie fuzz. Longer tracks, such as “Homesick,” are meant for the vinyl resurgence. The band suggests listening to the entire album in one sitting. Lou Reed suggested the same thing regarding his 1989 album, New York. New Madrid is nothing if not ambitious. The Heirs and Cape Cod open. 8 p.m. 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side.

Thursday, February 26

Frank Iero’s been keeping busy ever since he and his former bandmates dissolved My Chemical Romance in 2013. The rhythm guitarist has fronted two new bands: Leathermouth and Death Spells. In late 2012, while sick with digestive issues, Iero channeled his pain to create his first solo album, 2014’s Stomachaches. With the exception of drums, he played every instrument on the album and released it under the moniker “frnkiero andthe cellabration.” The album has all of My Chemical Romance’s punk and thrash but without their arena bombast, an equation which makes Mr. Smalls a perfect venue for him and his touring band. They supported Taking Back Sunday and The Used last year; tonight, they headline. Modern Chemistry opens. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale.

Friday, February 27

Fresh off a debut album released just three days ago, MisterWives bring their indie pop to The Club at Stage AE. Photo Finish Records, a subsidiary of Island Def Jam, offered the New York five-piece a record deal after their first (!) show. Soon they were opening for American Authors and Twenty One Pilots. Not that frontwoman Mandy Lee Duffy wasn’t prepared for fame. At New York City’s only specialized public high school for music and performing arts, she studied opera and songwriting while also developing a fantastic vocal range. That range is on display in “Our Own House,” their first single from 2015’s album of the same name. Børns opens. Doors open 7 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore.

 

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 67 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 Café. 9 p.m. 56 S. 12th St., South Side.

Saturday, February 28

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8A_6gKFItwc

Three voices. One lone bellow. So goes the harmonization of The Lone Bellow, a Brooklyn-based indie-folk trio. Add production by Aaron Dessner (of The National) and brass and string arrangements by Bryce Dessner (also of The National), and you have 2015’s Then Came Morning, the group’s second album. You also have a superb follow-up to their self-titled debut. That debut, by the way, ranked on many a “Best of” list in 2013, from Paste to People. With new singles like “Fake Roses,” a song flush with imagery and subtle instrumentation, The Lone Bellow seems poised to repeat that acclaim. They’ve opened for the Avett Brothers and the Civil Wars. Tonight they headline The Club at Stage AE. Odessa opens. Doors open 7 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore.

Chris Maggio was a major contributor to this preview.

Mike Vargo also contributed to the preview.