May Concert Guide: Rapper’s Delight, Blues Guitarists, and The 1975

Flo Rida performing in Sydney, Australia in 2012. photo: Flo Rida and Wikipedia.

Flo Rida performing in Sydney, Australia in 2012. photo: Flo Rida and Wikipedia.

This month’s highlights include some great hip-hop and soul performers. Flo Rida jams a Pirates post-game concert. Noted hip-hop artist Tjuan Benafactor, based in Pittsburgh, brings hot raps to a unique place as well, the Pittsburgh Marathon’s South Side party. Chance the Rapper’s career is on the rise, and he’s playing PPG Paints Arena. Future, another rising rapper, comes to KeyBank (formerly First Niagara) Pavilion. Smooth-voiced soul singer R. Kelly holds court at the Benedum.

Like blues guitarists? There’s two top-notch ones in our pick mix this month. Buddy Guy plays the Palace, and Coco Montoya performs at Jergel’s.

Also this month we see British makers of splendid Americana music—Mumford & Sons, who have been moving in a more rock-oriented direction, open the season at KeyBank Pavilion . Pittsburgh and The 1975 are now in serious relationship territory, with the band playing several concerts in the ’Burgh over the last year and a half and local fans reciprocating with strong ticket sales. The xx, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Meat Puppets all promise to be great shows. It would be great if there was a double bill of “Peppers and Puppets!”

Hometown heroes highlighted this month are jazz keyboardist Kevin Howard and original Iron City Houserockers’ harmonica player Marc Reisman. Many other talented local performers and bands will be playing the neighborhood Marathon parties. Get out and see some live music this month; it will raise your consciousness!

Monday, May 1

Maybird’s lead vocalist sounds a bit like The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas, although he looks more like guitarist Nick Valensi. The instrumentation dates a little further back, to ’90s alt-rock bands, such as Garbage. Comparisons aside, there’s something original about Maybird’s psychedelic-indie sound. That originality might explain some things. For instance, why Danger Mouse, who has produced albums by artists such as Gorillaz and The Black Keys, signed the New York quintet to his record label, 30th Century. Maybird has released an EP, 2016’s Turning into Water. To promote the EP, the band embarked on a six-state, 10-city tour, one which included a stop at Club Cafe. Maybird return to the venue again, this time as part of a longer tour. Expect a full-length album soon, but in the meantime, there’s a new single, “Keep in Line,” produced by Patrick Carney of the Black Keys. Shana Falana and Zeve open. 8 p.m. 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (CM)

Wednesday, May 3

Blues guitarist/vocalist Coco Montoya first started out as a drummer with a secondary love for the guitar. He played drums for guitar legend and “master of the Telecaster” Albert Collins for over five years and worked on his guitar skills with Collins mentoring him. He became so skilled that John Mayall asked him to join his reformed Bluesbreakers band in the early ’80s, staying for 10 years. Since then, he has enjoyed a successful solo career with 10 albums released. Montoya plays his scorching riffs as a southpaw. He has returned home to Alligator Records for his latest album, 2017’s Hard Truth. 8 p.m. Jergel’s, 285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale. (RH)

Friday, May 5

Kevin Howard—a contemporary jazz keyboardist and Pittsburgh native—is one of the top jazz performers in the Pittsburgh region. He has toured with the legendary Ronnie Laws, and has also played with Najee and the amazing guitarist and Pittsburgh native George Benson. Howard has released four CDs including Random Groove, Collage, Special Edition, which features special guest saxophonist Marion Meadows and guitarist Rohn Lawrence, and 2015’s Travels. Ease into your weekend with some cool jazz from a top artist. 7 p.m. Free. August Wilson Center, 980 Liberty Ave., Cultural District. (RH)

Sunday, May 7

Tjuan Benafactor (Antjuan Wasington) is a great example of a local guy achieving success. Benafactor grew up in the Hill District, graduating from Oliver High School, and attended college in West Virginia. Upon graduation, he worked as an event promoter, even assisting Pittsburgh hip-hop legend, the late Dwayne Muhammad, and his company 360 Entertainment, on his Hip Hop Awards. After transitioning to rap artist, Benafactor was nominated for several of said awards. He has toured the U.S., bringing his brand of lively, rapid-fire, positive rap to a wider audience. Many of his rap tracks have hot, block rockn’ beats and are also very melodic. Although he is based out of Pittsburgh, concert appearances here have been rare in the last several years. One reason is that Benafactor owned the Pittsburgh ABA basketball team: The Steel City Yellow Jackets. Having recently sold the team, his schedule still hasn’t eased up as he is also CEO of the ABA’s Media & Entertainment Division. Benafactor oversees broadcast deals, sponsorships, merchandising, game day entertainment, and more. Additionally, he owns the Twin City Jazz, West Virginia Warlocks, Brooklyn Skyrockets, and LA Palms of the ABA.

This March, Benafactor’s song “First Class” featuring Sammie reached  no. 1 on the SpinReports.com (BDS) Hip Hop/R&B Top 40 Charts and was a no. 1 requested song on several major radio stations. “Love & Hip Hop” has been getting heavy rotation as well. He is currently signed to his own label, Arucca Flyboy, and distributed by Amada Records/Capitol Music Group. Catch him as part of the Pittsburgh Marathon‘s South Side celebrations right outside Mario’s. He will be performing three sets (8, 9, and 11 a.m.). Also on the bill are Pittsburgh musical acts Stretchy Guwop, Yung Fly Gang (YFG), Bonez Da Loc, Queen D.VA, Seymour Banks, and Beverly Bowie Taylor. Several Steel City Yellow Jacket players will be on hand, signing autographs, and doing giveaways (8-11 a.m.). Festivities start at 7 a.m. and continue until noon. 1514 E. Carson St. (RH)

Tuesday, May 9

Critics classify the music of Old 97’s as alternative country-rock, although guitarist Rhett Miller has simply called it “loud folk.” Regardless of what to call it, the band’s created music for over 20 years, which makes it all the more extraordinary that its highest-charting album was 2014’s Most Messed Up. It featured appearances by Tommy Stinson, of The Replacements and Guns N’ Roses, and Jon Rauhouse, who has played with Neko Case. Where to next? Why, how about full circle? The quartet followed up Most Messed Up with 2017’s Graveyard Whistling, recorded at the Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas. The members recorded their major-label debut, Too Far To Care, at that same studio 20 years earlier. Brandi Carlile sings on the first single from Graveyard Whistling, “Good with God.” (She sings the part of His Most Holiest.) Old 97’s play Mr. Smalls. Nicole Atkins opens. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (CM)

Thursday, May 11

Formed in 1983, Red Hot Chili Peppers were never just another L.A. punk band. Flea slapped as much as he plucked his bass. Anthony Kiedis rapped more than he sang. All members had a predilection for performing naked save a strategically placed tube sock. When founding guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose in 1988, founding drummer Jack Irons quit, unable to carry on without his friend. Kiedis and Flea persevered, hiring John Frusciante on guitar and Chad Smith on drums. On September 24, 1991, Blood Sugar Sex Magik was released, the same day as Nirvana’s Nevermind, both albums heralding alternative rock. Frusciante quit in 1992, spiraled into drug use, later got sober, and rejoined in 1998. 1999’s Californication marked their comeback, and more hits followed. Frusciante left again in 2009. Former touring guitarist Josh Klinghoffer joined, and the new lineup released 2011’s I’m with You and 2016’s The Getaway. They bring the funk to PPG Paints Arena. Irontom opens. 7:30 p.m. 1001 5th Ave., Uptown. (CM)

The love between The 1975 and Pittsburgh grows deeper. Last year, the English rock ‘n’ roll quartet played two sold-out concerts at Stage AE over Halloween and All Saints’ Day. The band returns to Stage AE this year, hot off winning the Brit Award for Best British Group, for an outdoor show. The 1975’s breakout single was “Chocolate,” and the members are currently touring their sophomore album, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It. The album hit No. 1 on the UK chart and the US Billboard 200 and has spawned five singles, including “The Sound.” Throughout the music video, criticisms of their “sound” flash on the screen. The song reached 15 on the UK chart, their highest charting single yet in their homeland. Looks like The 1975 got the last laugh. Pale Waves and Colouring opens. Doors open at 7 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. SOLD OUT. (CM)

Friday, May 12

In 1909, a contractor working along the banks of the Allegheny River found a mastodon’s tusk. Tonight, another Mastodon roams the banks of the Allegheny. Wandering north from Atlanta, Georgia (most other mastodons went south), this one is a progressive sludge metal band. Instead of ending up trapped in a tar pit, Mastodon can be found writhing at the edge of a mosh pit. The band’s 2004 release, Leviathan, was based on the novel Moby-Dick and named album of the year by several music publications. Its latest release is this year’s Emperor of Sand. Joining Mastodon on tour are the Eagles of Death Metal. They never took themselves too seriously: the hipster mustaches, the outrageous album titles, the fact that they don’t play death metal. Then the Bataclan terrorist attack happened in Paris, and the Eagles of Death Metal saw themselves in headlines in a way that no band ever wants to see. The members survived, and undeterred, they played Paris again; first with U2 and later at L’Olympia. Russian Circles also open. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Stage AE, 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (RH/CM)

Saturday, May 13

Is Millvale really the new Lawrenceville? Find out at the annual Millvale Music Festival, which showcases this rebounding municipality across the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh. Over 100 area musical acts will play 16 venues during the day-long event. Some venues are all ages, some are 21+, but the festival definitely feels like a family affair. Why, punk-rockers Nox Boys, who headline the GAP Park Main Stage, have an uncle on slide guitar. Tupelo & Jeremy are also billed. Tupelo Donovan is the son of Jim Donovan, original drummer for Rusted Root and frontman of the Sun King Warriors. Tupelo & Jeremy aren’t playing at Tupelo Honey Teas, though a few other bands are. Rather, they are playing Element Church. One longtime Pittsburgh act is The Weird Paul Rock Band, fronted by the irreverent and bowlcut Weird Paul himself. The band plays Bar 3 Millvale. The festival also includes Chrome Moses, Drowning Clowns, Nameless in August, Murder for Girls, Hedonism Bots, Alma Mura and many more. 11:30 a.m. – midnight. Millvale. (An unofficial after party runs from 11:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. at the Funhouse at Mr. Smalls. Dinosoul, William Forrest, and Sikes and The New Violence will perform.) (CM)

Sunday, May 14

Buddy Guy is ranked 30th in Rolling Stone‘s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Guy has influenced other great guitarists on that list including Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. He is one of the most successful artists in the Chicago Blues style and was a member of the legendary Muddy Waters’s band. Guy frequently teamed up with noted harmonica player the late Junior Wells. Two of Guy’s top songs are “Stone Crazy” and “Cut You Loose.” Guy has won seven Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005 by B.B. King and Eric Clapton. Palace Theatre, 21 W. Otterman St., Greensburg. (RH)

Tuesday, May 16

Rock bands usually toil in obscurity for a few years before making it big. Yet every now and then, one is raptured to fame as soon as it drops its first album (The Doors, Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses, The Strokes, etc.). The latest such group is The xx. The British band members had barely graduated high school when their self-titled debut impressed critics with its mesmerizing rhythms, minimalist approach, and surprisingly mature songs of devotion and heartache. The record took the Mercury Prize (the U.K. equivalent of the Grammy for Album of the Year) in 2010, and the much-awaited follow-up, Coexist, came in 2012. The xx was the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live” last November and dropped their latest album, I See You, in January. I See You reached no. 1 on three Billboard charts: Top Alternative Albums, Independent Albums, and Top Rock Albums. A nice trifecta! Sampha opens. Doors at 7 p.m. Stage AE, 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (EC/RH)

During Fozzy’s early days, WWE wrestler Chris Jericho declared his fandom for not only the band but also its frontman, Moongoose McQueen. Meanwhile, McQueen had no idea whom Jericho was. (Fans were quick to catch on that they were the same person.) What became Fozzy began in 1999 when guitarist Rich Ward invited Jericho to play with his band, Fozzy Osbourne. In 2000, Jericho joined permanently, the group truncated its name, and the members released an eponymous album of mostly metal covers. 2002’s Happenstance saw more originals than Fozzy, but the group was still largely a covers band. 2005’s All That Remains changed that. The album not only includes all new material but also one of the band’s best known songs, “Enemy.” Jericho, a six-time professional wrestling world champion, recently returned to the WWE, but expect a new album soon, possibly this year. In the meantime, catch Fozzy at Diesel. Sons of Texas, KYNG, and Through These Walls open. 7 p.m. 1601 E. Carson St. (CM)

Wednesday, May 17

Many ’90s bands burned hot and faded out. One band that kept going through periods of highs and lows was Phoenix’s Meat Puppets, whose heavy but flexible sound has incorporated punk, country, and psychedelic rock in their three decades. One of the band’s biggest hits was “Backwater.” They were so respected by the alt-rock vanguard that Nirvana invited them on stage for their “MTV Unplugged” performance. But the mainstream limelight was not for the eclectic and uncompromising Meat Puppets. They are still touring these days and tonight come to Mr. Smalls—the kind of cozy but much-loved club they’ve inhabited since they began. The band’s last album was 2013’s Rat Farm. The core of the group is brothers Cris and Curt Kirkwood. Special guests are Stooges bassist Mike Watt and The Jom & Terry Show. 8:15 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (EC/RH)

Thursday, May 18

Coheed and Cambria, whose music is a mix of progressive, punk, and metal, are in concert at Stage AE. Rising out of Nyack, New York, Coheed and Cambria’s releases are mainly concept albums based on a sci-fi storyline called The Amory Wars, written by the band’s lead vocalist, Claudio Sanchez. They have been transcribed into comic books and a novel. On their last album, The Color Before the Sun, released in October 2015, the band departed from the Amory Wars theme. On the release, Sanchez chronicles personal journeys including his move from the country to the city, and his child, Atlas. Sanchez’s vocals are sung at a higher register, similar to Rush’s Geddy Lee. Special guest is The Dear Hunter. Doors open at 7 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (RH)

Friday, May 19

This show’s a win-win: support Pittsburgh’s Children’s Hospital and enjoy some hot rock at the same time. Stones for Children’s features the entire tracklisting of 1981’s Tattoo You, the Stones’ last album to reach No. 1 in the U.S., featuring “Start Me Up,” “Tops,” and “Slave.” Additionally, the encore set will contain other Stones classics. It’ll be performed by a stellar line-up of local musicians, and by line-up, we mean all of these people: DVE’s Randy Baumann, Joe Grushecky, Rob James, Rick Witkowski, Clinton Clegg, Jay Wiley, Jon Belan, Chet Vincent, Paul Luc, Nathan Zoob, Josh Verbannets, Freddie Nelson, backup singers, and a horn section. A portion of the proceeds goes to Pittsburgh Children’s. 8 p.m. The Rex Theater, 1602 E. Carson St., South Side. (RH)

Saturday, May 20

Chance the Rapper started this year by winning the Grammy for Best Rap Album for his 2016 mixtape, Coloring Book. That mixtape beat albums by many of his forebears including De La Soul and Kanye West. Coloring Book, besides being a perfect melding of gospel and hip-hop, achieved many firsts. It was the first streaming-only album to win a Grammy, and it was the first to chart on the Billboard 200, peaking at eight. It might be his most successful release so far, but it’s not the only one to garner acclaim. His second mixtape, 2013’s Acid Rap, caught the ears of many new listeners. Chance, a Chicago native, met Illinois governor Bruce Rauner in March to discuss funding for Chicago Public Schools. Later that month, Pitchfork reported Chance had raised $2.2 million for CPS. He began a spring tour in April, one which takes him to PPG Paints Arena. 1001 Fifth Ave., Uptown. (CM)

For those who lost count, 33 chapters exist of R. Kelly’s hip-hopera, “Trapped in the Closet.” Released from 2005 to 2012, the chapters detail a one-night stand, which quickly evolves into an epic detailing a sprawling cast, their overlapping affairs, and Rosie, the nosy neighbor. The first five chapters are the last five songs on 2005’s TP.3 Reloaded. Music videos were filmed for every chapter. “Trapped in the Closet” isn’t Kelly’s only contribution to the zeitgeist. His song “I Believe I Can Fly” won three Grammy awards and was ranked number 406 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It first appeared in Space Jam. Kelly also taught us what an echo is. His latest album is 2016’s 12 Nights of Christmas. I would write that he probably won’t sing any cuts from it for his May performance at the Benedum Center, but with this guy, you never know. Vivian Green opens. 8 p.m. 237 7th St., Cultural District. (CM)

Throughout grade school and high school Marc Reisman was a clarinet player. When he entered college, he moved toward rock and roll, and the clarinet went on the shelf.  He was planning to go to law school when a somewhat fortuitous event happened. Two kids stopped him in the street and asked him if he’d like to buy a harmonica. He did, and as they say, the rest is history. He started listening to great harmonica players including Junior Wells, Paul Butterfield, and Magic Dick of J. Geils Band fame. He played in a few blues bands and then joined a rock band called Brick Alley. The band was led by a guitar player named Joe Grushecky. The band turned into the Iron City Houserockers and later Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers. Reisman played with the band on and off throughout the years. He even would eventually go to law school and became an attorney. Reisman has recorded an album with songs reflecting the various types of music he has played over the years including rock, pop, blues, reggae, and R&B. On Strong Way, his new release, he plays harmonica and is the lead vocalist. Reisman co-wrote most of the new songs with Pittsburgh musician Kurt Resch and enjoined Rick Witkowski and the Steeltown Horns with Tony Resch to play on the album and in his band for the album release party at Club Cafe. 10:30 p.m., 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (RH)

Wednesday, May 24

Key Bank Pavilion hosts British folk-rock group Mumford & Sons. The band has enjoyed a surge of success in the United States over the years since forming in London in 2007. Their hilarious 2013 video for “Hopeless Wanderer” stormed the Internet. The video is a self-parody with comedians Jason Sudeikis, Ed Helms, Will Forte, and Jason Bateman playing the band members. The imposters perform, drink beer, and smash their instruments in a Californian ranch setting. But when it comes to creating and producing great music, the band puts aside all silliness, as evidenced by multiple Grammy nominations and wins. On Mumford’s latest release—2015’s Wilder Mind—they took off in a new direction, putting down some of the acoustic string instruments and going electric with a drummer. Unlike when Dylan went electric, Mumford’s fans signaled their OK by sending the album to Gold status and No. 1 on several U.S. and U.K. charts. Look for them to perform old faves and new songs with their electrified sound. 7:30 p.m. 665 Rt. 18, Burgettstown. (RH)

Thursday, May 25

Guns N’ Roses did it with Use Your Illusion I and II in 1991. Bruce Springsteen did it with Human Touch and Lucky Town in 1992. Sweat and Suit saw Nelly trying his hand in 2004. I write of releasing two albums on the same day. With Future and Hndrxx, Atlanta rapper Future tried something nearly the same: releasing two albums one week apart. A slight tweak on an old schtick made all the difference. Future became the first artist to consecutively debut two albums at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200. The success continued when “Mask Off,” the second single from Future, became his highest charting song yet, peaking at seven on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The song deviates from Future’s usual style of filtering his lyrics through Auto-Tune. Future comes to KeyBank Pavilion. Noted rap trio Migos, also from Georgia, open as do Tory Lanez, Kodak Black, and Zoey Dollaz. (CM)

Friday, May 26

“Shawty had them Apple Bottom jeans (jeans!) / Boots with the fur (with the fur!)” You can thank T-Pain, who is featured, for the call and response, which helped make Flo Rida’s Low” such a hit. The song was the most downloaded single of the 2000s, and it topped the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 consecutive weeks in 2008, a record for that year. It appears on his debut album, Mail on Sunday. Who would have thought that sampling an ’80s one-hit-wonder would give Flo Rida another hit? That’s what happened when he sampled Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” on “Right Round,” which features Kesha. He released a new single this year, “Game Time,” featuring Sage the Gemini. His upcoming album is The Perfect 10, though no release date has been set. Flo Rida headlines a FanJam Postgame Concert, which begins at PNC Park after the Bucs play the Mets in a 7:05 game. 115 Federal St., North Shore. (CM)

Saturday, May 27

Named after the archduke whose assassination sparked World War I, Franz Ferdinand is a Scottish quartet, whose sound resembles Talking Heads and Let’s Dance-era David Bowie. Franz Ferdinand’s 2004 self-titled debut album was the paragon of a new wave throwback, right up there with The Killers’ Hot Fuss, where the guitars and bass bounced like rubber tightropes and the hi-hat sizzled like bacon grease. 2005’s You Could Have It So Much Better continued the party. Four years later, 2009’s Tonight: Franz Ferdinand got hips moving again, this time with synths in the mix. 2013’s Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action is the group’s latest album. Franz Ferdinand has been friends with American band Sparks for years. They have sent demos to each other since 2004 and became a supergroup, FFS, in 2014, releasing a self-titled album that year. Just Franz Ferdinand at Stage AE this month, but still expect sparks. Doors open 7 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (CM)

Tuesday, May 30

Com Truise (this is not a typo) is one of musician Seth Haley’s many stage names. He features keyboard and synthesizers in an experimental, bottom-heavy, electronic style that makes for a unique, eclectic sound. (I wonder if he was ever married to Hatie Kolmes?) Com Truise is touring in advance of his album Iteration, which will be released on June 16 by independent label Ghostly International. Clark, an English electronic musician, co-headlines. Roland Tings opens. 8:30 p.m. Rex Theater, 1602 E. Carson St., South Side. (RH)

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

Christopher Maggio was a major contributor to this guide and enjoys his music too.