November Concert Preview: Top Christian Singers, A Formerly “Rotten” Johnny, and Two Guitarists Named Robert

Robert Randolph playing the pedal steel guitar while Eric Clapton looks on. Photo: Steve Proctor via Wikimedia Commons lic.

Robert Randolph playing the pedal steel guitar while Eric Clapton looks on. Photo: Steve Proctor via Wikimedia Commons lic.

There’s a nice array of concerts in Pittsburgh this month, not really any mega-acts except for two Christian music performers—Amy Grant and Chris Tomlin—who are both leaders in the genre. Grant, through her popular cross-over music, widened the audience for this category beginning in the 1980’s, and in the new millennium Tomlin has taken it higher. This example of a trailblazer and a follow-up artist can be seen on the local front with Jimmy Beaumont and The Skyliners, who are opening for Little Anthony and the Imperials, and Rusted Root. The Skyliners were one of the early groups to break it big out of Pittsburgh in the Sixties. Michael Glabicki, lead singer of Rusted Root and band, are an internationally known rock/world music/jam band that achieved massive success around the world in the 1990’s and beyond. Glabicki will be performing at Pittsburgh Winery with two Rusted Root bandmates: Dirk Miller and Cory Coruso.

Other notables playing the ‘Burgh this month are funkateer George Clinton, former Sex Pistols member John Lydon (Johnny Rotten), jazz saxophonist David Sanborn, and two guitarists named Robert—Robert Cray and Robert Randolph. Thanksgiving occurs this month and let us be thankful for all the great musical acts and performers who visit Pittsburgh each year. Now would you please pass the gravy.

 

Monday, November 2

Detroit’s Insane Clown Posse brings their hip hop duo to Mr Small’s Funhouse. The Posse is made up of  “wicked clown” personas “Violent J” (real name Joseph Bruce) and Shaggy 2 Dope (Joseph Utsler).  The Posse’s songs are based on the mythology of the Dark Carnival, a metaphoric limbo where the lives of the dead are judged by one of several entities. The Dark Carnival theme is carried out through a series of stories called Joker’s Cards, each one offers specific insights designed to change the listeners behavior from evil to good before the end. ICP’s latest releases are The Marvelous Missing Link: Lost, released in April and The Marvelous Missing Link: Found, which dropped in July. Openers: P.O.D., DJ Paul, Dope D.O.D., Young Wicked, Legally Insane. 6:30 p.m., 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale.  Note: Don’t go if you’re afraid of clowns. (RH)

Tuesday, November 3

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 Rex Theater. Anderson East and Hugh Masterson open. 8 p.m. 1602 E. Carson St.. South Side. (CM)

Thursday, November 5

Amy Grant was the kind of breakthrough figure for Christian pop that Garth Brooks was for country music, but her rise was not without controversy — seriously. In 1985, she shocked her evangelical fans by wearing a leopard-print jacket and performing barefoot at the Grammys. (That’s right; they were scandalized by feet!) Later, she ruffled feathers by getting a divorce and releasing one album lacking any overt references to Jesus. She’s persevered and these days Grant, with her ever agreeable voice and pleasant demeanor, has a healthy fan base, of hardcore evangelicals and people who are not, and they will be supporting her at the Palace Theatre. Grant is married to country singer Vince Gill and released her latest album Be Still and Know… Hymns & Faith earlier this year. 7:30 p.m. 21 W. Otterman St., Greensburg. (RH)

Friday, November 6

Listeners didn’t know what to make of The Polyphonic Spree when they began appearing on indie rock radio a decade and a half ago. The group, originally from Dallas, Texas, wore matching white gowns, and on stage there stood more members than concert-goers could count. Were they an ensemble? A cult? Then “Light and Day / Reach For the Sun” came out and suddenly none of that mattered. The mainstream had found the group. That single appeared in a Volkswagen Beetle/iPod ad, and the band performed the song on an episode of NBC’s “Scrubs.” The single also comes from the group’s debut album, The Beginning Stages of …, currently being performed in its entirety to celebrate its 15th anniversary. Tour stops include Mr. Smalls. Fans can also expect some covers as well as deep cuts. Bring your extra-large autograph book: the band currently counts 21 active members. Past members include indie rock darling St. Vincent, and the group is fronted by Tim DeLaughter. The Sharp Things open. 9 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (CM)

 

“Loud introvert.” That’s Lydia Loveless’s self-proclaimed moniker. The label comes through in her sound. Part country, part rock, her music draws from her childhood in rural Ohio and her adolescence in Columbus, respectively. The 25-year-old is also prolific: she released her third album, Somewhere Else, in 2014, and she released her debut, The Only Man, in 2010 when she was 19(!). Her music is highly literary as well. “Verlaine Shot Rimbaud,” a track off Somewhere Else, recounts a shooting between the two 19th-century French poets and lovers. (She’s also been known to perform a Kesha cover.) Music runs in the family—her father owned a country music bar. Forget pillows or decorative throws. Musicians, crashing for a night, were often the family’s living room ornamentations, a bellwether of Loveless’s later life on the road. Her stop in Pittsburgh takes her not terribly far from her home base of Columbus, Ohio. She, bassist/husband Ben Lamb, and the rest of her band will be bringing their brand of cowpunk to Club Cafe. The Red Western opens. 9 p.m. 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (CM)

Sunday, November 8

Pittsburgh Guitars is holding its 13th Annual Big Beatles Show, a fundraiser to benefit the Strum Together Scholarship Fund. This fun event is a night full of Beatles rockers and ballads performed by a wide array of talented local musicians and bands. Proceeds go towards the Strum Together charity who provide musical performance scholarships to needy young adults. One group that’s always on the bill and brings a steady backbeat is The Elliotts. 6 p.m. Rex Theater. 1602 E. Carson St., South Side. (RH)

 

Progressive bluegrass group Yonder Mountain String Band is in concert tonight at Mr. Smalls Funhouse. Colorado, now a major producer of “green” grass, also grew this blue grass band, who have five studio albums to their credit. “Half Moon Rising” is one of their most popular songs and resonates with joyful sounds. The band’s 2015 release Black Sheep is available on CD and vinyl. Henhouse Prowlers opens. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (RH)

Wednesday, November 11

Pepper waited until its sixth LP to self-title an album. Why so late? The new record is a rebirth of sorts. After 2008’s Pink Crustaceans and Good Vibrations, the trio felt fatigued. It was a busy past 11 years: beginnings in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii; a jump to the mainland—San Diego; appearances at many a Vans Warped Tour. They’ve opened for other reggae acts, like Shaggy, and weathered numerous comparisons to Sublime. 2006’s No Shame was the major label debut, with inescapable radio hits, like “No Control” and “Your Face.” Their music also appeared in movies, music, and even video game soundtracks. Then, from 2009 to 2013, a drought of new music, save the release of one EP. However, that EP, 2010’s Stitches, got them touring again, and the band soon regrouped in the studio. In 2013, they released Pepper—sonically expansive, tightly produced, flush with the band’s toes-in-the-sand vibe. They bring that sunny vibe to November-gray Pittsburgh with a show at Altar Bar. Ballyhoo and Katastro open. 8 p.m. 1620 Penn Ave., Strip District. (CM)

Thursday, November 12

If you haven’t heard Anthony Gourdine you must click on the video above. At a time when falsetto singers were not uncommon in pop music, Gourdine stood out nonetheless with his distinctive voice and phrasing. And today—when it’s not at all uncommon for musicians to keep rocking at an age when you’d expect them to be in rocking chairs—it’s a pleasant surprise, nonetheless, to find Little Anthony and The Imperials still doing their R&B. The group from New York City broke onto the charts in 1958 with “Tears on My Pillow” and kept turning out hits through the ‘60s, becoming a popular act on TV music and variety shows. Since then The Imperials have dissolved, re-formed, and drifted in and out of the media spotlight … but they’ve never lost the ability to light up a live audience with numbers like “Hurt So Bad.” Little Anthony and the Imperials are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their current lineup includes original members Gourdine and Ernest Wright, and they’re booked into The Palace Theatre for a show with local legends Jimmy Beaumont and The Skyliners. 7:30 p.m. 21 W. Otterman St., Greensburg. (MV)

 

 

In 2009, Pittsburgh Public Image Ltd fans were ecstatic to learn John Lydon had resurrected “PiL.” Even better, he included the Steel City on the band’s North American tour. For Yinzers who missed that show, PiL returns this November with a concert at Altar Bar. John Lydon is perhaps best known as Johnny Rotten, frontman of the late Sex Pistols. When that group split in 1978, Rotten reverted back to his birth name and formed PiL, a seminal post-punk band. The “post” comes from the group’s incorporation of other genres, like dub. They were not only commercially successful but also influenced later bands like Pearl Jam and Yeah Yeah Yeahs with singles like “Public Image,” “This Is Not a Love Song,” and “Rise.” Rolling Stone included their sophomore album, 1979’s Metal Box, on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Fans remember the record for its heavy sound and its packaging—a metal film canister. The group went defunct in 1992 but is back, touring and releasing new music, like this year’s studio album, What the World Needs Now … 9 p.m. 1620 Penn Ave., Strip District. (CM)

Friday, November 13

Rick Jergel is co-owner of Jergel’s Rhythm Grille and lead singer in the house band, Fathertime. The venue, created to provide Pittsburgh’s northern suburbs with a solid concert hall and hang-out spot, plays host to local and touring acts, but Fathertime is no slouch when it fills in the gaps, bringing the heat with enthusiastic renditions of Top 40 favorites. They have a big fan club. There’s always something fun happening at Jergel’s. 9 p.m. 285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale. (RH)

Saturday, November 14

George Clinton has been on a musical journey of exploration for many years. He started out in a doo-wop group called The Parliaments, modeled after Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, while working in a hair salon. Then he became a writer, arranger, and producer for Motown Records before working for other Detroit musical companies. As the leader of Parliament- Funkadelic, he was one of the top innovators of funk music, along with James Brown and Sly Stone. Combining music like that of Brown, Stone, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and others with different sounds and lyrical arrangements and a big dose of funky bass and drums, Clinton came up with an outline for his sound. This led to massive success for him in the 70’s with “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” and “Flash Light,” among others.

It would also be remiss if Clinton’s creativity with shows, lyrics, titles, and costumes were not mentioned. He even had a spaceship he called his Mothership that descended to the stage at concerts. Parliment-Funkadelic also had an album called The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, which later spawned the Clinton-produced female funk group The Brides of Funkenstein. His concerts are fun events. Clinton has been primarily a solo artist since the ’80’s but periodically collaborates with others. Clinton is touring behind his latest release, 2014s first-ya-gotta-shake-the-gate. Doors open at 7 p.m. Stage AE, 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (RH)

 

Can Chris Tomlin dunk? He can definitely go vertical, and he dashes and leaps about the stage as if he’s running a full-court press—wait, wait, now he’s doing jumping jacks!—and if you should ask him where he gets his energy, well, you know what he’d tell you. Tomlin is one of the top artists in Christian popular music, if not the top. (But again, if you were to ask him who’s really Number One, you know what he’d say.) Tomlin has received a Grammy Award plus an amazing 19 Dove Awards within the Christian music industry, including the Dove for Songwriter of the Year in 2014. And, given that many songs he’s written are used in churches, it has been estimated that he might be the most sung songwriter in the world. He’s bringing his high-energy touring band to Consol Energy Center, with special guests Rend Collective from Northern Ireland. 7 p.m. 1001 Fifth Ave., Uptown. (MV)

 

VEGA INTL. Night School is the first Neon Indian studio album since 2011’s Era Extraña. In that four-year gap, Neon Indian has made the shift from chillwave to New Wave, from shoegaze to “get on your red shoes and dance the blues.” Just listen to the new single, “Annie.” It has plenty of the lamentation to denied love that marked his 2011 single, “Polish Girl,” but with a little more kick. The genre shift has to do with Alan Palomo, the man behind the beats, taking a cue from a former project of his: VEGA. One need only look at the title of the new Neon Indian album to see VEGA’s influence. Palomo was born in Monterrey, Mexico. Neon Indian, in Denton, Texas, where Palomo attended University of North Texas. He counts Jimmy Fallon as a fan; Neon Indian has appeared multiple times on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and “The Tonight Show.” When Palomo performs live, a supporting band joins him, as will be the case for his show at Mr. Smalls. Special guests are Ennui and Explorer Tapes. 8:30 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (CM)

Sunday, November 15

Esteemed jazz/soul/rock artist Boz Scaggs is set to fill the Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall with smooth melodies and flowing chord progressions. A veteran of over 50 years in the music industry, Scaggs rose to fame in the ’60s as the guitarist for the Steve Miller Band before gaining further acclaim as a solo act in the 70’s. These projects have earned the 71-year-old Scaggs significant accolades, including four top-20 albums and six top-20 singles. Major hits have included “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle.” Scaggs has compiled a discography of over 21 albums, including his latest, A Fool to Care, released earlier this year. The album rose to no. 1 on the Billboard Blues album chart and included duets with Lucinda Williams and Bonnie Raitt. 8 p.m. 510 East 10th St., Munhall. (RH)

 

Every so often a musician comes along who makes life easy for music writers, because the artist’s work can be described in a single word. Robert Cray is one of those musicians and the word is “beautiful.” To say a bit more: One could observe that Cray is not the most pyrotechnic blues guitarist around—but the music flows from his instrument as naturally and sweetly as water rippling in a stream. Cray isn’t the most spectacular singer, either. He doesn’t wail like a banshee or rumble like a freight train—but a blues song is a song of the people, and this guy with the everyday, common man’s voice simply knows how to sing it like it is. That’s beautiful. Cray has won five Grammy Awards and induction to the Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis. He’s bringing his Robert Cray Band to The Palace Theatre with special guest Shemekia Copeland. 7:30 p.m. 21 W. Otterman St., Greensburg. (MV)

Thursday, November 19

Although not necessarily ignored by radio programmers, Robert Randolph and the Family Band have built their fan base night after night through killer live shows, a la the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers. Their concerts have all the spitfire of a tent revival. The band encourages—even demands—audience participation, enticing people into singing along, even occasionally pausing the music to give dance instructions. Leader Randolph is known for his fiery skills on the steel guitar, an instrument played sitting down, but he’ll rise up, kicking over his chair as he does. With their roof-raising brand of soul, funk, and rock, the New Jersey-born band is set to acquire a few more admirers tonight at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille. Their most recent album was 2013’s Likety Split. 8 p.m. 285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale. (RH)

 

There’s nothing like a jazz saxophone and there are connoisseurs who say nobody blows it better than David Sanborn. That’s why his upcoming concert in the MCG Jazz series is already sold out, which means you’ll have to try the resale and wait-list markets or find a friend who can take you along. A six-time Grammy winner, Sanborn plays at the high end, favoring the alto sax and sometimes pushing it to about as alto as it can go. He also enjoys tunes from all over the genre map, so his shows typically include a good bit of crossover and fusion material. Sanborn has played with nearly every big name you can name; he was a regular guest on “The Late Show With David Letterman” and the latest of his 24 albums, this year’s Time and the River, features numbers on the smooth-jazz side. Two shows, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, 1815 Metropolitan St., Manchester. (MV)

Sunday, November 22

Rusted Root’s lead singer Michael Glabicki performs at Pittsburgh Winery along with fellow bandmates Dirk Miller and Cory Coruso. Rusted Root is a Pittsburgh band that formed in 1990 rising to fame on a world beat fusion mix of rock, acoustic, folk , and a distinctive percussion sound. After winning the In Pittsburgh Music Award for Best Rock Band in 1990 Glabicki and band continued on the wining track when their 1994 album When I Awoke with the track “Send Me On My Way” went Platinum. This will be a good opportunity to see Glabicki and group members up close and in a more intimate setting. 7 p.m. 2815 Penn Ave., Strip District.

Wednesday, November 25

The Buzz Poets are like good wine. They’ll give you a buzz, and their multi-layered music comes in many varieties—from acoustic to electric and from punk-rocky to hip-hoppy. So it will be buzz time in more ways than one when the Poets play a return gig at Pittsburgh Winery. One member of the band, bass guitarist Tim Gaber, won’t have to travel far as he is the owner of Pittsburgh Winery. This Pittsburgh-based group burst onto the scene in the late 1990s with a freewheeling, high-energy style that struck a chord with folks who like their music high, wide, and weird. The Buzz Poets have built a cult following but they don’t play all that often these days, which makes the Winery gig a rare chance to find out what the cult has been imbibing. Doors at 8, music at 9 p.m. 2815 Penn Ave., Strip District. (MV)

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.