What’s striking about October’s Concert Guide is how many of the acts visiting our quaint city are arguably the best at what they do. Often hailed as Canada’s greatest songwriter, Gordon Lightfoot will perform here. So will Animal Collective, who brought experimental electronic-rock to the mainstream with 2009’s acclaimed Merriweather Post Pavilion. Jazz prodigy Esperanza Spalding will mix music and performance art at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. Ben Folds, revered in rock, pop, and classical circles, will play a piano-only show. And that’s just the first Friday alone.
Flo Rida, one of the best-selling musical acts ever, will usher in Halloween early with a party at Stage AE. Performing on Halloween, rock-‘n’-rollers The 1975 proved so hot this year that they had to add a second show in November. This month also allows Pittsburghers the opportunity to see the winner of NPR’s second annual Tiny Desk Contest, Gaelynn Lea, in person.
Hometown greats include Bill Toms and Hard Rain featuring The Soulville Horns. Toms was lead guitarist for The Houserockers for 20 years and appears on the album American Babylon. Donnie Iris, known for both The Jaggerz and his brilliant solo career, will play a show at Jergel’s as will Butler native Bret Michaels, formerly of Poison.
Other greats include Mike Love, who will bring his version of the Beach Boys to the region. Andrew Bird will stop here. Dinosaur Jr., alternative rock royalty, are back with a new album. Friends and country legends Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen are performing not only in Pittsburgh but also together for a special acoustic show.
Colbie Caillat, Lupe Fiasco, Neon Indian, Relient K, Switchfoot, and more round out a diverse, talented list of performers. Did I earlier write Pittsburgh was quaint? Far from it. The city is a must-stop for the country’s, indeed, the world’s best musicians. Although October offers plenty of spooky distractions, you’ll be well advised to fit in a concert or two both before the holiday arrives and while the concert scene is still going strong.
Sunday, October 2
Mike Love, a founding member and singer/songwriter for the quintessential American pop-rock band—The Beach Boys—brings his version of that band to Greensburg’s Palace Theatre for a concert. Love reunited a couple of years back with Brian Wilson and other surviving original members for a tour and album, and he performs tonight with his band under the Beach Boys’ banner. The Beach Boys created many top hits, including, “Surfin’ USA” (which Wilson wrote lyrics for and was heavily influenced by Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen.” After some wrangling Berry received a co-writing credit), “California Girls,” and “I Get Around.” Love has also written in a different medium: his memoir Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy is a New York Times Bestseller. 3 p.m. 21 W. Otterman St. (RH)
Tuesday, October 4
It’s the good-looking man in the red bandanna! You can bet the house will be packed when Butler native and diehard Steelers fan Bret Michaels revisits his home turf for a gig at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille. Michaels, born Bret Michael Sychak, has won fame in practically every way available. In addition to the solo career he launched in 1998 he’s been a founding member and longtime lead vocalist of the glam-metal rockers Poison. He wrote, directed, and starred in the movie A Letter from Death Row, with his friend and colleague Charlie Sheen. He impressed Donald Trump sufficiently to win “The Celebrity Apprentice 3.” Michaels has had his own reality TV shows, and, um … oh yeah, along with playing a half-dozen instruments, he can sing. Expect to hear him doing metal/country hits like “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” maybe “The App Song,” and more. Michaels is currently on an extensive U.S. tour. 8 p.m. 285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale. (MV)
Thursday, October 6
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 who is Neon Indian, taking a cue from a former project of his: VEGA. One needs to look at only the title of the new Neon Indian album to see VEGA’s influence. Palomo and his backing band went through Mr. Smalls once while touring VEGA INTL. Night School. If you missed them, they return again, this time with an army of electronic acts. Classixx are a Los Angeles-based duo. They are touring this year’s Faraway Reach, an album which features Passion Pit on the upbeat “Safe Inside.” Also opening are Alex Frankel and Harriet Brown. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (CM)
Friday, October 7
Bob Dylan once said of listening to a Gordon Lightfoot song, “I wish it would last forever.” The man widely thought of as America’s greatest songwriter was paying homage to the man who is almost universally acknowledged as Canada’s best. Lightfoot is credited as a major influence in the folk-pop sound of the ’60s and ’70s. He’s had multiple singles cracking the top five on the US charts, one of his most memorable being “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,”a memorial to a freighter that went down in Lake Superior in 1975. Another is 1970’s “If You Could read My Mind” which reached No. 5 on the U.S. Charts. Loved by the public and fellow musicians alike, his songs have been covered by everyone from Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash to Sarah McLachlan and Toby Keith. Lightfoot will be at The Palace Theatre for an 8 p.m. show. 21 West Otterman St., Greensburg. (EC, RH)
Esperanza Spalding is renowned for her special mix of jazz, blues, hip-hop, Brazilian, and Afro-Cuban influences. Spalding, a native of Portland, Oregon, is considered a multi-talented, musical “slash,” an accomplished composer, singer, and bassist. She also sings in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. In 2011, she won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, and her live appearances include a performance at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies at Oslo City Hall. This year, she released her fifth studio album, Emily’s D+Evolution, and has been touring the album this fall. Emily is not only her middle name but also her muse, whom she channelled for the LP. According to her website, her live performances are “for the first time, incorporating stage design, movement and acting into her already vivid musical storytelling practice.” Stage director and playwright Will Wiegler helped to create the production, which she brings this month to the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. 8 p.m. 980 Liberty Ave., Cultural District. (RH/CM)
Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Geologist, and the elusive Deakin are Animal Collective. From the chaos of their debut album (2000’s Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished) to the ache and fun of 2004’s Sung Tongs and 2005’s Feels, these four men from Baltimore have always created music that most bands don’t even think to attempt. When Merriweather Post Pavilion dropped in 2009, the press and the public reacted identically: “Wait, Animal Collective just released one of the greatest albums of all time?!” Yes, they did, propelled by the surprisingly accessible single, “My Girls.” Deakin, who was absent on Merriweather, was too busy with a solo album to appear on this year’s Painting With. Art inspired the LP as evinced by not only its title but also the lead single, “FloriDada.” The temporary trio play a sold out show at Mr. Smalls for those fortunate enough to have tickets. Eric Copeland opens. 9 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (CM)
Singer-songwriter Ben Folds has long bridged pop and orchestral, dating back to his time with his band, Ben Folds Five, and hits such as “Brick.” The group disbanded in 2000 and a year later, Folds released his debut solo album, Rockin’ the Suburbs. The title track charted on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks, ironic as it lampoons some modern rock bands. The Ben Folds Five regrouped in 2011 and went back on hiatus in 2013. In 2015, Folds collaborated with yMusic, a New-York-City-based sextet ensemble, on So There, an album of original chamber pop songs. The album also includes one piano concerto recorded with the Nashville Symphony. Folds and yMusic toured together to promote the album, a tour which included a stop in Munhall. He returns to Munhall’s Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall, armed with only his piano this time. The show promises to be a return in style to his earlier solo shows. 8 p.m. 510 E. 10th Ave., Munhall. (CM)
Saturday, October 8
From his instruments (violin, guitar, glockenspiel) to the uniquely named bands that he’s performed with (Squirrel Nut Zippers and Bowl of Fire), Andrew Bird is synonymous with eclectic. He began his professional career as a folk musician but has gradually incorporated aspects of indie rock into his compositions. Listeners took notice, and in 2007, he made his national television debut on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” where he performed “Plasticities” from his album Armchair Apocrypha. His newest album, this year’s Are You Serious, includes contributions by singer-songwriter Fiona Apple and Blake Mills, who founded the band that later became Dawes. Apple is featured on, and appears in the music video for, “Left Handed Kisses.” Bird also recently began a web video series called “Live from the Great Room,” which sees him performing songs in a living room with various musicians. Guests have included Jim James from My Morning Jacket. Bird comes to Pittsburgh this month for a show at the Byham Theater. 8 p.m. 101 6th St., Cultural District. (CM)
Sunday, October 9
KC and the Sunshine Band rose out of the ’70s music scene in Miami, Florida. Creating classic dance grooves including “That’s The Way I Like It,” “Get Down Tonight,” “I’m You’re Boogie Man,” and “Give It Up,” they achieved massive success. U.S. music charts in the mid to late ’70’s were often populated by the band’s hits. When disco/dance music faded and punk music rose in the early ’80s, KC retired for a while until brought back by popular demand in 1991. Palace Theatre. 7:30 p.m. 21 W. Otterman St. (RH)
Dinosaur Jr., an alternative rock band formed in 1984 in Amherst, Massachusetts, play Mr. Smalls. The trio are especially well-known for the talented guitar play of lead guitarist and singer J Mascis. Top songs include “Feel The Pain,” “Over It,” and “Said The People.” Mascis, who founded the group, has always been a member until their disbandment in 1997. In 2005, Mascis and the rest of the original lineup reformed. They’ve released four albums since. Their newest is this year’s Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not with “Tiny” as the lead-off single. When discussing Nirvana’s influences, Dinosaur Jr. are key, right up there with The Pixies. Dinosaur Jr. have a feedback-heavy yet melodic sound, similar to what Nirvana would incorporate into their own sonic landscapes. Nirvana would even tour in support of them. That was 25 years ago, yet Dinosaur Jr. are still going strong and continue to influence up-and-coming rock-‘n’-roll bands. Steve Gunn opens. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (RH/CM)
Tuesday, October 11
Talented Texans Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen are in concert together tonight at The Palace Theatre. Singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Lovett crafts colorful songs, which tell compelling tales by fusing together many different musical genres, including country, swing, and jazz. He is also a four-time-Grammy-award winner. Keen similarly blends musical styles while simultaneously weaving stories into his music. Artists such as Joe Ely and the Dixie Chicks have covered his songs. Lovett and Keen have been friends since their college days at Texas A&M University. While there, they co-wrote a song that would later appear on their respective debut albums, though the title of that song would differ slightly. Keen titled it “The Front Porch Song” on 1984’s No Kinda Dancer; Lovett, “This Old Porch” for his 1986, self-titled debut. For their show at the Palace, expect them not only to play acoustic versions of their hits but also to banter as only two good friends can. 8 p.m. 21 W. Otterman St., Greensburg. (RH/CM)
Asheville, North Carolina, has long had a reputation as a laid-back, hippie town, a Californian city which somehow drifted to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. No surprise it produced Papadosio, who play what they call “space rock,” an amalgamation of electronic, jazz, and rock. The quintet is on the rise. This May, the band headlined Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Morrison, Colorado, a performance available via their YouTube channel. They then toured the festival circuit this summer, playing sets at Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee; Electric Forest in Rothbury, Michigan; and more. They’ve been prolific in the studio too, releasing the LP Extras in a Movie in 2015 and the EP Pattern Integrities this year. In between, the group also found time to make a puppet feel good on his birthday. (See the cute music video for “Epiphany.”) Their fall tour includes a stop at Mr. Smalls. Be ready for tight instrumentals and a brilliant light show. Broccoli Samurai opens. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (CM)
Wednesday, October 12
Switchfoot, an alternative rock quintet from San Diego, California, digs deep when searching for lyrical and sonic inspiration. 2009’s Hello Hurricane and 2011’s Vice Verses are albums about, respectively, Katrina and San Diego’s homeless youth. Their newest, this year’s Where the Light Shines Through, responds to the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino as well as the national election and Isis. It’s a response of hope, however. 10 albums into their career, and Switchfoot’s optimism is unwavering. They are on the Looking for America Tour with Relient K, a punk rock band from Canton, Ohio. Relient K achieved mainstream success when their 2004 album, Mmhmm, debuted at No. 15 on the Billboard 200 chart. It included the single “Be My Escape.” In 2014, the band celebrated the 10th anniversary of that album, a celebration that included a sold-out show at the late Altar Bar. This year, Air for Free, featuring the single “Bummin,’” was released. Both bands headline Stage AE this month. Doors open at 6 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (CM)
Friday, October 14
Area native Donnie Iris, aka King Cool, is performing at the Showroom at the Monroeville Convention Center this month with his band, The Cruisers. Sure to be on the set list are top favorites including “Ah Leah” and “Love Is Like a Rock.” Iris was once a member of the Pittsburgh group The Jaggerz in the early ’70s and had a monster hit with the “The Rapper,” which reached no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. He went on to more success as a member of the Stuebenville, Ohio band Wild Cherry, which with Iris on the roster had a no.1 hit with “Play That Funky Music.” 8 p.m. 209 Mall Plaza Blvd.. Monroeville. (RH)
Monday, October 17
Optimism and sincerity can appear scarce in our culture. That’s what makes the music video for “Someday We’ll Linger in the Sun” so jarring—nearly five minutes of unadulterated beauty. Gaelynn Lea, who was born with osteogenesis imperfecta (“brittle bone disease”), has every right to be cynical. Yet it’s she who is reminding us—us—that “time [is] the subtle thief of life. / It slips away when we pay no mind.” These words she sings over a gorgeous, looped violin part, one which she plays. The song won NPR’s second annual Tiny Desk Contest, propelling Lea toward recognition outside her native Duluth, Minnesota. She is double-billed with singer-songwriter Jess Klein for a show at Club Cafe. Klein’s songs similarly burst with sincerity, sung in a style reminiscent of Lucinda Williams. Her live appearances include a performance of “Little White Dove” on “Good Morning America.” There she was joined with three other female singer-songwriters, collectively called Voices on the Verge. Her latest studio album is 2014’s Learning Faith. Bob Banerjee opens. 8 p.m. 56- 58 E. Carson St., South Side. (CM)
Tuesday, October 18
“Amie, what you wanna do?” It’s one of the sweetest refrains in country rock, and if you wanna hear the latest incarnation of the group that broke to national fame with “Amie” (above) back in the ‘70s, you can catch Pure Prairie League at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille. PPL’s lineup has changed over the years, of course, and the music has evolved somewhat, too. But when it comes to that easy-rollin’ Pure Prairie sound—with bluegrass inflections, from the band’s origins in Waverly, Ohio, midway between Chillicothe and the Kentucky line—the sound is still there. Country music star Vince Gill was a member of the band in 1979. Pure Prairie League took their name from a fictional 19th-century temperance union in the 1939 Errol Flynn cowboy movie Dodge City. 8 p.m. 285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale. (EC,RH)
Wednesday, October 19
American singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat made her breakthrough with a smash single, 2007’s “Bubbly,” from her debut album, Coco. Other songs and albums followed, such as the first single released off 2014’s Gypsy Heart, the sweet self-acceptance anthem, “Try.” A duet with Jason Mraz (“Lucky”) won her a Grammy as did her work on Taylor Swift’s Fearless. Caillat sang background vocals on Fearless, and when it won Album of the Year in 2010, she received a Grammy for her involvement. She is now promoting her sixth album, this year’s The Malibu Sessions, with a new tour, which includes a stop at Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall with special guests Justin Young and High Dive Heart. Young is also Caillat’s fiancé, and the new album charts their courtship. The couple, plus other musicians, recorded it together in a rented house in—where else?—Malibu. One half of High Dive Heart, meanwhile, is Jason Reeves, who co-wrote “Bubbly” with Caillat. 8 p.m. 510 E. 10th Ave., Munhall. (HM/CM)
Monday, October 24
At their core, Lucero remains a country-punk outfit, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t evolved their sound since forming in 1998 in Memphis. Adding Rick Steff on keyboards certainly helped. He’s played with musicians as diverse as Hank Williams Jr. and Cat Power. In 2009, they released their first album with a horn section: 1372 Overton Park. Their latest, 2015’s All a Man Should Do, was their first album to include a cover song. This fact might not seem too noteworthy except the song is “I’m in Love with a Girl.” Big Star, also from Memphis, first recorded the tune in Memphis’s Ardent Studios. Then 44 years later, Lucero covered it in that same studio with drummer Jody Stephens, the last surviving original member of Big Star, on backing vocals. A lyric from that song also serves as the title to All a Man Should Do. Like Big Star, Lucero never really broke into the mainstream despite some great recordings. They definitely have a following, though, for whom they will perform at Mr. Smalls. Cory Branan opens. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (CM)
Tuesday, October 25
“Kick, Push”—a zen-like, slow burner of a rap song about two skateboarders in love; also, the debut single off Lupe Fiasco’s 2006 debut album, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor. It received two Grammy nominations, though no wins, and the song stalled at 78 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Still, people’s ears perked. Then “Superstar” exploded like a supernova. It made No. 10 on the Hot 100 and garnered a Grammy nomination. The song, which appears on 2007’s Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool, features singer-songwriter Matthew Santos, a Chicago native, like Fiasco. A conflict with Atlantic Records delayed the release of Fiasco’s third album, Lasers, but it would debut at No. 1 on the US Billboard 200. This year, Fiasco has written via Twitter that he will release three albums before 2016’s end, allegedly his last three ever. Clock’s ticking, but in the meantime, fans can check out a music video for his new single, “Pick Up the Phone,” and his upcoming show at Mr. Smalls. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (CM)
Friday, October 28
Sing it with me: “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 on the dance floor. The song was the most downloaded single of the 2000s, and it sat atop the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 consecutive weeks in 2008, a record for that year. It appears on his debut album, Mail on Sunday. Two other singles followed from that record. Who would have thought, though, that sampling an ‘80s one-hit-wonder would give Flo Rida another major hit? But that’s exactly what happened when he sampled Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” on “Right Round,” which features Kesha. Fans of The Hangover will remember that “Right Round” plays during the closing credits. Flo Rida has an upcoming studio album, tentatively titled The Perfect 10. This month, fans can see him headline the 96.1 KISS Halloween Party at Stage AE. JoJo and Jordan Fisher open. Doors open 7 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (CM)
Saturday, October 29
Bill Toms who made a name for himself as a guitar slinger for Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers, now performs with his own band Hard Rain featuring the Soulville Horns. The sound is an intoxicating mix of rock, R&B, and soul. This month one of the places you can see him and his band perform in concert is at Club Cafe. Toms has toured the U.S. and Europe and has over eight CDs to his credit. The night also sees a reunion of the band The Hellhounds. 9 p.m. 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (RH)
Monday, October 31
They are called The 1975, although the quartet’s music harks back more to a 1983 sound with a little contemporary pop thrown in for good measure. Blame the anachronism on vocalist and rhythm guitarist Matthew Healy, who found a book of Beat poetry with the date “1 June, The 1975” scribbled on the back page. Beginning with their breakout single “Chocolate,” this English group has had listeners from multiple generations bobbing their heads and moving their feet. This year, the band’s sophomore album, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It, hit No. 1 on the UK chart and the US Billboard 200, a feat nearly unheard of these days for a rock band. The 1975 proved so popular in Pittsburgh that when their October 31 show sold out at Stage AE, they quickly added another one for November 1 … which now is also sold out. No costume requirement for the former, but it probably wouldn’t hurt. 070SHAKE opens. Doors at 6:30 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (CM)
Chris Maggio is a Pittsburgh based writer and editor and enjoys great music.
Rick Handler, Entertainment Central’s executive producer, and editor/writer Mike Vargo also contributed to this piece.