December 2019 Concert Guide: Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Phish, Marcus King Band, LeAnn Rimes, AWB, and Lotus

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra performing at the Hershey Giant Center in 2004. (photo: Matt, TSO, and Wikipedia)

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra performing at the Hershey Giant Center in 2004. (photo: Matt, TSO, and Wikipedia)

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” for the Pittsburgh concert scene in December. In our Spotlight picks we have the annual yuletide visit from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Additionally Mannheim Steamroller and LeAnn Rimes are also performing Christmas concerts, while Celtic Woman team up with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for theirs.

Jam band fans are receiving a very nice present of Phish and Lotus concerts. And funk band aficionados rejoice, Average White Band, The Ohio Players, and The Fatback Band are all at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center’s, We Want the Funk Festival. 

Rising guitar phenom Marcus King plays a sold-out show with his band at Mr. Smalls Theatre. Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers are celebrating the 40th anniversary of their first album, Love’s So Tough, at Club Cafe. Other spotlight shows include: Night Ranger; Yanni; Blood, Sweat & Tears; and the Reverend Horton Heat.

On the hometown heroes front many local musicians will be performing in A Benedum Christmas: Home For the Holidays concert. Bill Deasy does his annual Boxing Day show. The Affordable Floors and Buku are also in action. Music can enhance the holiday experience so enjoy some of our picks or your own faves.

The Entertainment Central Concert Guide is made up of three sections: EC Spotlighted Concerts, Other Suggested Concerts, and On the Radar. Each section lists concerts in chronological order. Christopher Maggio (CM) also made substantial contributions to the Guide. Mike Vargo (MV) also contributed.

EC Spotlighted Concerts

Monday, December 2

Fact: LeAnn Rimes is younger than several NFL quarterbacks. It only seems as if the country-and-crossover star has been around forever, in part because she started so young. Her hit debut album, Blue, was released in 1996, when Rimes was only 13. Since then she’s won multiple country music awards, acted in movies and TV, authored a few books … but let’s talk about her voice. Even ‘way back when, the title track from Blue revealed a rich, well-rounded, classic country vocal style.  She’s also done quite well in other genres, with songs like Bette Midler’s signature ballad “The Rose.” Rimes has weathered some hard times personally, and in turn has been an active philanthropist, supporting causes from disabled veterans to HIV prevention and care. She is the youngest person to ever win a Grammy Award. Rimes is currently embarked on her You and Me and Christmas Tour Catch her at Rivers Casino. 7:30 p.m. 777 Casino Dr. (MV)

Wednesday, December 4

Phish will perform at the Petersen Events Center. The band formed at the University of Vermont in 1983. Thanks mostly to word-of-mouth and tape sharing, it garnered a following with domestic album and DVD sales passing the 8-million mark. The group went on hiatus in 2000 and in 2009, but the current lineup has been intact for over 30 years. Phish is a jam band, but its sound encompasses bluegrass, psychedelic, rock, and other genres. Their live shows are known for the members’ improvisation and audience interaction. They are also mainstays at festivals, such as Bonnaroo. 1994’s Hoist, Phish’s fifth album, increased their popularity as did their Ben & Jerry’s flavor, Phish Food, which debuted in 1997. They covered í rokk by Scandinavian prog-rock band Kasvot Växt on Halloween 2018 at Las Vegas’s MGM Grand Garden Arena. (Both the album and band are fake, so it was really new Phish songs.) 7:30 p.m. 3719 Terrace St., Oakland. (CM)

Since forming in New York City in 1967, Blood, Sweat & Tears has produced a hybrid sound, incorporating rock, jazz, blues, folk, and soul. The group has had numerous lineup changes, with their zenith being while fronted by lead singer David Clayton Thomas. Beginning in 1968, with Thomas, and additional band members including more brass, the band had a string of mega hits including “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “Spinning Wheel,” and “And When I Die.” That self-titled album did so well it amazingly beat The Beatles’ Abbey Road at the 1969 Grammy Awards for Album of the Year. Founding member Bobby Colomby doesn’t tour with the group, but does handpick every member of the band. Catch the latest iteration of Blood, Sweat & Tears at The Palace Theatre. 8 p.m. 21 W. Otterman St, Greesburg. (RH)

Friday, December 6

Sister Christian” was one of Night Ranger’s biggest hits when it rose on the Billboard Hot 100 chart to No. 5 in June 1984. The San Francisco rock band has had many iterations over the years and is extremely popular in Japan. Night Ranger’s first five albums had worldwide sales of more than 10 million. Their most recent album,2017’s Don’t Let Up, features a classic Dodge Challenger on its cover with a large hood scoop and the words “Night Ranger” on its front license plate. Catch them on tour as they perform two of their top albums, Night Patrol and Midnight Madness in their entirety, plus other hit songs from their catalog. 8 p.m. Roxian Theatre, 425 Chartiers Ave., McKees Rocks. (RH)

The Fatback Band and the Ohio Players are playing at the August Wilson Center as part of the We Want the Funk Festival. Drummer Bill Curtis formed The Fatback Band in 1970 in New York City. He wanted the “‘fatback’ jazz beat of New Orleans with vivid West Indie and Caribbean rhythms,” according to the band’s website. “(Do the) Spanish Hustle,” released in 1975, was the group’s take on the Hustle, a popular dance in the mid-’70s. You can make a strong case for “King Tim III (Personality Jock)” being the first hip-hop single ever. It was released in 1979, a few months before “Rapper’s Delight.” Although the Fatback Band never had a number one hit, Dayton funkateers the Ohio Players had two: “Love Rollercoaster” and “Fire.” One minute and 24 seconds into “Love Rollercoaster,” somebody screams. The most circulated explanation involved Ester Cordet, the model on the Honey album cover. The story goes the heated honey left her burned—her scream is either from the burns or the band’s manager stabbing her to death (!) after she threatened to sue for her disfigurement. Complete urban legend; it was really keyboardist Billy Beck. Cordet, a former Playboy Playmate, is still alive as of this writing. (Tickets for each show are sold separately unless one purchases a ticket for the entire festival.) 7:30 and 9 p.m. 980 Liberty Ave., Cultural District. (CM)

Saturday, December 7

Average White Band is composed of very talented musicians and maybe should be called Above Average White Band or even Great White Band. Its success rises out of a funky beat, great vocals, and quite nice horn parts. The band formed in Dundee, Scotland in 1972 and shot to fame on songs like the million-selling Pick Up the Pieces,” “School Boy Crush,” “Cut the Cake,” and “A Love of Your Own.” Founding members Alan Gorrie and Onnie McIntyre faithfully play the music with help from newer band members. AWB’s music is so well-loved and respected that other artists, including The Beastie Boys, Ice Cube, and Arrested Development, have utilized parts of AWB’s music. AWB is the 15th most sampled group ever. This year AWB released the compilation album, Gold. The group is appearing at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center. 8 p.m. 980 Liberty Ave., Cultural District. (RH)

Average White Band

Average White Band

It was 40 years ago that Joe Grushecky and The Iron City Houserockers released their very first album,  Love’s So Tough. The LP was produced by The Slimmer Twins (Steve Popovich and Marty Mooney) through Cleveland International Records and released on MCA Records. Its tracks include the Houserocker classics: “Love’s So Tough” and “Hideaway.” Grushecky and The Houserockers will play the album in its entirety along with more of the band’s top songs. Original Houserocker Marc Reisman returns and will join them for the commemoration concert. For more of the back story about how Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers came together and recorded Love’s So Tough see our story from May. 8 p.m. Club Cafe, 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (RH)

1979 publicity photo taken by the legendary rock photographer Neal Preston.

1979 publicity photo taken by the legendary rock photographer Neal Preston.

The Marcus King Band was in town earlier this year when it opened for Chris Stapleton at KeyBank Pavilion. The band also opened for Tedeschi Trucks Band last year, same venue. You might have also seen Marcus King and his bandmates at the WYEP Music Fest the year before that. That’s all to say they tour hard, and they continue to rise, now headlining Mr. Smalls Theatre this December. Formed in Greenville, South Carolina in 2013, they’ve released three LPs, most recently 2018’s Carolina Confessions. Both it and their previous effort, their self-titled sophomore album, reached no. 2 on the Billboard Blues Albums Chart. They have some crossover appeal too. “Homesick,” from their latest album, reached no. 26 on the Adult Alternative Songs chart. King will release a debut solo album, El Dorado, produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, in 2020. “The Well” is a single from that album. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (CM)

Rising blues/rock guitarist Marcus King brings his band to Pittsburgh for a sold-out show at Mr. Smalls Theatre this month. (photo: Alysse Gafkjen)

Rising blues/rock guitarist Marcus King brings his band to Pittsburgh for a sold-out show at Mr. Smalls Theatre this month. (photo: Alysse Gafkjen)

Monday, December 9

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust presents Yiannis Chryssomallis, better known as Yanni, at Benedum Center. This legendary composer and pianist truly defies classification; his largely instrumental compositions borrow from cultures all over the world. He and his sizable orchestra employ a mind-blowing variety of both traditional and exotic instruments and borrow from an impressive assortment of musical modes and genres, from jazz to classical to soft rock, as well as a commendable collection of traditional ethnic music. The venues that Yanni has chosen during his more-than-30-year career are equally varied, ranging from the Taj Mahal to the Kremlin to the Forbidden City in China. Yanni has left as much of an impression with his career in general as he has with his music itself, given that, globally, he has accrued dozens of gold and platinum albums and has performed his high-energy live shows for millions of people in many countries. This appearance will feature Yanni performing his music on his piano and speaking to the audience about the stories behind his music, how he creates music, and will also detail some of his inspirations. The concert is billed as Pure Yanni. 7:30 p.m. 237 7th St.., Cultural District. (RH)

Tuesday, December 10

Mannheim Steamroller will bowl you over with their combination of great holiday music, special effects, and innovative lighting. Grammy Award-winner Chip Davis founded Mannheim Steamroller—named in part after an 18th-century German musical technique, the Mannheim roller—in 1974 to play a blend of rock and classical music. No record company would produce their records, so Davis set up his own, American Gramaphone, which paved the way for the band’s success. Mannheim Steamroller hit a higher level of popularity in ’84 with its first holiday album and are now one of the highest rated Christmas music acts in entertainment. There is such a demand for their Mannheim Steamroller Christmas show during the holiday season that two different tours crisscross the country spreading rock ‘n’ roll joy. 8 p.m. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (RH)

The “Reverend” is in town for a holiday hayride. The Reverend Horton Heat, that is. The Reverend is Dallas-based musician Jim Heath. He and his band have been described as “psychobilly,” with influences of big band, punk, surf, and several other genres, making for an eclectic, energetic fusion of sound. Heath formed his band in 1985; the name “Horton” nods to country music and rockabilly singer Johnny Horton, who is known for his version of “The Battle of New Orleans.” The Reverend Horton Heat has released 12 albums since 1990, most recently 2018’s Whole New Life. “Psychobilly Freakout,” from 1990’s Smoke ’Em If You Got ’Em, has been used in a variety of media, including “Beavis and Butt-Head” and in a commercial for Buell Motorcycle Company. The Reverend’s service is at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille. Assisting in the service are Voodoo Glow Skulls, The 5678’s, and Dave Alvin. 7 p.m. 285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale. (RH, CM)

Wednesday, December 11

CeeLo Green is on his Holiday Hits Tour, which stops at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille. He’ll perform tunes from his Christmas album, Cee Lo’s Magic Moment, plus other songs. Green was one of the original judges on the American version of “The Voice.” Prior to that, he released The Lady Killer in 2010. It was preceded by the no-nonsense hit single “Fuck You.” Speaking of hits, that’s him on Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” one of the biggest songs of the ’00s. Everyone from the Raconteurs to the Violent Femmes covered it. Green was one-half of Gnarls Barkley, an experimental R&B duo; the other half was producer Danger Mouse. They last released an album in 2008, The Odd Couple, and performed at the New American Music Union festival in the South Side that year. Green is also a member of the longstanding Atlanta hip-hop group Goodie Mob. Additionally, he sings with Ms. Lauryn Hill on Santana’s “Do You Like the Way” from 1999’s multiplatinum Supernatural. 8 p.m. 285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale. (CM)

Wednesday, December 18

Celtic Woman are hitting Heinz Hall, accompanied by another top entertainment outfit, The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, to perform The Best of Christmas Show. The multi-platinum-selling group of angelic-voiced women rose to fame on their vocal talents and  quality production values. Many people learned of the group through their popular performance specials on PBS. Sharon Browne and David Downes, a former musical director of the long-running Irish stage show Riverdance, created the ensemble. Although members have changed over the years, the sound remains the same. 7:30 p.m. 600 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (RH)

Sunday, December 22

In 1996, musician/rock band manager Paul O’Neill hit upon the idea that Christmas tunes could be totally progressive and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra was born. The TSO plays holiday music, traditional and originals, with a Rush level of elaboration and technical skill, all of which has racked up millions of album sales. You probably know the band’s wailing, synth-infused version of “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo,” a.k.a. “Carol of the Bells.” It’s one of the most hardcore tracks that DJs pull out every December. Music like this deserves the arena treatment, with a great light show and all, so the TSO has been touring major venues at the holiday season annually. Paul O’Neill passed away from chronic health problems in 2017, and bassist Dave Z (David Zablidowsky) died that year too, in a motor vehicle accident. But the band plays on—surely, as these men would have wished—and the TSO visits PPG Paints Arena for matinee and evening performances. The new show is billed as Christmas Eve and Other Stories. 3:30 and 8 p.m. 1001 Fifth Ave., Uptown. (RH/MV)

Friday, December 27

Lotus loves playing shows around the New Year in Pittsburgh. The jam band performed January 30 and 31, 2016 at Stage AE, and then it played a single show there on January 31, 2017. Although Pigeons Playing Ping Pong helped Pittsburghers usher in 2019, Lotus returned in February with two shows at Mr. Smalls. Lotus now returns to Stage AE and just before 2020. The band, originally from Indiana, is known for incorporating electronic elements into its music. On 2016’s Eat the Light, the group tried something new: vocals, with a different guest musician on every track. Concerts include elaborate lighting and occasionally themed shows. One 2009 concert saw David Bowie costumes. The band members play covers as well as originals during themed shows. 2018’s Frames Per Second is Lotus’s latest album. It was released alongside a studio documentary. Lespecial opens. Doors open 7 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (CM)

Other Suggested Concerts

Wednesday, December 4

Silversun Pickups formed in Los Angeles in 2000 right around when the Smashing Pumpkins were breaking up. Songs such as “Lazy Eye,” with its driving guitars and heady vocals turned scream, picked up the alt-rock relay that Billy Corgan left behind. Silversun Pickups’ latest album is 2019’s Widow’s Weeds. They will perform at the Roxian Theatre. The Griswolds open. 8 p.m. 425 Chartiers Ave., McKees Rocks. (CM)

Friday, December 6

Renowned country/gospel quartet The Oak Ridge Boys stop by The Palace Theatre on their Down Home Christmas Tour. An American fixture for well over 50 years, the Oak Ridge Boys got their start as the Oak Ridge Quartet in Knoxville, Tennessee in the 1940s, shortly after World War II. Since then, they’ve had a history nearly as rich as their signature vocals—a history filled with countless awards, lineup changes, innovation, and hit singles. Their ’81 mega-hit “Elvira” has a great line “Giddy up a Oom Poppa Oom Poppa Mow Mow.” Prevailing above all else is the vocal talent employed by the four Boys: Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden, and Richard Sterban. Their latest album is 2018’s 17th Avenue Revival. 7:30 p.m. 21 W. Otterman St., Greensburg. (EC, RH)

Saturday, December 7

Cautious Clay was here earlier this year at WYEP’s Summer Music Festival. If you missed him, here’s your chance to catch him at the Thunderbird Café. His name is a play on Muhammad Ali’s birth name, Cassius Clay. He’s released a number of singles over the past few years, including “Sidewinder.” Remi Wolf opens. 8 p.m. 4053 Butler St., Lawrenceville. (CM)

Tuesday, December 10

Hot Tuna began in 1969 as a project of former Jefferson Airplane band members Jorma Kaukonen (guitarist/vocals) and Jack Casady (bassist). Rolling Stone Magazine described the group as ”A Psychedelic-Blues Institution” The band has seen other musicians join the main battery over the years and now Kaukonen and Casady are on an acoustic tour celebrating their 50 years of performing together as Hot Tuna. There’s some seriously good music behind their funny name. Also performing are the husband and wife duo—Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams. 7:30 p.m. Palace Theatre, 21 W. Ottermand St., Greensburg. (RH)

Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, a solo project for McMahon, will perform at the Roxian Theatre as part of his Winter in the Wilderness Tour, featuring him and his piano. 2018’s Upside Down Flowers is his latest album with lead-off single “Ohio.” He fronted the successful rock bands Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin. Following his treatment for Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, he founded the Dear Jack Foundation, which helps adolescents and young adults with cancer. Ivory Layne opens. 8 p.m. 425 Chartiers Ave., McKees Rocks. (CM)

Thursday, December 12

This year, the X’s Kick Ass Christmas Show at Mr. Smalls Theatre features Highly Suspect. The band scored a number one rock song with “My Name Is Human.” If two of the members look similar, that’s because bassist Rich Meyer and drummer Ryan Meyer are twins. Their latest album is 2019’s MCID. The Unlikely Candidates open. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (CM)

Saturday, December 14

Although Hanson is arguably best known for “MMMBop,” they also have two Christmas albums: 1997’s Snowed In and 2017’s Finally It’s Christmas. The trio of brothers is from Tusla, Oklahoma. They will perform holiday standards, hits, and songs from their upcoming seventh studio album on their Wintry Mix Tour. The tour includes a concert at the Roxian Theatre. Paul McDonald and Joshua & the Holy Rollers, fronted by Mac Hanson, open. 7 p.m. 425 Chartiers Ave., McKees Rocks. (CM)

Tuesday, December 17

Sometimes you just need a little L.A. ‘90s hair metal music, and Ratt is a good one of that genre. The group is best known for the hits “Round and Round” and “Lay it Down,” which reached No. 12 and No. 40 respectively on the Billboard Top 40. The band has had a few stops and starts, but will definitely be at Jergel’s to provide fans with more of that good Ratt sound. 8 p.m. Sold out. 285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale. (RH)

It’s a trio of power-pop acts at Mr. Smalls Theatre. New Politics may have a song called “Harlem,” but they hail from Copenhagen, Denmark. Plain White T’s are from Lombard, Illinois, outside Chicago, and are best known for their song “Hey There Delilah.” The Mowgli’s,  meanwhile, are from southern California, but the band members lost their “head in San Francisco, waiting for the fog to roll out.” 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (CM)

Pittsburgh Winery and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust are teaming up again for A Benedum Christmas – Home for the Holidays, a rock, blues, and soul entertainment extravaganza featuring local artists performing holiday classics and other top songs. Trio+, The Steeltown Horns, and Buffalo Rose will accompany the Home for the Holidays performers, featuring Scott Blasey, Lyndsey Smith, Billy Price, Margot Bingham, Joy Ike, Anthony Jardine, Jimbo Jackson, Morgan Erina, and John Schisler. At the event, nonperishable food (perishable food or glass items can not be accepted) and household items will be collected for donation to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. A VIP ticket is also available which includes a pre-show wine tasting by Pittsburgh Winery and a one-year Partners membership in the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. 7:30 p.m. Benedum Center, 237 7th Ave., Cultural District. (RH)

Friday, December 20

Bill Deasy’s musical career began in earnest in a Grove City apartment when he and a few locals got together for a jam session. Those guys, The Gathering Field, became the ’90s-era regional favorite. Since that humble beginning, Deasy has stacked up a résumé that would help him “make it” in a place like New York or L.A. He’s had a contract with Atlantic Records, opened for Springsteen and Dylan, and his “Good Things Are Happening” was a theme song for a “Good Morning America” video. Yet he’s remained rooted in Pittsburgh. In particular, Deasy likes to celebrate the day after Christmas here with his annual Boxing Day show—that’s an official holiday in the United Kingdom, Canada, and other British-related countries, as you may know—so join him for a tuneful Boxing Day at Club Cafe. 8 p.m. 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (RH)

The Affordable Floors were one of the hottest alternative bands in Pittsburgh in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. They were big winners at the In Pittsburgh News and Entertainment Weekly Music Awards. They reportedly got their name from a sign that they saw for a flooring business along a busy local highway. We can all use some affordable floors and Affordable Floors music. The will be performing at Thunderbird Café & Music Hall in support of their new five song EP, Every Broken Heart Will Mend. It is the Affordable Floors first record of original music since 1995. Dinosoul opens. 8 p.m. 4053 Butler St., Lawrenceville. (RH)

Saturday, December 28

If you like beeps, boops, and dancing, Pittsburgh-based EDM artist Buku is your man. He’s released quite a few songs this year, including “To Ya Brain,” and he also headlined the Thrival Music Festival in Schenley Plaza in 2019. Now he headlines the Roxian Theater. ZEKE BEATS, Digital Ethos, and sean 2:16 open. 8 p.m. 425 Chartiers Ave., McKees Rocks. (CM)

On the Radar

Saturday, January 4
Motion City Soundtrack (Roxian Theatre)

Wednesday, January 15
Toth (of Rubblebucket) (Club Cafe)

Thursday, January 16
The Motels (Jergel’s)

Friday, January 17
Winter Jam (PPG Paints Arena)

Sunday, January 19
Mike Gordon (of Phish) (Mr. Smalls Theatre)
Greensky Bluegrass (Roxian Theatre)

Thursday, January 23
Grace Potter (Roxian Theatre)

Friday, January 24
The Tubes (Jergel’s)
Umphrey’s McGee (Stage AE)

Monday, January 27
Courtney Barnett (The Warhol)

Wednesday, January 29
Trampled by Turtles (Mr. Smalls Theatre)

Thursday, January 30
Lettuce (Roxian Theatre)

Friday, January 31
Ghost Light (Thunderbird Cafe and Music Hall)

Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central.