December 2022 Concert Guide: The Beach Boys, The 1975, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Blackberry Smoke, Jackie Evancho, and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong

The 1975 in a 2014 concert performance. photo: Begoña, Wikipedia.

The 1975 in a 2014 concert performance. photo: Begoña, Wikipedia.

Is the glass half full or half empty this month? There aren’t many big acts touring through Pittsburgh in December. Maybe many were waiting to see what would happen with covid as the weather got colder. Large tours are difficult and expensive endeavors. However the upside to this is that we can devote more space in our concert guide to the many highly talented local acts performing during the holiday season. That is one of the blessings of the season, to go out and see one of your favorite groups during this special time of the year.

The bigger acts this month include The Beach Boys, The 1975, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Blackberry Smoke, Jackie Evancho, Mannheim Steamroller, Samantha Fish, and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. On the glass half full side we have shows from hometown heroes: Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers, Billy Price,  Bill Toms and Hard Rain, Jim Donovan & Sun King Warriors, Bill Deasy, The Commonheart, Johnny Angel & The Halos, Chris Higbee, and Justin Fabus. And there’s also the Fourth Annual We Want the Funk Festival at August Wilson African American Cultural Center with headliners Morris Day and The Time and Con Funk Shun.

This guide features (in chronological order) Spotlighted Picks, Other Shows of Interest, and Big Shows on the Horizon. Get out and see what pleases you, whether it’s one of our concert picks or something entirely different.

Friday, December 2

Mike Love, a founding member and singer/songwriter for the quintessential American pop-rock band—The Beach Boysbrings his version of that band to the Benedum Center 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 Boy’s 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), Other top tunes include “California Girls,” and “I Get Around.” Love has also written in a different media, his memoir Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy was a New York Times Bestseller. This month’s concert is titled ‘Tis the Season with The Beach Boys featuring The Holiday Vibrations Orchestra. 7:30 p.m. 7th St. and Penn Ave., Cultural District. (R.H.)

Saturday, December 3

Johnny Angel is returning from a few years of semi-retirement and he’s doing it in a big way. He and The Halos are playing Rivers Casino Events Center, a spot normally reserved for touring music legends. Angel is a legend, bringing soulful rock and oldies numbers to life for Pittsburghers (and citizens of other locales) of several generations. Johnny Angel and The Halos have appeared with many iconic musicians like the Temptations, Chuck Berry, Frankie Valli, and Ray Charles. Get your oldies on this month with Johnny Angel and The Halos Comeback Holiday Show. 7 p.m. Rivers Casino, 777 Casino Dr., North Shore. (R.H.)

Friday, December 9 and Saturday, December 10

This weekend is the fourth annual We Want the Funk Festival at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center. They’ll be blowing the roof off the “sucka” with music from Morris Day and The Time and Alexander O’ Neal on Friday night. Saturday evening sees Con Funk Shun and Bar-Kays continuing the great music. 8 p.m. both nights. 980 Liberty Ave., Cultural District. (R.H.)

Saturday, December 10

This month one of Pittsburgh’s rock royalty, Joe Grushecky, and The Houserockers are playing Club Cafe right off East Carson Street. That’s always a fun show for Grushecky as he has been playing the South Side and East Carson Street since early in his career. He even has an album and a song called East Carson Street. Grushecky and the band are currently celebrating the 25th anniversary edition of their Bruce Springsteen produced album, American Babylon. Grushecky and The Houserocker’s music is the wonderfully written, true-to-life, guitar and drum driven rock that Pittsburgh has enjoyed and run on for many years. This is a great opportunity to see Grushecky and The Houserockers near one of his favorite streets. 8 p.m. 56-58 S. 12th St. (R.H.)

Who knew there was a world-class voice talent living in the Pine-Richland area? Well, evidently, Jackie Evancho knew! She started out by entering talent contests, including St. Barnabas’ Kean Idol. 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 NBC’s “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 “America’s Got Talent.” She came in second. Since then, she has recorded eight studio albums, all of which achieved success on the music charts, and is the youngest artist ever to achieve platinum sales status. She sang the national anthem at President Trump’s inauguration in 2017. Her latest release is 2019’s The Debut. On it she sings songs of Broadway’s new American songbook. She is also reportedly completing a tribute album of Joni Mitchell songs, Carousel of Time. 8 p.m. Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall, 510 E. 10th Ave., Munhall. (R.H.)

Pittsburgh native and country singer-songwriter Chris Higbee stops by the Rivers Casino for a show tonight at Drum Bar. Higbee got his start in professional music as a founding member of the band Povertyneck Hillbillies in 2000, with whom he toured and performed for seven years before striking out on his own with the Chris Higbee Project. A  God-fearing American patriot (and a self-proclaimed redneck), Higbee also stands out as an expert violinist. As he professes in the song “Fiddles Rock,” he’s a fiddler at the core, and his love of the instrument began with the classics (Bach and Beethoven). “Drums are cool and the lead guitar is hot,” he sings, “but fiddles rock.” 9 p.m. 777 Casino Dr., North Shore. (R.H.)

Sunday, December 11

Add some sweet southern-fried rock to your music itinerary this month with Blackberry Smoke at the Roxian Theatre. The band formed in 2000 and gained popularity as a supporting act for Zac Brown Band’s 2011 tour. They’ve also opened for the legendary  Lynyrd Skynyrd, and for Eric Church and ZZ Top. Their rich harmonies and quality guitar and drum play give them good crossover appeal. The group’s 2016 album Like an Arrow reached no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Country and Americana/Folk charts, while also reaching no. 3 on the U.S. Rock chart. Blackberry Smoke’s, Find a Light, was released in 2018. Their EP, Live from Capricorn Sound Studios, was released in 2020. Blackberry Smoke’s latest studio album, You Hear Georgia, dropped in May 2021. Special guest is Brit Taylor. 7:30 p.m. 425 Chartiers Ave., McKees Rocks. (R.H.)

Blackberry Smoke performing live in Oklahoma City, OK in 2018. Photo: Peterstormer.

Blackberry Smoke performing live in Oklahoma City, OK in 2018. Photo: Peterstormer and Wikipedia.

Tuesday, December 13

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. Pittsburgh will get the red tour. There’s also a green tour. Talk about holiday colors. 8 p.m. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (R.H.)

In the past year and a half two friends of mine, who also appreciate good music, independently told me about blues rock guitarist/singer Samantha Fish. I saw that she is coming back to Pittsburgh again and thought it was time that I discovered more about her. She’s a native of Kansas City, Missouri, a cauldron of good blues music, but Fish’s songs also blend into other genres too including rock, country, and funk. Her 2019 LP release Kill or Be Kind reached no. 1 on both the Billboard Heatseekers and Blues Albums charts. And 2021’s Faster also reached no. 1 on the Blues Albums chart. Fish will be performing at Jergel’s this month with special guest, The Jesse Dayton Band. 8 p.m. 285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale. (R.H.)

Friday, December 16

Jim Donovan & Sun King Warriors bring their lively brand of jam rock to Rivers Casino. Donovan and the band’s latest album is 2018’s We See Through It. They describe it by saying, “It illustrates the transformational power of music. Featuring ten songs that span genres and eras ̧ the sound of the new album blends the vintage rock sound of Zeppelin with the alternative folk of Mumford & Sons propelled by barreling drums.” Several songs from the album garnered good radio airplay. The group has had a busy several months with many concerts in the region. 9 p.m. Drum Bar, 777 Casino Dr., North Shore. (R,H,)

Saturday, December 17

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 The Ghost of Christmas Eve, the Best of TSO and More. 3 and 7:30 p.m. 1001 Fifth Ave., Uptown. (R.H./M.V.)

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)

The love between The 1975 and Pittsburgh grows deeper. Most of their shows here are sell outs. The 1975’s breakout single was “Chocolate,” and the members are currently touring behind their Being Funny in a Foreign Language. The album, the British pop rock band’s fifth, hit No. 1 on the UK Albums and Independent Albums charts and no. 2 on the US Billboard Rock Albums chart. The 1975 was nominated for two Grammy Awards, one in 2017 and the other in 2020. Special guest is Blackstarkids. The group’s sound has been described as “a blend garage rock with synth-punk and hip-hop to usher in a new surge of indie.” This mashup can be heard on songs like “Digital World.” 7 p.m. UPMC Events Center Robert Morris University, 6001 University Blvd., Moon Twp. (C.M., R.H.)

Thursday, December 22

Country music performer and Pittsburgh native, Justin Fabus plays Club Cafe this month for his Home for the Holidays Show. He has overcome many obstacles on his road to success, but his life and career are firing on all cylinders now. Fabus’ latest release is the 2021 EP, The Aftermath. He has also released “Dead in the Water,” a new single. In July, Fabus drew a big crowd to his concert at the Jam on Walnut. Now just in time for the holidays he has a new original Christmas song, “It Sure Ain’t Christmas.” 8 p.m. Club Cafe, 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (R.H.)

Monday, December 26

Bill Deasy’s musical career had been successful with the Penn Hills native performing solo shows and in a band called Shiloh. It took off to a higher level in a Grove City apartment when he and a few locals got together for a jam session. Those guys, and Deasy became The Gathering Field, 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. Deasy will be performing with The Creek Don’t Rise Band. 8 p.m. 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (R.H.)

Tuesday, December 27

Pittsburgh blues/soul/rock legend Billy Price is celebrating 50+ years as a performer in the music industry. Price cut his teeth as a vocalist for the late, great guitarist Roy Buchanan. He then started Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band, best known for songs like “Eldorado Cafe” and “Lickin’ Stick” and albums like Free At Last. In addition to Price, the band featured legendary musicians such as the late Glenn Pavone, Eric Leeds, and others. He’s also leads the Billy Price Band and works as a solo artist. Price’s album with the late Chicago soul singer Otis Clay, This Time for Real, won a 2016 Blues Music Award. His next two albums, Reckoning and Dog Eat Dog were both nominated for Blues Music Awards. And in 2020 Price was nominated for BMA’s Best Male Soul Blues Artist. If all those accolades are not enough, he was also inducted into the Pittsburgh Rock Legends Hall in 2016. Price released a new 3-CD compilation, 50+Years of Soul, on Get Hip Recordings in early September. 8 p.m. Club Cafe, 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (R.H.)

Legendary blues and soul singer Billy Price. (photo: David Aschkenas)

Legendary blues and soul singer Billy Price. (photo: David Aschkenas)

Friday, December 30

Bill Toms and Hard Rain with the Soulville Horns will be rockin’ out Rivers Casino Drum Bar this month. Toms released a new album, Keep Movin’ On in 2021. See our story on the making of the album. Toms’ slightly raspy, deeply soulful voice and his guitar playing prowess combine with the drums, horns, and rest of the band to create a hot rock sound. Special guest Dan Bubien and The Delta Struts. 9 p.m. 777 Casino Dr., North Shore. (R.H.)

The Commonheart was one of the hottest bands on the local music scene and making a name for themselves nationally and then the pandemic hit. Led by frontman Clinton Clegg and his impressive rock/soul pipes, the band delivers inspiring performances. Strong guitar, rhythm, and horn sections along with harmonious background singers add to the aural delight. The Commonheart has two new songs out now: “Hustler,” and “How Do I Do This.” 8 p.m. Mr. Smalls, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (C.M. R.H.)

Friday, December 30 & Saturday, December 31

Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, along with Lotus have been two of the main bands who have helped Pittsburghers bring in the New Year over the last several. This year, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong have the honor of ushering in the New Year’s Eve Eve and New Year’s Eve as the headliner at Stage AE. Combining funk, rock, and electronica, the band members create feel-good, laid-back tunes in a Grateful-Dead-meets-Sublime kind of way. The result is as unique as their name. They always bring energy to their fans, called “The Flock,” who just can’t get enough. The group formed in 2009 in Baltimore and released its first LP, preposterously titled Funk EP, in 2010. Since then, the album titles have stuck to the P-motif of the band’s name: Psychology in 2014, Pleasure in 2016, and Pizazz in 2017. Their latest LP release is Perspectives. Even if jam bands aren’t your thing, the subtle island undertones in songs like “Couldn’t We All” may leave you asking the bartender for a little umbrella in your drink. Magic Beans open. Doors open at 7 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (C.M., R.H.)

Other Shows of Interest:

Wednesday, December 7
A Very Yinzer Christmas – Benefitting Band Together Pittsburgh (CHMH)

Wednesday, December 14
Dopamine (Club Cafe)

Sunday, December 18
Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox (CHMH)

Tuesday, December 20
Straight No Chaser (Benedum Center)
Scott Blasey (Jergel’s)

Friday, December 30
Nied’s Hotel Band (Moondog’s)

Saturday, December 31
Norm Nardinin & Friends (Starlite Lounge)

Big Shows on the Horizon:

January 5
Judy Collins (Byham Theater)
Billy Price  & Bill Toms (Jergel’s)

January 9 & 10
Sting with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (Heinz Hall)

January 17
Chris Baron – Acoustic (Hard Rock Cafe)

January 26
Greensky Bluegrass (Stage AE)
G. Love & Donavon Frankenreiter (Roxian Theatre)

January 28
Neko Case (Roxian Theatre)

Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central.