January 2019 Concert Guide: Brothers Osborne, Ja Rule, Crash Test Dummies, Rufus Wainwright, and Local Talent

Lettuce in an extended funk jam.

Lettuce in an extended funk jam at the 2016 Thrival Music Festival. (photo: Rick Handler)

It’s now the slowest time in the concert industry—January. All the big name bands are probably down in Cabo San Lucas counting their money, drinking Cabo Wabo Tequila (started by Sammy Hagar), and hitting the beach. Well even though it’s a quieter scene in the ‘Burgh there are still some interesting sounds to be heard.

Probably the biggest act in town this month is country duo Brothers Osborne at Stage AE. Another big one is rapper/actor Ja Rule who plays two sold out shows at Jergel’s. One of the most creative shows will be Adam Green as part of the Warhol Museum’s Sound Series. His appearance will include him performing acoustic songs plus a screening of his film Adam Green’s Aladdin, in which many of the set pieces were created out of papier-mâché. Other national acts in town this month include: Crash Test Dummies, Rufus Wainwright, Donna the Buffalo, Lettuce, and Keller Williams.

With less national touring acts it also gives us an opportunity to focus even more on the great local talent in the region. Two that are having album release parties this month are the Hedonism Bots and Vit DeBacco. Others that have concerts are Paul Luc, and Bill Toms and Hard Rain headline a double bill with The Houserockers’ Danny Gochnour. Good music will help us get through a cold, dark, and long month.

Saturday, January 5

Bill Toms and Hard Rain with the Soulville Horns will be rockin’ out the Funhouse at Mr. Smalls this month. 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. Their latest release is Good For My Soul. The band also recorded a concert last year at Club Cafe, so look for a live album or some live tracks to come out sometime in the future.

Guitarist Danny Gochnour‘s regular gig is as a lead guitar player for Joe Grushecky as a member of The Houserockers, but Gochnour will be opening for Bill Toms and Hard Rain for this date.. Gochnour recently released his first solo recording, The Despair of Summer. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (RH)

Bill Toms plays some killer lead guitar riffs (c.) while Hard Rain and the Soulville Horns jam on.

Bill Toms plays some killer lead guitar riffs (c.) while Hard Rain and the Soulville Horns jam on.

Friday, January 11

Hedonism Bots are a hometown rhythm-rock trio. The band released its debut LP, Crashin’ the Party, in 2016. The members will celebrate the release of their sophomore album, Bass for Brains, with a show at Mr. Smalls. The band’s name comes from a minor character in the animated, sci-fi comedy “Futurama.” Hedonism Bots are well-read too. In “The Other Capulet,” the trio pays tribute to Rosaline, Juliet’s cousin and Romeo’s first love in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The vocals are earnest, the instrumentation straight-up punk, and it’s nice to hear Rosaline, who never actually appears in the play and is mentioned only by name, get her due. Chase and the Barons open. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (CM)

Adam Green was one half of the New York City anti-folk band Moldy Peaches, whose music is arguably best known from the 2007 movie Juno. Kimya Dawson was the duo’s other half. Green will perform solo at the Warhol Theater as part of its Sound Series. The performance will include a screening of his movie, Adam Green’s Aladdin, preceded by an acoustic set of songs from the film, such as “Never Lift a Finger.” The movie’s sets were created out of papier-mâché, and its cast includes Macaulay Culkin, Natasha Lyonne (“Orange Is the New Black”), Alia Shawkat (“Arrested Development,” “Search Party”), and others. The movie is a take on “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp,” with Green playing the titular character and the lamp, a 3D printer. Other contemporary oddities abound in this modern retelling of a classic Middle Eastern folk tale. For mature audiences—this isn’t Disney—so probably best to leave the kids with a babysitter. 8 p.m. 117 Sandusky St., North Shore. (CM)

Saturday, January 12

Slippery Rock singer/songwriter Vit DeBacco counts as his influences: Counting Crows/Adam Duritz, Green Day, Wallflowers/Jakob Dylan, and Bob Dylan. He has been rising on the local scene and now has an album release party for his latest effort, Writer’s Tears. There’s an Irish Whiskey of the same name. We are not sure if that inspired the name of DeBacco’s album, but we are reasonably certain that the new music will have a smooth flow to it with no harsh notes, especially when played from oak cask speakers. Join the party at Mr. Smalls Funhouse. Opening are Torrey Shineman, Jess Klein, and Henry Bachorski. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (RH)

Monday, January 14 and Wednesday, January 16

Queens-native Ja Rule, who is known for both originals and remixes, plays two sold-out shows over three days at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille. His 2001 single, “Always on Time,” which features R&B singer Ashanti, was the number one song on the Billboard Hot 100. That is, until Ja Rule’s remix of Jennifer Lopez’s “Ain’t It Funny” unseated it. His acting credits include an appearance in 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, the first in a highly successful action-film franchise. (2001 was a very good year to be Ja Rule.) He also acted in 2004’s The Cookout, which was co-written by and stars Queen Latifah. Pain Is Love 2, released in 2012, was his latest album. A new album, tentatively titled Coup De Grâce and reportedly his last, has been in the works for years, although no release date has been set yet. 8 p.m. 285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale. (CM)

Ja Rule in 2016 (photo: WebSummit and Wikipedia)

Ja Rule in 2016 (photo: WebSummit and Wikipedia)

Thursday, January 17

January is a little short on concerts, which makes Rufus Wainwright’s show at the Byham Theater all the sweeter. The American-Canadian singer-songwriter is hard to classify. He plays a kind of pop that draws its lineage from Elton John. Yet he also appeared in Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me in the Bathroom, an oral history of the New York City rock ‘n’ roll scene throughout the aughts. His self-titled debut was released in 1998 and included the infectious “April Fools.” The music video alludes to numerous opera heroines. He followed this with 2001’s Poses. His appearance at the Byham is part of his All These Poses Anniversary Tour, which celebrates both records. Recent releases include Out of the Game, which includes “Candles,” a gorgeous tribute to his late mother, the Canadian folk singer Kate McGarrigle. (Wainwright’s father is the American songwriter Loudon Wainwright III, for those wondering.) 2016’s Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets, a musical adaptation of nine Shakespearean sonnets, is his latest studio album. Lucy Roche opens. 8 p.m. 101 6th St., Cultural District. (CM)

Lettuce, a funk band from Boston active since 1992, were one of the older acts at Thrival Music Festival 2016 at Carrie Furnace. But the group’s songs, mostly tight instrumentals, won over the kids—the hipsterish crowd was soon grooving like a sea of veteran funkateers. Lettuce returns to Pittsburgh, this time at the Rex Theater. The band toured to places as far as Tokyo before releasing its first studio album, 2002’s Outta Here. Its latest album is 2017’s Witches Stew. The album was recorded live at the Catskill Chill Music Festival in Lakewood, Pennsylvania in 2016. It pays homage to Miles Davis’s 1970 jazz-fusion masterpiece, Bitches Brew, and it even covers some songs from that record. No surprise that the musicians from Lettuce would tackle such a project: all are accomplished musicians with many having studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Ghost Note opens. 8 p.m. 1602 E. Carson St., South Side. (CM)

Saturday, January 19

The Winnipeg, Canada.band Crash Test Dummies didn’t get their name from the popular mannequins of the seat belt public service announcements of the 1980’s. They did however get their name from a med student friend’s diagnostic figurine, that among the students was known as a crash test dummy. They’ve also made a name for themselves with their signature sound which is built upon the lead vocals and guitar of Brad Roberts. Other longtime members include: Ellen Reid (co-vocals, keyboards), Brad’s brother Dan Roberts (bass guitar, backing vocals), and Mitch Dorge (drums, percussion). The group was nominated for three Grammy Awards in 1995 for Best New Artist, Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, and Best Alternative Music Album. The band has had several hiatuses and side projects. 2010’s Oooh La La! was the Dummies’ last studio album. This is the band’s 25th Anniversary Tour and they will be performing their album God Shuffled His Feet in its entirety. 8 p.m. Jergel’s Rhyhm Grille, 285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale. (RH)

There are many buffalo references in music—e.g. the former band Grant Lee Buffalo, the song “Buffalo Stance” by Neneh Cherry, and Ted Nugent’s “The Great White Buffalo.” Another interesting buffalo is Donna the Buffalo, a band that plays across the musical genres of folk, rock, country, bluegrass, and zydeco, and hails from the Finger Lakes region of New York. The songwriting heart of the band is composed of Jeb Puryear and Tara Nevins, both of whom perform vocals and are multi-instrumentalists. They even have a “Funky Side.” Donna the Buffalo is one of the founding/host bands for the Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance and additionally the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival. Followers of the band are known collectively as “The Herd.” The band got its name when the musicians mis-heard a friend suggesting the name Dawn of the Buffalo. In 2018 The Buffalo released a new studio album, Dance in the Street, with noted producer/ engineer Rob Fraboni who has worked on projects for Eric Clapton, The Band, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones, Tiger Maple String Band opens. 8 p.m. The Rex Theater, 1602 E. Carson St., South Side. (RH)

Donna the Buffalo.

Paul Luc (pronounced “Luke”) is a Pittsburgh-based indie singer-songwriter. Luc released Tried & True in 2014. The record was well received by local audiences and radio. He followed it with Bad Seed in 2018. Songs from Bad Seed include the cathartic opener, “Restless Mind.” That same year, he also performed with SVEN, a band of area all-star musicians assembled by rock musician/producer Rod Schwartz. The band’s roster also included Joe and Johnny Grushecky, Jon Belan, Bill Deasy, Jay Wiley, Kelsey Friday, and others. They deftly performed The Clarks’ 1988 debut album, I’ll Tell You What Man…, in its entirety before the Clarks’ June headlining concert at Stage AE. Luc, who usually performs solo, will play with a full band at Club Cafe—a great start to what will hopefully be another big year for this Steel City troubadour. Nik Westman opens. 8 p.m. 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (EC, CM)

Sunday, January 20

“One-man jam band.” The phrase may appear oxymoronic. That is, until see Keller Williams live, playing songs like “Freeker by the Speaker.” The Virginia native, active since 1991, often loops guitar, bass, and percussion while playing solo, creating the effect of a full band. Williams isn’t beneath asking for a little help from his friends, though. He’s recorded, performed, and toured with bluegrass group the String Cheese Incident, and he’s played in a number of additional ensembles. His recent projects include 2017’s Raw, which is an acoustic album, and 2018’s Sans. As the album’s title suggests, he recorded Sans without lyrics; it instead features acoustic instrumentals. Now he and the HillBenders, a Springfield, Missouri Americana group, bring PettyGrass to the Byham Theater. They will perform bluegrass interpretations of songs, such as “Even the Losers,” by the late Tom Petty, who died in 2017. 7:30 p.m. 101 6th St., Cultural District. (CM)

Saturday, January 26

Country duo Brothers Osborne is composed of two brothers, T.J. (lead vocals) and John (guitar, backing vocals). Growing up in Deale, Maryland, they were inspired by the music in their father’s record collection and formed a band. They then sought their fortune in the country music capital of Nashville, Tennessee. The Brother’s gamble has paid off as their two albums have reached No. 3 and 2 respectively on the Billboard Country Chart, they have been nominated for one Grammy and won two Academy of Country Music Awards. The duo’s latest release was 2018’s Port Saint Joe. The Brothers Osborne opened for Dierks Bentley this past June at KeyBank Pavilion.Special guest is The Wild Feathers. Sold out. Doors open 7 p.m. Stage AE, 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (RH)

Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central. Christopher Maggio also made substantial contributions to the guide.

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