Every year is mandated by law and custom to have a January. It is a time of short days, big bills, and not a lot of top concerts. This January pretty much follows that pattern, but good times can still be had. In this guide you will see our choices for musical fun in this slower first month of the year.
The biggest acts this month are: John Oates (half of the dynamic pop/rock duo Hall & Oates), East L.A. rockers Los Lobos, and Cincinnati’s Walk the Moon. On the indie/progressive side highlights include St. Vincent, Jason Isbell, and Umphrey’s McGee.
Early in the new year enjoy some talented local musicians on January 5 at Club Cafe for Pittsburgh Songwriters Ring in the New Year. There’s also a reprise of Pittsburgh Plays Petty after the first one sold out quickly in December. And you can catch folk artists Ferdinand the Bull at Club Cafe. Don’t let January get you down; take a dose of musical medicine from your favorite band or performer. Remember, not every month can be a July.
Friday, January 5
Start 2018 off right with Pittsburgh Songwriters Ring in the New Year at Club Cafe. Spencer Allan Patrick, from Aliquippa, has a song about one of Pittsburgh’s most recognizable bridges, plus other great tunes. Jeremy Caywood will be fresh off his appearance at the first Pittsburgh Plays Petty tribute show. Amy Mmhmm is a mainstay on many an acoustic stage. Kevin Finn’s music, such as the songs heard on 2017’s Sound & Echo, invokes long stretches of American countryside. And Vit DeBacco harks back to singer-songwriter Howie Day on tracks like “Wish It Would Rain.” This early show will be the perfect warm-up to late-show headliners Old Game, Sam Vicari, and Brazilian Wax. 7 p.m. 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (CM)
In the early aughts, Flaw were a rising metal band. Their major label debut, 2001’s Through the Eyes, went to number one on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers chart. A song from that album, “Only the Strong,” appeared on The Scorpion King soundtrack. In 2002, they played Ozzfest. And in 2004, they recorded their sophomore album, Endangered Species. However, 12 years of record label disputes and internal tensions would make Endangered Species the band’s last album, save a self-released LP, the appropriately titled Home Grown Studio Sessions. That is, until 2016, when the band put all that behind them and released the also appropriately titled Divided We Fall. Flaw formed in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1996. Their frontman, Chris Volz, also sang lead vocals for the now-defunct nü-metal group Five.Bolt.Main. They released a companion EP of B-sides, United We Stand, in 2017, and they are touring this year, including a stop at Mr. Smalls. Reign of Z opens.8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (CM)
Saturday, January 6
December’s Pittsburgh Plays Petty, a tribute at Mr. Smalls, proved so popular and sold out so quickly that a second show was added for January. And now that show has sold out too. Small wonder, as Tom Petty’s music exists outside of time. Take “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” which sounds like a cut from Heartbreakers’ classics like 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes or 1981’s Hard Promises. However, it appears on 1994’s Wildflowers, his second solo album. It was a hit then, even as grunge and boy bands ruled the airwaves, and it sounds just as fresh now. The tribute’s lineup includes veterans such as Bill Deasy, formerly of The Gathering Field, and Jim Donovan, formerly of Rusted Root and now of Sun King Warriors. Chet Vincent of Chet Vincent & The Big Bend will perform, as will Nathan Zoob, an accomplished solo artist and a member of Wreck Loose. Angela Autumn, who has appeared on CBS’s “Pittsburgh Today Live” and at the Feed More Festival at Stage AE, will also play. Wicked-good guitarist Byron Nash is on the bill as well. For the complete lineup, check out the event page. 8 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (CM)
Ferdinand the Bull plays at Club Cafe! No, not the recently released 20th Century Fox animated movie starring John Cena as the titular bovine, who would rather smell flowers than fight matadors. Rather, the folk quartet from Pittsburgh, who have toured nationally as well as performed at local events, such as the Allegheny County Music Festival. Their YouTube page offers a travelogue of where they have played as well as some beautiful tunes of course. The lush “Days We Forgot,” filmed among some equally lush California redwoods, is the title track from their debut album. They also have released a number of strong EPs. Honors include The Pitt News’ Band of the Year for 2016. Ferdinand the Bull has another record in the works, and this early show promises a sneak peek at some new cuts. Her Ladyship opens. 7 p.m. 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (CM)
Tuesday, January 9
Singer/songwriter St. Vincent, born Anne Erin Clark in Tulsa, Oklahoma, took her stage name from a line in a Nick Cave song that references St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City, where poet Dylan Thomas died. Additionally, it was her great-grandmother’s middle name. St. Vincent is a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, piano, organ, bass, and theremin. She is a former member of the indie ensemble The Polyphonic Spree. Her music, as heard in the song “Cruel,” has an evocative pop sound, which can take you higher or lower. “Cruel” is from 2011’s Strange Mercy, a critical and commercial peak for St. Vincent, only to be outdone by her 2014 self-titled album, which sparked the Talking Heads-esque single “Digital Witness.” (Fittingly, she recorded an album, Love This Giant, with Talking Heads frontman David Byrne in 2012.) She returned with 2017’s Masseduction, and its tongue-in-cheek single, “Los Ageless.” Doors open at 7 p.m. Stage AE, 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (RH, CM)
Thursday, January 11
Progressive rock jam band Umphrey’s McGee, from the Fighting Irish town of Notre Dame, Indiana, will be in concert at Stage AE. Influenced by the likes of the Grateful Dead, Yes, King Crimson, and Pink Floyd, their unique sound can be heard in the songs “Wizard Burial Ground” and “Mulche’s Odyssey.” They will perform the day before the release of their 11th album, It’s Not Us. Don’t worry, though; a few songs, such as “The Silent Type,” are already out. The album marks their 20th anniversary. Guitarist and vocalist Brendan Bayliss got the idea for the record during a Cubs game. A week after the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, the band members entered Chicago’s I.V. Labs Studio. Umphrey’s McGee, who performed at the first Bonnaroo Music Festival, are known for their live shows: all solos and bright lights. Big Something opens. Doors open 7 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (RH, CM)
Saturday, January 13
“One-man jam band.” The phrase may appear oxymoronic. That is, until you see Keller Williams live. 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, an acoustic album, and 2017’s Sync, his 21st studio album. He recorded the latter with the Keller Williams KWahtro, which includes himself (acoustic guitar), Danton Boller (upright bass), Rodney Holmes (drums), and Gibb Droll (acoustic guitar). In 2016, Williams recorded a benefit EP for Californian singer-songwriter Tim Bluhm, who was injured in a speed flying accident in 2015. Williams will perform a solo show at Mr. Smalls. 9 p.m. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (CM)
Monday, January 15
John Oates is a member of one of the most successful music duos in rock history, Hall & Oates. Together, he and Daryl Hall had six No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100—”Rich Girl,” “Kiss on My List,” “Private Eyes,” “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” “Maneater,” and “Out of Touch.” Oates and Hall met while they were both students at Temple University. Although in separate bands at the time, they joined together and won notice with their second album, Abandoned Luncheonette, which contained the hit “She’s Gone.” (The album itself went platinum years later.) 1975’s Daryl Hall & John Oates generated the major hits “Sara Smile” and “Camellia.” Oates co-wrote “Sara Smile” about Hall’s then girlfriend Sara Allen. Additionally, he co-wrote many other top hits along with Hall and sang lead on numerous Hall & Oates songs. On his own, Oates has released four studio albums and three live albums. His newest, Arkansas, will be released February 2 and consists of Americana songs. In making it he was heavily influenced by the music of blues musician Mississippi John Hurt. On his website Oates offers “This is the record I have always wanted to make, with the band to bring it to life. After all these years, I feel I’ve finally been able to capture the sound that’s in my head.” He is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of Hall & Oates. He will be in concert at Club Cafe with The Good Road Band. 8 p.m. 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (RH)
Thursday, January 18
Oakland, California-based Tower of Power got the funk party started in the late ’60s with its then-unorthodox sound, which centered on a thudding electric bass and horn section. Since then, trends have come and gone—and so have enough band members to fill a Greyhound bus—but Tower of Power remains impressively active. They are arguably best known for hits such as “So Very Hard to Go” and “What Is Hip?” Recent releases include the 2009 R&B covers album Great American Soulbook—which features performances from Joss Stone, Huey Lewis, Tom Jones, and others—and the live album Hipper Than Hip. Although released in 2013, Hipper Than Hip was recorded for a radio broadcast in 1974, and it showcases the group in tip-top shape. They’ve continued to tour consistently, the MCs of an old-school dance party that has lasted 50 years and continues today at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille. 8 p.m. 285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale. (EC, CM)
Saturday, January 20
Howie Day’s song “Collide” can be heard at the end of “My Boss’s Free Haircut,” the 20th episode of season four of NBC’s “Scrubs.” It’s the kind of cathartic ending that the show became known for: one character has an epiphany (Turk), another pulls a light-hearted prank (Dr. Kelso), J.D. narrates, all while a singer-songwriter provides the feels (Day singing “Even the best fall down sometimes”). The song appears on his sophomore album, 2003’s Stop All the World Now, and it made numerous other TV appearances, including more medical shows (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “ER”) and criminal dramas (“Cold Case,” “Bones”). Another popular song from that album is “She Says.” Day hails from Brewer, Maine. His latest album is 2015’s Lanterns; Aimee Mann sings backing vocals on some tracks. He will perform at Club Cafe. Brian Jarvis opens. 8 p.m. 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (CM)
Tuesday, January 23
Strung together like beads on a necklace, the lyrics to Walk the Moon’s “Anna Sun” connote a college house party, the type of party remembered among friends years later. The evocative words, plus a synth hook, may explain why the song became a summer hit in 2011. It appeared on the independently released I Want! I Want!, and the band members also included it on their self-titled major label debut. This second appearance led the song to become a summer hit again when it was released as a single in 2012. They shot an accompanying music video in their hometown, Cincinnati. Walk the Moon also wrote the equally catchy single, “Shut Up and Dance,” from 2014’s Talking Is Hard. Their third album, What If Nothing, was released in 2017. They will play Stage AE, where over three years ago they opened for Panic! at the Disco. Their band name comes from The Police song “Walking on the Moon.” Company of Thieves open. Doors swing open at 7 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (CM)
Wednesday, January 24
Who is Creed Bratton? That’s a long story, and a question best answered by seeing him at the Rex Theater, where he’ll perform “A Night of Music and Comedy.” TV fans know Bratton as the actor who played a fictional version of himself in the long-running NBC series “The Office.” He invented the role, persuading the director to let him do it, and scored a hit as the elderly ex-hippie whose suit and tie can’t conceal a very strange personality. But long before that, the real Creed Bratton was a 1960s rock star. After attending a couple of colleges in his native California, he busked, bummed, and gigged his way around Europe and the Middle East as part of a guitar-and-vocals trio called the Young Californians. Then Bratton returned home to find fame with the pop/rock group The Grass Roots. While backing up frontman Rob Grill on late-‘60s hits such as “Let’s Live for Today” and “Midnight Confession,” Bratton also wrote some songs for The Grass Roots, including “Dinner for Eight.” There’s much more to tell—and rumor has it that Bratton will spin a few tales in his appearance at the Rex. 8 p.m. 1602 E. Carson St., South Side. (MV)
Friday, January 26
Los Lobos in Spanish means “the wolves.” In rock ‘n roll it means straight ahead songs with blazing guitar leads, strong percussion, melodic keyboards, hot brass, and a creative touch of other instruments. The band’s authentic musical mix adds ingredients from other genres as well including Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues, and Latin soul. The pack is led by David Hidalgo and Louie Pérez whose close bond developed at an East Los Angeles high school over their love for an eclectic mix of musical acts. They then added a few more guys from their school: Frank Gonzalez, Cesar Rosas, and Conrad Lozano to complete the Los Lobos lineup in 1973. 1987 saw the band’s cover of the Ritchie Valens song “La Bamba” reach No. 1 on the charts in the U.S., the U.K, and other countries. Gates of Gold is the band’s most recent album release. 2015 saw Los Lobos nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They play Club Cafe in a show that sold out very quickly. 10:30 p.m. 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (RH)
Monday, January 29
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Jason Isbell and his band, The 400 Unit, are stopping at Heinz Hall to support their latest release, 2017’s The Nashville Sound. This is the sixth album by Isbell, who hails from Green Hill, Alabama. A former member of Drive-By Truckers, Isbell continues in the alt-country tradition. Songs like “Cover Me Up” and “Goddamn Lonely Love” showcase his rich vocals and songwriting talents. Amanda Shires, another accomplished solo artist, who is married to Isbell, plays fiddle and provides harmony vocals for the 400 Unit. Isbell’s first solo album was 2007’s Sirens of the Ditch. 2013’s Southeastern, which he began after time in rehab and finished shortly after his wedding to Shires, was a career breakthrough: it debuted at no. 23 on the Billboard 200. His 2015 release Something More Than Free won the Grammy for Best Americana Album. James McMurtry opens. 8 p.m. 600 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (RH, CM)
Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central. Christopher Maggio made substantial contributions to this guide. Mike Vargo also contributed.