September Concert Preview: A Motown Legend, Twangers, Swedish Groups, and a Rapper from the ‘Burgh

As September arrives it’s another interesting month for the Pittsburgh concert scene. Except for Diana Ross and  country music heavyweights Jason Aldean, Toby Keith, and Lady Antebellum there aren’t many big-name acts in town this month. However Mac Miller, hometown guy done good, is probably near or above the big-name act threshold. He returns triumphantly for another Pittsburgh show.

The concert offerings this month include two late seventies punk-influenced new wave bands, Echo & the Bunnymen and Gang of Four; members of bands doing solo gigs—Diane Coffee (a.k.a Shaun Fleming) of Foxygen and Albert Hammond, Jr. of The Strokes—and some talented performers from other lands: singer/songwriter Sofia Talvik and heavy metal band Ghost from Sweden, and Afro-rockers Tal National from Niger.

Jam band Rusted Root, one of the top bands to rise out of Pittsburgh, returns again to headline the annual Allegheny County Music Festival at Hartwood Acres for the seventh year in a row. The festival benefits many very positive programs for Allegheny County children and young adults in need. Also on the bill are talented local groups Beauty Slap,  J.D. Eicher & The Goodnights, and Donora.

This preview highlights some of what we believe are interesting and enjoyable concerts during the month. There are many other live music events happening so get out and enjoy your favorite musical flavor.

Thursday, September 3

In the West African nation of Niger, Tal National are already well-established stars of the music scene. They’ve been developing a more international following since their 2013 album, Kaani, was signed by FatCat Records for a worldwide release. They’re now touring in support of this year’s follow-up album, Zoy Zoy. Tal National may be a guitar band, but this is not guitar music as you know it.  Their hypnotic, energetic, and bass-driven sound draws from the band’s diverse ethnic makeup and has made them Niger’s most popular band. Since forming in 2000, they’ve developed their loyal home following with extensive touring and marathon five-hour performances. The band performs live with six musicians but has 16 members, who may switch places mid-song during performances—The New York Times described them as “more like a sports team than a band. The band’s own website says audiences will be in for “some invigorating grooves, tight performances and some freaking out!” With Mathew Tembo. 8 p.m. Thunderbird Cafe, 4023 Butler St, Lawrenceville. (HM)


Saturday, September 5

Singer-songwriter Sofia Talvik hails from Sweden, is based in Germany, but her music owes a heavy debt to the traditions of Americana and folk. So it’s probably no surprise she has a strong connection to the U.S.—her fifth album, Florida, was partly written while she lived for a short time in Orlando, and she toured here for 16 months in support of her 2012 album, The Owls Are Not What They Seem, visiting 37 states and playing 250 shows. That experience spawned a live album and a book based on the “Drivin’ & Dreaming” tour. Talvik’s now on the road again in support of her sixth full-length studio album, Big Sky Country, which she describes as “a storybook of adventures and hardships” and which draws from her touring experience again. With The DuPont Brothers. 9 p.m. Pittsburgh Winery, 2815 Penn Ave., Strip District. (HM)


Sunday, September 6

The 16th Annual Allegheny County Music Festival promises a balanced survey of local music. Headlining are Pittsburgh world music royalty, Rusted Root. Depending on how old you are, you know their music, specifically “Send Me On My Way,” from their energetic live shows at the late Metropol, from the Matilda soundtrack, or from car rental commercials. The band still records and tours and seeing them live is a must for your Pittsburgh Bucket List. Openers include Beauty Slap. The quintet bills themselves as an “electro-brass-thunder-funk machine,” and from the sound of things, that seems about right. They’ve also been playing the local festivals as well as some out-of-state gigs. Donora are also opening. The trio’s third full-length album, Ha Ha Heart, came out December 2014, backed by the new single, “Memory.” The band gained national exposure when MTV series such as “Engaged and Underage” and “Cribs” began using their music. Finally, JD Eicher & the Goodnights will bring the pop-rock. The quartet released their third album, Into Place, in 2013, and they have opened for acts as diverse as Rod Stewart and Kelly Clarkson. This is the last concert at Hartwood Acres Park Amphitheater this year, so be sure to get in as much outdoor dancing as you can before autumn arrives once more. 5 p.m. 200 Hartwood Acres, Hampton and Indiana townships. (CM)


Wednesday, September 9

Critics and fans alike quickly canonized The Strokes’ 2001 debut album, Is This It. Since then, all but one member of the New York City rock quintet have been involved in various side projects. When navigating these solo discographies, a good place to start is with Albert Hammond, Jr., guitarist for the band. He’s often cited John Lennon as an influence, and you can hear that on his debut, Yours to Keep, particularly on the single “Back to the 101.” (In fact, Sean Lennon, John’s second son, plays on the album.) If Hammond’s name looks familiar, it’s because he shares it with his father, a popular English singer-songwriter. The lead-off single from the junior Hammond’s third album, this year’s Momentary Masters, is titled “Born Slippy.” It is neither a cover of the Underworld song of the same name nor a tribute to the Pittsburgh pronunciation of “slippery.” Perhaps he’ll drop some more Pittsburghese for his show at Brillobox. Prinze George opens. 9:30 p.m. 4104 Penn Ave., Lawrenceville. (CM)


Friday, September 11

Slip on your cowboys boots, button up your finest flannel, and head down to the First Niagara Pavilion where music icon Jason Aldean takes center stage for a night of country music fun. One of the most successful names in country music today, Aldean has accumulated many awards over his nine-year career, including Male Vocalist of the Year and Vocal Event of the Year at 2013’s Academy of Country Music Awards. These accolades are a sure sign that Aldean is currently one of the hottest artists in the world, and his hype train shows no signs of slowing down. Aldean is the headliner on his 2015 Burn It Down tour and is touring in support of his latest single “Gonna Know We Were Here.” Opening are Tyler Farr and Cole Swindell. 7:30 p.m. 665 Rt. 18, Burgettstown. (RH)


Saturday, September 12

This is a concert, not a history lesson. But Diana Ross, who’s visiting Pittsburgh for a show at Benedum Center, is a singer whose repertoire spans decades’ worth of pop, rock, jazz, and soul music. As a high-school student in Detroit in the late 1950s, Ross teamed with classmates to form the vocal group that soon rose to fame as The Supremes. They scored a string of number one hits during the Sixties for their hometown Motown label (here’s a vintage clip of “Come See About Me”), and since 1970 Ross has had a varied solo career. Venturing into old-time jazz on the big screen, she played the legendary Billie Holliday in the 1972 biopic Lady Sings the Blues, then rocked as a grown-up Dorothy in the 1978 film of The Wiz. Still youthful and in voice today—recently she has sung at venues ranging from The White House to a major arena in Tokyo—Diana Ross has won numerous awards and honors; she’s in town as part of her In the Name of Love Tour. 8 p.m. 237 7th Ave., Cultural District. (MV)


Tuesday, September 15

Melanie Martinez was only 17 when she auditioned on season three of NBC’s “The Voice.” Martinez played an acoustic version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” complete with kick-tambourine. That goosebump-inducing performance got three judges to hit the “I Want You” button. She chose Adam Levine as her vocal coach, sang covers of artists ranging from Ray Charles to The White Stripes, and made it all the way to the top six before being eliminated. Despite the loss, Martinez found post-talent-show success. Her debut EP, Dollhouse, plays like Siouxsie and the Banshees meets Goodnight Moon. (Check out “Carousel.”) She brings her bubble gum goth to The Club at Stage AE tonight. Special guest is Handsome Ghost. Doors open 7 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (CM)


Wednesday, September 16

Of Monsters and Men’s international success began as a slow build. First was “Little Talks,” that 2011 single with the catchy “Hey!” hook and the irresistible duet between singers Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar Þórhallsson. But when critics compiled their best-of lists for 2011, My Head Is an Animal, the quintet’s debut, was conspicuously absent from many a ranking. The reason? The entire album had yet to be released outside the band’s native Iceland. Once it was, though, in April 2012, audiences around the world dug the band’s indie-pop beat. The album reached number six on the Billboard 200, the highest charting performance for an Icelandic musical artist in U.S. history. (Take that, Björk.) They then toured nonstop and even made it to Pittsburgh in 2013. They return to Stage AE, this time behind their sophomore effort, 2015’s Beneath the Skin. Singles like “Crystals” subdue the horns and bring forward the drums for a more contemplative, though no less lifting, sound. Oh Land opens. Doors open 6:30 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (CM)


Trombone Shorty recently collaborated with Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters in a free concert in New Orleans’ French Quarter. They opened the windows and doors of Preservation Hall and gave a concert to surprised people walking by. A sizable crowd gathered immediately. The performance also featured members of the world famous Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The concert was part of a documentary by Grohl that explores music germane to certain cities. Trombone Shorty, a native of New Orleans, shot higher on the national scene in 2013 with his hot brass rocker “Fire and Brimstone.”  He will be performing with his group Orleans Avenue at Carnegie of Homestead Music HallChelsey Nicole & The Northside Vamps open. 8 p.m. 510 East 10th Ave., Munhall. (RH)


Could there be a more perfect synergy of stage names than Diane Coffee and Delicious Pastries? The two acts were clearly destined to perform together—or at least happily collaborate over breakfast. Diane Coffee is the performing name of musician Shaun Fleming, who calls his musical genre “Psychedelic Motown”—and that’s actually a pretty apt description of his eclectic, exuberant style. He released his first album, My Friend Fish, in 2013, and will follow up in September with Everybody’s A Good Dog. A former child actor and currently also drummer for the band Foxygen, Coffee recently relocated from New York City to Bloomington, Indiana, where he developed his new songs. Opening act Delicious Pastries are a Pittsburgh band who play melodic pop tunes with a sweet, vintage vibe. 8 p.m. Spirit, 242 51st St., Lawrenceville. (HM)


Thursday, September 17

Kintsugi—the title of Death Cab for Cutie’s eighth studio album, released this year, refers to a Japanese method of repairing broken pottery with a metal-infused lacquer, so the cracks are on full display. Embraced, even. The indie rock band, formed in Bellingham, Washington, are soldiering on without lead guitarist and founding member Chris Walla, who left after the recording of the album. However, the (now) trio are determined to make the best of it. With the help of touring musicians, they are promoting the record, including a stop at Stage AE. Also, in 2012, actress and musician Zooey Deschanel divorced the band’s frontman, Ben Gibbard. Rumor has it Gibbard channeled the heartbreak into the new songs. “How could something so fair be so cruel?” Gibbard asks on the lead-off single, “Black Sun.” The band’s also playing plenty of their back catalogue, including cuts from 2003’s breakout Transatlanticism and other hits like “I Will Possess Your Heart” and “You Are a Tourist.” Twin Shadow opens. Doors open 6:30 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (CM)


Echo & the Bunnymen are one of those bands with a lineage almost too complicated to follow: splits, reunions, solo careers, and deaths. But despite all that, the alt-rockers can still claim the distinction of recording and releasing music for almost four decades since forming in Liverpool, England, in 1978. At various times a three-, four-, and five-piece, today the Bunnymen are a band of two: original frontman Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant. The band is best known for their influential 1980s releases, including 1983’s Porcupine, 1984’s Ocean Rain—featuring the hit single “The Killing Moon”—and an eponymous 1987 album. As the McCulloch-Sergeant duo, the band has been recording and touring regularly since 2000, putting out four albums, including 2014’s Meteorites. The Pittsburgh show is one of five U.S. dates on this year’s world tour. 8 p.m. Mr. Smalls, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (HM) 


If things had gone differently for Josh Groban, he could have been a Pittsburgh actor rather than a multi-platinum recording artist. The “popera” star was accepted to drama school at Carnegie Mellon University but left in his first semester to focus on singing. That’s worked out quite nicely for him so far: He’s sold more than 25 million records to date. Groban’s blend of pop and classical styles has earned him five number one singles on the U.S. adult contemporary charts and three number one albums in the U.S.: 2003’s Closer; the 2007 Christmas album, Noël; and 2013’s All That Echoes. But he’s also been winning over another audience with his humor—following up his popular 2011 appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” when he set Kanye West tweets to music, he recently did the same with the tweets of Donald Trump. Groban comes to Pittsburgh as part of his North American tour promoting Stages, his seventh album, a compilation of musical theater songs featuring “Anthem” from Chess, “Bring Me Home” from Les Misérables, and “What I Did For Love” from A Chorus Line. 7.30 p.m. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Downtown. (HM)


Friday, September 18

“I’ll keep you by my side with my superhuman might / Kryptonite.” So ends the chorus to 3 Doors Down’s first single, “Kryptonite.” If that chorus seemed ubiquitous during summer 2000, it’s because the single charted on Billboard’s alternative, rock, and Hot 100 charts. The song comes from the Mississippi rock band’s debut album, The Better Life. With over 6 million copies sold, The Better Life can make everything that came after it seem to pale by comparison. But 3 Doors Down are far from one-hit wonders and in fact have had multiple high-charting albums and singles throughout the past 15 years, including their latest LP, 2011’s Time of My Life. The band just finished working in the studio on a new album and wrapped up a summer tour with Seether. So what brings them to the Steel City? Why, the “Steelers Back to Football Concert,” of course, one of multiple events building to the Black & Gold’s home opener against the San Francisco 49ers. The outdoor concert will be at Stage AE, where the Terrible Towels surely will be twirling from the lawn. Doors open 6 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (CM)


Country music trio Lady Antebellum makes a stop at First Niagara Pavilion on the group’s Wheels Up 2015 tour. Composed of vocalist Hillary Scott, guitarist/vocalist Charles Kelley, and instrumentalist Dave Haywood, the trio have proven their staying power as country music stars, having won two Grammy Awards and numerous country music awards of various sorts. They are probably best known for their 2009 single “Need You Now,” a poignant duet that braids the vocal talents of Scott and Kelley into a single melancholy harmony. The band formed in Nashville in 2006 and rose extraordinarily quickly, now standing among some of country music’s top contemporary talent. Since then Lady Antebellum has continued to grow its fan base with appearances in arenas and major amphitheaters across the United States. The group’s latest release was last year’s 747. Opening are Hunter Hayes and Sam Hunt7 p.m.. 665 Rt. 18, Burgettstown. (RH)


Sunday, September 20

Rapper and hometown talent Mac Miller returns to the ‘Burgh for a concert at Stage AE tonight. Miller, a Taylor Allderdice graduate, has even created songs with local ties. “Party on Fifth Avenue” is from the album Blue Slide Park (which referto Upper Frick Park), and “Frick Park Market” is a riff on that Point Breeze deli. Miller sometimes teams up for concerts with another Pittsburgh rapper, Wiz Khalifa, but this show he’s flying his own banner, The GO:OD AM Tour, which opens here, and supports his new album of the same name that drops September 18. In 2011 Miller was admired by, and then feuded with, current Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump after Miller wrote a song titled “Donald Trump” comparing his own success to that of Trump. Openers are Choo Jackson and The Come Up. Doors open at 7 p.m. 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (RH)


Friday, September 25

Pittsburgh punk fans have The Warhol to thank for bringing New York punk legends Television to the city for a rare concert this month. The band’s show at Carnegie Music Hall of Oakland is a follow-up to last year’s solo show by guitarist and vocalist Tom Verlaine at the same venue last year, as part of Exposed: Songs for Unseen Warhol Films. The band began in the early 1970s as the Neon Boys, before adopting the name Television in 1973. Their first album, 1977’s Marquee Moon, was critically acclaimed and is seen as one of the most influential early-punk releases. But success was short-lived, with the band splitting up in 1978 after releasing one more studio album, Adventure. Verlaine went on to have a successful solo career, releasing ten studio albums. Television reunited in 1992, releasing a self-titled album to mark their return to recording after a hiatus of 14 years. The line-up to play in Pittsburgh will feature Verlaine on vocals and guitar, Jimmy Rip on guitar, Fred Smith on bass, and Billy Ficca on drums. 8 p.m. 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. (HM)

A hot Swedish band that wears innovative outfits is hitting the ‘Burgh tonight, and it isn’t ABBA, that’s for sure. Ghost is a heavy metal band with a dark message to match the musicians’ black hooded outfits, as is apparent in the song “Secular Haze.” There is an aura of secrecy about the band, whose members are not named publicly and are referred to only as nameless souls. The lead singer, Papa Emeritus, wears skull makeup  and a pope-like mitre hat. The group’s 2013 album Infestissumam was recorded in Nashville, went to number one on the Swedish charts, and received critical acclaim worldwide. Ghost’s followup album and third studio release, Meliora, was released on August 21. Special guest is Purson. Doors open at 7 p.m. Stage AE, 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (RH)


Singer/guitar slinger Jonny Lang brings his scorching riffs and bluesy vocals to the Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall. Lang started playing guitar at the age of 12, mainly jamming on the porch of a friend’s family lake house in his native North Dakota. He joined the blues band of his guitar teacher, and the group was subsequently renamed Kid Jonny Lang & The Big Bang. His biggest hits are “Lie to Me,” “Longtime Coming,” and “Wander This World.” After turning his life around from substance abuse through religion, he even recorded a hit song of faith, “Turnaround.” He was also one of the musicians in a Jimi Hendrix tribute band called the Experience Hendrix Tour. Opening is The Record Company. 8 p.m.  510 East 10th Ave., Munhall. (RH)


Saturday, September 26

Toby Keith, one of the biggest current superstars in country music—if not the biggest—visits First Niagara Pavilion on his Shut Up & Hold On tour. Musically, Keith is known for his traditional twangy country style, featuring lyrics about cowboys, horses, beer, patriotism, and other all-American topics, and for his prolific discography spanning more than 20 years: over a dozen studio albums, numerous compilations, two Christmas albums, and nearly two dozen number one singles. He’s also known for the raucous party scenes associated with his visits to Pittsburgh. He’s sure to play his big hit “Red Solo Cup” (re: the color and brand of cup used at many parties, tailgates, and keggers). As is often the case with musicians who have cult-like followings, there’s probably a sizable crowd already planning to attend this concert. So if you’re going, grab your cowboy hat and boots, plaid shirt, and daisy dukes (for those so inclined), and saddle up. Opening is the Eli Young Band. 7 p.m. 665 Rt. 18, Burgettstown. (RH)


Tuesday, September 29

Taking their name from a Chinese political faction that included Chairman Mao’s wife, Gang of Four combined punk instrumentation, Marxist lyrics, and a dance beat. Andy Gill played the “anti-guitar” solo, where he would drop out entirely and let the drums and bass carry on, as he does on the brilliant “Not Great Men.” The quartet formed in 1977 in Leeds, England, and released their debut album, Entertainment!, in 1979. Though far from a commercial breakthrough, that debut went on to inspire everyone from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Franz Ferdinand. The continued interest has allowed the band to continue to tour, though these days Gill is the sole original member. They released an album this year, What Happens Next. Perhaps the title is a nod to a future without original vocalist Jon King, who departed in 2012. In his place is John “Gaoler” Sterry, who gets a little help from The Dead Weather’s Alison Mosshart on “England’s in My Bones.” The band’s touring in support of the record, including a stop at Altar Bar. 8 p.m. 1620 Penn Ave., Strip District. (CM)


Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central and a lover of great music.

Christopher Maggio and Heather McCracken made major contributions to this preview.

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