|Clockwise from top left: Radiohead, Nas, Tame Impala, Deafheaven|
2014 has been a bumper year so far for Pittsburgh music fans. Arcade Fire, Jack White, and many other top tier musical acts visited the city for the first time in ages – or, in MIA's case, the first time ever. White-hot performers like Phantogram and St. Vincent each spent an evening in town, despite being at the point in their careers when a stopover in Pittsburgh typically lasts as long it takes to fill up the tour bus with enough gas to get to Philly. And then there were gigs by emerging artists still earning their chops: bands like Reignwolf and Eagulls played spirited, intimate sets to a couple dozen fans who will be with them for life – or at least for their first couple of albums.
So does that mean we are satisfied? Hell no! There are plenty of great bands that are long overdue to visit Pittsburgh. Here are three writers' personal opinions on which bands, both big and small, should – nay, must! – play Pittsburgh as soon as possible:
Radiohead hasn't visited Pittsburgh since way back in 1997, when they played Metropol in support of OK Computer. Even if you think that was their best album – a fair argument to make – Thom Yorke and co. have since released Kid A (my personal favorite), Amnesiac (meh), Hail to the Thief... heck, you know the list. Sure they don't tour all that often – their last US dates were in 2012 – and at this point in their career they're not playing anywhere smaller than Consol, but with a new album in the works, 2015 might be our last, best chance to again host one of the greatest bands of this generation.
Plan B: Atoms for Peace: Yorke's Flea-ridden side-project.
Thee Oh Sees are one of the most far-out, prolific psychedelic garage rock bands around. The San Francisco band has been around in a number of forms since the late 90s, always with John Dwyer at the helm. They finally coalesced into their current arrangement somewhere around 2008, and have put out at least one album a year since then, each of which has been very good. (Think Blue Cheer, but with synths, and weirder.) Like any good hallucinogenic trip, each album has peaks and valleys throughout, but mostly peaks. They've yet to play Pittsburgh.
Plan B: Ty Segall, or, The Ty Segall Band.
The Shins played a free show at CMU for the '05 Carnival. What a coup that was! The psychedelic pop band was riding a huge wave of popularity at the time thanks in no small part to the Zach Braff-curated Garden State soundtrack, which was served as entrée to the world of indie rock for thousands of angst-y college teens, myself included. (Don't laugh: Braff won a Grammy for it.) There were not one but two Shins songs on the soundtrack, both of which, surprisingly, were from the band's first album, Oh, Inverted World!, and not the more recent Chutes Too Narrow. They haven't been back since.
Plan B: Broken Bells: Mercer's side-project with Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton.
Warpaint were guests on a podcast with the guys from Sound Opinions recently. Among other things, they talked about how much they've toured over the past couple years. "I think we've toured over 300 shows in two and a half years" Guess which city missed out? Warpaint are four women from LA who manage to give "art rock" a good name. Their 2010 album, The Fool, made critics nationwide take notice. They make dark, sensual music that still manages to be danceable. They would be perfect for either of Pittsburgh's churches-turned-concert venues.
Plan B: Lykke Li
The Cure has been around so long that their first Pittsburgh gig was at the Syria Mosque. The goth-rock pioneers visited again, nearly a decade later, in 1996, this time at the Civic Arena. Are there other bands in their prime that could visit instead? Of course. But did any of those bands pen Disintergration or The Wish? If Paul McCartney has taught us anything, it's that aging rockers can be ageless. The Cure's 2011 live album – an epic 32 songs long – proves that Robert Smith still sounds great, even if, in his late 50s, he looks ridiculous in all that goth makeup. There's talk that the band – which still includes longtime bassist Simon Gallup – plan to release more new material this year, so a return trip might yet happen. Maybe Warpaint can open.
Plan B: Slowdive, who are currently on a reunion tour of their own.
Two Door Cinema Club
The trio from Northern Ireland was the crest on a wave of electropop acts, holding their own against Vampire Weekend and The Naked and Famous when their debut album dropped in 2010. Tourist History was an unabashed dance record, using drum machines and looping synths to create a sound bigger than anything we expected, and their 2012 follow up showcased mature orchestration along the same danceable lines. Of course, Pittsburgh takes more kindly to “real” music, and TDCC always tours with a live drummer. As performers, they encourage audiences to shake it off with addictive beats and their own blooming wallflower confidence.
Plan B: The Mounties, Steve Bays’ best project after Hot Hot Heat.
Daniel Ellsworth and the Great Lakes
Experimenting with several different styles on their debut led this Nashville quartet to a hard-edged indie pop sound on their latest, Kid Tiger, which dropped a week before SXSW. The album “sounds like a rock n’ roll band playing consciously crafted pop songs,” guitarist Timon Lance told me in an interview, and NME characterized it as electropop with the humanity of a folk record. Ellsworth himself is a rare performer, one of the few who looks like he’s having fun rather than basking in the limelight. It’s dancing, headbanging, whiskey drinking music, great for the Smiling Moose or Mr. Small’s.
Plan B: Bad Suns, who recently toured with The 1975.
The sibling band’s high-powered, unpretentious rock is Paramore for big kids. Or rather, music for those of us who recently grew out of our Paramore stage. Echosmith is far from your typical girl-fronted band-- like Hannah Hooper of Grouplove, 17 year old Sydney Sierota bangs around on timphony and synth, giving the band’s 90’s flavors a crashing sound. Though their drummer was born in 1999 (feel old yet?), their appealing rock would fit right in on the soundtracks to 10 Things I Hate About You or The Princess Diaries. Who doesn’t love a little righteous female angst?
Plan B: The Colourist, another great (though maybe not as creative) female-fronted SoCal band.
The hip-hop songstress, who has played love interest on tracks with Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and Big Sean, approaches music in a truly organic manner. Simple bass samples highlight her soprano pipes-- she avoids the inherent innocence of her sound with earthy diction and raw lyrics. Though her voice harkens back to girl groups like 702 and the Fugees, Aiko identifies more with the rap side of the spectrum. Smoking a blunt and going back to bed is poetry on her tongue, and any boy that passes her up will live to regret it. On “Stay Ready” and Drake’s “From Time,” she moves effortlessly between confidence and unabashed desperation. Striking a balance that’s difficult for most-- if not all-- female artists these days, the 26 year old acknowledges that no one has it all figured out-- nor should they.
Plan B: Solange Knowles
One of the most proficient rappers in the history of the game has never visited the Steel City, and he’s currently promoting the 20th anniversary of the classic Illmatic, so a stop isn’t necessarily out of the question. A long time advocate of nonviolence and collaboration between artists and magnates, the Pittsburgh hip hop scene could gather some much-needed cohesion from the rapper’s smooth, euphoric aphorisms. In a city conveniently situated between Nas’ Queens scene and Outkast’s Dirty South, perhaps the lack of national rap performances is a sign we need to shift our weight. And with Talib Kweli’s recent performance, looks like Nas would receive a warm welcome.
Plan B: Jungle, hip hop for the indie kid.
Though Mariah Carey may have claimed the nickname of “Elusive Chanteuse”, it’s hard to imagine a better male counterpart than Destroyer’s Dan Bejar. The band has yet to announce its newest album, Me. I Am Daniel… The Elusive Chanteur, but Merge Records did confirm that they’ll be hitting the road sometime in 2015 for full-band dates. Bejar has stopped in Pittsburgh as part of supergroup The New Pornographers in 2009 and 2010 at CMU and the Diesel Club Lounge respectively, but never with Destroyer. 2011’s Kaputt was a revelation for Bejar, and last year’s Five Spanish Songs proved that his disinterest with the English language isn’t so bad after all.
Plan B: The New Pornographers
The black metal rejects last played Pittsburgh in 2011 at The Smiling Moose, opening for Russian Circles. Three years doesn’t seem like a long time, but Deafheaven aren’t the same band as they were supporting Roads to Judah. They obliterated all genre-distinctions and expectations with 2013’s Sunbather, an instant-classic of a rock album. I saw Deafheaven play the record in its entirety earlier this summer at the Rock and Roll Hotel in Washington D.C., and it was an appropriately overwhelming, physically painful and transcendent experience. George Clarke and Kerry McCoy seem to have found the proper supporting cast to recreate their titanic soundscapes in a live setting, and seem to be having a lot more fun in the process.
Plan B: Tombs, Agalloch
Sun Kil Moon
Mark Kozelek isn’t known for putting on a fun show. Granted, his excellent stage banter can often pass as stand-up comedy, but the songs’ morbid and unapologetically revealing subject matter remains the same. Kozelek performed a solo gig in Pittsburgh at Diesel Club Lounge in 2008, but has yet to bring the full band into town. Sun Kil Moon’s stop at Union Transfer in Philadelphia (and the rest of their tour) this July featured a full-band quartet. Most of the songs, especially from this year’s towering Benji, were centered on Kozelek baring it all on acoustic guitar, with light brushstrokes supporting on drums. But some of the more driving tunes, such as “Richard Ramirez”, “Dogs”, and “Hey You Bastards I’m Still Here”, just demanded that full-band experience, with riff-heavy electric guitars and far less casual drumming.
Plan B: Another Kozelek solo show
Deerhunter came to Pittsburgh a couple times in their early years, including a show at Carnegie Mellon and Garfield Artworks in 2008. But since then, the band has released its best album, Halcyon Digest, and another worthy entry in Monomania. Sure, plenty of bands ignore the Steel City for much longer than six years, but this gap hurts just a little more since they performed twice in both Philadelphia and D.C. last year. Bradford Cox (as Atlas Sound) played a show with Built to Spill as a part of Levi’s “Benefit Braddock” series in 2011. Given the band’s history, it’s expected that Cox and Lockett Pundt will take a year or two off for their respective side projects, but hopefully they’ll remember the ‘Burgh when they release their sixth LP.
Plan B: Atlas Sound, Lotus Plaza
Tame Impala were everywhere in 2012 and early 2013. Everywhere but Pittsburgh, that is. For a few months, you couldn’t flip on the TV – or walk around Pitt’s campus – without hearing the band’s breakout single, “Elephant”. But since their beginnings in 2007 and the release of their debut in 2010, the Aussie experimental-psychedelic kings have steered clear of Pittsburgh. Their fanbase exploded with Lonerism, so it’s hard to imagine them playing anywhere smaller than Stage AE. It’ll just be a question of whether that third LP propels them to a thundershower-risk on the outdoor stage sometime next year.
Plan B: Foxygen
About the authors:
Brian Conway operates Pittsburgh Music Report and writes freelance for the Pittsburgh City Paper.
Julia Cook writes freelance for the Pittsburgh City Paper, interns for Paste, and operates South by Steel City.
Shawn Cooke is editor of the Arts and Entertainment section for the Pitt News and writes occasionally for Pittsburgh Music Report.
Did we miss anyone? Let us know in the comments section.
Beck (last vist, 1998)
Vampire Weekend (last visit, 2008)
Phoenix (never visited)