Welcome Back: TPN Staff picks Pittsburgh’s best concerts of the summer

By The Pitt News Staff

Fans of nearly all genres had a show to be excited about this summer. Whether it was big pop (Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry, both at Consol Energy Center), big country (Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and Brad Paisley), big rap (Drake vs. Lil Wayne and Tyler, the Creator) or indie darlings (Future Islands and Sharon Van Etten), there was a little something for everyone. Here’s a collection of The Pitt News staff’s favorite shows of the summer.  

Brad Paisley – First Niagara Pavilion

Brad Paisley fans got a little mud on their tires during his May 17 show at First Niagara Pavilion. But before opening act Randy Houser took the stage, the rain faltered and tens of thousands of fans who packed the pavilion and lawn were left unfettered to welcome Paisley, the pseudo-hometown hero of Glen Dale, W.Va. He was in his prime all night, showing off his marvelous guitar skills, which accompanied his occasionally humorous songs. Paisley’s banter was just as amusing — he cracked jokes about his high school days in between songs, charming many fans with ties to his birthplace. It was tough to tell which was more well-received — Paisley’s acoustic rendition of “Country Roads” or when he borrowed a fan’s iPhone and used it as a guitar slide.

– Sam Bojarski

Raz Simone – Altar Bar 

Raz Simone, formerly known as Razpy for his heavy, harsh tone, left the Altar Bar in shock after his 45-minute opening set on June 22. Going on tour with Rittz and Tuki Carter is a huge milestone for an up-and-coming rapper like Raz, but it’s even more of an accomplishment when he steals the show. Avoiding the confinements of a stage, Raz entered the crowd, climbed the speakers and hung from the balcony on multiple occasions without missing a lyric. At times, the entire crowd encircled Raz while he performed. Audience members began with their hands by their side, watching from afar, and gradually became more energetic and engaged. By the end of his set, they were begging for an encore.

– Evan Malachosky

Swans – Rex Theatre

To call Michael Gira a lead singer, a frontman or a bandleader isn’t enough — the man’s a remarkable conductor. At the Rex Theater on July 3, he not only conducted his band, but the sound engineer (“I didn’t want a f*cking psychedelic mic,” he barked during “Just A Little Boy”) and, most notably, the audience when he spit into a mosh pit that refused to cool down. A Swans live show can be a pummeling experience, with continuous noise building up the sensation of apocalyptic chaos — earplugs were provided at the door. But the band exudes more joy than gloom, smiling at and acknowledging fans during their 20-minute “songs” (the word seems inadequate). Though the thick, confrontational sound can be overwhelming, the live show captured many of the essential subtler moments from the studio records that a lesser band might have swept under the rug — Gira’s jingle bells and Thor Harris’s violin came through crystal-clear in the mix.

– Shawn Cooke

Ingrid Michaelson – Stage AE 

I could gush for pages about the beauty, control and weight of Ingrid Michaelson’s voice, but the strength of her performance at Stage AE on May 25 came from understanding herself as an artist. Even though her newest album Lights Out was still a new arrival on iTunes, the singer-songwriter didn’t hesitate to reach back to her roots, playing a career-spanning set that prompted more than a few sing-alongs. Her creativity came through most during a polka-themed remix of her popular song “You and I.” Smiling throughout, Michaelson constantly encouraged participation from attendees and thanked the audience numerous times for coming to the show.

-Sheldon Satenstein

Tyler, the Creator – Stage AE

When Tyler, the Creator lobbed homophobic slurs at a very different crowd in the same venue a week after Ingrid Michaelson, it made for a marked contrast. Ingrid was about singing along with your neighbor — Tyler was about screaming in their faces. Supported by fellow Odd Future personalities Taco and Jasper, Tyler riled up the crowd with insults and bass-bumping tracks until friend and occasional collaborator Mac Miller came on stage in a surprise move and brought the house down. As the show ended and concertgoers began filing out, there was more than one person lamenting their shattered iPhone in the pit.

After seeing some early summer shows shows on the North Side, it seems wasteful that Stage AE did not take advantage of their outdoor stage for these shows. Despite their divergence in style, the open-air venue would have translated well for both Ingrid and Tyler.


Jenny Lewis – Mr. Smalls Theatre

Jenny Lewis has been in the public eye for decades — after appearing in a slew of movies and television shows as a child, she ventured into a music career. I’ve been a fan since her Rilo Kiley days from the early 2000s. After the band broke up in 2008, Lewis seemed to lie low, other than contributing to a few side projects. She released her latest album, The Voyager, on July 29 and stopped at Mr. Smalls Theatre in Pittsburgh to give us a preview two days earlier. Her stage experience was evident — Lewis exuded confidence, drinking a glass of red wine and wearing a silk robe she bought at a thrift store a few days before. She didn’t talk much between songs and it was all the better for it — her lyrics and performance were enough. Lewis moved between old and new material and brought the show to its climax with “A Better Son/Daughter,” a Rilo Kiley classic about depression. 

Seeing Lewis live — especially for fans who have been around since she started her music career — felt like a timeless, overwhelming experience. Each song felt as relatable as it did when I was 15. 

– Mahita Gajanan

Future Islands – Mr. Smalls Theatre

Future Islands are all about dichotomies. The music itself, produced by a synthesizer, bass guitar and drums, is unflashy and maintains a straight-edged precision. But their frontman couldn’t be any further from his supporting cast. At Mr. Smalls Theatre on August 8, Samuel Herring expanded upon the earnest eccentricity he promised in the band’s star-making late-night performance. He leapt, karate-kicked and snapped back and forth inches from the ground, all while the rest of his band kept on, unfazed. In addition to the wild-man dance moves, Herring’s face was equally temperamental, transforming between Greek comedy and tragedy masks within seconds. His stage banter occasionally threatened to drain some fun out of the night by providing overly explanatory and preachy context to most every song but, as his undying commitment to narrative theatricality and the sincere growls and screams on “Tin Man” and “Fall From Grace” suggest, the guy really means it.