20 concert picks for early 2014

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The Hellpop Tour II
Club Zoo, Jan. 15

Metal fests like Rockstar Energy and Uproar are generally pretty high testosterone affairs, broken up by a few outbursts from the fairer sex. In This Moment and Butcher Babies, two of the bands that provide that needed change of pace, are on the road together, joined by Devour the Day and All Hail the Yeti.

Jay Z
Consol Energy Center, Jan. 21

We missed him on the Jay Z/JT stadium tour, so the last time we saw HOVA was November 2011 when he and Kanye West ruled the Consol on the "Watch the Throne" tour. This time, the self-described "best rapper in the game" arrives on the Magna Carter World Tour, doing songs from the new "Magna Carter, Holy Grail" and other faves from his catalog, 12 of which have topped the charts.

The Pixies
Carnegie Music Hall, Oakland, Jan. 25

We see frontman Frank Black here on an almost annual basis, but you can count the shows by the Pixies on a couple of fingers. The last one was a reunion gig at the Station Square tent in 2005. This time the trailblazing alt-rock band from Boston is three-fourths intact, with David Lovering and Joey Santiago, but, sadly, no Kim Deal. She was replaced by Kim Shattuck of The Muffs, who was recently booted for Paz Lenchantin of A Perfect Circle.

The Hold Steady
Mr. Smalls, Feb. 4

Nerdy rock poet Craig Finn, who's been on more of a solo kick since early 2012, hasn't brought the troops here since playing that Levi's series in Braddock in November 2011. Now, the Brooklyn band, which has been compared to Springsteen fronting Husker Du or AC/DC, returns on a 10th anniversary tour in advance of a new album coming early this year.

Mr. Smalls, Feb. 15

The fuzz-pop band from Manhattan caused a stir with a self-titled 2011 debut that landed on Pitchfork's Top 50 list. In October, Cults followed that with "Static," a well-received follow-up dealing with the breakup of principals Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion.

Billy Joel
Consol Energy Center, Feb. 21

He ended a three-year performance hiatus in December 2012 with a forceful set at the Hurricane Sandy benefit in New York. Now, Pittsburgh gets its first headlining show with The Piano Man since April 2008. Expect a solid greatest-hits set, as he hasn't released an album of pop songs since 1993's "River of Dreams."

Russian Circles
Altar Bar, Feb. 23

This post-metal trio from Chicago came through here last year opening for Coheed and Cambria and Between the Buried and Me, and just about stole the show, in part due to the explosive drumming of Dave Turncrantz. The instrumental band returns having released a fifth album, "Memorial," in October that is another sonic marvel.

The Avett Brothers
Petersen Events Center, March 1
Richard Thompson
Byham Theater, March 1

The North Carolina folk/hillbilly/punk band had become a summer tradition in Pittsburgh but was a surprising no-show in 2013. This will be the first trip here since May 2012 and the first time since releasing "The Carpenter" and "Magpie and the Dandelion." Both records were on the mellow side, but we can expect the Avetts to be their rowdy selves at the Pete with Old Crow Medicine Show.

Meanwhile, there's likely some audience crossover between the Avetts and Richard Thompson, who is booked at the Byham on the same night. The masterful British singer-songwriter, whose stellar career dates back to Fairport Convention 1967, comes with just an acoustic guitar (which he can play the hell out of) and his son Teddy.

Flogging Molly
Stage AE, March 1
Dropkick Murphys
Stage AE, March 8

St. Patrick's Day comes early with the two leading Celtic punk bands. You can't go wrong with either. Flogging Molly will be a little more folky and traditional, while the Murphys will be more the moshfest with a greater chance of an AC/DC cover.

Les Claypool's Duo De Twang
Mr. Smalls, March 4

The Primus frontman is always a force on stage. Now, he brings his bizarre touch to hillbilly moonshine music, plus songs by the Bee Gees and Alice in Chains in this duo project with guitarist and high school friend Bryan Kehoe. The show follows the release of the debut album, "Four Foot Shack" (Feb. 4).

Arcade Fire
Consol Energy Center, March 12

Pittsburghers surely have traveled many a mile to see this Montreal band that has not set foot here since opening for the Unicorns in June 2004 at the Rex Theater. That was before the band even released the groundbreaking debut "Funeral." Since then, there have been three more albums, including the Grammy-winning "The Suburbs" and the new "Reflektor," its second straight chart-topper. Arcade Fire's reputation as a potent live act is well-established. Note: The band has requested dressy attire, which for Pittsburghers often means the stitched Steelers jersey.

Experience Hendrix
Benedum Center, March 20

This tour celebrating the genius of Jimi came through here in October 2010 with a different cast. Bassist Billy Cox (who went to Schenley High School and played in the Jimi Hendrix Experience) and guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd are back, this time with Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, Dweezil Zappa and more.

Gary Numan
Altar Bar, March 20

Synthpop icon Gary Numan did a limited tour last year leading up to the release of his 20th album, "Splinter." Now, the man who shocked the late '70s with "Are Friends Electric?" and "Cars" returns to play his first show since 1998 at Club Laga.

Neutral Milk Hotel
Carnegie Music Hall, Oakland, March 26

Neutral Milk Hotel released one of the most brilliant albums of the '90s (1998's "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea") and then disappeared a year later. It only ever played two shows here (1996 at the Oakland Beehive and 1998 at Graffiti), both as openers. Last year, we got a stellar show from long-lost frontman Jeff Mangum, and now he returns with the whole crew for a sold-out show that is likely to be the indie-rock event of the year.

Consol Energy Center, April 2

Cher takes a page from The Who, embarking on the Dressed to Kill tour, having already done The Farewell Tour in 2002. The 67-year-old pop legend is going out to support her 26th album, "Closer to the Truth," and don't be surprised if it comes with 26 costume changes.

St. Vincent
Stage AE, April 11

She was here in the summer with David Byrne for a show at the Palace Theatre that I'm kicking myself for missing. Singer and guitar shredder Annie Clark, who works under the name St. Vincent, returns for a show timed with her self-titled fourth album.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
Byham Theater, April 13

The band from NYC had to nix its shows last year while its soulful frontwoman battled cancer. This year the retro-soul/funk band gets back on the road with a fifth album (due Jan. 14), and bassist/bandleader Bosco Mann, "Without a doubt, this album is the greatest thing we've ever recorded and I've been anxious for the world to hear it. Everything will culminate in February at the Beacon. That moment when Sharon walks out to join us on stage again is going to be insane."

Lady Gaga
Consol Energy Center, May 8

She was the second act to play Consol when it opened in 2010 (after Sir Paul) and then returned for an encore of her Monster Ball Tour. Despite selling out those shows, we never saw her on the subsequent Born This Way Tour. Now, the dance-pop diva comes with ArtRAVE The ARTPOP TOUR, supporting her chart-topping fourth album.

Scott Mervis; smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576

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