When I migrated here from New York, I hadn't counted on how near impossible it would be to put a band together and keep it focused during the hot summer months. Even the lamest justifications for missing rehearsals, from the persistent "Uhh, I spaced it, man" to the truly wretched "Party of Five season finale" defense, seem almost reasonable when three-digit brain baking is taken into account. Though I eventually lucked out with Serene Dominic & the Semi-Detached and Vic Masters & the Torchbearers, I have also crafted one-man shows because it means my summers are free from complaints like, "Dude, my car won't run if it's over 78 degrees." Or, "Dude, there's, like, stairs at that place."
One of my first shows here was an outdoor gig in Hayden Square in June. Not being the brightest crayon in the box, I decided to face heat exhaustion -- head on! And hat on! And overcoat on! Three songs into the set, I tumbled limply over the stage monitor, resuscitated not by "show must go on" hubris or jeers of "Why don't they ever get someone good to play these things?" but rather by the wisp of air conditioning that traveled across the thin air when someone opened the door of Gibson's some 50 feet away from the stage. Yes, it was hot. Wanna make something of it, Hemingway?
Summer means brutal fun for AZ working bands, even at night and indoors where just loading gear into a club can give you a stroke. So unless you make like the late, great Juicebox Heroes, who strictly played pool parties one summer and took the Nestea plunge every other number, here are some viable venues to keep active in during three-digit season.
1. Hollywood Alley, 2610 West Baseline Road, Mesa, 480-820-7117
This Valley stalwart has two large, comfy rooms all year 'round; in summer all you need to know is there are 10 dedicated vents and the A/C is cranked to 11. Plus, as a boon to bands, the load-in area is conveniently located near the stage and away from people, which saves you countless minutes to console your hot head with icy beer.
2. Boston's (formerly Priceless Inn), 5014 South Price Road, Tempe, 480-897-1466
Tom Reardon of Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings and Pinky Tuscadero has fond, sweaty memories of the old Boston's on McClintock Drive. "The lights inside would just melt your skull, even in the winter, so summers were twice as bad." The new incarnation is several shades cooler, with a "roundabout" bar that provides plenty of ideal vantage points to watch bands, and comfortable couches in dimly lighted areas providing additional chill. Best of all, a great PA that doesn't overheat like a Ford Pinto.
3. Jugheads, 5110 East McDowell Road, Phoenix, 602-225-0307
Although it goes against conventional wisdom to book six bands seven nights a week in the summer when things are slower, don't tell that to Sid Copeland, beloved owner of this establishment, which is twice as busy in August as any other club. "People don't go out in summer; you've got to give them a reason." And since Copeland and wife Tanya are always there, bands get taken care of, even if it means pulling money out of his own pocket to pay a touring band that didn't draw. "Bands are your business. Some of these bands are gonna be on the road for two months. If they show up early, buy 'em a pizza. Chances are they're tired, hungry, got treated like shit at the last venue. You introduce them to Phoenix. Let 'em know Phoenix has a great scene." As for coolest, darkest spot, try the back pool table area. Just don't misplace your drink.
4. Modified Arts, 407 East Roosevelt Street, Phoenix, 602-462-5516
Electronica, emo, punk and hardcore without any danger of hot flashing MGD neon signs. All-ages shows mean your coolant's always gonna be soda pop, and an able swamp cooler is no match for 50 to 150 sweaty emos jumping up and downbeat. But 100 percent DIY fans will gladly extend to fanning themselves with a club calendar, and talent booker Leslie Barton has no heat horror stories to speak of. "I choose to live here. I love the heat," she says. For least hot spots to stand on just such a packed night, Barton suggests "right in front of the stage or by the soundboard. Certainly not in my office!!"
5. The Rogue, 423 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 480-947-3580
A fine punk rock club nestled on the Scottsdale/Tempe border (a Rogue West has recently opened at 35th Avenue and Northern [602-841-6411] and will have bands virtually every night in the summer). How's this is for climate control -- the jukebox never disappoints, the beers are cheap, and the women are . . . spiky haired some of the time. Coolest spot? Why, the bags under Johnny Thunders' eye in the punk rock wall mural, thanks for asking.
6. The Clubhouse Music Venue, 1320 East Broadway Road, Tempe, 480-232-5314
Since its conversion from Billy Gordon's, this venue has enjoyed more renovations than Joan Rivers' front grille. Back then you had to traverse an adjacent dog-track betting parlor and sports bar just to land restroom privileges. Now the Clubhouse has its own water closets and is the only local venue with two stages -- the new one, added this past October, is the largest in the Valley save for the Marquee Theatre, and the old stage doubles as a VIP section for big shows like Presidents of the United States of America. The place has a capacity of 700 to 800, and talent booker Eugenia notes that, A/C-wise, "sitting right around the bar is the coolest area. When the air's cranking, people pull on sweaters." Sweaters? People wear sweaters here?
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7. The Emerald Lounge, 1514 North Seventh Avenue, Phoenix, 602-256-9705
People who say "dive bar" like it's a bad thing shouldn't go to the Emerald. Good, now that they're gone, there's plenty of us left who enjoy the Emerald's dark surroundings (the band room is almost womblike in its dimness), secondhand smoke, cheap drinks and free shows, more than any other in the Valley. On the completely different meter, there's weekly house specialties like Love Lounge piano bar on Mondays and Soul Trax improvisational jazz and spoken word on Tuesdays. Renovations are promising to change this familiar haunt somewhat, but for now the coolest place for a sweaty summer head to angle lies underneath the vent just outside the ladies' room.
8. Last Exit, 1425 West Southern Avenue, Tempe, 480-557-6656
For those sentimental for Long Wong's on Mill Avenue, several Tempe bars inherited that club's etched-in-stone schedule of regular acts, but the fully A/C-circulated Last Exit seems to have come closest to replicating Wong's recurring roster and its outdoor full-smoking patio, going one better with misters, the closest some of you monks will get to a wet tee shirt night. Misters, quite simply, are the summer performer's best friend, right up there with moist towelette, and sycophantic hand wench.
9. Rhythm Room, 1019 East Indian School Road, Phoenix, 602-265-4842
Hands down the most comfortable place to hear low-down dirty blues as well as R&B, funk and sometimes plain ol' rock. The RR is always kept at a temperature that won't make you sweat like an itinerant harp blower, and the recently added patio is misted for your protection. I once saw legendary Lee Hazlewood do a birthday show there, the only time the familiar air conditioner hum was cut so his low drawl could be heard above it. And the only thing that made my blood rise was someone asking when he was gonna do that "God Bless the USA" song. Which would've been really funny if you people still remembered who Lee Greenwood was.
10. Havasu Underground, 2146 North McCulloch Boulevard, Lake Havasu City, 928-680-8020
Why are bands from And the Hero Fails to Calabrese making a three-hour trek to Lake Havasu? Okay, maybe to see the nearby relocated London Bridge, but mostly to play this club, owned by Voodoo Glow Skulls singer Frankie Casillas. Tres Ikner of the Prescott-based band Dutch Holly discovered this fledgling scene through Myspace.com and found, "You've got a whole lotta kids really into music basically stuck in Lake Havasu. You couldn't ask for a rock-starved better all-ages crowd unless you played the town in Footloose."