25 Best Concerts in May in Phoenix
William Elliott Whitmore is scheduled to perform on May 30 at Rebel Lounge.
Understandably, many in the Valley are dreading the month ahead. As the weeks roll by, the summertime season will be getting into full swing, everyone you know will start leaving town to escape, and there's soon to be nothing but dreck on television (Game of Thrones nonwithstanding).
It's not all bad news, however, as May does has a few bright spots, particularly for anyone who's into checking live music around town. While it might seem like some spots can grind to a halt in the span between Memorial Day and Labor Day, a few couple of high-profile venues will be making their debut this month, the much-anticipated Valley Bar and The Rebel Lounge. Both will feature some name-worthy acts after opening to the public, some of which we've included in our compilation of the best concerts to see in May.
Other "can't miss" music events will take place between now and May 31, including U2's two-night stint at Talking Stick Resort Arena, a performance by Earl Sweatshit of Odd Future Fame at Club Red in Mesa, and a performance by hometown death metal icon Max Cavalera's band the Cavalera Conspiracy.
Cosmonauts - Monday, May 4 - Trunk Space
Three chords good, two chords better, one chord best — Spacemen 3's psychonaut Sonic Boom said it, and Orange County's Cosmonauts live it. They'll take the simplest things you can build a band out of — amps ratcheted up high enough the vacuum tubes start to sizzle, tangled-up melodies that could go on forever — and ride them to the horizon line, chasing the purity of sound and intent that fans of 13th Floor Elevators liner notes know well. No gimmicks, no tricks, not even any shortcut pedals. "I hate when bands use pedals or other types of equipment as a fallback," says guitarist/vocalist Alex Ahmadi. "So many bands just hit a delay pedal, and boom! It becomes some psych bullshit."
So Cosmonauts eradicate the bullshit. Ahmadi started the band four years ago with fellow guitarist/vocalist Derek Cowart, pursuing a rumor that Cowart liked the Brian Jonestown Massacre. With their only shared musical experience together totaling out to the time Ahmadi saw Cowart play acoustic guitar at a house party, they decided to make a band — and a pretty loud one at that. Their first show was on Halloween, and they showed up with incomplete costumes. "I was supposed to be a bandito, but I didn't have a sombrero," says Ahmadi. "Derek was a Beatle. Our costumes sucked." Happily, the actual band didn't suck at all.
Their 2010 tape on Burger Records (with the elephant on it!) reverberates at the slightest touch, but beneath all the exhilarating clatter is the same sense for a catchy hook the Reid brothers in the Jesus and Mary Chain used so well. That tape's vinyl rerelease on esteemed semi-local label Permanent underscored the point: Cosmonauts are a pop band at heart, but a psychedelic band by sound. One of the best things about Cosmonauts is how they can deliver a sweet little song with jet-engine volume and intensity. When they play loud, it gets good. Even if it causes trouble. "One time the owner of a bar told me in between every song we played we were too loud," says Ahmadi. "I don't get it." CHRIS ZIEGLER
Cavalera Conspiracy - Tuesday, May 5 - Marquee Theatre
Metal fans still crave a reunion of the classic Sepultura lineup, but a nice consolation prize came when the brothers Cavalera — Max and Igor — rejoined forces in 2008 as Cavalera Conspiracy. A ferocious and thrashy beast is present on records like 2014's Pandemonium, which contains some of the duo's angriest work in years. The group's live sets are also a fantastic trip through the Cavalera brothers' entire career, with a set list full of songs from Sepultura, Cavalera Conspiracy and even Nailbomb. Fellow death metal legends Corrosion of Conformity and Death Angel open the show at Marquee Theatre along with Lody Kong, Scattered Guts, and Sounds Like Murder. JASON ROCHE
Föllakzoid - Tuesday, May 5 - 51 West in Tempe
Chilean experimental trio Föllakzoid's newest release, the aptly titled III, has only four tracks, but there is nothing economical about what they do with their humble arsenal. Each song, including opening track "Electric," is an expansive, layered masterpiece organically constructed from the haunting rhythms inside the band members' heads. About halfway through the first 12-minute, nearly vocal-less song, you almost expect to see a pig balloon floating overhead, as if you were at a late-'70s Pink Floyd concert, but the band's melodies and sound continue to evolve. Föllakzoid is informed not only by the grooves of the ancient cultures that surround it but also by pulsating techno. With this album, the band collaborated with veteran German electronic musician Atom™. His rigid and organized musical style, which would seem at odds with a band that seemingly creates songs onstage on a moment's notice, melds nicely with the hypnotic psychedelic elements upon which the band has built its reputation. The group has been the biggest surprise of many a festival for a number of years. III shows what can be accomplished when the constraints of a minuscule afternoon festival time slot aren't holding back this emerging talent. JASON KEIL
Thee Oh Sees - Thursday, May 7 - Crescent Ballroom
Side projects are common for bands with talented musicians. Though some satisfaction can be attained from performing tracks written together by and for a band, some artists think the ultimate bliss is playing songs they wrote and arranged themselves. But every once in a while, a side project comes along that is so explosive that it blows right by the main project and becomes a legend on its own. Such is certainly the case with John Dywer and his touring psych-punk freakshow Thee Oh Sees. Dwyer was toiling in practical anonymity with his former main projects, including Pink & Brown, The Coachwhips, and Hospitals, along with a few others, before he decided to take his psychedelic noise experiments public with Thee Oh Sees in 1997.
By the early 2000s, the band had blown up to Coachella status. Thee Oh Sees still are definitely hitting the biggest shows in the country. Right now, they are gearing up for a date at Austin Pysch Fest. Thee Oh Sees' most recent show in Phoenix was just less than two months ago on the Monroe Street stage at Viva PHX, and even with a litany of sound issues Dywer and his cohorts managed to pull off an enthralling and energetic showcase of their noisy psychedelic punk. With the upcoming show being within the intimate confines of downtown Phoenix's premier music space, expect more of the same. JEFF MOSES
Melt-Banana - Wednesday, May 6 - Crescent Ballroom
Like a front snap punch to the throat, Melt-Banana's erratic noise will shower you with peals of explosive abandon not unlike Foetus' or Drive Like Jehu's. The Japanese noise duo — Yasuko Onuki, responsible for the band's chirping, hyperactive vocals, and Ichirou Agata, who likes to layer his guitar riffs and funnel them through an enormous pedal board — formed when the two met at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies in the early '90s. Nearly 25 years later, the band is still cranking out explosive albums (it's on number 10, as of 2013, with another coming out this month) and seems to tour nonstop. But little has changed, in terms of Melt-Banana's avant-garde approach to experimental thrash punk. In 1993, MxBx was introduced to Mark Fischer of Skin Graft Records and the famed Steve Albini. Soon afterward, Albini recorded the band's debut album, , in a basement in Chicago. Not a single song is longer than two and a half minutes, while the untitled bonus track is simply all 24 songs played simultaneously.
Despite being from Tokyo, Melt-Banana sings mostly in English (not that you can always decipher them). Onuki says she prefers the language because it fits her style of singing better. But her lyrics are typically a word salad of Dadaist nonsense, such as "Mouse is a biscuit" or "Flash cube, or eyeball." Onuki's freeform style of writing is actually liberating, if not disarming. No, you don't have to color in the lines. In terms of accessibility, most fans note 2003's Cell-Scape as veering toward a more hi-fi sound incorporating electronic instruments. But MxBx isn't really concerned whether you find its tunes listenable. "Actually, we think our first album was already pretty accessible," Agata says. "But I kind of understand what you mean....we care about what we like to do or try more than how people think about what we have done." TROY FARAH
Rhiannon Giddens - Thursday, May 7 - MIM
Carolina Chocolate Drops' member Rhiannon Giddens is on quite a roll. Her magnificent voice and superb interpretive skills have helped define the Drops' fascinating forays into African-American folk traditions. She was a standout on the live tribute to the '60s folk revival inspired by the Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis, as well as on Lost in the Flood, the all-star project that gave musical life to neglected Bob Dylan lyrics. Her first solo album, the T Bone Burnett-produced Tomorrow Is My Turn, is a wildly eclectic, era-jumping collection of songs previously made famous by female artists. The record is held together by an indomitable spirit that feels like the essence of the American experience. It's also a showcase for Giddens's dazzling voice, which stretches from jazz to searing field hollers, embracing the operatic gospel of the spiritual "Round About the Mountain," the country lament of Dolly Parton's "Don't Let It Trouble Your Mind," and the harrowing early blues of the mysterious Geeshie Wiley's "Last Kind Words." RICK MASON
Kongo Shock - Saturday, May 9 - Pranksters Too
Maybe its just us — or perhaps its something in the air — but its seems like there a few local '90s-era bands of the punk and ska variety have caught reunion fever in recent months. To wit: the sneering gutter punks of Flagstaff Ernie's Rubber Ducky reunited for a special performance back in late March, as did riot grrl favorites Burning Bush. Later this month, iconic Phoenix ska act Kongo Shock will follow suit when they return to the stage and once again blast some upbeat, third wave-inspired tunes. Twelve years after their last reunion, and almost two decades since ska's last heyday in the late '90s when they regularly haunted such bygone spots as Boston's in Tempe, the homegrown septet is reuniting for reportedly "one last performance" with their original lineup at Pranksters Too in Scottsdale. Fellow ska bands The Effects and The Medieval Knievals will also perform. BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Sage Francis - Saturday, May 9 - Crescent Ballroom
"You gave me language as a gift," Sage Francis announces on "Thank You," from his 2014 album, Copper Gone. "I turned it against you/I was stupid, I was young/I was hanging by my Judas tongue," he confesses, turning his youthful arrogance into a belated form of redemption as he gives credit to an unnamed mentor. The Rhode Island rapper, who also runs hip-hop label Strange Famous Records, has always had mixed feelings about society and fame, as reflected in his three ambivalently titled albums for Epitaph Records: A Healthy Distrust, Human the Death Dance and Li(f)e. But even the Sage one isn't beyond the need for guidance: "I was ignorant, passed out on the spacebar. ... I'm an idiot, self-deprecating author. ... You edited the words from the grave and beyond." FALLING JAMES
Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet - Sunday, May 10 - MIM
World Music can begin right here at home. BeauSoleil, sons of Louisiana's Bayou country and the number one Cajun music band in the world (according to Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion anyway), has proven that precept time and time again over the course of their near three decade career. Named in honor of of Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil, who led the Acadian resistance to British deportation efforts beginning in the mid 1700s, the band remains as determined as ever to keep their native traditions alive.
The historical reference has served as something of a springboard for the band throughout its career as they achieved milestones of their own in becoming one of the most recognized and admired Cajun bands. Aside from numerous appearances on soundtracks and television shows, they've performed with any number of musical admirers, ranging from Mary Chapin Carpenter to the Grateful Dead. Still, any attempt to classify them as strictly Cajun inevitably comes up short. Throughout their career, they successfully pushed its boundaries, incorporating rock, pop, jazz, calypso, French romanticism, and blues into their multi-hued palette. Their latest effort, From Bamako to Carencro is no exception, and easily one of their most accessible efforts to date. LEE ZIMMERMAN
Waka Flocka Flame - Monday, May 11 - Livewire
Waka Flocka Flame is an artist known just as much for his antics on stage as off. The rapper (born Juaquin Malphurs) hit the scene in 2009 with a monster single, "O Let's Do It," which not only spawned a new era of down-south bounce rap, but also ushered a young man with little rap experience under his belt to the forefront of the new-school hip-hop class. While the New York-born, Georgia-bred MC does have a penchant for violent lyrics — his name, "Flocka Flame," bestowed upon him by his mentor Gucci Mane, is an onomatopoeic throw to a "street-sweeping" automatic weapon when it's aimed to fire — there is a cutting eloquence amid the madness. TEAM BACKBEAT
Ex-Cult - Monday, May 11 - Crescent Ballroom
Back when they were still called Sex Cult (a cease and desist from the New York label of the same name nixed the religious orgy reference), Ex-Cult's set at SXSW so impressed Ty Segall that he eagerly produced the band's self-titled debut. Naturally, the group's sound is heavily guitar-driven (courtesy of Alec McIntyre and JB Horrell), smushed with the slobbering style of hardcore punk acts like Ceremony or Pissed Jeans. But it's the scorched tinges of '60s psychedelia that have earned the Memphis quintet comparisons to Destruction Unit and Thee Oh Sees. Indeed, Ex-Cult's latest EP, Cigarette Machine, was co-released on Lollipop and Castle Face Records, the latter co-founded by Thee Oh Sees frontman John Dwyer. It would appear that Ex-Cult is set to be the next indie guitar-humping darlings, on par with Parquet Courts. TROY FARAH
Lord Huron - Tuesday, May 13 - Marquee Theatre
Transplanted-to-L.A. Michigander Lord Huron (aka Ben Schneider) makes indie pop to fit the line where the horizon hits the sky — big, beautifully endless songs that sunrise and sunset instead of just "starting" and "stopping." His debut album, Lonesome Dreams (on L.A. label Iamsound), is full of what the world calls anthems (which means songs you save for either the perfect end or perfect beginning of your mixtape — and believe that if you're into Lord Huron, you still make mixtapes). These are world-pop guitar melodies that wrap around you like smoke, with an affection for the cinematic that makes this almost more a short film than an album. CHRIS ZIEGLER
Lana Del Rey and Courtney Love - Thursday, May 14 - Ak-Chin Pavilion
The biggest question facing any Lana Del Rey tour is how do studio epics like "West Coast," "Ultraviolence," "Born to Die," and "Shades of Cool" transfer to the stage? These, and most of her glorious, beautifully wrought songs feature enough studio conjuring that it would seem almost impossible to avoid utilizing pre-recorded tracks in a concert setting. Maybe the real question is, Will anyone care? As it was with Katy Perry, Britney Spears, and any number of pop stars before her, it's really about just hearing the songs, not witnessing how they're re-created.
Del Rey can sing, however, and her often surreal, laid-back tracks full of West Coast cool and glistening pop should satisfy even the pickiest fans. Maybe that's why Courtney Love's opening the show? The former Hole leader takes the opposite tack, favoring a raw, abrasive, and aggressive approach to songwriting and performance. Love's edge will allow Del Rey's polish to shine bright, maybe even blind. Still, Love may be the more interesting of the two. In the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, and out of it musically for far too long, Love's stage return may be a shot at redemption. Sure, she's busy acting, but can she still rock? So many questions... GLENN BURNSILVER
Acid Mothers Temple - Sunday, May 17 - Rhythm Room
Acid Mothers Temple continue waving their freak flag pretty high on their most recent albums, 2013's In Search of the Lost Divine Arc and last year's Astrorgasm From the Inner Space. The Japanese psychedelic rockers have always been led by guitarist Kawabata Makoto through a seemingly endless series of side projects and permutations, from their mid-1990s beginning, when they were influenced by the spacey, minimalist collages of Krautrock, to their more recent opuses, which sound like a dozen Jimi Hendrix albums crushed by a trash compactor. Makoto's unfurling melodies and streaking contrails of guitar are amped up further by his bandmates' surges of synthesizer and trippy noises of unknown origin, culminating in a crescendo of head-spinning, psychedelic madness. FALLING JAMES
Earl Sweatshirt - May 18 - Club Red
The path to enlightenment is treacherous and hard-fought. The way is always darkest before the light, but for those who can face their demons and find honesty within themselves, the results outweigh the difficult means. For 21-year-old Odd Future rapper Earl Sweatshirt, the reward is a healthy sense of pride, self-confidence, and mental clarity. For Sweatshirt fans, the boon is a ten-track breakthrough as powerful as it is vulnerable, titled I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside. "This is my first album," Sweatshirt told NPR Music's Microphone Check at SXSW. Of course, IDLSIDGO is his third full-length effort and second major-label release, but Earl is speaking metaphorically these days.
"This is the first thing that I've said that I fully stand behind, like the good and the bad of it," he continued. "I've never been this transparent with myself or with music." What started out as a humorous name for a project became a foreshadowing of the process to come. According to the Mic Check interview, Sweatshirt began working on the release just after coming home from tour. He'd just turned 20, then broke up with his main girl, and it's evident in his lyrics the MC was still digesting the loss of his grandmother, the namesake from Doris, his last album. Like most freshly single 20-year-olds, Sweatshirt and his friends spent their days getting wasted, seeing different girls, and just being debaucherous. Earl lost a lot of weight, stopped eating and taking care of himself, but somewhere in that process, his true voice started speaking through the haze in his mind, and everything suddenly clicked. KAT BEIN
Wolf Alice - Tuesday, May 19 - Valley Bar
There is a new surge of young bands with successful EPs, purposefully blasé publicity photos and normcore music videos who are scoring big with an online presence, but one thing sets Wolf Alice apart: lead singer Ellie Rowsell's soft, innocuous vocals that seem to float above the band's rock riffs. Wolf Alice caught our attention earlier this year with their grunge-pop-rock single "Moaning Lisa Smile," and we cry a little bit inside whenever the band combats being labeled 'grunge' (as if that's a bad thing) to emphasize their music isn't all 'angst-ridden.'
"We're not all heavy, but we're not all quiet," lead singer Ellie Rowsell told MinimalTalks. The band genuinely doesn't know how to label themselves—they're somewhere between folk and grunge—and matching a specific genre isn't important since they're finding success regardless. In fact, it's hard to believe Wolf Alice, a band with nearly 30,000 twitter followers and a laundry list of hard-to-book festival gigs, hasn't released a debut album yet. "Good bands like this don't happen much," YouTube user Jolly Infidel posted in the comment section for the band's Glastonbury 2014 set. "I can't even remember the last time I seen a English chick doing this sorta stuff." JENA ARDELL
Rebirth Brass Band - Wednesday, May 20 - Crescent Ballroom
You hear them before you see them — a sunny, brassy and sassy expulsion of horns and clattering drums welling up in the distance, growing ever louder and more percussive as they approach in a second-line parade down a New Orleans street. The horns are too loud and leering, a boozy cacophony of pent-up exultation, while the drums are too scattershot and shuffling to be militaristically formal. Instead, the drums groove like a drunk swaggers — loopy and seemingly chaotic, jerking in every direction, pulling themselves up smartly and tightly just before falling into the gutter. This is no mere Crescent City tourist music; Rebirth Brass Band unselfconsciously pour a whole lotta funk and a little hip-hop into their jazzy, Treme-tastic gumbo. FALLING JAMES
Piñata Protest - Thursday, May 21 - Valley Bar
Our border brothers in the northern Mexican states for example, have a predisposition for accordion-filled norteños, while rural areas are known to indulge in the more traditional folk music of rancheras. If you're Mexican-American or Chicano, chances are you got a steady dose of both growing up. Isn't that right, you pinché pochos? (It's okay for me to say that; I'm one of them.) With that being said, you might think it a little odd when you hear a band like Piñata Protest, a self-described accordion-powered punk rock band that plays...mojado rock? When you think about the dichotomy of growing up Chicano, the fusion actually makes perfect sense. The San Antonio natives say that their music is not your abuelo's norteño, but it also ain't your pappy's punk rock, either. The quartet, made up of accordionist Alvaro del Norte, guitarist Matt Cazares, bassist Marcus Cazares, and drummer J.J. Martinez, combine driving guitar rhythms, bellowing accordion blasts, and a blistering punk pace, for a unique sound that's surprisingly palatable and pleasantly danceable. ANTHONY SANDOVAL
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Friday, May 22 - Crescent Ballroom
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion has been back preaching the blues gospel and garage wail for over five years now, since reissuing their extensive back catalog to rave reviews and excitement from fans young and old. The trio — consisting the titular Jon Spencer, as well as Judah Bauer and Russell Simins — has become easily one of the most influential groups to emerge from the '90s, to say nothing of Spencer's work with Pussy Galore and Boss Hog. Seek both of those groups out if you haven't already, especially the Galore. The JSBX broke down doors for the likes of the Mooney Suzuki, the Black Keys, Eagles of Death Metal and most anything Jack White has ever touched since MTV first aired the clip for "Wail" in 1996. That video, directed by "Weird Al" Yankovic, displayed a manic speed-freak energy that hasn't been reached since. But event with all of JSBX's contributions to rock history, Spencer is relatively nonchalant about their influence as pioneers and helping to kick in a lot of doors to garage getting a foothold among people who wouldn't otherwise have heard it. "I guess so," he says. "I don't really think about it in those terms. After all, I started playing in a rock band because I was in love with certain bands and records." CRAIG HLAVATY
U2 - Friday, May 22, and Saturday, May 23 - TSR Arena
You know how people are always complaining that good bands never come to Phoenix? Those people can put this on their Sonoran hot dogs and eat it: U2 will perform two dates in Phoenix at the venue formerly known as US Airways Center, Talking Stick Resort Arena. And what makes the Phoenix dates even more surprising is that U2's current tour is only visiting 19 cities, and only six of them are in the United States. The tour is in honor of U2's recently released album, Songs of Innocence. "We are going to try to have a completely different feeling from night one to night two," said Bono in a press release, "and have some fun playing with the idea of innocence and experience." DAVID ACCOMAZZO
Trace Bundy - Saturday, May 23 - MIM
Boulder, Colorado-based guitar virtuoso Trace Bundy has been a YouTube sensation for a few years now with more than twenty million views of his various videos — an extraordinary feat that few artists can boast of achieving these days. Bundy has forged an enviable international career that has dragged the staid world of folk and classical music kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Combining classical guitar with digital looping pedals, iPhones and avant-garde playing techniques has vaulted the young guitarist into rarefied air as one of the world's most prestigious and respected fretboard maestros. DUTCH SEYFARTH
Romeo Santos - Thursday, May 28 - Comerica Theatre
Romeo Santos is a hero to many kids beyond his hometown of NYC for his lush, R&B-textured bachata music. Setting out on his grand adventure two decades ago, Santos worked his way into the hearts and car stereo systems of millions, first as the lead-singer of the groundbreaking bachata boy-band Aventura, and now as a solo artist. Santos has been called the "King of Bachata," a claim that will be absolutely undisputed when his visits Comerica Theatre just prior to Memorial Day weekend for what's certain to be a lively show. WINSTON GROMAN
Donavon Frankenreiter - Thursday, May 28 - Livewire
Musician and professional surfer Donavon Frankenreiter has been all over the world and seen his share of big waves. Still, he marvels at the daredevils who routinely tackle giant waves, including an estimated 100-footer recently surfed in Portugal. "It's unbelievable what some of these guys do," he says by phone from his home in Kauai, Hawaii, "but they know that when they do this, they could die. When I'm out there surfing, I love the feeling I get when the waves are a little bit dangerous, but I don't want to put myself in a situation that could [end badly]. I want to have fun, play music, and surf waves that aren't going to kill me — and do it around the world. I don't need to add a 100-foot wave into my day."
While Frankenreiter may take a safer approach in the water, the opposite is true in the studio. At a time when many artists strive for a consistent continuity of sound (keeping fans happy and, they hope, boosting sales), each of Frankenreiter's five albums is a different musical journey. Just as Frankenreiter never knows what the ocean might offer up, his studio time begins the same way — with a take-it-as-it-comes approach. "Going into the studio [to record Start Livin'] I wasn't really thinking about anything, as far as how I wanted to make this record," he says. "It's always a challenge when I do it myself. When I write a song on acoustic guitar, it can stay on acoustic or go to electric. It can be full-band or broken down. It's all about how I feel and how it comes together on that day." GLENN BURNSILVER
William Elliott Whitmore - Saturday, May 30 - Rebel Lounge
William Elliott Whitmore's songs are set in the fields of Iowa and on the banks of the Mississippi, but his guitar and banjo have traveled the globe, opening stages for the likes of the Pogues, Billy Bragg, Chris Cornell, and Social Distortion. On Saturday, Whitmore brings his weary blues-folk to the Triple Rock. The gruff and heartfelt singer's music brims with passion and honesty, and the close confines of the small room are a perfect setting to fully capture his charm. Field Songs , released in 2011, was a lament of hardworking Americana and agriculture that is equally befitting of modern music and classic folk. LOREN GREEN
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