25 Best Concerts in Phoenix in May 2016

STRFKR is scheduled to perform on Thursday, May 26, at Marquee Theatre in Tempe.EXPAND
STRFKR is scheduled to perform on Thursday, May 26, at Marquee Theatre in Tempe.
Windish Agency

Look, we know it’s coming and so do you. And truth be told, there’s nothing that any of us can do to stop it. Summer is just around the corner, it's probably going to be as miserable as ever, and the only thing you can do is make sure your A/C is in good working order and try to keep yourself busy for the next several months. 

And one of the ways you can do that is by checking out any of the great concerts happening in the Valley, including any of the “can’t-miss” shows happening in May.  (For more live music options around town, check out our online concert calendar.) 

Peter Murphy — Tuesday, May 3  Crescent Ballroom

Peter Murphy is probably best known for his role as the charismatic, mysterious, ectomorphic frontman for influential post-punk band Bauhaus. But before that act reunited in the late '90s and since, Murphy has released a string of accomplished albums under his own name. It wasn't until his second solo record, 1988's Love Hysteria, that he came to be known as an artist in his own right, outside of his past projects. He had a hit with "Cuts You Up," from 1989's Deep, and became something of a figure in the early days of alt-rock with his song "I've Got a Miniature Secret Camera," which appeared on the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack. Murphy is currently on his Stripped tour, where he's performing acoustic versions of song throughout his career. TOM MURPHY

Black Mountain — Tuesday, May 3  Valley Bar

In the 1980s, the practice known as backmasking became popular. Musicians recorded messages backwards and inserted them into their songs, often in a satiric response to Christian groups that accused rock groups of delivering satanic messages with their music. Recently, Vancouver band Black Mountain held a contest to win a pair of tickets to their shows for a lifetime along with every album in their catalog. All fans had to do was find the backwards hidden message on Black Mountain’s latest release, IV, and report what they heard on Facebook or Twitter.

The contest and the record’s title is an obvious nod to the Led Zeppelin album that contains “Stairway To Heaven,” a single which featured heavily in the backmasking controversy. The dubious contest began on April Fools’ Day. Cynics saw this as a ploy to lure hardcore geeks of hallucinatory blues rock away from streaming their record and nudge them toward purchasing a pricey vinyl copy of Black Mountain’s music. Their label insisted it was not a joke, and crowned the lucky winner, a Bay Area-based artist, one week later. Ironically, the message wasn’t satanic at all. It was the question, “Do you want my love?” JASON KEIL

Violent Femmes — Tuesday, May 3  Marquee Theatre

Has any rock band ever captured adolescent angst quite like the Violent Femmes? Songs like “Blister in the Sun” and “Add It Up” have helped at least two generations of lonely youth survive. Before they were lifesavers, the Violent Femmes got their start in Milwaukee in 1980. Ritchie and original drummer Victor DeLorenzo, who were huge Velvet Underground fans, heard a local singer named Gordon Gano. The band’s 1983 self-titled debut album was so simple and self-assured that it became a rite of passage for every kid looking for “just one kiss.”

Three decades and seven albums later, those early songs are still what the Violent Femmes are best known for among even the most casual of music fans. It hasn’t been all happy in the Violent Femmes camp in recent years. In 2007, Ritchie sued Gano for half of the songwriting rights after Gano allowed “Blister in the Sun” to be used in a Wendy’s commercial. Fortunately, they were able to make peace. “We’ve had many falling outs over the years,” Ritchie says. But happily, “we decided there was something unique between us and with our audience that we thought was worth setting aside our differences.” DAVID ROLLAND

Pentatonix — Wednesday, May 4  Comerica Theatre

Emerging as champions of NBC's The Sing-Off in late 2011, the young quintet combines several key ingredients for contemporary pop success: impeccable singing, cool cover choices (Daft Punk to Beyonce), plenty of seasonal product (two holiday LPs against five overall), a pervasive social-media presence, and a wholesomely multicultural image. They'll win your heart if you don't cringe at all that cuteness. CHRIS GRAY

Tortoise — Wednesday, May 4  Crescent Ballroom

Yes, Tortoise is still around, even it doesn’t make a big show about it. This year, the band released its first album in seven years, The Catastrophist. While not well known to mainstream audiences, Tortoise was influential in the '90s. Instead of taking cues from punk, it incorporated all sorts of other interesting sounds into rock, like avant-garde jazz, classical minimalism, ambient, and British electronica. The Chicago band is also made up of essential members of the Windy City’s music community, most notably drummer and producer John McEntire.

Expect a seasoned ensemble playing several instruments and probably two drummers. But get this: Chris Brokaw is opening. He played drums for slowcore heavyweights Codeine and guitar for the blues-rock outfit Come, and both groups produced classic albums in the ’90s. Since the early 2000s, Brokaw has focused on his own body of work while undertaking countless collaborations along the way. In addition to his blues-rock solo albums, he has scored several soundtracks. You definitely want to go to this show. JEREMY HALLOCK

Dream Theater — Thursday, May 5  Mesa Arts Center

Formed in 1985, this American progressive metal band still contains original members guitarist/vocalist John Pertucci and bassist John Myung. Throughout the years, the band has undergone various lineup changes, including most recently the split with original drummer Mike Portnoy. The music has always been a boiling pot of traditional heavy metal riffs, shredding guitars, and elements of traditional old-school metal like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, glam, speed metal, classic rock, hard rock, classical music, and of course prog rock, with heavy influences from such bands as Rush, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, and Yes. The band has toured all around the globe, earning fans on every continent, having shared the stage with everyone from Megadeth and Iron Maiden to Deep Purple and Lamb of God. ALEX DISTEFANO

Negativland  Thursday, May 5, and Friday, May 6  Filmbar

Negativland, a collection of artists from the Bay Area, first gained notoriety for its legal battle with U2’s label Island Records. In 1991, the band released an EP named after the Irish quartet containing samples of American Top 40 disc jockey Casey Kasem going on an expletive-laced rant while a kazoo-filled version of the song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” played. The label feared that fans would mistake Negativland’s release for an U2 album; the EP was pulled from shelves as a result.

While it’s fun to hear Kasem scream “these guys are from England and who gives a shit,” the EP was meant to be a sonic artistic collage exposing the hidden realities of media, but the message was lost in the litigious aftermath. It’s reassuring to know that 25 years later, Negativland is bringing its “culture jamming,” a term they coined, to Phoenix for the first time. It’s working with Tuscon-based artist Steev Hise to create an audiovisual experience that utilizes devices they call “Boopers”: clock-radio amplifiers rigged to create feedback. They combine the resulting audio with found sounds and visuals to create an original statement. JASON KEIL

Kenny Chesney  Saturday, May 7  Chase Field

Kenny Chesney is getting up there in years, but his latter-day career has given him a sort of gravitas he didn't have in his youth. In those days, his albums were pretty much standard-issue '90s hat-act country, not that bad but more than a little callow; now, he's America's favorite singing beach bum not named Jimmy Buffett. That said, Chesney has actually dialed down the surf and sand a bit in favor of small-town Americana on his latest album, The Big Revival, a collection of sentimental character sketches that radiates wistful nostalgia rather than sun-dappled easy times. It's a pretty good look for Chesney, too. CHRIS GRAY

The Trunk Space on Grand Avenue.
The Trunk Space on Grand Avenue.
Benjamin Leatherman

The Final 1506 Trunk Space Show  Saturday, May 7  Trunk Space

Unless you’re completely removed from the downtown Phoenix art and music scenes – or have been living under rock the past few months — you’re likely aware that the Trunk Space will leave its original home on Grand Avenue later this month. Before its proprietors of the beloved DIY venue and gallery put the location in the rearview, however, they’re planning one final show featuring a few of its favorites and regulars. There’s Fathers Day (the whackadoodle local punk band that pretty much got its start at Trunk Space), as well as singer/songwriter Jason Anderson, The Dietrichs, and the curiously named F/G/G/T/Failur. Also on the lineup is IHYWYP (a.k.a. I Hate You When You’re Pregnant), which is one man dressed in clothing suited for teenage girls howling weird-ass songs along with a drum machine. Needless to say, it's entertaining as all get out, and is the sort of fringe act that fits in well with an outsider art venue like Trunk Space. BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN

Beach Slang — Saturday, May 7  The Rebel Lounge

Despite their band’s name, Beach Slang are decidedly not garage, not beach-y, and they’re not from California (Pennsylvania actually, which may be the polar opposite of California). Beach Slang have taken shoegaze-y, layered guitars and sped them up to forge a complex and driving sound. They lure you in with crystalline guitar leads before bringing in slicing chord hits with raspy, yelling vocals. It feels as if each song may rip at the seams at any moment. That’s when they pull it back and the tide pulls in — but only so the next wave will hit you even harder. MATT WOOD

Esteemed soul singer Bettye LaVette.EXPAND
Esteemed soul singer Bettye LaVette.
Marina Chavez

Bettye LaVette — Monday, May 9  Musical Instrument Museum

Soul singer Bettye LaVette’s genius lies in her uncanny ability to wring emotional depth from even the most innocuous of pop songs. Her plaintive rasp exposes the lovestruck vulnerability at the heart of “Maybe I’m Amazed,” plumbs the spookiest depths of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and fills Elton John’s barroom confessional “Talking Old Soldiers” with almost unbearable world-weariness. An R&B ingenue in the 1960s, LaVette’s career never really took off until a boutique French label released her debut album in 2000 — 28 years after she recorded it for Atlantic/Atco Records, which for mysterious reasons chose not to release it. Since then, she’s sung “A Change Is Gonna Come” at Obama’s first inaugural celebration, stolen the show at the Kennedy Center Honors with a rendition of “Love, Reign O’er Me” that reduced Pete Townshend to tears, and generally disproved F. Scott Fitzgerald’s old saw that American lives have no second act. ANDY HERMANN

The Slackers — Tuesday, May 10  Crescent Ballroom

Ska! Say it. Sounds funny, huh? And not just because the genre has become one of the most beloved-turned-maligned styles in history since disco. Ska, at its core, is unpretentious, buoyant, and just plain goofy. But it has deep soul and jazz attached to its calypso roots, a fact that hasn't been forgotten by the Slackers. Formed nearly 25 years ago in New York City — then a hotbed for retrofitted ska — the horn-packing sextet eventually signed to Epitaph Records (and, later, Rancid's Hellcat imprint), releasing a string of discs featuring singer Glen Pines's impassioned rasp that paid homage to the traditional ska and rocksteady eras of the Skatalites and the Paragons. JASON HELLER

The Internet  Thursday, May 12  Livewire

Though there have been bigger names to emerge from the Odd Future camp in recent years, The Internet have quietly maintained their independence from the original crew. Beginning with the group’s highly praised 2011 album, Purple Naked Ladies, Syd tha Kyd and Matt Martians have become top practitioners of the so-called PBR&B genre. Now a six-piece, the group released its third effort, Ego Death, earlier this summer and successfully showcased that, despite lying low for a few years, The Internet continue to be a work in progress in the best sense of the phrase. They explore sonic space, allowing for exciting pivots and an industrious live show that’s as adventurous as their sound. DANIEL KOHN

Vince Staples — Friday, May 13  Crescent Ballroom

At 22, Vince Staples has come a long way since giving up a gangbanger lifestyle in Long Beach in his teens. On a fateful trip to LA with friends Dijon “La Vish” Samo and Chuck Wun, Staples met Syd Tha Kyd, Mike G, and Earl Sweatshirt of Odd Future. He had never really rapped before, but with the encouragement of his new associates, he found his calling in Syd’s studio.

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This alliance with the Odd Future crew and the influence of its experimental beats and gritty surrealism may have helped Staples realize his potential: Ever since he released his debut mixtape, 2011’s Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1, he’s established himself as one of the most talented rappers of his generation. Last year’s Summertime ’06 revealed Staples’s gift for turning harrowing experiences from his youth into inspired and darkly cathartic eulogies for childhood. TOM MURPHY

 

Aesop Rock: not your ordinary MC.EXPAND
Aesop Rock: not your ordinary MC.
Chrissy Piper

Aesop Rock — Sunday, May 15  Crescent Ballroom

Aesop Rock is a New York-bred MC who came of age in the '90s, when keeping it real was the highest ethos a rapper could reach for. Throughout his nearly two-decade recording career, he has never dumbed down the expansive vocabulary of his lyrics or felt the need to rely on hooks or superstar producers. At his shows, there are no choreographed dance moves, flashy guest appearances, or elaborate stage shows, just the only thing that matters: the music.

It has been proven by scientific study that Aesop Rock uses a more diverse vocabulary than any rapper in the game. Just as awe-inspiring as it is to witness a Shakespearean actor recite by memory all his arcane text, it is equally impressive to catch Aesop Rock effortlessly spit out so much dense lyricism, especially when you consider his memory bank has to fight the forgetfulness caused by the second-hand marijuana smoke in full effect. But he never misses a beat. DAVID ROLLAND

The Sonics — Tuesday, May 17  Crescent Ballroom

The Sonics are, outside of Dick Dale, the oldest, most influential rock band still touring today. All garage rock as we know it stems from what the Sonics, who hail from Tacoma, were doing when they formed as a band in 1960. Favoring a passionate attitude and confrontational energy over technique was at the core of the Sonics' music and was a clear influence on punk. When artists as disparate as Nirvana, Bruce Springsteen, the Cramps, L7, Mojo Nixon, and the Fall, to name just a handful, cite the Sonics as an inspiration, it's safe to say that this group — which got started when its members were just teenagers in a remote corner of the United States — has had a major impact on almost all of the raw rock music that has come along since. TOM MURPHY

Titus Andronicus
Titus Andronicus
Matthew Greeley

Titus Andronicus  Thursday, May 19  The Rebel Lounge

On their first three albums, Titus Andronicus earned a reputation as one of America’s hardest-working and most exciting indie-rock bands of the new millennium, developing a curious Civil War fascination even as their sound followed the arena-chasing example of fellow Jersey natives Bruce Springsteen and Gaslight Anthem. However, they lacked that Big Statement that could grab people’s attention outside their own tight-knit fan base, but now they have it in The Most Lamentable Tragedy (Merge). Presented as a rock opera in five acts, their fourth album takes almost 30 songs and more than 90 minutes to unspool its convoluted plot about a hero and his evil twin. Clearly, both their ambitions and the grandiose music of TMLT place Titus Andronicus among rock’s other great Angry Young Men of past generations — The Who, The Clash, Elvis Costello — who grew up quickly enough but had a much harder time mellowing out. CHRIS GRAY

Frightened Rabbit — Friday, May 20  Crescent Ballroom

While the name Frightened Rabbit conjures up disheartening images of timid waifs lamenting lost love with Hallmark diction, this Scottish act packs quite a bite. Sure, the group uses an acoustic guitar accompanied by a trembling voice and has ample references to heartbreak — but the sense of melancholy, desperation, and perseverance packed into its songs is too earnest to resist. Over its 13-year history, Frightened Rabbit has merged singer-songwriter sensitivities with ardent pop aggression. At the forefront, singer and guitarist Scott Hutchinson spits his witty narratives with poetic inclination and a raw vibrato howl. Alienated, anxious, and battered, this Rabbit is scared, but still has plenty of fight left in it. BRIAN MOSS

Scott Biram's songs will kick your ass.EXPAND
Scott Biram's songs will kick your ass.
Sandy Carson

Scott Biram — Tuesday, May 24  Valley Bar

Mr. Scott Biram is nothing short of a total and complete badass mofo. First of all, he is the one man in his namesake one-man band, and his many quality releases over the past 15 years have proved he doesn't need anyone else to help him get the job done, and done well. From vocal duty to playing guitar and percussion, Biram delivers his style of hillbilly country with a vengeance — tangling it up with elements of punk, blues, metal, classic rock, and an undeniably ferocious spirit. Whether he's blasting out a fierce and noisy tune or bringing it down a little more low and slow, you know he isn't holding back anything. Another testament to his tenacity: Biram survived a head-on collision with a semi-truck in 2003, suffering multiple internal and external injuries, including the loss of a substantial portion of his organs. A mere month later, with a couple of broken legs, he took the stage in Austin, performing in a wheelchair, an IV still hanging from his arm. Just like his tunes, that's pretty fuckin' tough. AMY YOUNG

Mayer Hawthorne.
Mayer Hawthorne.
Jake Michaels

Mayer Hawthorne — Tuesday, May 24  Crescent Ballroom

Andrew Mayer Cohen, aka Mayer Hawthorne, approaches his music with the same zest as his culinary cravings. As a DJ, producer, singer, and songwriter, he reaches into various genres of music, but finds himself pulled back into soul every time. As a young kid, he performed as Michael Jackson for his family, sequined white glove and all. As an adult, his work with other artists he's looked up to, such as Pharrell Williams (on 2013's Where Does This Door Go), and Memphis soul legend Booker T. Jones, has helped him explore the depths of his own soul. His recently released album, Man About Town, which dropped in April on Vagrant Records, gets deeply personal on topics of love, loneliness, and heartbreak in the City of Angels. MICHELE MCMANMON

Tyler, the Creator — Wednesday, May 25 — Marquee Theatre

Tyler, the Creator is undoubtedly a crass man-child afflicted with arrested development. To him, a casual chat — perhaps over tea and crumpets — about sex, class, and religion must sound like a literal nightmare or a concoction fashioned by Rod Serling. He’s yet another dude in a line as long as the lunch rush at the DMV who's an asshole that should be punched in the throat for his personality. But he should at least also be given a bag of ice and a shoulder rub for his art. Tyler is rap music’s Peter Pan: He refuses to grow up, except musically perhaps, and his sole purpose is aimless fun.

His latest album, Cherry Bomb, has the rooted and recognizable workings of a Tyler, the Creator album. There’s a whole bunch of N.E.R.D., Pharrell Williams, and the Neptunes fan fiction. It’s loud and poorly mixed in spots because he just thinks it sounds better that way, bro. But there are flashes of a man all grown up, particularly when he hunkers down on the production and gets jazzy. You can expect this to be a rowdy show, as Tyler is the James Warren “Jim” Jones of the cult of rowdy for no-reason millennial idiots. It’s the hottest ticket in town for the night, and recommended if you can grin and bear it. H. DREW BLACKBURN

The members of STRFKR.EXPAND
The members of STRFKR.
Windish Agency

STRFKR and Com Truise  Thursday, May 26  Marquee Theatre

When STRFKR first appeared nearly a decade ago, it was hard to tell where its brand of minimal electro-pop would land. But with musical mastermind and vocalist Josh Hodges at the helm, the band soared into its own, creating breezy and sweet songs, and tracks like “German Love” and “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second” found homes in both the robust music blogosphere and Target commercials. Fast-forward to the present, many albums and tours later, and STRFKR is still churning out beautiful modular beats, carrying its signature bedroom-recording style more closely in line with the mainstream while managing to stay just below the surface in its own indie world. On new single “Never Ever,” the band follows a tried-and-true formula of combining Hodges’s sexy murmur with a throwback dance vibe — a promising sign that STRFKR won’t stray far from the silky, playful sound that makes it great. BREE DAVIES

SkrillexEXPAND
Skrillex
Melina Dellamarggio

Skrillex  Saturday, May 28  Talking Stick Resort

It's easy to hate on Skrillex or even just razz the dude, probably since the erstwhile screamo frontman, once known as Sonny Moore, is sui generis and a polarizing figure in electronic dance music who provides critics with plenty of ammunition. Many have sampled the haterade when it comes to Skrillex, but would probably agree that when it comes to his overwhelming success, the 26-year-old is unassailable. Like it or not, Skrillex and his style of EDM helped light the fuse on electronic music's resurgence in 2011, gave it a massive paradigm shift, won several Grammys, fostered the careers of producers like Seven Lions and Jack Beats (via Skrillex's popular vanity label, OWSLA), and has made more money in a single year than you'll see in six lifetimes.

Accordingly, Recess, Skrillex's debut full-length, charted higher than any of his previous releases, including his breakthrough 2010 EP Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites. Although Skrillex has dabbled here and there outside his usual subwoofer-quaking stomping grounds, Recess, as did the 2013 EP Leaving, expanded his palette considerably, this time with shades of ragga, funk, jungle, dancehall, disco, reggaeton, and both indietronica and indie rock mixed in with his usual grinds and wobbles. BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN

Built to Spill — Sunday, May 29  Crescent Ballroom

Before indie rock was a thing, like the hip, Urban Outfitters thing we know today, there was Built to Spill, one of the most indie of indie bands to ever indie. Which is kind of confusing, because the band has been on Warner Bros. Records for most of its career, but whatever: Built to Spill is still, like, indie, you know? What does "indie" even mean, anyway?

Twenty-three years and eight albums later, the Boise group still is defining what independence means in modern rock, returning with its latest indie opus, Untethered Moon. If your '90s nostalgia tank was running on empty, saturnine songs like "Never Be the Same" and the peach-fuzz rock on "Another Day" should assuage that indie itch. "Living Zoo" opens like a slowed-down version of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Pin" before crashing into a Galaxie 500-like pensiveness. It's indie rock to rule them all, and, in the darkness, bind them. TROY FARAH

Modern Baseball — Tuesday, May 31  The Pressroom

Modern Baseball began with songwriting duo Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens, high-school friends who moved from Maryland to Philadelphia for college. There, they met Farmer and drummer Sean Huber. In the space of three years, they put together the band, recorded a debut album, Sports, went from basement shows to touring with The Wonder Years and opening for Taking Back Sunday. And though Huber had already graduated, his bandmates have stayed in college through it all.

By the time Modern Baseball caught its breath, the band had signed on with its dream label, Boston's Run for Cover Records. Then came You're Gonna Miss It All, the first time Ewald and Lukens actually wrote songs specifically for an album. "With Sports, it was the first time we recorded anything all. We were clueless and just tried what we could do. We booked sessions from 11 p.m. until whenever we fell asleep, which was like 8 a.m., and then we had class," Farmer says. "When it came time to actually record [You're Gonna Miss It All], it felt way more relaxed." Much of the attention the band has earned stems from the true-to-life lyrics of Ewald and Lukens. Equal parts smart and smart-ass, the songs are full of moments and images so relatable it almost seems they're written with you in mind. ERIC SWEDLUND


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