25 Must-See Metro Phoenix Concerts in May
The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger is scheduled to perform on Thursday, May 15, at Crescent Ballroom.
With the summertime slipping into the Valley like some unwelcome guest that's gonna wind up hanging around for the next five months (give or take), it would behoove you to start saving up your pennies.
Not just to pay the ginormous electric bills you're likely to accrue with running the A/C at full power, mind you, but also to cover the ticket prices for the many, many excellent shows you'll want to attend in the weeks and months ahead.
The summertime concert season (more or less) kicks off this month and its more than just big festivals to be had. Intimate club performance and gigs at mid-sized venues are mixed in with the blockbuster offerings at Metro Phoenix larger concert joints, as you can see for yourself by checking out our list of 25 must-see shows during May.
And if these don't suit your fancy, feel free to peruse our extensive online concert calendar for more options.
Chuck Ragan - Thursday, May 8 - Crescent Ballroom
Chuck Ragan first made his mark as the frontman of Hot Water Music, one of the more highly influential punk acts to emerge in the '90s. Fueled by youthful exuberance and inspired in part by the music that surrounding the skateboarding culture of the time, the band was loud and aggressive, yet there was still an undeniable vulnerability built into the band's sound that had a broader appeal than its component parts could alone. Toward the middle part of the last decade when that band went on hiatus (it has since reconvened), Ragan ventured off on his own and applied his gravelly baritone to songs with more of a country and folk flavor. -- Team Backbeat
Saint Vitus - Friday, May 9 - Club Red
Aside from Black Flag, who were disintegrating in a wave of Sabbath-y sludge, few underground rock bands were doing the doom-metal thing at Saint Vitus's caliber. Not faster-and-louder enough for either crossover thrash or traditional hardcore, their detuned dirge-march rhythms and foot-dragging riffs -- along with Scott "Wino" Weinrich's observantly bleak lyrics -- had a niche of their own to carve out. That sound, residing on Born Too Late, Mournful Cries, and V, formed crucial focal points in the doom metal movement that spawned Sleep and Eyehategod. Ten years ago, the same lineup that recorded those three albums played a one-off reunion show that kick-started a renewed interest in their influential classics. And they've been a going concern since the late '00s, with Weinrich, founding members Dave Chandler and Mark Adams, and new drummer Henry Vasquez recently adding their fantastic 2012 comeback album Lillie: F-65 to the mix. -- Nate Patrin
We Are Scientists - Sunday, May 11 - Rhythm Room
We Are Scientists crafts great songs, tunes that are sincere and catchy slices of indie rock. But the Berkeley trio's primary appeal (besides looking sharp in suits) may lie in its sense of humor. There are the music videos, especially 2005's "The Great Escape," which features the band's members crouched together in a shower. There's also the group's Instagram feed, which shows a poorly Photoshopped pic depicting the past romances of drummer Keith Murray and bassist Chris Cain and the cast of The Breakfast Club.
And then there's the website, full of advice letters to movie star Rooney Mara. Now five albums into a 14-year career, We Are Scientists adroitly experiments with different sounds on each record, from the relatable exquisiteness of With Love and Squalor (2005) to the synth-laden dance rock of Brain Thrust Mastery (2008). The band's latest, TV en Français, delves deeper into its greatest strength, accessible pop-rock. Like the type of nice guy or girl worthy of meeting your parents, We Are Scientists only gets more lovable the more you get to know 'em. -- Melissa Fossum
Kishi Bashi - Tuesday, May 13 - Crescent Ballroom
How do you figure a song called "I Am the Antichrist to You" should turn out? Awfully metal, right? Well, in the hands of Kaoru Ishibashi (who records and tours as Kishi Bashi), the track materializes as a fleet-footed, cloud-soft slice of folky chamber-pop -- practically the mathematical opposite of what its subversive title hints. Ishibashi specializes in creating distorted, fantastical tunes -- the kind that would flawlessly soundtrack an indie-friendly adaptation of Alice in Wonderland -- through an unusual cluster of tricks.
When he's not putting some three decades of training as a classical violinist to use (as he does most of the time), he's singing English lyrics in a distinctive falsetto -- weaving in passages sung in Japanese -- beatboxing, utilizing synths and guitars, or pulling some other trick out of nowhere. Ishibashi slipped "Antichrist" into 2012's 151a (a title connected to a Japanese phrase meaning "one time, one place"), the debut record from the Seattle-born, Norfolk, Virginia-based musician and former Regina Spektor and Of Montreal collaborator. If the one-man band trope ever needed to remind the world of its rare magic -- just how does a single person do so much so well? -- Kishi Bashi serves as a fine delegate. -- Reyan Ali
Christina Perri - Tuesday, May 13 - Marquee Theatre
There are no two ways about it: Christina Perri's songs reach down into your soul and wrap themselves around the very fibers of your being. Ever since her song "Jar of Hearts" was featured during the 2010 season of So You Think You Can Dance, and the megahit "A Thousand Years" landed on the soundtrack to The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1 the following year, there has been no denying that Perri makes anything but disposable pop.
Her new album, Head or Heart, only furthers this belief as the first single, "Human," finds Perri being unapologetic about her inability to be robotic and conformist while keeping her feelings and emotions hidden. Perri dazzles with her ability to switch from understated vocals to a powerful delivery at the drop of a hat. It's damn near impossible not to like a woman whose singing makes you feel so alive. -- Brian Palmer
Eels - Wednesday, May 14 - Crescent Ballroom
As founder of genre-spanning songwriter project Eels, Mark Oliver Everett, better known as E, knows what it's like to reinvent himself. Since the band's formation in 1995, he's bounced among genres while never fearing wearing his heart on his sleeve. With The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett, Eels' most recent release, E strips his trademark emotive material down to its most basic form. "I decided I wanted to try to be brave enough to just make it as hard-hitting and stark as possible," he says. "I took off anything that might have sounded like anything that would be typically a [radio] single candidate."
It's a nontraditional route, but the record's theme is that of personal responsibility after all. Phoenix is the first stop on Eels' upcoming tour and will mark the live debut of songs from Cautionary Tales. How they'll translate to the stage has yet to be determined, even by E himself. "I'm thinking it's hopefully going to be a really interesting musical night, but you never know -- it could be a complete train wreck," he says. "I think either way you'll get your money's worth. Let's face it: Train wrecks are entertaining." -- KC Libman
Nikki Hill - Wednesday, May 14 - Rhythm Room
The fast-rising, hard-charging, 20-something, North Carolina born-and-bred singer Nikki Hill has more than earned her evocative "Southern Fireball" moniker. This African-American rock & roll sister trades in resolutely old-school soul and R&B, and she does so with stunning measures of heat, grace and impressively flawless vocal technique.
Hill's vivid atmospherics, innate dynamicism and declarative delivery make for some thrillingly memorable song stylings. No mere fetishistic '50s throwback, she's facing an uphill battle out of the brain-dead ducktail-and-fat-cuff rockabilly ghetto. But Hill definitely has the pipes and the power to transcend that hell and reach Olympian heights. Just try to keep up with her. -- Jonny Whiteside
Keb Mo - Thursday, May 15 - Mesa Arts Center
Although often considered a blues revivalist, Keb' Mo' (a.k.a. L.A.-bred Kevin Moore) long has had wider interests, which fully emerge on The Reflection, his 2011 release on his own label, Yolabelle. The title track is a sleek, easygoing slice of lightweight pop-soul, whose predictably tasteful mellowness generally prevails throughout collaborations with India.Arie and Vince Gill, and scattered contributions from jazz musicians Victor Wooten, Marcus Miller, and Dave Koz.
The outstanding track is the opening "The Whole Enchilada," a slyly funky nugget of classic soul that would well serve Al Green. Most regrettable is a flaccid cover of the Eagles' "One of These Nights" that practically succumbs mid-tune to an apparent lack of interest by all involved. -- Rick Mason
Dr. Dog - Thursday, May 15 - Location TBA
A psychedelic, backward-looking outfit from Philadelphia, Dr. Dog fill their music with oddball harmonies and opaque lyrics that allow them to operate in a dreamy, in-between-genre space that has led them to comparisons from everyone to Springsteen and the Beatles to the Avett Brothers. But in their jam-packed discography there's no cult-worship like the Boss, no British Invasion, and certainly none of the family-friendliness that the Avetts boast. Instead, the sextet dabble in DIY oddities that continually recall their forebearers -- Dylan, the Dead, even Simon & Garfunkel at times -- but still manage to stamp their own inky sound across the top of it all. Their latest, 2013's B-Room, imagines the best parts of "classic rock" mushed together and filtered through a lo-fi cheesecloth.
Dr. Dog will be appearing in Phoenix on May 15 as a part of Blue Moon's Follow the Moon promotion tour. Admission is limited and is only available to those who RSVP online. Hit up the website for more info. -- Caitlin White
Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger - Thursday, May 15 - Crescent Ballroom
Jakob, Lisa Marie, Arlo, Matthew, Gunnar and Miley. Each of these musicians has had to battle their twerking hearts out to emerge from the shadows of their beloved, iconic musical fathers. It may be just as well to pick a screwed-up band name to perform under. So while the only child of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, has released albums under his own name, he's more recently been active as one half of the intensely psychedelic duo Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, or GOASTT, alongside his romantic partner, Charlotte Kemp Muhl.
There's no mistaking a bit of obvious sonic inheritance in GOASTT's latest release, Midnight Sun, a lush kaleidoscopic haze that, for better or worse, is reminiscent of John's gently epic Sgt. Pepper's-era work. Indeed, it will be worth catching this show for the aural effects more than it will be to stare at the son of a ghost. -- Kelly Dearmore
Tim McGraw - Friday, May 16 - Ak-Chin Pavilion
Fans of country before 1992, which was McGraw's introductory year, reserve every right to harbor ill will toward a man from the bowels of Louisiana who's now better known for being the title of a Taylor Swift song. Along with Shania Twain and Garth Brooks, McGraw bears much of the responsibility for melding country and pop , contributing to the former genre's dark and confusing period in the early '90s and resulting bastardization. (In the eyes of some, anyway.) We're talking about a guy who's known for not only collaborating with pop-rapper Nelly, but who was recently likened to Coldplay. He's also married to Faith Hill, who's culpable herself for watering down the grit and snarl of old school country.
It's understandable why some want McGraw chased out of Nashville by a pitchfork-carrying mob. (And why the Pitchfork crowd has no interest in him at all.) But while McGraw is, admittedly, about as country as Gwyneth Paltrow, he nonetheless deserves credit for paving the way for many of the most enjoyable country acts of today. Without his influence, artists like Blake Shelton, Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban would likely not have gotten their props, as their sugary hooks are but an evolution of McGraw's musical underpinnings. -- KC Libman
Damien Jurado - Saturday, May 17 - Crescent Ballroom
Though he releases records at a feverish pace, veteran folkie Damien Jurado creates songs that have always cast a slow-burning spell. Over the years, he's veered among jaunty folk-pop on 1999's Rehearsals for Departure, some boisterous full-band rock for 2002's I Break Chairs, and haunted skeletal acoustic ruminations on 2006's Now I'm In Your Shadow. Now Jurado's artfully abstract tales of heartache and honeyed yowl are in a late-period renaissance sparked by newfound collaborator Richard Swift. A talented singer-songwriter in his own right, Swift has an ear for elegant arrangements that has elevated Jurado's always sturdy songcraft to another level on his last two albums. -- Rob van Alstyne
Holly Golightly - Monday, May 19 - Rips
Musical amateurism is largely the domain of punk rock and bored celebrities. But for British-born, rural Georgia-based singer and songwriter Holly Golightly, not knowing what she's doing is exactly the right thing to do. Recording and performing under the name Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs (the latter mostly comprising partner and one-man band Lawyer Dave), the former vocalist for garage legends Thee Headcoatees grabs the throat of traditional country and blues and squeezes -- sometimes tenderly, sometimes viciously -- until the rawest, wildest and strangely sweetest sounds and feelings emerge. -- Roy Kasten
Devin the Dude - Tuesday, May 20 - Pub Rock
With a vice so central to his catalog that giving it up would nearly empty his set list, Houston's Devin the Dude fools hards into thinking he's anything other than a force for good. Sandwiched between Snoop and Dre on 1999's "Fuck You," he was a relief from their misogyny, speaking to his comically acrobatic lover as an equal, and got size-positive on De La Soul's "Baby Phat." "Fa Sho," off 2002's classic Just Tryin' ta Live, was his sideways endorsement of monogamy, and he's remained as enlightened as he is funny and intricate, with marijuana as his stand-in for zen. A freestyle on last year's Suite 410 even endorses his adult son's non-usage: "I'm glad, I hope it lasts, so he won't be pokin' in my stash." -- Peter S. Scholtes
Against Me! - Wednesday, May 21 - Nile Theater
Against Me!, as the name implies, are both a confrontational and personal band. At times, their bark has been louder than their bite, but on the heels of their new Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the Laura Jane Grace-led group has found a new energy, one that indulges in self-exploration, but also hits on universal truths that extend far beyond the gender issues at play.
While Grace is presently going through some very public changes and the record reflects that exhibitionist nature, Against Me! holds just as much anger and insight as ever. It's rare that a band can be this personal and avoid narcissism, but that's exactly what Against Me! achieve. -- Loren Green
Ice Balloons - Thursday, May 22 - Tempe Tavern
It's kind of fuzzy, it's kind of droney, kind of trippy, and the lead singer is only ever seen performing in a knitted fly mask- which makes him look like some sort of insect/human hybrid. All this and more has made Ice Balloons one of the most buzzed about bands of bands of the last year. -- Vanessa Quilantan
Gipsy Kings - Sunday, May 25 - Wild Horse Pass
Gipsy Kings are perhaps the best-known flamenco band in North America. For purists, their broadening of the genre's sound was considered blasphemy, but for the Kings it was the road to success: Their 1988 self-titled album went gold and platinum all around the world and became one of the rare Spanish language albums to go gold in the US, spending 40 weeks on the charts.
Although they've maintained global fame -- especially in their native France -- it's last year's Savor Flamenco and this year's 25th anniversary tour that have rekindled a bit of interest in the flamenco purveyors. Even if you don't know Spanish, the unrelenting spirit of joy and sorrow that inhabits this music is powerful, dramatic, and ecstatic. -- Caitlin White
Crystal Method - Monday, May 26 - Talking Stick Resort
Vegas-born, L.A.-based Crystal Method always got pegged as a Stateside answer to the Chemical Brothers. If that's the case, it took the duo more than a decade to duplicate the Brothers' formula: massively danceable, drugged-out epiphanies with loads of very special guests. When Crystal Method started out in 1994, the group was far more stripped-down. The partnership of Scott Kirkland and Ken Jordan ran primarily on synths, drum machines, and samples cribbed from films and funk records.
But duplicate the Brothers they have. Two of Crystal Method best albums used the Chem Bros template -- though the guests weren't as special -- and as demonstrated by 2009's uncharacteristically diverse Divided by Night, the VIP list is hotter. That more than helped renovate the sound; in fact, it completely rebooted it. Crystal Method's stomping, four-four workouts occasionally sound like monumental edifices, especially on the debut, which is still the biggest-selling item in the act's back catalogue. Tweekend (2001) and Legion of Boom (2004) similarly relied on perfectly placed vocal snippets for their viability. -- Jeff Stratton
French Horn Rebellion - Monday, May 26 - Crescent Ballroom
Various rebel forces have attacked those in power throughout history. However, it was two brothers from Wisconsin who finally stuck it to the French... horn, that is. French Horn Rebellion is an electro-pop duo consisting of Richard and David Perlick-Molinari. Together, the siblings have taken the world's greatest brass instrument and given it a bleepity-bloopity makeover. According to the group's website, Robert started playing the horn when he just 8 years old.
Eventually, music lessons paid off, and he found himself performing with the Chicago Civic Orchestra after earning a performance degree from Northwestern University. Robert, however, wanted more. Enter brother David, producer of MGMT's debut hit Time to Pretend. Together, David and Robert tackled the studio, laying down tracks peppered with French horn samples and heavy beats. -- Victor Gonzalez
Lindsey Stirling - Tuesday, May 27 - Marquee Theatre
What Warren Ellis and C. Spencer Yeh represent for experimental rock and Miri Ben-Ari once aspired to be for hip-hop, violinist Lindsay Stirling stands on the precipice of becoming for brostep: a welcome injection of conservatory-chic humanity. Hers is an appeal that extends beyond a series of provocative YouTube videos.
As her music proves, manic flurries of scissor-kicking bow slice make for a perfect compliment to sick-ass bass drops. Who knew that America's Got Talent would produce something this good? -- Raymond Cummings
Protomartyr - Wednesday, May 27 - Last Exit Live
Detroit's Protomartyr debuted in 2012 with No Passion All Technique, a title at once representative of the articulate post-punk band and not. Behind Joe Casey's dead-eyed husk in the tradition of Mark E. Smith and Colin Newman, his bandmates' pummeling drums and continually humming, often erupting feedback roil with the love and hate of living in a city Casey calls both home and a "hole" on their new album, Under Color of Official Right. Almost stately on record, Protomartyr find catharsis onstage, giving noisy vent to their frustrations. -- Harley Oliver Brown
The Meatmen - Tuesday, May 27 - Yucca Tap Room
The Meatmen coined one of the great rock & roll slogans, immortalized as the title of the hardcore legend's 1983 album, We're the Meatmen...and You Suck!!. The main Meatman is singer Tesco Vee, a towering, infamous figure who founded the Touch and Go zine, which famously grew into a seminal indie label over the course of the '80s.
Before it really took off, however, Vee sold the brand, moved to Washington, D.C., and formed his band. The Meatmen antagonized and entertained with equal relish, lampooning rock and hardcore. Vee was known for taking the stage on a moped in a cloud of smoke. Vee reconvened a version of the band in 2008, and its shows are still a flurry of confetti and costumes. -- D.X. Ferris
William Fitzsimmons - Wedsday, May 28 - Crescent Ballroom
In case the giant beard and heavy jacket didn't tip you off, William Fitzsimmons is a singer- songwriter in the vein of Iron and Wine's Sam Beam before he embraced '70s soft rock (or Justin Vernon when he was still in the cabin, before he met Kanye). Fitzsimmons rarely raises his vocal above a whisper, and the instrumentation is generally twee and sweet.
If that's your sort of thing, you can stare up into his beard on the stage at Crescent Ballroom and fantasize about what Grey's Anatomy slash-fiction scene you'll write with each song as a soundtrack. -- Dan Gibson
Dax Riggs - Tuesday, October 29 - The Western
If you're only going to sing about two topics, you could do far worse than "love" and "blood." Southern songwriter Dax Riggs titled his 2007 solo debut We Sing Only of Blood or Love and he stuck with appropriately romantic apocalypse fantasies on 2010's Say Goodbye to the World. Riggs' junk blues owes plenty to hillbilly forefathers like Roy Orbison and Hasil Adkins, but it also betrays his musical lineage: Riggs fronted the revered metal band Acid Bath in the '90s, a group which grafted grindcore and black metal touches into its Great Unknown-obsessed sludge rock.
He followed up that band with a stint as Dead Boy and Elephantmen, a grooving, swamp rocking blues rock band which featured Riggs fronting a rotating lineup. Riggs has always seemed this close to breaking through the way his contemporaries like the Black Keys and White Stripes have, but there's something too eccentric to his approach to hook the kinda folks who buy their CDs at Starbucks. He's simple too weird, with a willingness to embrace Danzig style goth drama on songs like "Sleeping with the Witch," cover "Heartbreak Hotel" with the same perverse intensity as that one-off Nico/Eno/Ayers/Cale version, or add a dissonant experimentalism to straight ahead rockers like "Gravedirt on My Blue Suede Shoes." The approach works for Riggs; this is some potent voodoo blues gumbo. -- Jason P. Woodbury
First Aid Kit - Thursday, May 29 - Crescent Ballroom
You can't tell the story of First Aid Kit without a few modern conveniences that helped in the process: The Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg began posting their songs through Myspace but found international acclaim through a YouTube video of their cover of a Fleet Foxes tune. The medium may be very Web 2.0, but the sisters' songs speak to a simpler version of roots music. Their 2012 album The Lion's Roar won them many fans through familial harmonies and a soft touch. That a few Swedes in their early twenties could craft some quality best Americana is proof enough that music follows a geography of the soul, not the land. -- Christian Schaeffer
Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.
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