James Taylor might be the marquee name in Phoenix this week, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of other shows to see around the Valley of the Sun. Check out the following selections, which include a bass master, indie rock, alt-blues and more.
And if those don't tickle your eardrums, check out our comprehensive concert listings for other options.
Victor Wooten loves his bass so much that he may as well have it welded to his body. Though that might prove awkward when getting on the bus or in an elevator, it virtually is the reality of his situation. For Wooten, who can rightly be considered one of today's foremost bottom-end players, bass is the place. That the album cover for Soul Circus shows him as an eight-armed monster is not so far from the truth -- his playing can be found on numerous funk, soul, jazz, rock, bluegrass, and alternative recordings.
A founding member of the genre-bending bluegrass/psycho-space outfit Bela Fleck and The Flecktones, Wooten, for all his technical prowess (yes, he really plays like that eight-armed monster) and Grammy wins (five), remains modest about his abilities even when slinging the bass over his shoulder. A signature concert move, it's a trick he developed by watching Cinderella bassist Eric Brittingham on MTV. Wooten recently released two albums, Words & Tones and Swords & Stones, each showcasing additional aspects of Wooten's playing (he's released more than a dozen varied albums). Yet no matter what direction Wooten's music heads, a dynamic live show full of outrageous musicianship and crazy bass gymnastics is sure to follow. -- Glenn BurnSilver James Taylor - Tuesday, June 10 - US Airways Center
What else can you say about James Taylor? An undisputed finger-style virtuoso who can write a helluva song, Taylor's tunes are instantly recognizable and undeniable catchy. If you have ears, you've heard and sang along to Taylor's music at some point in your life. The Fray - Wednesday, June 11 - Comerica Theatre
The Fray know most of their songs sound alike. It's that strategy that earned them success in 2005 when the singles, "Over My Head (Cable Car)" and "How to Save a Life" made the Denver band practically inescapable to anyone with the ability to listen to music. The passion of singer Issac Slade's vocals with the band's poignant lyrics resonated well against their catchy piano-driven melodies. It was a powerful formula that they used again on their Grammy nominated self-titled second album and the single, "You Found Me," topped the charts as a result.
The quartet, who include guitarists Joe King and Dave Welsh and drummer Ben Wysocki, attempted to change things up with their third album Scars and Stories. It's their latest release, Helios, that they really tampers with the recipe. Under the guidance of British producer Stuart Price (The Killers, Pet Shop Boys), the zeal and emotion are still there but the piano makes way for electro-pop anthems that draw influence from their contemporaries OneRepublic and Imagine Dragons. -- Jason Keil Lonesome Shack - Wednesday, June 11 - Lost Leaf
Lonesome Shack may be based in Seattle, but you'd be forgiven for mistaking the band's Alive Records debut, More Primitive, for a mid-'70s recording from Mississippi's fertile Hill Country blues scene, owing much of its elegant boogie to the droning styles of R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and Fred McDowell. But the band's geographical obfuscation goes deeper: Guitarist and singer Ben Todd studied those Southern sounds in a tiny hand-built shack on the side of his travel trailer near the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico. "That's where I started getting into blues and boogie music heavily," Todd says. "I think just being in a rural area, where it was pretty quiet most of the time . . . just being out on the land, that music felt right out there." Eventually leaving the New Mexican wilderness, Todd found himself in Phoenix, where he attended the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery while work shopping his blues at Valley spots like Carly's Bistro, the Trunk Space, Rhythm Room, and Yucca Tap Room before heading to the Pacific Northwest, where Lonesome Shack bloomed. With bassist Luke Bergman and drummer Kristian Garrard at his side, Todd's songs forgo the bombastic indie blues currently in vogue, instead favoring sparse grooves and reverb-soaked vocals. It's raw but not rudimentary. "I wasn't thinking of [primitive] as a descriptor of the whole style," Todd says. "It's more about a desire to get to a really basic practice. Working with my hands, and simplifying things. I think that reflects in my songwriting." --Jason Woodbury Of the Painted Choir - Thursday, June 12 - Crescent Ballroom
Frederick Huang and his group Of the Painted Choir have been reinterpreting the sad, sad subgenre of "desert rock" for years now, dismantling every last vestige that distinguishes the craven likes of Gin Blossoms and the Refreshments (yikes!) by losing both the desert and the rock. That leaves this Phoenix quintet playing songs that sound like swinging backdrops to 21st-century spaghetti Westerns. The good news is that Of the Painted Choir will be releasing Barbarous, the band's first full-length LP following two excellent EPs from 2012 and 2013. Like its predecessors, the new album sashays into the territory of David Axelrod and Lee Hazlewood, as if desert rock originated in A Clockwork Orange, had the movie been set on Mars.
Of the Painted Choir's hallmarks -- immaculate, detailed production, effective and surprising instrumental textures, restrained yearning, and Huang's unearthly tenor -- are all present on Barbarous. And though the music that pervades the record is far from savage and cruel, the band is downright mean, because the album's release show is its final performance. Either way, the joke's on us, as Of the Painted Choir leaves behind a stunning body of work and leaves us hanging like Tuco in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. --Joshua Levine
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