We've been fortunate in that this past weekend in the Valley felt like, well, it wasn't the Valley. This is but the calm before the storm. Summer is coming. The Southwest remembers. Here are our picks for this weekend. If you'd like more options, mosey on over to our comprehensive concert calendar and go nuts.
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
Streetlight Manifesto - Friday, May 22 - Marquee Theatre
New Jersey band Streetlight Manifesto is the whole package — all the raucous fun we've come to expect from Jersey without the orange tans and irritating accents. Yes, the seven-piece band plays ska punk, a genre that's irritating almost by default, but they do it so flawlessly that even people who don't particularly care for the genre have to pay their respects. Streetlight combines half of Catch 22 and half of One Cool Guy, making up a roster of the top ska talent in Jersey. With Dan Potthast and Sycamore Smith. WESTWORD
Punk Rock Karaoke - Friday, May 22 - Yucca Tap Room
Punk Rock Karaoke is one of those situations where a fun idea meets perfect execution and something really special comes out. As kitsch of an idea as letting random people front a punk rock supergroup is, it’s still freakin awesome! How many chances does a punk fan get to belt out a classic punk hit backed up by Greg Hetson of Bad Religion, Stan Lee of The Dickies, Edward Tatar of D.I. and Derek O’Brien of Social Distortion? It’s just a completely unreal opportunity and for 15 bucks at The Yucca Tap Room it’s almost a can’t-miss. Even for a non-punk fan, the tracks in this group's repertoire, which do include “Story of my Life” by Social Distortion and “Sorrow” by Bad Religion among a plethora of other hits, really transcend genre tastes and become a chance for regular folk to sing seminal punk songs with a backing band of the musicians who made them famous. The band also goes deep into the catalogues of their former bands and others to give those hardcore punks an opportunity to show off their knowledge of classic punk. LIGHTSPEEDGO and No Gimmick will be warming up the packed crowd. Show time is 8 p.m. JEFF MOSES
U2 - Friday, May 22, and Saturday, May 23 - US Airways Center
Whether you hate them or dream about Bono’s tongue in your ear, there is truly no other band in history like U2. This is a group whose frontman not only has a trapdoor spider named after him (Aptostichus bonoi) and gives TED talks on global poverty, but is also responsible for writing melodramatic hit singles like “Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of” that will get stuck in your head at random moments in your life, making you wish you could shoot your radio.
But there is a reason that U2 is one of the most profitable and celebrated bands on the planet (having won 22 Grammy’s in their career, but who cares about the Grammys?). Not only is their watered-down breed of post-post-post-punk readily accessible for Top 40 eardrums, no other band has made feel-good activism so popular. So maybe U2 still hasn’t produced what you’re looking for, but the band’s show of compassion and activism is more than penance for forcing their music on you. TROY FARAH
Ximena Sariñana - Saturday, May 23 - Valley Bar
Are you familiar with Ximena Sariñana? If you’ve been a Southwestern resident for any period of time, you may have seen her name, as Arizonans are right in the middle of her tour routes and demographic, but for whatever reasons the Mexican pop singer-songwriter is still a criminally under-appreciated artist outside of her native country.
Sariñana’s vocal approach ranges from a breathy, almost spoken-word quality to full-throated falsetto, sometimes lacquered with a coy, playful sheen. She’s a dynamic vocalist in both English or Spanish, handling each deftly even if her languid sound is better suited to the flow of the latter. Why is it then that Sariñana is so staggeringly underrepresented in the U.S.? She’s recently parted ways with Warner Bros. Records, her longtime major label, and is playing 1,000-capacity rooms this side of the border. Compare that with her presence in Mexico, where she recently played Foro Sol in Mexico City, a 26,000-capacity event stadium, and touring alongside Latin American icon Juanes, and there’s a wide discrepancy there.
Broken down to semantics, there’s no excuse why Sariñana’s music shouldn’t be just as lauded in the States. She fits right in with alt-songstresses like Marina Diamandis and Florence Welsh, and she possesses the international appeal and angular pop sensibilities of Alt-J and even early Bloc Party. While fandom in the U.S. rarely seems to reach the ravenousness of Mexican music consumers, Sariñana has been writing the perfect tracks for your Saturday morning playlist for seven years and counting in whatever language suits you best. K.C. LIBMAN
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
Bette Midler - Sunday, May 24 - US Airways Center
Bette Midler - Sunday, May 24 - US Airways Center
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Bette Midler is truly divine even if Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld lampooned her on Seinfeld as a hideous egomaniac and Michael Richards built "Macaroni Midler" in her honor. The diva, which is a term she has earned through drive, talent, and ridiculously strong staying power, is coming to Phoenix supporting her "It's the Girls" tour, which is not a boob reference, but a tribute to the female singers she has been inspired by throughout her life and career. Midler, who turns 70 in December of this year, is undoubtedly the queen of bawdy pop and has embraced the rock ballad as well as show tunes, starred in movies and Broadway, and graced the television screen countless times. Even if you don't realize you're listening to her, it's almost impossible you haven't heard a song or three of Midler’s over the years, whether it be “The Rose” or “Wind Beneath My Wings.” The three-time Grammy winning Midler always has a great band, her trusty Harlettes singing backup, and the best between song stage banter in the business, so do not miss the opportunity to be thoroughly entertained, regardless of your musical leanings. TOM REARDON