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The 25 Best Concerts in July

Lady Gaga brings her Artpop Ball to US Airways Center on Wednesday, July 30.
Lady Gaga brings her Artpop Ball to US Airways Center on Wednesday, July 30.
Interscope Records

It's coming -- and there's little, if anything, you can do to stop it. The dog days of summer? Nope, although those are due this month, too. We're referring to the imminent invasion of throwback acts, nostalgia tours, and long-in-the-tooth musicians who take to the road come summertime, and there's a major glut of them due in Phoenix in July.

That's not a slight, of course, since many of these wizened performers (Boz Scaggs, Steely Dan, Jurrassic 5) are considered living legends who served as the progenitors of current sounds and are still dug by millions. You'll find them dotting our concert calendar and mixed in with theother must-see bands and musicians to see at Valley venues this month.

Hans Olson's Birthday Party - Wednesday, July 3 - Rhythm Room

Hans Olson arrived in Phoenix from San Bernadino, California, in the late '60s, not long after many of the town's musical rising stars -- like Alice Cooper and Mike Condello -- had departed for bigger cities. With self-deprecating wit, the guitarist, songwriter, and blues harp-blower says there was no one else around to keep him from becoming the city's biggest musical name. Since that time, Olson has shared stages with Muddy Waters, offered Tom Waits a couch to crash on when the hobo-like singer bummed into town in the '70s, and helped open the Sun Club, which would become instrumental in launching acts like the Gin Blossoms. Olson himself has kept busy recording, too: His 2013 album, Dust to Dust, simmers with a distilled variation of the blues energy he's put to tape since arriving in Phoenix. It's a record that sounds very "Phoenix," from a man who's furthered the legacy of his adopted hometown. -- Robrt Pela

 

Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra performs at Crescent Ballroom.
Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra performs at Crescent Ballroom.
Jeff Moses

Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra - Thursday, July 4 - Crescent Ballroom

Pop quiz, hotshot: How many people can you cram on a single stage before its structural integrity is at risk? In true MythBusters fashion, the Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra is in the business of finding out the answer to the question. Fourteen members make up this local supergroup, including dudes and dudettes from at least 20 other bands, truly defining the "orchestra" portion of the act's name. But they don't rock Bach or Wagner. Instead, they offer an exotic mixture of world music, electronic dance tunes, funk, prog rock, samba, and, of course, Afrobeat.

As you may have noticed, dancing is not Phoenix's strong point. In fact, most audiences kind of suck when it comes to cutting rugs at shows. Luckily, the members of PAO (rhymes with "wow") weave tempestuous and tropical-inspired influences into a potent brew that induces ass-shaking at their performances, where dancing is de rigueur. And the crowds are getting larger. -- Troy Farah

Bob Weir & RatDog - Monday, July 7 - Celebrity Theatre

Bob Weir is a restless soul. Already fully engaged with Furthur -- perhaps his most true-to-form post-Grateful Dead venture -- his solo band Ratdog, assorted musical projects at his TRI Studios, activity in various political and environmental organizations, plus the occasional mountain bike foray, Weir also heads out on tour, solo or otherwise. If there were ever a musician who deserved a little rest and relaxation, it might be the tireless Weir. Instead, the songwriter is really only at rest when he's busy playing his guitar, which, in the solo acoustic context, offers yet another level of musical fulfillment.

Playing songs stripped down and naked also offers Weir a chance to really hear his own voice. "Singing is a big thing. In the bands I play with, particularly Furthur, my dynamic range is kind of limited because that band is real loud. So there are a lot of things you can't do with your voice and a microphone in that situation," he says. "This gives me a lot more room to try things when I'm playing solo. I have little discoveries and whatnot that I can bring back to my other endeavors." -- Glenn BurnSilver

Ted Nugent - Tuesday, April 8 - Celebrity Theatre

Ted Nugent remains the entertainment anomaly. People have come to expect the answers he will give whenever he is questioned, but are still thrown for a loop when he begins communicating in similes and wildly vivid imagery; partly related to the topic at hand and partly addressing far-off thoughts in his own mind all at once.

The man is a monstrous force; and not the type of monster that animal rights activists and opposing political extremists would want you to believe. No, in fact, he is a monster of original thought, rocking music, unbridled dedication to his beliefs, and he embodies the vocal beast that many only wish they could become when it pertains to taking a firm stand on their own moral ground. Nugent will not bend or break for anything, and after 50 years of loudly voicing his opinions publicly, he is more than familiar with the backlash. But for every person he infuriates, and every time he forces his opposition's skin to crawl, it's a checkmark in the win column for the Motor City Madman.

All of the controversies, self-branded hunting and literary products, television shows, extensive charity work and flare can sometimes convolute the fact that at his core, Nugent is one of the most innovative and distinguished musicians of his rock and roll generation. He has blazed trails and undoubtedly left his mark on the recording and touring industry from the Amboy Dukes to his solo career. -- Caleb Haley

Boz Scaggs - Thursday, July 10 - Talking Stick Resort

From his earliest records and concerts to his most recent discs and tours with buddies Michael McDonald and Donald Fagen as the Dukes of September, Boz Scaggs has always shown a reverence for music history. That's especially true for the old blues and R&B tunes he'd hear wafting over the airwaves from faraway and seemingly exotic radio stations while growing up in Texas. "We had radio coming out of New Orleans and as far away as Nashville and Chicago," Scaggs says. "I listened to a lot of hardcore R&B late at night. And there was an extraordinary station out of Dallas that was practically like a master class in roots music, specializing in Delta blues."

Many of those influences were on Scaggs's mind during the recording of Memphis, his first studio record in five years. Consisting mostly of covers of classics like "Corinna, Corinna," "Rainy Night in Georgia," "Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl" and "Love on a Two Way Street," it was recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis, where producer Willie Mitchell produced so many of Al Green's records. With a crack core band that includes producer/drummer Steve Jordan, guitarist Ray Parker Jr. and bassist Willie Weeks -- along with guests like Spooner Oldham, Charlie Musselwhite, Rick Vito and Keb' Mo -- Scaggs's own vocal and guitar have never sounded so relaxed and fit before. -- Bob Ruggiero

 

Cloud Nothings - Saturday, July 12 - Crescent Ballroom

For many bands, danger and unpredictability are their stock-in-trade. However, there are a slight few that actually seem that way in an up-close, live environment. Cleveland natives Cloud Nothings don't seem particularly dangerous per se, but they definitely are, in a musical sense, unpredictable. That unpredictability makes them all the more enticing to watch. They hit hard and without remorse. It's like getting drilled by a semi and then dragged behind it for a few miles -- but in the best way possible.

Cloud Nothings are quite possibly the band that many have been looking for over the last two decades: 0 percent fat. Not even one note was present that doesn't have a specific purpose. There were no extra anythings -- it was all lean and trim and the hooks are so sharp they could slice a diamond in two without a struggle. What that shakes out to be is a reimagining of '90s grunge but stripping away everything that felt forced about that genre. The muddy power chords were replaced with minor key thunder played at brilliant speed. It's feedback-infused, not feedback-soaked (yes, there is a distinct difference) and while people wanted to mosh, people wanted to stomp their feet, too. All of this at an eardrum-melting volume with the efficiency of a lion dragging a gazelle down in the African savannah. -- Pat O'Brien

Steely Dan - Tuesday, July 15 - Comerica Theatre

William Gibson called them "the most genuinely subversive" band in late-20th Century pop. Bryan Cranston sneaks winking references to them into Malcolm In The Middle and Breaking Bad episodes. Ice Cube sampled them and The Roots play them on Jimmy Fallon. Who are they? The gold standard in rock and roll pretentiousness, Steely Dan.

Let us tell you: Listening to the Dan is akin to reading novel. You need a liberal arts degree to get it. Trust me, kids, it's not that you don't like Steely Dan, it's that you don't get it. It requires some formal humanities training to truly grasp the brilliance of a mellotron solo in the middle of a song about nuclear genocide. The lyrical nuances of a song like "Everyone's Gone To The Movies" are easily lost when you haven't spent four years critically analyzing texts. Yep, Katy Lied is a lot closer to Ulysses than Exile On Main Street. -- Nicholas Pell

The Chain Gang of 1974 - Wednesday, July 16 - Crescent Ballroom

It's extremely fitting that White Guts, the Chain Gang of 1974's self-released recording that caught the attention of everyone from Warner Bros. to Spin had the word "guts" in the title. The songs that made up that album represented a brave artistic leap forward for the band, which had initially built its reputation as a frenetic, dance-based act with an equally energetic live show. By tinkering with his sound, Chain Gang mastermind Kamtin Mohager took a calculated risk of alienating at least a portion of the core audience. But even those who weren't too sure about the stylistic shifts initially were won over with songs that were considerably more tuneful and mature but had lost none of their inherent danceability. Pulling from an array of disparate influences, White Guts displayed a heaping helping of DFA decadence flecked with '80s synth pop, Madchester and early-'90s Brit pop.

As it turns out, following his own muse was the right call for Mohager. He's making exactly the kind of music he's wanted to make ever since he started playing shows under the Chain Gang moniker in 2007, inspired by Primal Scream's XTRMNTR. After a long stint playing in 3OH!3's live band, Mohager devoted some well-deserved attention to his own group -- and it's paid off.-- Team Backbeat

Rakim - Thursday, July 17 - Celebrity Theatre

Kanye West may be today's "lyrical mastermind genius," but he was still learning his way around a book report when legendary lyricist Rakim and DJ Eric B began writing hip-hop history. The East Coast rap duo dropped their debut single, "Eric B. Is President," way back in 1986 and set into motion what would become one of the most celebrated partnerships in rap. Tracks like "I Know You Got Soul" pushed the boundaries on copyright law, while "I Ain't No Joke" and "Paid in Full" became instant classics in the late '80s. The two parted ways after only four albums, but not before leaving a lasting impression. Long considered one of the best MCs to ever rock a microphone, Rakim is renowned for his smooth laid-back delivery and cerebral wordplay. -- Anthony Sandoval

 

The Antlers - Thursday, July 17 - Celebrity Theatre

Being a band in Brooklyn is no easy task. Just ask the members of The Antlers, who over the last few years, have fought to stand out among about 150 or so neighborhood Animal Collective wannabes. Luckily for the band, they don't have to worry about being lumped in with the bulk of the Brooklyn set: Thanks mostly to the band's breakout record, 2009's Hospice, The Antlers have established themselves as a staunchly un-trendy band. While many of their contemporaries were living in the shadows of Avey Tare and Panda Bear, The Antlers were crafting a painfully sad, lyrically dense concept album that equates the end of a relationship to death by an incurable disease. Incredibly depressing stuff indeed. The music stands on its own quite nicely, though, without the help of any quirky gimmicks. It's just good music, full of substance and sadness. -- Daniel Hopkins

Jurassic 5 - Saturday, July 19 - Marquee Theatre

More than misogyny or materialism, intelligence and verbal skill are championed by Jurassic 5; the vocabulary is impressive and the verbal acrobatics the guys perform are outstanding. J5 carries the energy and excitement of a newer era group but bring the flavor of an old hip-hop act (the crew strongly echoes the legendary Cold Crush Brothers), and it follows musical cues that are classic in the truest sense. The equally legendary underground hip-hop act Dilated Peoples, who have been around since 1992, are also scheduled to perform. -- Team Backbeat

Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo - Saturday, July 19 - Comerica Theatre

While Debbie Harry and Joan Jett get credit for creating the tough rock-woman persona in the late '70s and early '80s, this Brooklyn-born hitmaker is often unfairly removed from that category. Maybe it was because she sold more records than them or wasn't as hip with the punk and indie crowds. Nevertheless, she and her hubby, guitarist/co-writer Neil Giraldo, persevere -- though they're unlikely to get Hall of Fame credentials for the above reasons. Perhaps she just needs better commercial tie-ins -- though with titles such as "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" and "Love is a Battlefield," it ain't gonna be easy. -- Jason Gross

Mötley Crüe & Alice Cooper - Saturday, July 19 - Ak-Chin Pavilion

Early this year, the rock world was shocked and excited to hear veteran rockers Mötley Crüe would be calling it quits following their upcoming (appropriately titled) Farewell Tour. Joined by Alice Cooper, this differs from most bands' perpetual goodbye offerings by including a Cessation of Touring Agreement, signed by all members at the press conference announcing the tour, that states they'll no longer be able to play together under the name Mötley Crüe once the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, 2015. So unless there's some heretofore-unknown loophole in said contract, it's your last chance, as in ever, to see the Crüe in concert. No, seriously. And they mean it. 100 percent. No fooling. -- Chaz Kangas

 

Man or Astro-Man? - Monday, July 21 - Crescent Ballroom

Intergalactic oddities Man or Astro-Man? will showcase their latest space-rock meets surf-rock meets fucking insane rock on an album called Defcon 5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 when they touch down at the Crescent for a late-July concert. As you can imagine, coming from a self-described group of aliens posing as former college students, it's, uh, out of this world. Likewise, MOAM?'s live gigs are something to behold, often featuring Tesla coils, theremins, and even vintage dot-matrix printers. This is a band that claims to have cloned themselves not once but twice, the second time as females. Explaining their nearly decade-long absence from the public eye to Wired, MOAM? said, "Man or Astro-Man? exploded rapidly, covering an exponentially greater area, but the edge collapsed on itself. And now it's a dying star, the formation of a white dwarf, perhaps leading to our own sonic black hole." Far out, dudes. -- Troy Farah

The Neighbourhood - Monday, July 21 - Marquee Theatre

When Zach Abels played Jesse Rutherford a guitar riff two years ago in his parents' living room, the two of them knew they were onto something. They immediately recorded the song, and that track, "Sweater Weather" turned into a radio hit. The Neighbourhood have received strong radio support both nationally and internationally from BBC Radio One's Zane Lowe. The British heavyweight was the first to play the band on the air, enthralled by their music and helping them build a following in the UK. "After Zane heard our song 'Female Robbery,' things started falling into place," Rutherford, the group's vocalist, recalls.

Rutherford and Abels had known each other from the vibrant hardcore punk scene in Thousand Oaks, before combining forces with three mutual friends. Originally, the band had a much different sound, with Rutherford rapping over guitars, live drums and a drum machine. As they were finishing up the sessions for their EP, I'm Sorry, things took a sharp turn. "Our demo originally had rap verses on it," Abels explains. "On the last day, Jesse said he didn't feel right about the song and he wanted to sing. That's how the version of 'Sweater Weather' that everyone knows was born." -- Daniel Kohn

Lyrics Born - Thursday, July 24 - Crescent Ballroom

Although Lyrics Born has already amassed a resumé that any MC would envy -- founding member of Quannum Projects; collaborator with Blackalicious, DJ Shadow, Jurassic 5, Cut Chemist, KRS-One and many others, just to name a handful of credentials -- he believes the best is yet to come. "I see myself on a trajectory," he explains. "I still don't feel like I've made my best album, and I still don't feel like, career-wise, I'm at the peak. That's really what I work toward daily."

Which means his latest effort, As U Were, can be considered another step toward perfection. "When I set out to make this album, I definitely was looking to make an album that I wanted to hear as a fan," he says. "As a fan of Lyrics Born -- as a fan of music, as a fan of soul, as a fan of funk, as a fan of hip-hop -- I definitely wanted to pay homage to a lot of the musical influences that maybe haven't been as obvious in my past work."

He does all that and more in As U Were, which is like a romp through selections of the best electro-funk from the '80s, with byways accessing Born's signature hip-hop stylings. His deep, hypnotic voice paints pictures of the price of fame, the true cost of money and how to rise above it all, set to a hip-shaking soundtrack. It's virgin territory -- adjacent, but still somewhat foreign, to his previous work. -- Amber Taufen

Summer Sessions Tour - Thursday, July 24 - Mesa Amphitheatre

Undeniably one of the most influential groups in the history of hip-hop, the infamous stoners of Cypress Hill were the first Latino group to sell a millions copies, with four of their first five records earning platinum status -- and '93's Black Sunday going triple-plat. They've ignited a revolution, becoming cultural icons for their groundbreaking early records and their medical marijuana advocacy. They also host their own SmokeOut, a single-day rap and rock music festival where medical marijuana patients can smoke freely on site.

And while we're not saying that its permitted to light up when Cypress Hill shares a bill with weed-friendly reggae rock band Slightly Stoopid and Zion scion Stephen Marley at Mesa Amphitheatre, we're willing to bit that your olfactory senses might detect more than a slight hint of skunkiness flowing through the air. It is an outdoor venue, after all. -- Lainna Fader

 

Boris - Friday, July 25 - Crescent Ballroom

Japanese experimental rockers Boris have spent their entire 15-year career making sure that their fans are unable to predict what will come next from the band. One album could consist of thrashing heavy rockers (2011's Heavy Rocks), the next could consist of dreamy, atmospheric, shoegaze-laden pop. (Check Attention Please, also released in 2011.) Psychedelics are pretty much the only constant in each incarnation of Boris' musical output. -- Jason Roche

Tori Amos - Friday, July 25 - Mesa Arts Center

Every time Tori Amos returns to music, it feels as if she's been gone forever. The reality is she only breaks between album cycles for two, maybe three years. The time leading to her latest album has been one marked by a departure from the mainstream and into classical music (Night of Hunters), and one full of re-workings of songs spanning her then 20-year career (Gold Dust). Amos' 14th studio album, Unrepentant Geraldines, may be a return after her longest musical displacement yet. Judging by the sound of her newest songs, the alt-rock goddess has done nothing but find ways to fuel her musical fire. -- Brittany Spanos

Wolfmother - Saturday, July 26 - Marquee Theatre

To be a successful rock band these days you need a signature sound, one that makes you stand out above the rest. People need to identify with you, which is impossible if you're just another band going through the motions after becoming big on your lead single. Wolfmother have that kind of sound, and were lucky enough to have that breakout single. But they're not the type of band to hide behind said single. They have a whole bunch more to say.

The Australians made it big on the scene thanks to their song "Woman," which was featured in just about every video game and commercial in the mid-2000s. On the strength of the rest of their material, they've seen a huge growth in their fanbase in the decade they've been active. But like all bands, a discovery period had to happen to allow them to keep going. At one point Andrew Stockdale, curly-fro'ed front man and the group's guiding force, disbanded Wolfmother, only bringing them back because of so many fan requests. While they have had several personnel changes over the years, their latest incarnation seems to be locked into a groove. -- Jim Bricker

Dierks Bentley - Saturday, July 26 - Ak-Chin Pavilion

Dierks Bentley's mop of curls are his career barometer. Untamed and devoid of style in 2003, they gamely accompanied his enjoyable but superficial debut. By 2005's Modern Day Drifter, the weave was tempered with Merle-loving grit and a handful of bona fide country radio hits. 2006? Backlit dramatics. He was a star now. As for 2009's Feel That Fire or 2010's, the bluegrass-tinged Up on the Ridge, well, Dierks's rough cut layers make it clear he's as interested in singing and songwriting as he is Victorian literature and aluminum siding. He's a redneck Renaissance man. -- Johnny Loftus

 

Say Anything - Sunday, July 27 - Marquee Theatre

Max Bemis and company have once again evolved what Say Anything does into something almost virtually unrecognizable from the pop-punk anthems of the early aughts. On Hebrews, the band's new LP, Bemis adds the challenging role of producer to his duties as frontman and provocateur. The album strayed far from the band's roots, with lush, orchestral strings quite literally replacing any and all of the familiar guitars that normally bolster Bemis' frustrated shouts and manic croons. Those are still present and as cutting as ever despite other dramatic alterations to the band's sound. -- David Von Bader

Foxy Shazam - Monday, July 28 - Crescent Ballroom

What you can expect from a Foxy Shazam concert? As the cliché goes, you can expect the unexpected. Packed with glam-laden, American rock 'n' roll and wild flailing energy, especially from lead singer Eric Nally, the experience is unforgettable.

"There were, like, these power cables on the ceiling, and I climbed onto the balcony side of the stage and just hung from the cable," reminisced Nally about a show the Cincinnati-bred band played in Detroit. He reflected on the intelligence of this extreme display. "The only reason I knew it was crazy and stupid is because I saw a picture of it. At the moment, I was like, 'Everyone is going to think I'm crazy; this is awesome.' The symbol of it is that you take it too far, and you have to take it easy sometimes. This was an example of taking it too far, in a good way. I'm willing to take a risk for my fans as long as I don't kill myself in front of them."

The band also used that same spontaneity to its advantage when dropping its newest release, Gonzo, in straight Beyoncé style. Foxy Shazam released the LP without any sort of pre-promotion or press whatsoever. It was also free to download on Bandcamp, offering everyone access to their sounds. "I just wanted to break the wall between who can access it and who can't. I wanted to break barriers," Nally says. -- Natalya Jones

Stryper - Tuesday, July 29 - Marquee Theatre

Stryper was never your average '80s rock act, considering they threw Bibles out to their concert audiences during their heyday and had an album titled To Hell With the Devil. They made the mistake of downplaying the Christian stuff on their first album of the '90s, omitting references to God, getting rid of the yellow and black theme, and having the gall to cover a secular soul hit (Earth Wind & Fire's "Shining Star"), release a greatest hits collection, and let lead singer Michael Sweet leave the band.

But it's hard to ignore the call of the rock: Stryper reunited in 2000 and is on the third album (The Covering) of its second run, taking on songs by Zeppelin and Sabbath and, uh, Boston (featuring an appearance by that band's Tom Scholz). It's far less shocking now to hear bands in the mainstream proclaiming a connection to Jesus as their Lord and savior, but Stryper was there first, freaking out the Christian establishment with its glitzy looks and bare chests, and providing MTV viewers a reason to look up Isaiah 53:5 in their family Bibles. -- Dan Gibson

Lady Gaga - Wednesday, July 30 - US Airways Center

Lady Gaga might be even more calculating and fatally self-absorbed than her idol Madonna, but there's nonetheless a goofy, underlying charm to frothy tunes like the early hit "Paparazzi" that sometimes is obscured by the glittery smoke and mirrors of her onstage spectacles. It's not easy to be a mainstream dance-pop singer who aspires to be a transgressive LGBT rebel, and the onetime Stefani Germanotta usually ends up closer to the electronic middle of the road than to the deep underground.

Turning Judas Iscariot into a sympathetic, seductive character might have seemed like a provocative idea, but ultimately Lady Gaga's allegorical 2011 single "Judas" was more sensual than profane. The big problem remains Germanotta's hardly transgressive tendency to lift music and fashion styles, whether she's paying homage to such well-known predecessors as Madge and Dale Bozzio or, like a reverse Robin Hood, figuratively taking that notorious plastic bubble dress off the back of the relatively obscure Kristeen Young. Even with her considerable charisma, it's not always clear who Lady Gaga really is. -- Falling James

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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