The 30 Best Concerts in March in Phoenix

Puscifer is scheduled to perform on Friday, March 18, at Comerica Theatre.EXPAND
Puscifer is scheduled to perform on Friday, March 18, at Comerica Theatre.
Tim Cadiente

It’s a great month to be a music fan in Phoenix. The weather is pretty tolerable at the moment (more or less) and the concert calendar is overflowing with “must see” shows featuring a staggering amount of tastemaking and chart-topping artists over the next several weeks.

It's due in large part to the fact that Arizona just happens to be on the road to South by Southwest in Austin, Texas and many of the bands and musicians involved make a stopover in the our fair city on their way to the legendary annual event. Add in a couple of high-profile music fests that are happening this month in the Valley – including Viva Phoenix, the McDowell Mountain Music Festival, and Pot of Gold – with a passel of esteemed legends gigging around town in the coming weeks and you’ve got a packed live music schedule from now until March 31.

In other words, we hope you’ve got both cash to burn and plenty of free time, especially if you’d like to see as many of your favorites as possible. To help keep track of every big gig happening in March, we present our monthly list of concert picks. (For even more options, feel free to hit up our extensively updated online concert listings.)

Gordon Lightfoot - Friday, March 4 - Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino

There are two kinds of people in this world: Gordon Lightfoot evangelists and people who've never actually bothered to listen to him. His champions include Bob Dylan, Vincent Gallo and the entire nation of Canada. Even his most recognizable hits, "Sundown" and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" run rife with darkness. "10 Degrees and Getting Colder," is a tale about what are perhaps the last minutes of a hitchhiking failed country singer. Quit the ironic snickering and head down to your local record store to raid the dollar bin (ten bucks will grab you most of his catalog) or head to Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino in Chandler to check out Lightfoot’s gig on March 4 in the Ovations Live! Showroom NICHOLAS PELL

Anuhea - Friday, March 4 - Club Red

A self-taught guitarist, Hawaiian songbird Anuhea rose steadily on the iTunes charts with her 2007 self-titled debut album. Before long, Anuhea would find herself touring worldwide and opening for major acts such as Bruno Mars, FloRida, and Al Green. With her mellow guitar chords and sunny vocals, the combination reggae-pop-soul songstress shines through such catchy singles such as "Here I Go Again," "Simple Love Song," and "I Just Want You Around." Catch her serenading swaying audiences at Club Red in Mesa on March 4 during her concert with reggae-rock act Through the Roots. AIMEE MURILLO

Johnny Mathis - Saturday, March 5 - Celebrity Theatre

In an age when pop music often consists of blunt requests to “back that ass over here,” there doesn’t seem to be much call for what used to be labeled “make-out music.” But in the 1950s, when sexual repression was high and the hi-fi was low, romantic crooners regularly programmed long-playing albums for the art of everyman seduction. Some dudes swore by Sinatra, but can you imagine inviting the Chairman of the Board’s psychodrama in the bedroom with you? No, the vocalist most people utilized for boudoir bobbing was the non-threatening, angelic voice of Mr. Warmth himself, Johnny Mathis.

Go to any Goodwill right this minute and you’ll find overly pawed, scuffed, and scratched copies of countless Mathis albums, particularly his Johnny’s Greatest Hits from 1958. Not only was it his first “greatest hits” record, but the first compilation of its kind. And its strange cover design featured Johnny’s disembodied noggin on a starburst. By offering you his head, Johnny signaled to lovers everywhere that “chances are your chances are awfully good.” If Johnny performed only its 12 selections, the Celebrity Theatre would go home en masse a happy bunch. But there’s also his last chart hit, “Too Much Too Little Too Late” from 1978, and that wretched Family Ties theme to look forward to. SERENE DOMINIC

Blues Blast 2016 - Saturday, March 5 - Margaret T. Hance Park

If you're a fan of blues music, particularly the kind proffered by local bands and artists, plan to spend part of this weekend soaking up some 12-bar down-home sounds in the great outdoors along with plenty of sun. The latest Blues Blast, the Valley's annual festival celebrating the genre, takes place on Saturday, March 5, at Margaret T. Hance Park and features both local and touring artists alike performing throughout the day.

Blues-rock legends Canned Heat will headline this year’s event, and the act is certainly no stranger to outdoor festivals as the original version of the band performed at Woodstock and other notable fests from the late ‘60s onwards. They’ll be joined by Southern California blues-rock quintet The Laurie Morvan Band, the Valley’s Smokestack Lightning, and many other renowned artists. An after-party and jam session follows over at the Rhythm Room (natch) and will feature performers like Bob Margolin, Bill Tarsha and the Rocket 88s, and blues king Bob Corritore. Admission is free with a Blues Blast ticket stub. STAN BINDELL

Kneedelus - Saturday, March 5 - Musical Instrument Museum

The members of Kneebody, an avant-garde jazz collective, have been playing gigs together for so long that they don't even live in the same parts of the country; they simply fly from their respective locations in New York, Los Angeles, Denver and Reno and jump on stage together whenever they book a show. With 15 years' worth of memorized material under their belts, trumpeter Shane Endsley says, the bandmembers pretty much know what to expect during a live performance. “We can get off the plane, get right to the gig and sound fine,” he says.

But earlier this year, the ensemble entered new territory, at times producing wild mixtures of sounds that Rastegar had never heard before. That's because Kneebody has an unusual addition to its roster this tour: the well-known electronic beat-maker Daedelus. In November last year, Kneebody and Daedelus released a collaboration titled Kneedelus on Flying Lotus's L.A. record label, Brainfeeder. The project stemmed from a history of one-off shows that Daedelus and Kneebody had done together over the years, as well as the fact that Daedelus and Kneebody's saxophonist, Ben Wendell, knew each other from having attended the same high school. Now the challenge is bringing the songs of Kneedelus to the stage, an experience that Rastegar jokingly calls “warm chaos.” But he thinks that having an electronic musician playing simultaneously with a jazz collective has pushed both Daedelus and the members of Kneebody to learn from one another. CHRIS WALKER

Joe Satriani - Saturday, March 5 - Talking Stick Resort

With more than 30 years of making groundbreaking albums — including the latest, Shockwave Supernova — teaching a legion of future rock superstars (Steve Vai, Metallica's Kurt Hammett), and supporting the upper echelon rock elite (Mick Jagger, Deep Purple), Joe Satriani should be a household name. Still, the strictly instrumental musician estimates that on most nights "85 percent of the audience is seeing me for the first time." Satch, of course, knows he must play his better-known songs, but as a conscientious musician with respect for his fan base, Satriani regularly includes a few lost gems.

"I don't ever try and thumb my nose at the audience," he says. "But, I'm not going to play music I don't want to play, or music that's not going to go over in [certain venues]. The hardest part is the set list. That's about 20 songs, which means about 85 to 90 percent of the catalog doesn't get played." With soaring instrumentals, hard-hitting fusion-esque jams, jazzy interludes, and science fiction-like sound effects, Satriani and his power trio wow audiences no matter what tracks are played. Growing up on a mixture of jazz, rock, soul, classical, and science fiction, Satriani's tastes run the gamut of styles. GLENN BURNSILVER

Papadosio - Sunday, March 6 - Marquee Theatre

"Livetronica" is the worst name for a musical subgenre since "emo" or "rock 'n' roll." This ridiculous term is meant to denote psychedelic jam-band hippie rock that has been augmented with the technorganic delights of the future. That is, synthesizers, computers, and combinations thereof. Lucky for flagship livetronickers Papadosio, their airtight chops and prog-intricate compositions very quickly steal the spotlight from crappy blog jargon. As Papadosio bassist Rob McConnell told our sister paper Miami New Times: "You see a lot of things hyped as 'live electronica,' and then it's a DJ. We have four-part vocal harmonies. Sampling. Crazy loud effects. 'Livetronica' takes what we do and pigeon-holes us. I tell people we're a new psychedelic rock band." They'll be bringing all of that sound out to the Marquee Theatre on March 6 and you can decide for yourself what to call it. MATT PREIRA

Breaking Benjamin - Monday, March 7 - Marquee Theatre

For better or worse, Breaking Benjamin got a disproportionate size of its fanbase from writing a song for the Halo 2 soundtrack. The band's lead singer (named, you guessed it, Benjamin) has the kind of singing style that either delights or infuriates you. His strained vocals can come off as whiny and certain intonations feel like he's channeling Creed, but he's got a powerful delivery that meshes well with the alternative-metal band. MATT WOOD

Shannon and the Clams - Wednesday, March 9 - Valley Bar

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In a scene oversaturated with bands mining the 1960s, Shannon and the Clams manage to stand out in stark contrast to their peers. That's partly because their songwriting is simple and strong, but mostly because of Shannon Shaw's powerful, soulfully melodic and emotionally gripping voice. Shaw sounds like she took a time machine back to 1965, burned through producers at the Brill Building and Motown, then set out to do make music on her own, on the heels of getting ditched by the love of her life.

If the Clams' 2011 album, the monumental Sleep Talk, was a bracing indication of potential, the act's latest releases, 2013’s Dreams in the Rat House and last year’s Gone By The Dawn, are perhaps a few notches better. Shaw's talent is no studio trickery, and live, she's even more charismatic and thrilling. Hailing from the Bay Area, Shannon and the Clams have been honing their craft to a gritty and visceral perfection. TOM MURPHY

Futuristic and Devvon Terrell - Thursday, March 10 - Livewire 

Go to the comments section of any hip-hop message board and the main knock against Los Angeles-via-Tempe rapper Futuristic is that he’s “corny.” The gimmicks that launched his independent rap career into the stratosphere certainly aren’t high-concept. In March 2015, the rapper teamed up with YouTuber BigDawsTV for “Nerd Raps in Compton,” in which the rapper approached teenagers in the impoverished L.A. suburb equipped with geeky clothes and a boombox and rapped lyrics to “The Greatest.” The clip caught fire faster than a drought-stricken California forest. In the video for “King’s Speech,” emojis fly from Futuristic’s hands as he raps. Both concepts hit hard online, raking in dozens of millions of views, and he’s repeated both of them again, to less success. When he shares his music videos online, he uses clickbait headlines like “CRAZY!!! Rappers bring EMOJIS to life! AGAIN!” So the criticisms are understandable.

We’re not going to get a conscious album from Futuristic anytime soon, but those expecting something political from Futuristic are missing the point. The performer’s appeal lies in his unapologetic individuality, a guy who embraces the sides of his personality not found in major-label rappers. His album with singer/rapper Devvon Terrell, Coast 2 Coast, which came out at the tail end of 2015, shows this, with songs that just reflect the fast lifestyle they’re living — “Uber to My Place” will never be “Alright,” but it at least comes from a genuine place. And if we shouldn’t expect activism from our rappers, maybe we should at least expect honesty. (And check out “Vision” from Coast 2 Coast if you want something a little more real.) DAVID ACCOMAZZO

Bruce Springsteen - Thursday, March 10 - Talking Stick Resort Arena

A Bruce Springsteen concert is an experience like no other, a New Jersey native explained one day while waving a handful of concert tickets in my face. The proclamation led to the first and only time I saw Bruce Springsteen in concert — at that time supported by the late, great saxophonist Clarence Clemons as part of the E Street Band — on the 1981 tour supporting The River. Thirty-five years later, Springsteen is revisiting that classic record.

A daring double album, released just a few years before the major commercial success of Born in the U.S.A., The River marked a turning point in Springsteen’s writing style, building off a history of gritty blue-collar tales of love, cruising, and urban realities and transposed those themes into songs capable of securing a more hospitable foothold in the mainstream world. It makes sense that Springsteen should rightly celebrate this album once again. In 1981, the Boss played the bulk of The River during an almost three-hour concert, and even though he has a lot more music under the bridge now, this second coming of The River is destined to be nothing short of the original undertaking. GLENN BURNSILVER

South by Obscura feat. Tennis System - Thursday, March 10 - Rips Ales & Cocktails

Formed in D.C. in 2009, now based in L.A., the post-punk band Tennis System has developed a reputation for being one of the city's best live acts. The brainchild of lead singer Matty Taylor, Tennis System sounds like a thick-reverb mélange of jangling guitars and '90s shoegaze — with enough early Dinosaur Jr. volatility to melt your speakers. And their 2014 album, Technicolour Blind, just their second LP overall, is meant to be experienced somewhere intimate enough to capture their heart-wrenching lyricism, without losing their blaringly loud appeal. ART TAVANA

McDowell Mountain Music Festival 2016 - Friday, March 11, to Sunday, March 13 - Margaret T. Hance Park

Hance Park will become something of a hallowed ground for music fans this weekend. Over three straight days, a couple of acres of grass will be transformed into an outdoor temple of sound during the annual McDowell Mountain Music Festival featuring some rather godlike deities from alternative, indie rock, electronica, blues, and jam band worlds will be eagerly worshiped by the faithful underneath the sun and stars.

Think we're laying it on a bit thick here? Probably, but it definitely could be argued that the festival is something akin to a spiritual experience for some of the thousands of people who turn out for the annual event in droves. It’s even a pilgrimage of sorts for some folks who travel across a few states to attend — and one helluva good time that's become one of the Valley's premier music festivals. Beck, Animal Collective, Kid Cudi, St. Lucia., The Avett Brothers, Big Wild, Goldfish, GRiZ, and many more. BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN

Fred and Toody Cole - Friday, March 11 - Valley Bar

Fred and Toody Cole have been married since the late '60s. Fred had already had a semi-successful career as a rock-and-roller in the Lollipop Shop before discovering and making punk rock. In the early '80s, the Coles formed the Rats, a noteworthy punk band in the classic vein melded with a bit of Fred's garage-rock origins. But it was in 1987, when the Coles started Dead Moon, that their belated legendary status became solidified. When Dead Moon broke up in 2006, the Coles didn't spend much time losing steam, and instead headed forward in their current band Pierced Arrows. Anyone who's seen that band can safely say that Fred and Toody haven't exactly mellowed with age and that the most individual and ferocious music is often made by people who refuse to give up their dreams and surrender their creative urges despite age, having children and relative lack of widespread commercial success. The couple pays a visit to Valley Bar on March 11, not as Dead Moon or Pierced Arrows, but simply as themselves. TOM MURPHY

International Pop Overthrow Phoenix - Saturday, March 12 - Cactus Jack’s

The International Pop Overthrow – or IPO, as the event is affectionately known — remains one of the top showcases for global bands in the mode of Badfinger, Big Star, the Raspberries and Cheap Trick. Credit for its continued presence on the underground scene goes mainly to David Bash, the Los Angeles-based one-man operation who conceived IPO and continues to oversee its tiniest details without a trace of corporate sponsorship.

By the early '90s, with the onset of alternative rock and grunge, few if any bands dared label themselves “pop” any longer. By the mid-'90s, a number of vintage music styles — lounge, swing, surf music, alt-country — had taken root in the alternative imagination. Mod was everywhere in England. In the U.S., bands like Olivia Tremor Control, Apples in Stereo and the Flaming Lips were cutting psychedelic pop albums in the Brian Wilson mode. While dining with a lawyer friend in Sherman Oaks in December 1997, Bash had an epiphany. “I said to my friend,” he recalls, “'I should do a worldwide pop festival as a way of getting all these disparate acts under one umbrella.'”

IPO launched that summer and has taken place annually for the past 19 years, and not just in L.A. Cities in North America and Europe have hosted IPO fests, including Portland, NYC, London, Vancouver, Chicago, Toronto, and even Phoenix. This year’s IPO in the Valley, which takes place at Cactus Jack’s in Ahwatukee will feature locals like Bittersweet Way, Cait Brennan, Ed Masley of The Breakup Society, Lo-Fi-Hi, Lemon Krayola, Carol Pacey and the Honey Shakers, and Darkness Dear Boy, as well as Chicago’s Tommi Zender and Southern California’s The Armoires. BRIAN CHIDESTER


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