The Seven Best Concerts in Phoenix This Weekend
Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra
Here are our concert picks for this weekend. For more options, visit our comprehensive concert calendar.
Ringo Deathstarr - Friday, February 19 - The Rebel Lounge
Ringo Deathstarr are fucking sick of the word "shoegaze." Even before they’ve played a single note at gigs, Elliott Frazier — singer, songwriter and guitarist for the Austin band – has been known to ask the audience to "look at my shoes, because that's what the paper said." Deathstarr seems hellbent on separating themselves from this suffocating shoegaze tag. While it would be easy (and overdone) to draw a line between the band and My Bloody Valentine — both bands feature effect-laden female vocals, droning tones and a fair share of tap dancing on pedalboards — Deathstarr taps into new angles on their two most recent albums, 2012’s Mauve and last year’s Pure Mood.
And their performances — which include Frazier alternating between monstrous guitar tones and playing pared-down chords while reverting to a more punk-based song format and then whiplashing back into a face-meltingly heavy guitar interlude loaded with effects — emphasize they aren't a one-trick pony. Such changes may seem chaotic, but the Ringo Deathstarr makes it sound seamless. This daunting progression serves as a clear indicator of a band that thirsts for diversity in its song style. And Deathstarr commands this ambition with vigor. MATT WOOD
It's tremendously cheering to see that people actually dance during Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra shows — unadulterated, mildly erotic, not at all ironic salsa dancing — even though the ensemble’s repertoire of Black Keys, Yeasayer, Japanther, TV on the Radio, and the like usually inspires nothing of the sort. (It's hard to picture what ironic salsa dancing would even look like.) While the notion of straight Latin big-band covers of indie-rock songs may seem funny, bandleader/arranger/timbales expert Gianni Mano insists this isn’t a joke. The WSO is decked out with a full percussion detail, a four-man horn section, upright bass, electric piano, and the bombastic lead vocals of Argentinian frontwoman Solange Prat, who makes this all sound incredibly natural whether the tune in question is "L.E.S. Artistes" or "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken." It's almost disturbing how well Yeasayer's "Ambling Alp" translates.
Mano, a "typical white suburban kid" who grew up riffing along to Rush, got the idea for this while listening to NPR and marveling at the songwriting chops of Animal Collective's "My Girls" — it takes him between a week and a month to pull off a full-song transformation. Arcade Fire's "Keep the Car Running," he explains, took a while because it initially came out too happy-sounding — he needed to darken it up. That tune, improbably, is the highlight, anthemic in a bizarre but somehow entirely believable way, Prat bellowing "When it's coming!" over and over and over as the horns rage on. If only everything that shouldn't really work worked this well. ROB HARVILLA
With so many bands using the musical equivalent of Mr. Peabody's WABAC Machine, San Diego-based quartet The Donkeys are hardly alone in terms of looking to the past for direct inspiration. Often enough, Americana and country are where punk rockers end up when their anger peters out. These four may not have gone that route directly, but their psychedelically tinged pop songs tend to recall the free-flowing aesthetic and mellow vibes of such country-rock heroes of yesteryear as the Flying Burrito Brothers while still forgoing the more washed-out sound of that band's immediate followers. With Radiation City and Deep Sea Diver. TOM MURPHY
Gilbert Folk Festival - Saturday, February 20, in Gilbert’s Heritage District
Long before indie kids, alt-rock radio program directors, and car companies embraced it wholeheartedly, folk music was the lifeblood of rural communities, the working classes, and the common man. So this weekend’s Gilbert Folk Festival seems a bit more inline with the art form’s origins, given the East Valley town’s agrarian and blue-collar roots. The daylong event, which will take place throughout the Gilbert’s downtown Heritage District, will involve a host of local singer-songwriters, balladeers, instrumentalists, and ensembles filling the air at six different venues with the sounds of folk, roots, Americana, and bluegrass. The lineup will feature more than 40 local musicians and acts, including such longtime folk stalwarts as Tom Tuerff, Jim Pipkin, Billy Cioffi, Cottonwood Stone, the Artichoke Sisters, Greg LaCosse, and Bob Mengel. As is the norm for many folk festivals, the GFF will also feature music workshops throughout the day aimed at passing on its traditions and stylings to a new generation of musicians, something folk has been doing for centuries. BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
MarchFourth! puts on one of the best live shows around. Think of it as Sgt. Pepper's meets Cirque du Soleil and Gogol Bordello playing at a New Orleans Mardi Gras party. "Our sound is really all over the map," says leader John Averill. "We started off playing with a lot of NOLA [New Orleans], samba, Afrobeat, jazz, and Eastern European Gypsy brass elements, but over the past [several] years, we added guitar, and now our music has a lot more funk and rock going on." But there's an element of ska and punk, compliments of trumpet player Katie Presley, the ska queen from Warsaw Poland Brothers. And the musical layers keep on building.
Since its first show in 2003, the band's core aesthetic is DIY, and you can see it in the costumes the members design and sew, from the mismatched marching band uniforms to the vaudevillian dance outfits to the percussion corps harnesses made out of bicycle parts. There are also feathered conductor hats, bright spandex pants, hula hoops, and animal-print vests. After 13 years, it's amazing that the large act has survived for so long. Then again, the countless cultures that influence the band musically have also permeated that character: equal parts "live life to the fullest" and "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." LAUREN WISE
Say what you want about pop country, but there is plenty of good music that has been created under this banner. Glen Campbell and Conway Twitty probably wouldn't be such legends without their impressive crossover successes. In the 1990s and 2000s, though, the pendulum swung too far in one direction, and it seemed almost as if the music industry was trying to scrub away all the country in this music, shining it up and making it palatable for the masses. Lee Ann Womack is that era's glaring exception.
Even as she was persuaded by record execs to "tone down the country" on "I Hope You Dance," the song that made her an international star, she refused. Hailing from East Texas — Jacksonville, to be exact — Womack has always fiercely stayed true to her twangy timbre and authentic sound, both of which are beautifully showcased during her performances. AMY MCCARTHY
Gregory Porter was born into a black family with an absentee father, in a mostly white neighborhood in Bakersfield. As a boy, he endured a burning cross on his lawn and bottles of urine hurled through his windows. He sang only in church, until he honored his mother’s last wish for him on her deathbed and began his vocal career at age 40. In the ensuing years, Porter won a Grammy and international fame, including bringing the house down at London’s Royal Albert Hall. He’s a jazz singer but, as in the manner of Al Jarreau, Bill Withers, Donny Hathaway, Lou Rawls and George Benson, his soul roots are gloriously self-evident. Blue Note Records has its new champion, one who sounds classic and current at the same time. GARY FUKUSHIMA
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