Looking for a memorable concert to see over the next few nights? You’ve got a variety of options to choose from this week, ranging from the metalcore of Escape the Fate and indie pop of local band Huckleberry to the politically minded punkgrass of The Haymarket Squares and the country croonings of legendary cowboy Billy Joe Shaver.
All four of the aforementioned artists and acts will hit music venues around Phoenix in the coming days and are included in our weekly rundown of the best concerts to catch in the Valley this week. If you're looking for even more live music happening in and around Metro Phoenix, be sure to check out our comprehensive online concert calendar for a wealth of other gigs both large and small.
The funny thing about the music of Escape the Fate is that it's basically pure pop that's been gussied up with hard rock and emo trappings. Songs like "Issues" and "Gorgeous Nightmare" could easily be hits for Lady Gaga — or even Britney Spears for that matter. Although loud and punctuated with screams and various other metal accoutrements, the songs of Escape the Fate are catchy, almost danceable little ditties that most soccer moms would not have trouble humming while transporting their kiddos to the next match.
That being said, Escape the Fate should be lauded for not succumbing to the standard emo agenda. These are just four fairly normal young men who write catchy songs and then decide to play them as loudly as possible. For the most part, it works wonderfully, as Craig Mabbitt leads the band with a manner that belies the typical "fuck everything" mantra that is so common in emo circles. DARRYL SMYERS
Listening to a Laura Stevenson song conjures up words like "natural" and "organic," which may seem at odds with someone so strongly associated with punk music. Such thoughts emerge when listening to the Long Island-based singer-songwriter, formerly a keyboard player for punk-oriented musical collective Bomb the Music Industry!, on her most recent albums, 2013’s Wheel and last year’s Cocksure. Both LPs, which feature her backing band The Cans, feature a poppier and folkier verve than her previous outfit, as well as good deal of self-reflective songs that literally address the "Bells and Whistles" we use to distract ourselves. It's heady stuff.
But is it still punk? "Is it punk to have an existential crisis? I don't know. I think it's important to ask questions. Being alive's pretty confusing for everybody,” Stevenson says. “I consider how we run our band to be punk still. Obviously, the sound isn't what you'd think of when you think of the genre, but that's where we come from, that's how we toured and set up shows. It's just about sharing something positive with like-minded people." JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
Marquee Theatre security staff, consider this your warning: Yannis Philippakis, the lead singer and guitarist of the British rock group Foals, will likely be jumping off the stage and into the crowd. His reputation as a performer is built around his dangerous onstage antics; why should he stop now? He recently admitted to The Guardian that the band sometimes doesn’t perform a soundcheck, which leads to Foals’ wildly unpredictable shows. His mom even calls him, pleading for him to stop climbing the rafters and leaping into the audience. If he’s not going to listen to his parents, all hope for Philippakis’ tomfoolery to end is lost. Foals’ latest album, What Went Down, demonstrates that the band puts their efforts into their music instead of their safety. It’s a heavy rock record awash in references to the literary (“Albatross”), the tender (“Birch Tree”), and the cruel and vicious, such as the blistering title track. At the end of the show, you should leaving feeling something. You might feel moved by the raw emotion of the music, the thoughtfulness of the lyrics, or the weight of Philippakis landing on top of you. JASON KEIL
Seemingly out of the blue, Huckleberry released a new four-track EP in March called Shasta City, Bad News Ricky. This is quick on the heels of their latest album, Problems, released last September, and it pretty much picks up where that left off. After a few spins of their newest effort, "Wild Ricky" is an immediate favorite because while it stays true to their signature Americana rock sound, there's a heavy emphasis on the "rock" part of that. The entire EP is great from beginning to end, but this song is the finale, and it really sticks to the ears.
The guitar work found here is some of the most aggressive they ever put to record, and the vocals match in a likeminded way. There's still some lap steel action here, but it's not as up front in the mix as it has been on past efforts. The EP, and especially this song, are much more representative of the sound found in their recent live shows. If this isn't the best song they've committed to record so far, it's definitely the most balanced from a genre perspective, with even a hint of psychedelic guitar that's refreshing to hear in the realm of Huckleberry's continuous growth. You can catch Huckleberry this week at Valley Bar along with Laura and the Killed Men, Cisco and the Racecars, and Brutha White, where they will certainly play "Wild Ricky." MITCHELL HILLMAN
Billy Joe Shaver has always been a seething mass of contradictions. Half exquisitely sensitive poet, half dumb-as-dirt hillbilly, Shaver is a deeply spiritual man who has also, in the course of his 75 years, sinned and transgressed so ceaselessly and so vociferously that it is a wonder he is still able to walk the earth, let alone get on a bandstand and preach his marvelously idiosyncratic honky-tonk gospel. The Texas-born troublemaker has long been a significant force in country music — his songs have been recorded by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Tom T. Hall, George Jones — and his current album, Long in the Tooth, was perpetrated at as high an artistic altitude as Shaver’s ever achieved. JONNY WHITESIDE
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All the Haymarket Squares cofounders Marc Oxborrow and Mark Sunman were trying to do seven years ago was start a band so that they could perform at local watering holes for their friends. Now, they’ve released their fourth full-length record, Light It Up, played the main stage at this year’s McDowell Mountain Music Festival and are bound for a few big summertime tour dates in California and Colorado. They call their music "punkgrass," often falling in line with folk punk. But unlike the legion of guitar-strumming long-hairs out there, the Haymarket Squares bring their heavily political songs to the masses with precision and talent. They blend so effortlessly with one another that it's hard to pinpoint what's more impressive: the four-part harmonies or seamless playing.
"People say we will 'never get big because our music is too political' like it's a bad thing, or like that was one of our goals we won't reach," says Sunman, who has been known to rock mandolin, keyboard, accordion, and banjo on stage. "But getting huge is not one of our goals. We just want to make good music and see how far we can push this thing. We don't want greater popularity. We just want to do the thing we like to do, and we seem to be good at." In fact, the group thinks the political nature of its tunes may be what resonates so strongly with its fan base. The Squares are successful because of their left-leaning politics, not despite them. JEFF MOSES