Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Two years ago, Buddy Strong was a 19-year-old killer musician who was living with his parents in south Phoenix while building a local reputation as a monster on keyboards, bass and drums. Then, at a gospel convention in Detroit, he caught the break of a lifetime. Someone heard the youngster jamming on his beloved Hammond B-3 organ and was floored. The talent scout passed along Strong's name to R&B superstar Usher Raymond, who was seeking a keyboard player to support him on his then-pending world tour. Strong was flown to Atlanta for a tryout and quickly won the prestigious -- and lucrative -- gig. Earlier this year, the cottage industry that is the Usher Tour played west Phoenix's Cricket Pavilion. Before Usher's set, Strong worked the near-sellout crowd like the prodigal son he is, greeting family and old friends, before jumping onstage and showing his stuff like a real pro.
Following September 11, our nation had collective guilt about trying to enjoy itself. After the postponement of most sporting events and the Emmys that first weekend, ducking out on a Sunday night to see a band seemed a premature and potentially depressing proposition. But the Issaquah, Washington, trio, which began its tour on September 4, hit the right chord with a video presentation that probably was a happy accident more than anything else. Whatever its genesis, it was a stroke of genius to open the show with video footage of crumbling buildings played in reverse. After a week of watching the towers collapse over and over again on television, the idea of seeing something constructive for a change brought more smiles and a more restored semblance of normalcy than even 100 stacks of "Fuck Osama" tee shirts. In its modest way, the Mouse made a difference. This band deserves to be huge.
When word got around that The Blue Ox was going to become a Mexican bar, we mourned the short life span of our favorite dive -- but not for long. Before we could shed a tear for our old haunt, The Rogue -- formerly known as Sneaky Pete's -- got a bit of a makeover and became the new destination for the same punk and rockabilly crowd. Thanks in large part to Blue Ox personality Randy, who brought his schmoozing skills to the new joint to book the same kinds of bands, The Rogue is not only a great place to kick back with a cold one and enjoy a smokin' jukebox or Saturday-night DJs Nate and Allen, but to see cheap, fun trash-rock acts.
This venerable little club doesn't look like much from the outside. No matter. Inside, the beer is always cold and the music is hot. Bob Corritore (a mean harmonica player himself) works tirelessly to keep this national-level blues joint afloat -- and right in our own backyard. For this, we thank the Blues God from the bottom of our aching, mistreated hearts. Corritore books everyone from the surviving Mississippi Delta kings to up-and-coming honkers from right here in the Valley, and at an eminently fair price to consumers. What more could a bluesbo ask for?
What do Agent Orange, the Handsome Family, Poster Children, Daniel Johnston, Death Cab for Cutie, Mike Watt and Frank Black all have in common? No, it's not a track list for a great mix CD; they're all acts that played Nita's Hideaway in 2002. The intimate venue continues to sate the hunger of deprived music fans with its cornucopia of musical goodness.
Nita's constantly provides a great balance of up-and-coming indie acts, under-the-radio-radar artists and high-quality touring acts that would normally skip our metro altogether. This is largely due to the work of local musical seer Charlie Levy, who seamlessly combines music sense, charm and passion. For years, Nita's has boasted such an amazing array of musical diversity that simply listing its acts would be testament enough to Levy's keen ear and vision.
But the Nita's we know and love is in transition. Due to re-zoning, the building on Rio Salado soon will be no more, perhaps to be replaced by another huge outdoor shopping extravaganza. But fear not. Club owner Mark Covert has a new site lined up, and Levy cannot feign retirement for long. He would never admit it, but he loves what he does.
Teen Central is cool. Too cool for our decidedly unhip vocab. And this is as it should be.
Designed by architect Will Bruder and based on the findings of teen focus groups he conducted, the 5,000-foot, ultramodern space inside Burton Barr is not your mother's library. A brushed metal reference desk is backdropped by towering stereo and computer equipment. Music jams throughout. No one is hushed for chatting, because most chatting is conducted via instant messaging.
The circular space features 20 wired, souped-up machines, free for surfing, music listening or gaming. Other amenities to attract teen people include a "living room" with comfy chairs, surround sound and a big-screen cable TV; an art gallery featuring works by young artists; and a cafe. Teen Central also has mucho multimedia. Its CDs, DVDs, videos, books and games are current titles requested by teens and evaluated by Teen Services librarian Karl Kendall. A cursory glance at the CDs offered titles ranging from Blonde Redhead to La Bohème, as well as a large, heavily trafficked rap/hip-hop section.
The Teen Central space also has hosted live local acts, including indie band Employee of the Moth, Christian MC Vocab Malone, Prism Cru, and high school rock band Drift. Cool.
For the Valley's consummate country experience, load the posse into the pickup on a Saturday night and head west to this neon-lighted Phoenix landmark. Order up a $6 plate of country cookin' -- always involving chicken-fried something -- wash down the day's dust with a Coors Light longneck, and watch the cowboys -- urban, rhinestone and otherwise -- lead their ladies across the dance floor. When the band goes on break, the real fun starts: The crowd stampedes outside to gawk at the open-jackpot bull riding in the nearby corral.
While Saturday night's all right for ridin', Thursday brings dance lessons, and Friday features a kids' talent show and all-you-can-eat fish fry. House band Western Bred, led by Lucky's owner J. David Sloan, performs Wednesday through Saturday. And downstairs, the karaoke machine is at the ready, loaded with songs of love lost and dogs gone bad.
So you wanna be a cowboy, but you're short on gear? Lucky's has got your fringe-vested back: Jackson's General Store, right inside, peddles cowboy hats, riding supplies and, of course, handcrafted belt buckles.
Is it a mark of greatness to have a band name that looks and feels like a typo? We think it could be. Stupid names get people talking about a band. But stupid names that people take it upon themselves to correct is really touching a nerve.
Maybe it's all those minimum-wage years spent working at Fry's, just waiting to be singled out above your peers, that's causing your need to alter this band's name in print ads, in conversation, on chalk slates and on hastily handwritten signs at club entrances. So please do not write to our overworked copy editors -- this band is indeed Employee of the Moth.
Having initially sprung out of the cocoon with the generic name Alpha 66, the band opted for a new handle and a more enigmatic sound. It's succeeded on both counts. Its five-song CD sampler Five Alarm Headache delivers the kind of bleary-eyed malevolence that only somebody working for a lepidopterist could be expected to dream up. Imagine a slow-moving world where stream-of-consciousness word play is drenched in reverb and rarely exceeds a whine or a whisper. Whether Jacob, Dan, Geoff and Jesse ever metamorphose into an ultrasonic-emo-techno-hip-hop outfit like they hint at on their Web site, they've got a name that suits them to a T. For this month, anyway.
With all the hoopla that surrounded the opening of downtown Phoenix's Dodge Theatre earlier this year, it was easy to neglect -- but not for long, as it turned out -- this quirky theater-in-the-round in east-central Phoenix. Intimacy and a fine sound system mark this 2,500-seat hall, which has been host over its quarter-century history to such luminaries as Miles Davis, Harry Belafonte, Ray Charles, the Beastie Boys and George Clinton. It also works well as a boxing venue and has been the site of many an "extreme fighting" card. In a one-week span this summer, the cozy confines of the Celebrity welcomed such splendidly diverse acts as Morrissey, the Tragically Hip and the Reverend Al Green. Here's hoping for another 25 years.
Three years ago, when Les Payne Product began doing the first-ever live shows at The Emerald Lounge, people were still referring to it as an old man's bar. Gradually, out went the pool tables, vinyl jukebox and odd old man, and in came a stage, P.A., lights, painted murals and a plethora of Phoenix's finest budding local talent.
For most Valley rock clubs, local rock bands are occasional openers for national acts. When the Emerald books a national act, it's some out-of-town band you've never heard of, hoping the bill's local acts attract enough people so they make their gas money back. Local bands drive the Emerald's weekly roster, and with its no-cover-charge policy, it's a great place to check out a new band and not get soaked by greedy promoters and parking garages. And while you once may have needed the extra beer cash to deaden the pain of loud bands incapable of dialing into their own sound, the latest P.A. system upgrade has made a vast improvement.
Its Wednesday night blasts with house band the Hypno-Twists make the Emerald the best place to go out in the middle of the week, while the rest of the week has featured such great local bands as the Liars Club, Beat Angels, the Getaways, Seven Storey, Korova Milk Bar, Lovers of Guts, Sonic Thrills, Velveteen Dream and Meatwhistle, plus other diverting local entertainment like DJ's Tato Soul Trax on Tuesdays, Jim Cherry's Gullaballoo variety show on Sundays and art displays during the week.
For a few hours each Friday night, Dave Valad is a star. His name is up in lights -- literally -- with a neon tube stylishly fashioned to spell his name pulsing light blue above the stage. He sings the hits -- ranging from Tina Turner to "I Wanna Be a Cowboy" to Sinatra -- karaoke-style.
He's got the moves that drive the blue-haired ladies wild. He's got the look: tinted sunglasses, a permy pompadour, and an oak-tree-style sports coat nicely tapered at the waist, his sleeves rolled up a third of the way. And his voice is like butter; each song from the tape machine he makes his cheese-filled own. He is a performer; he is in command. Think Phoenix's own Tom Jones. Plus, he has an array of brass instruments he busts out once in awhile, adding that perfectly classy accent.
His work could almost be called "accidental performance art," and he could be the analog precursor to the digital remix. As the night goes on, he finds just the right tape to transition from one song to the next, using his dual decks like a DJ spinning.
Valad is the man of the hour, every hour he's up there. And if you're really lucky, you might get a shout-out from the stage.
When you want your rock to rhyme with hawk, KDKB is your rawk station. Where do listeners with more girth than goth in 'em go to get a daily dose of what programmers call "mainstream rock," but historians more likely will refer to as "paunch rock," that brand of music that squeezes involuntary air guitar moves out of you in the middle of a sporting goods store? The best outlet used to be the classic-rock format, but since that brain trust has been infiltrated by the chick-rock sounds of REO Speedwagon, Billy Joel and Pablo Cruise, it's KDKB that's making like one of the boys -- and it's the only station on the dial with the balls to play "Fat Bottomed Girls."
It's great to have a station with an appreciation for the classics -- Hendrix, Cream, Led Zeppelin and Bad Company -- that also includes modern and alternative rock like the Cult, U2, Creed, Counting Crows and Korn, all while keeping to a bare minimum the cookie-monster rock that gives other stations their identities.
On Sundays at 10 p.m., KDKB airs the best example of specialty programming on radio, Little Steven's Underground Garage. This weekly two-hour show restores the roll to rock and is hosted by E Street guitarist and Sopranos resident grimacer Steve Van Zandt. Not only does Van Zandt retain the machine-gun verbal bazooka of yesteryear's DJs, he does American radio in general a public service by playing the Standells and the 13th Floor Elevators coast-to-coast. And for weekend warriors who still get a rush from Rush and a jolt from AC/DC, the station plays 16-song music marathons that ensure no tuneouts. Raawwwwk -- it's not just for stadiums anymore.