Formerly the Red River Music Hall, the Marquee Theatre opened its doors this past March, admittedly on the premature side by its new owners, the regional promotional powerhouse Nobody in Particular Presents. Though NIPP is still working on $1 million in renovations, improvements to parking and the installation of a permanent sign advertising the theater, it has as good a music-business fallback as any in the meantime -- really good music. In recent weeks, the theater has booked shows by the reuniting Sex Pistols and Psychedelic Furs, a prog-rock double-bill featuring Grandaddy and Super Furry Animals, the wildly costumed fiesta that is Fischerspooner, stoner-rock pranksters Ween, and bluesman Robert Cray. In October, the theater is scheduled to present a series of rising punk bands -- Poison the Well, From Autumn to Ashes, Bouncing Souls -- and Peter Frampton. Plus, with a massive stage and a 1,000-plus capacity that allows for real beer-drinking freedom, the Marquee offers an added dose of comfort.

Readers' Choice: Celebrity Theatre

KNIX-FM is Clear Channel Communications' local holding in country radio, which isn't exactly the sexiest distinction these days. But Phoenix is a long-standing C&W stronghold with a tradition that stretches back to Marty Robbins, Waylon Jennings and friendly frequent visitor Buck Owens. And the folks at KNIX reflect a devotion to the music you would subsequently expect. While the station does play the rising hits as prescribed by Nashville, it finds time to slip in aging pop-country warriors Alabama and once-untouchable superstar Randy Travis, whose recent "Pray for the Fish" is a bona fide oddity that seems incongruent with the Faith Hill/Lee Ann Womack/Pam Tillis set. The station's friendliness to the artists who keep country grounded in its honky-tonk roots is commendable, as is the amusingly redneck but civil tone of morning jocks Tim & Willy.

Readers' Choice: KNIX-FM 102.5

If the saying "wherever you hang your hat is home" means anything, at least a hundred cowboys with names like Buck and Billy have hung, dated and donated their head coverings to the rafters of this country and western institution, which has been here in north Scottsdale since the barren days of 1966. Back then, it was called Wild Bill's and provided singer Waylon Jennings with yet another home away from home (his widow Jessi Colter and Handlebar-J owner's son Ray Herndon will soon be performing an "Outlaw Connection" tribute here). Since then, it's been a visiting spot of luminaries like Loretta Lynn, Lyle Lovett and Toby Keith. And unlike other now-you-see-'em country bars that book an occasional rock band or karaoke night, Handlebar-J hosts live C&W seven nights a week. Plus, it has been a safe haven for porterhouse carnivores and protectors of the two-step at a time when country music seems to have lost its cultural identity to cosmopolitan cowpokin' and records that aren't even worth their weight in tobacco spit.

Readers' Choice: Handlebar-J

Proof positive that radio sucks? Hordes of people on the Internet are swapping tapes of DJ air checks, station promos and entire jock shifts from whatever "golden age" of radio they champion. Proof positive that radio doesn't suck? Power 92.3 FM -- and its irrefutable 2003 slogan "The Station That Doesn't Suck" (see?). People who miss personality-driven radio have their assortments of oddballs to "act a fool" in the morning, from Mad Dogg to $horty P to the Madhouse's one-man Jackass Gringo Suave, whose stunts have ranged from eating live crickets to sucking face with a homeless woman old enough to be a Murray the K groupie. People who miss the fury of the nonstop Top 40 can console themselves with Power's intelligent and animated mix of nonstop hip-hop and new R&B, especially when there are live DJs in the mix who make even the jump to commercials seem like an elevated art form. Specialty shows like the Lowriders Oldies and noontime Old Skool Requests demonstrate to dimwitted radio consultants that it's possible to enjoy up-to-the-minute hits and still maintain a sense of history. Of course, all good radio stations must come to an end, and at some point some pencil-pushing simp will likely come in, ruin Power 92.3 and send us looking for Mini Salas air checks. That it hasn't happened yet says something about the staying power of hip-hop.

Readers' Choice: KKFR-FM Power 92

Shopping for new music can be a pain, especially these days as record stores grow increasingly more cavernous and the suggested retail prices for new major-label CDs creep above $20. The trick is to find a good markdown on price -- a necessity for struggling retailers these days -- and to be able to get in and out as quickly as possible -- you want to hear that disc now, after all. Circles, among locally operated record stores, aids that process most ably, selling new discs by big-name artists for $14.88 and $15.88 long after their release. It also helps that Circles' managers understand their customers -- display cases for new urban music, the leading seller nationally as well as locally, are put up front, kiosks that throw Mary J. Blige, Chingy and other objects of hip-hop desire in your face.

Readers' Choice: Best Buy

If Tempe's power-pop upstarts Ticker Tape Parade remind listeners of Jimmy Eat World and the Gin Blossoms -- fellow East Valley bands that struck gold before them -- there's good reason. TTP's guitarist and chief songwriter Aaron Wendt worked with Jimmy Eat World's leader Jim Adkins before forming his own band, and almost every local guitarist who's strummed a tasty arpeggio since the Gin Blossoms' early '90s breakthrough has probably played together at one point or another.

Also working in Ticker Tape Parade's favor is the band's uncommon work ethic. The average-guy amalgam of hardworking stiffs have been honing their tight set of hook-laden songs for more than a year. They've stirred up word-of-mouth interest by playing whatever influential West Coast club will have them, or gathering up a few other local hopefuls for self-promoted shows here in the Phoenix area, and reinvesting their door proceeds in the band -- instead of blowing it on personal extravagances like, say, food. The band has even been selling its debut six-song EP, You're Creating a Scene, for little more than cost. "Sure, we have a CD that we think is worth a lot more than four bucks," says Wendt. "But at this stage of the game, it's way better just to get the music out there." Take that, RIAA!

Readers' Choice: Authority Zero

As any large, multigenerational black family can attest, no generation gap cuts deeper than the one between fans of old-school R&B and their hip-hop-loving kids. Folks who once felt confident enough to bust a move on the Soul Train dance line can be made to feel about as limber as Christopher Reeve once their teens start showing off the new club moves.

Alex Santamaria, program director and drive-time jock on KAJM, "Arizona's jammin' R&B," effectively bridges that gap by shrewdly peppering the station's boomer-skewed playlist of classic Motown and cruisin' slow jams with songs that reveal the source of current hip-hop's most sampled beats. The kids in the back seat won't hear the Beyoncé/Jay-Z hit "Crazy in Love" on KAJM, but they might hear the 1970 Chi-Lites platter "Are You My Woman," from which Beyoncé's hit lifts its propulsive horn riff. Santamaria, a longtime player in the Valley R&B scene (he helped program AM powerhouse KQ in the '80s), also allows himself to share in the uncoolness foisted on his listeners by humorously mishandling current slang and copping to his own dance-floor ineptness -- even while coolly cueing up that old Gap Band jam that Ashanti lifted for her latest CD.

Readers' Choice: Dave Pratt

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