Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
With the granddaddy of Valley country clubs, Mr. Lucky's, closing last month, Handlebar-J, near the intersection of Scottsdale Road and Shea (a now prime piece of real estate it's occupied since the '60s), has become the default "king of clubs" for country music fans. Anchored by the Herndon Brothers Band, featuring loyal sons of original house band leader Brick Herndon -- including CMA award-winning recording artist Ray Herndon, who still makes it home from Nashville on a regular basis to play with the bro's -- the Handlebar is the only honky-tonk in town offering live country music seven days a week.
The club's "Outlaw Connection" nights, hosted by Waylon Jennings' widow Jessi Colter, was recently carried live on Sirius and launched the satellite network's Outlaw Country channel.
Yee-haw! Readers' Choice: Graham Central Station
Power 92.3 has been bringing hip-hop to Phoenix since long before OutKast had every yuppie in town singing "Hey Ya!" at the company picnic -- and good thing. This stop on the dial puts formula-driven stations on the front street with rambunctious personalities and programming actually worth listening to. Our favorite is the "3:30 Dirty Dirty" where listeners get to "put someone on blast" over the airwaves. Pissed off at that ho gettin' all up on your man? Call in a blast and enjoy mocking her over the airwaves. Public humiliation is only part of what makes Power 92.3 so good -- what really makes it our pick is, of course, the music. Every weekday afternoon from noon to 1, DJ Mikee Mike kicks it old skool with the best hip-hop from the '90s, and the two-hour drive at 5 actually has a live DJ on the turntables mixing it up.
Power 92.3 has what other Valley radio stations lack: a soul. Readers' Choice: KKFR-FM Power 92.3
As an independent business, Stinkweeds sets the right example. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, the store's new and used merchandise is well-defined: everything that's under the radar, from indie rock and punk to alt-country and electronica. Shoppers don't come here for the latest Top 40 hits, because they already know what to expect. And sometimes that means music by bands they've never heard of but trust to be good -- that's how carefully and tastefully edited the merch is. Offering edgy picks on the listening stations, shelves of underground magazines and hard-to-find DVDs, tickets to upcoming concerts, and occasional in-store performances by local and national bands, Stinkweeds is a hub of unpretentious cool. With a second location that just opened at Central and Camelback, this funky shop is heading in the right direction. Readers' Choice: Zia Record Exchange
Although Phoenix now stands as one of the major markets for traditional country, many old-school country fans have become alienated by the city's other C&W radio outlets. Both come off a little too slick and commercialized compared to the off-the-beaten-path playlist favored by Wickenburg's high-powered KSWG. Calling itself Arizona's "Real Country" station, KSWG features a mix of old artists rubbing elbows with up-and-comers like Gretchen Wilson, Jeff Bates and Rhonda Vincent -- anyone fits, "as long as they sound Ôreal,'" according to the station's mission statement -- not to mention Kip Pollay's weekly fishing reports. So far, so real. Readers' Choice: KMLE-FM 108
Still the Valley's only classical music station, KBAQ differs little from the longhair outlets found in other major U.S. cities -- it's public-supported (and hence, subject to periodic pledge-week begging), run out of an educational station based at a university, and gets much of its programming courtesy of National Public Radio. Still, dependable "K-Bach" offers a tasty mix of specialty programming, including live symphony simulcasts at dusk and eerily perfect wake-up music in the early hours. And while the classical format probably makes the least demands on a programmer to stay current, KBAQ does an admirable job of staying on the cutting edge of ancient music, mixing moldy oldies by Vivaldi and Tchaikovsky with odd takes on Brahms by the French choral ensemble Accentus and Chinese chants by current Grammy darlings Chanticleer. Readers' Choice: KBAQ-FM 89.5
The Valley's own master of shock rock has been mining his shtick for so long now -- 35 years and counting -- it's easy to take his contributions for granted. (Who else would we have to blame for Marilyn Manson?) And Cooper's recent ventures, from the establishment of his downtown Alice Cooper'stown nightclub to his stint as the 7 p.m. to midnight man on classic-rock stalwart KDKB, seem purposely driven by his desire not to be overlooked in his own hometown. Yet it's still a kick to hear the dark humorist rant about everything from his run-ins with early Ozzy to making Miss Piggy's Christmas card list as he mixes his latest comeback attempts with rock standards on the station that helped make him a billion-dollar baby back in the day. Following Steve Van Zandt's lead, Alice's show is now syndicated in 16 cities and growing. But he's still our little rock legend -- now more than ever, in fact -- and we love him to death. Readers' Choice: Howard Stern
High ceilings, original artwork hanging on the brick walls, choice beers on tap, good lighting and sound for a stage that's visible from all over the room -- is this club really in downtown Phoenix? Believe it. The Brickhouse attracts a young, good-looking mob of music lovers with its casual, urban atmosphere as much as with its concerts. Strangely enough, it's still somewhat of a best-kept secret in the Valley because people automatically think of Tempe as the place to see bands. We predict that that'll soon change, though, as the place continues to book the best national names in indie hip-hop, alt-rock, punk and ska.
Hands down, this monthly experimental electronica night at Modified Arts cranks out the weirdest, most original sounds around. As you step through the doorway, the loud blast of breaks, digital beats and samples coming from inside will make you feel like the world's turned sci-fi.
Depending on who's fiddling with the laptop on stage, the music that emerges from the complex layers of noise could be brutally thrashy, intriguingly soft and ethereal, or outright danceable -- but it's often all of that in one single song. Mesmerizing? Yes. Listener-friendly? Not exactly. Thru the Wires digs pretty deep to stay underground.
Run by longtime Valley blues impresario Bob Corritore (host of KJZZ's 20-years-running Sunday night showcase Those Lowdown Blues), the Rhythm Room has earned its rep as a major house of blues by regularly hosting the biggest names on both the local and national blues fronts. Elwood Blues himself, a.k.a. Dan Aykroyd, heralded the RR as "one of the great blues clubs in the Southwest" on his syndicated radio show.
Other clubs in Phoenix easily top the Rhythm Room in funky house-party decor. But only the Rhythm Room regularly draws the heavy hitters on the national scene to the stage. And the Rack Shack Blues BBQ in the parking lot serves up the perfect fare for the club's down-home jams. Readers' Choice: Rhythm Room
Being a swing dancer often means familiarizing yourself with all the places you avoided in your youth: senior centers, RV parks, Elks lodges and American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts. And certainly, the Valley's VFW posts in both east central Phoenix and Sunnyslope offer a great swing scene on Sunday nights. But the Kyote Ballroom, behind the Denny's just south of U.S. 60 on Rural, presents a mature version of the classic meet market that will make you feel more like you've stepped into an MGM musical than an old folks' home rec room: Its spacious wooden floor is surrounded by classy lighting and retro dance art prints, not to mention well-padded stools for the aging derrière.
Offering lessons in a variety of "social dancing" styles (including ballroom, swing, Latin, salsa and Argentinean tango), the place gets swinging on Friday nights, when a $5 cover buys you lessons in East and West Coast swing, Lindy Hopping and intermediate waltz. Rock on! Readers' Choice: Kat's Korner
Jimmy Eat World doesn't have to go it alone in the national spotlight now that Reubens Accomplice is riding high on its excellent second album, The Bull, The Balloon, and The Family. Produced by J.E.W.'s Jim Adkins and released on Western Tread -- the fledgling label owned by Adkins and Valley promoter Charlie Levy -- this album has the satisfying pop hooks, catchy melodies and emo sincerity to make it an indie-rock classic. A major bonus is that these rising stars still play gigs at intimate local venues, so you can see them live for the full effect. Readers' Choice: Shallow Water
The first time we saw The MadCaPs, we did a double-take. This three-piece garage band was slowly cruising Roosevelt Street on a First Friday, performing out of the back of a pickup truck and turning heads the whole way. When they pulled into the parking lot of a nearby gallery, the impromptu concert attracted not only a bunch of art-walking onlookers, but a surreal congregation of fire dancers, a clown playing saxophone, and a kooky little grandma who wasn't afraid to dance up front. The MadCaPs do come to a standstill, from time to time -- you can catch them at places like the Emerald Lounge -- but we prefer to catch them on the street.