Phoenix is notorious for bulldozing its own past faster than you can say "custom homes from the $550s." That's why you should cruise west on Grand Avenue/U.S. 60 right now and look at the gloriously tacky sign for the defunct honky-tonk Mr. Lucky's, before it ends up existing only on Web sites devoted to roadside kitsch. Both the 50-foot-tall neon joker that leers at passing traffic and the club it advertised date back to 1966, when LBJ was president, cigarettes were cool, and a guy named Waylon Jennings used to play at this country joint on the dusty western edge of town. The bar closed in 2004, and this sad old sign is one of the few relics remaining from the days when Phoenix was still rough, rowdy and Western.
50 Cent did his two-step on the bar. Britney mingled with the regular folks on the dance floor. LL Cool J sat in the exclusive "Owner's Booth" and signed autographs for fans. And such hip-hop/R&B royalty as Eve, Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott, Beyoncé, and Alicia Keys have all gotten their groove on here. This is why CBNC is legendary in the Valley, because the club brings in the big names, due in no small part to owner Jodi Upton. Through her luxury car dealership, Scottsdale's Exotic Auto Sales, and her friendship with rap producer Swizz Beatz, godfather of one of her sons, she knows everyone worth knowing in hip-hop. Upton overcame a bad rap CBNC had under previous management to make her danceteria one of the safest in the Valley, despite the high-profile Loren Wade incident that happened a few months back in the Papago Plaza parking lot, far from CBNC's doors. This hurt CBNC for a minute, but it quickly bounced back, reestablishing itself as the premier hip-hop club in the Valley. Hats off to Upton for persevering and prevailing, and for keeping it real while the haters were wishing her ill.
How we love art that happens to be functional as well as visually arresting and entertaining. That's why we're particularly enamored of artist Kevin Berry's "Tributary Wall," which undulates its way along the west side of Goldwater Boulevard between Camelback and Indian School roads in Scottsdale.

Berry's rusty metal fish-out-of-water, swimming placidly on a rippling wall toward a canal originally built by the Hohokam Indians, does double time as a sound barrier for an adjacent residential area affected by nearby commercial development. The fish, one of which swims upstream, are set against glass blocks that allow light to stream out against the wall, which is lined with a metal grid fence stuffed with smooth river stones.

Conceptually, this is Berry's "tribute" to our Native American forefathers who first tamed water in the barren desert of the Valley, as well as to the very headstrong nature of Arizonans themselves, who are notorious for going against the flow.

Wanna see giants walk the Earth? Then check out the Blunt Club on Thursday nights at Mesa's Hollywood Alley, where you'll catch live spoken word, painting and performance by legends in the Valley hip-hop scene. Like that "verbal taxidermist" and last year's New Times Best Of cover model, MC Emerg McVay of Bionic Jive fame. Or urban artist extraordinaire Adam Dumper, a.k.a. Dumperfoo, who slings the paint like no man alive save for PBS' Bob Ross, if you count him among the living. Blunt's also got DJs like Element One, Tricky T, and Hyder. And on the floor are such renowned dance troupes as the Phunky Phoenicians, Furious Styles, Nebellen, Future Styles Sour Patch, and Mellow Drama. The Blunt Club used to pop off at Priceless Inn (now Boston's), but now it rocks the mic right in Mesa. Here the party's always live, the drinks cheap, and the squalies down for whatever you got goin' on, playa.
The folks in the Maple Ash Neighborhood Association have one heck of a pipe dream. Over the past two years, the inhabitants of the sylvan residential area located just west of Arizona State University have mixed a deluge of grant money from the City of Tempe with the torrential creativity of Valley artists Nina Solomon, Ruben Valenzuela, and Chris Rowley in order to change two of the monolithic irrigation standpipes that dot their district from graffiti-tagged eyesores to lush eye candy. Both of the cylinder-shaped concrete constructions, which control the irrigation system flooding their yards monthly, have been covered over with an earth-toned mosaic montage of river rocks, ceramic tiles, and metalwork.

Each work is separately themed, as well as sharing an ample offering of plant and water imagery symbolizing the role both have played in their stomping grounds. The first piece, located at Ninth Street and Maple Avenue, is dedicated to the architecture unique to the homes in the immediate vicinity, with earthenware representations of windows, doors, picket fences, and a curlicue of wrought iron crowning the top.

The second, at 13th Street and Ash Avenue, is a mini-museum of the canal system of the Valley, featuring tiles imprinted with historic photos of swimming in drainage ditches and anecdotes about hunting. There are also seats made from carved-up pipes, as well as a stream-shaped landscaped path. MANA's organizers are planning to redecorate most of the neighborhood's standpipes and keep the creative juices flowing. Other neighborhoods should take note.

Downtown's stretch of Grand Avenue has seen a lot of changes in the past few years, most notably the number of galleries and performance spaces that keep popping up in once-dilapidated shops and warehouses. All this development is a good thing, one from which even hard rockers have benefited. The folks at PHiX, once a motorcycle repair shop that's been transformed into an art gallery/music venue, make sure to book a variety of musical talent including hardcore, metal and punk bands. Acts like Endless Nightmare, and I Am Columbine have rocked out on the black, pressed-wood stage constructed by Lee Berger, owner of the vociferous den. People of all ages congregate in this rockin' complex to aggressively ram into each other and jump up and down to the callous rhythms. We must warn you: If you're not sure exactly how hard you're willing to rock, prep yourself with earplugs and maybe some kneepads hidden under your jeans.
Public art in your wallet? It's enough to make you want to move to Tempe -- which is where you'll have to go to get one of the groovy new artist-designed library cards that the city's libraries made available this summer. The City of Tempe Public Art Program commissioned four Arizona artists to produce art that was then reproduced onto Tempe library cards, turning that city's readers into card-carrying art fans. The artists, chosen from across the state, were Jennifer Kiraly, of Fountain Hills; b royalty, of Tempe; Mary Lucking, of Tucson; and Kate Timmerman, of Phoenix, each of whom produced a work tied thematically to reading or to the Tempe in Motion "bus, bike and walk" campaign. Take note, Phoenix Public Library folks: Those flat, yellow plastic library cards work fine, but we want what our neighbors have: a little art with our check-out.
This Grand Avenue staple hasn't picked sides -- it wants to be a gallery and a bar with live music. Maybe that's why the Paper Heart doesn't entirely feel like either. Instead, it reminds us of some eccentric person's living room, or maybe a crafty kid's clubhouse, with all these comfy old couches where you can slouch back with a cold beer. The atmosphere is friendlier than your average gallery or bar, too: no haughty curators, no meathead security dudes. All the better for making yourself at home as you're watching a rock band, hip-hop group, acoustic guitarist, or whatever else is on the eclectic musical lineup. Don't miss the topnotch local bands rounded up by The Shizz every second Saturday of the month, and P.A.I.N.T., held every Tuesday night, with spoken-word performers and downtempo grooves courtesy of DJ Seduce.
Here's the straight poop: When hip screenwriter and novelist Jerry Stahl visited Perihelion Arts last year to sign copies of his latest tome I, Fatty, turns out the ex-heroin junkie also purchased one of mixed-media maven Erastes Cinaedi's artfully decorated toilet seats on display at the Grand Avenue bookstore and gallery. The story goes that Stahl acquired this particular throne, which featured the space-bound heroes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, for actor and Trek fan Ben Stiller, who's been a bud since he portrayed the former opiate addict in a 1998 biopic version of Stahl's Permanent Midnight. Quick, someone call InStyle magazine! Stahl and Stiller aren't the only celebrities appreciating Cinaedi's kooky crap chairs, which are created by decoupaging cutouts from pop cultural ephemera like comic books and magazines to wooden toilet seats that focus on a central theme like Barbie or Batman. Dan Aykroyd bought three for his House of Blues chain, while George Steinbrenner's wife Joan Zieg ordered a custom Yankees seat for her hubby's office. Whether the icons are using these poop hoops as objets d'art or as a place to do their business, we'll never know.
It takes a lot to get our attention when we're driving, but the wildly colorful, Fauve-style mural painted on a wall in front of Maie Bartlett Heard Elementary School does just that. In fact, the first time we saw the block-long art project, we cruised by several times to determine what was going on. After a number of drive-bys, we finally asked, and determined that, as part of "Phoenix Youth Makes a Difference Day" in 2001 and 2002, students and staff at Heard Elementary, headed up by the inspirational Ms. Dehner, painted different vibrant scenarios that merge to create a pastiche of the splendiferous world around us. You've got your seaside scenes, your mountain and meadow scenes with farm animals and barns, and, of course, you've got a creative blend of Washington, D.C., and New York, with the Capitol Building appearing next to the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and a bunch of off-kilter skyscrapers (maybe the skyscrapers are from L.A.). Cactus-crowded mesas morph into tropical vegetation and brightly colored fish, which swim toward planets in outer space in a continuum that ends with a cheerful school bus on a busy street of charming little houses and a large American flag.

Now we know where Phoenix's Phuture Picassos hang out. Go, Heard Vikings!

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