BEST PEOPLE-WATCHING 2006 | Arizona Mills | People & Places | Phoenix
Hey, you. Yes, you! The one sitting at your suburban Starbucks, complaining that the Valley is bland. Head over to Arizona Mills on a Saturday night, and you'll be hit over the head with the fact that you live in a "real" city. Just about any time, but particularly on weekend evenings, Arizona Mills is packed with activity, teeming with people of all shapes, sizes, ages and ethnic backgrounds. Most are waiting for a movie at the Harkins multiplex, but others are there for the carnival-like atmosphere complete with a carousel recently installed in the middle of the food court. The carousel's the only bona fide ride, but you might want to check out a painted-while-you-wait wife-beater, or the other wares set out on tables in the middle of the mall, la the streets of Tijuana. Or you might just want to grab a corner, stand back, and people-watch.
Instead of taking their cues from MTV or VH1, like other cover bands in these parts, The Minibosses ape video games. That's right this quarter-wielding quartet of bassist Ben Baraldi, drummer Matt Wood, and guitarists John Lipfert and Aaron Burke look to the Nintendo Entertainment System of the 1980s to build their song list, re-creating soundtracks of such old-school cartridges as Mega Man 2, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out, Metroid, and Ninja Gaiden. For the past few years, they've been the game-music gods to not only the legions of Sparks-drinking fans down at Modified Arts, but also thousands of other "Minibossies" nationwide who learned about the band through appearances on NPR and in the pages of Wired. With all this success, it's a long way from game over for The Minibosses.


Harmony Neighborhood

No doubt about it, this quiet east Phoenix residential district is for the birds. Namely, the neighborhood, located north of Thomas Road between 32nd and 36th streets, has been overrun by dozens of chickens, as well as guinea fowl, quail and peacocks. Having become fruitful and multiplied after escaping from a couple of small ranches nearby, these carefree cluckers live a truly free-range lifestyle as they wander from yard to yard, pecking for morsels, tending to their chicks, or dodging traffic. Most residents don't mind the fowl play, adopting the winged wonders as mascots and providing food. The local cats even tend to peacefully co-exist with the creatures, lazily watching them go about their birdbrained business instead of preparing to pounce. In fact, the only hunters around these parts are bums and other poverty-stricken peeps pursuing the poultry in the hopes of bagging some dinner. Neighbors often chase off these would-be wranglers, but the situation finally answers the age-old question of why the chicken crossed the road . . . to get away from the hungry homeless folks.
On a massive site like MySpace, which features millions of bands, it's not always about the number of hits a band's profile receives, but who's hitting it up. Local garage go-go band The Love Me Nots had only been together for a month before they posted a MySpace profile, and within three months, the band hooked up with renowned garage producer Jim Diamond (The White Stripes, The Gore Gore Girls), garage scene guru and video producer Tim Gassen (The Cynics, The Fuzztones), U.K. college radio DJ Mark Watkins, and L.A. show promoter Dan Electro. All of the networking was a calculated cyber rendezvous by The Love Me Nots, who constantly surfed MySpace, looking for people to add to the band's Friends list and asking people to check out the songs on The Love Me Nots' page. With total profile hits that numbered just below 9,000 at the end of August, The Love Me Nots may not have the most-visited page on MySpace, but that's what makes that page the best find that, and the buzz that the band's cyber-networking has created. The Love Me Nots got some key people paying attention to their MySpace page right out of the gate, leading to a landslide of seek-outs. Now that's musical savvy in the Digital Age.
Phoenix is a long way from the bayou, but if you look hard enough, you'll find a small but talented group of old tyme musicians. The type of broke-down, Deep South kind of musicians that command you to stomp your feet and clap your hands, bringing to mind a time gone by in a place you've never lived, but feel you can almost remember. Paris James is the king of these roots musicians the type of man who just looks like he gets it and can bring down the house with traditional 1930s-style blues as well as the occasional Hendrix cover upon request. His original tunes are just as powerful, and sung in a voice that is clear and unfaltering. You can catch Paris every Sunday at the Native New Yorker in Tempe, and on occasion at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix.
All dressed up and no place to go? Head to Sadisco and get your freak on all night with like-minded evil geniuses who have a taste for leather, vinyl, and outrageous hair. At this sort-of-monthly dance party, held at nightspots including Mardi Gras and Jugheads, the soundtrack is as harsh as the eye makeup, with industrial, EBM, noise, and dark electronic tracks from resident DJs Squalor, Dr. Faustus, ///she///, Blonde NoiZe, and 5arah. Before you show up, lurk on Sadisco's MySpace page to find out the next date of debauchery, and, more important, the theme. Recent nights have included "Pink Trouble in Sadiscoville" (for a taste of John Waters' cinema kink) and "Zombie a Go Go" (on the necro-porno tip), so get ready to plan your outfit accordingly. And when in doubt, wear black.


The Valley's premier punk rock community and networking site serves many purposes promoting local punk shows, offering merchandise from local bands, and highlighting different local bands each week but the site component that probably sees the most action is the Message Board, where P-town punks love to get their panties in a bunch at each other, or more often than not at any outsiders who disagree with them or criticize any aspect of their scene. Let's just say we've seen that firsthand, more than once. There are also fervent discussions on topics including everything from "What's the best show you've seen so far this year?" to whether Phoenix sucks, with people posting icons of fists with protruding middle fingers and prosaic phrases like "Fuck you!" But it ain't all about the cyber throwdowns the message board also serves as a virtual corkboard, peppered with postings about benefit shows for people like North Side Kings singer Danny Marianino who was reportedly jumped by a group of guys in August and needed to raise funds for reconstructive surgery on his face and the late owner of Jugheads, Sid Copeland. So in the end, it really is all about community, even if the arguments are more heated and amusing than anything Jerry Springer could conjure.
We're feeling a little un-hip lately, mostly because we've been blowing through our 30s faster than you can say "midlife crisis." Since we don't have the dime to drop on either a new roadster or a new wardrobe, we'll get our hepcat groove back by attending the next SMoCA Nights shindig. The bold and the beautiful of the Valley turn out three times a year en masse for this ultra-cool concoction of fashion, music and art that's a collision of couture and culture. Although the focus is on fashion, with design divas like Camille Messina, Karelle Levy, and Kristin Dinnis staging runway shows, an assortment of other creative types including such pace-setting painters as Baron Gordon and Adam "Dumperfoo" Dumper, DJs like Maji and Brazilia, and musicians like jazz trio Sonorous lend their efforts to the proceedings. Dancing demonstrations, debauched drinking, and other artistic activities abound. Simply put, SMoCA Nights are smokin' hot.


They call themselves MoPhos, which is short for "Modern Phoenicians," and they're all about preserving the recent past by elevating our consciousness about the importance of local architecture and landmarks. They come together via the occasional home tour, but mostly through a Web site called, where folks who love mid-century homes and slump-block banks can share their knowledge and help promote preservation via the Internet. The brainchild of Alison and Matthew King, ModernPhoenix calls itself a "neighborhood network," but it operates more like a super-professional online shelter pub that's busting at the cyber-seams with useful information and entertaining articles about everything from how to rehab a Haver home to what to do to get historical designation for your neighborhood. Even for those of us who aren't architecturally inclined, there's plenty of gorgeous photography of what Phoenix used to look like (and may look like again, if the Kings have anything to do with it) to keep us returning to this virtual community time and again.
Shameless self-promoters love this kick-ass rack, because Modified's smack in the middle of Roosevelt Row, and the Row is the hub of Phoenix's arts scene. What better place to get the word out about your band's next gig or that new experimental-art performance? And the grassroots advertising technique seems to work, as you always see First Friday/Third Friday street crawlers pawing through the fliers in search of artistic adventure. In fact, the rack at Modified is the only one we've ever seen that has a queue of impatient, toe-tapping Phoenicians waiting for their chance to find cultural enlightenment or at least a good party.

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