Best Band Featuring a Random Assortment of Instruments

Dry River Yacht Club

Onstage there's a bassoon, a bass clarinet, a cello, an assortment of percussive instruments stacked and hanging near a Mac, an acoustic guitar, and, beside the singer's microphone, an accordion. The band members pick up their respective instruments and begin to play. The sounds they construct are as haunting as they are unique.

Even in a music scene as varied as Phoenix's, Dry River Yacht Club stands out. The guitarist plays like a percussionist, bobbing up and down as he slaps his guitar body to keep the beat. The percussion is like a range of accents punctuating the lilting, singsong style of the vocalist.

Calling Dry River Yacht Club experimental doesn't cut it. Perhaps transcendental is more fitting. Though they play venues like Rhythm Room and Yucca Tap Room, they don't quite fit in with the alt-country rockers or the R&B acts they share the stage with. But put them in a concert hall or a theater and they'd still stand out.

Maybe that's why Dry River Yacht Club works. They're so beautiful in the way they're completely out of place that you can't help but listen.

Club Mardi Gras & VooDoo Lounge

When the grand prize for a Battle of the Bands series includes 70 hours of recording time at Highland Recorders (birthplace of recordings and mixes for the likes of Fall Out Boy and Phunk Junkeez), $500 cash, a $750 shopping spree at Highland Clothing in Scottsdale Fashion Square, and an opening slot at U-Fest to set the stage for acts like Disturbed and Slipknot, the competition has got to be good. So it was with local rock station 98 KUPD's "Rock Fight" series (also sponsored by New Times). Among the 22 bands who duked it out (and advanced) in the preliminary rounds were metal monsters The Human Condition (featuring Wiley Arnett from Sacred Reich), trip-hop/rock outfit Bionic Jive (featuring Blunt Club host Emerg McVay), hard rockers The Sammus Theory (who've enjoyed some exposure already on MTV2), and metal band The Asylum.

Perhaps the reason the battles were such wars was because not just any band could pay a fee and enter — the contestants were chosen from CDs sent to KUPD DJ Shan Man. This series enjoyed its inaugural run this summer, with preliminary rounds every Saturday from May 31 through June 21, semifinals Saturday, July 5, and Friday, July 11, and finals the following Saturday, July 12. We expect a strong Rock Fight next summer, too, in the name of keeping the Valley hot.

Attending a Peachcake show is like taking a messy frolic on acid through Candyland with a bunch of demented children's show characters. You're liable to be covered in confetti, candy, and silly string, and you're actively encouraged to dance and sing along with vocalist/percussionist/bassist Stefan Pruett, who's seldom seen without some sort of superhero mask on and who often runs through the crowd with a megaphone. The other members of Peachcake wear eclectic costumes made up of superhero capes, wigs, hats, and masks. Glow-in-the-dark sticks and Hula Hoops are usually present onstage, along with giant plastic lollipops. The show's hardly high-tech, but it's definitely fun and interactive, perfectly fitting for Peachcake's danceable, synth-driven, quirky pop.

To say that a little backbiting and trash-talking goes on in the Valley's DJ scene is about as obvious an understatement as admitting that Amy Winehouse likes to let loose once in a while. We've lost count of the times boastful beat-jugglers have bent our ears dissing the skills of their fellow wax workers. So it's kinda refreshing when the normally catty members of the Valley's turntablist scene give props to one of their own, namely 27-year-old house music maestro DJ Tranzit (a.k.a. Steven Chung). "I think he's got phenomenal skills and I very much respect what he does," says Joe DiPadova (who's recently been dividing his time between Montreal and Phoenix). "A lot of DJs have trouble filling a room, but he's built a big following with blood, sweat, and tears." Said crowds are tuning into Tranzit's Tuesday-night mix show on Energy Radio FM, and turning out to hear Tranzit spin his style of electro house during Switch Wednesdays at Pussycat Lounge in Scottsdale. The former Albuquerque resident, who relocated to the PHX earlier this decade, has also entertained the masses opening for house music gods Paul Oakenfold, Donald Glaude, and Bad Boy Bill. "Steven just puts on a really good show behind the turntables," says DJ Senbad. "He's engaging with his crowd, gives up a lot of energy, and is a helluva entertainer."

This year, the Blunt Club moved from its longtime location, Hollywood Alley in Mesa, to set up shop at Club Red in Tempe. Part of the reason for the move was that the Blunt Club founders wanted a change of scenery, but they also just plain needed more room. Other hip-hop weeklies have hosted live music to decent-size crowds on other nights of the week, but promoters know that Thursday nights belong to the Blunt Club and, let's face it, there's really just no competing with them. Valley hip-hop lovers hit this weekly by the hundreds to hear turntable mash-ups from resident DJs Element and Pickster Uno, fierce freestyle flows from host Emerg McVay, and performances from underground up-and-comers on the national scene, like One Block Radius, One Belo, Aceyalone, and DJ Babu of Dilated Peoples. Local artists like Drunken Immortals, Ill Al the Anglo Saxon, and Cousins of the Wize contribute to the weekly's socially conscious, "one love" hip-hop vibe, and the evening overall encompasses a free-flowing, fully instrumental community jam.

Best Place to Rub Shoulders with Future Hip-Hop Breakouts

Groove Candy

This weekly dance night draws major players from the Phoenix hip-hop scene, whether it's old-school producers like 5Fith Coast Records head Roca Dolla, industry peeps like Power 98 deejay Karlie Hustle (founder of Groove Candy) and DJ M2, or cutting-edge MCs like Kavy, Grime, and Knawledg. Local hip-hop artists know that this is the place to network, and collectives like Cut Throat Logic, Woodpile, Sol Camp, and Tha Formula make Groove Candy a focal point for distributing fliers and working the crowd. Before signing their respective record deals with Ludacris' Disturbing Tha Peace label, 50 Cent's G-Unit label, and The Game's Black Wall Street label, local MCs Willy Northpole, Hot Rod, and Juice all made the rounds at Groove Candy (they still pop in when their recording and touring schedules allow). The sheer number of local hip-hop artists at Groove Candy makes it more than just a night of kicking it to old-school hip-hop, R&B, and soul — it makes Groove Candy a weekly meeting place for the new breed of Phoenix MCs.

This radio program really plays up local hip-hop in a way that no other commercial radio show has ever done. Every Friday, from 1 to 4 a.m., hosts Ramses Ja and Bootleg Kev spin tracks by the Valley's best hip-hop artists, highlighting fresh cuts from the likes of Justus, Tha Formula, and Grime, and doing on-air interviews with locals including Kavy, Skunk One from Sol Camp, and Pokafase (the latter is also on-air talent for the station). In addition to exposing audiences to the newest in Phoenix hip-hop, the show features a "Homegrown" component that includes a "Resurrection Session" for classic cuts from Arizona MCs. With all the Phoenix pride in the air, and DJ M2 spinning live mash-ups of underground hip-hop, Friday Night Flavas has established itself as the tastiest hip-hop dish on radio right now.

Justus, one of the MCs of long-standing local hip-hop group Cut Throat Logic, felt he might've been going out on a limb when he asked the legendary KRS-One to perform on a track for his first solo album. After all, the two had just met after Justus opened for KRS-One's show at the now-defunct Brickhouse last fall. But that show turned collaborative when Justus joined KRS-One onstage for a freestyle battle. Justus asked KRS-One to join him at the studio that night, but the MC made him take a rain check. He made good on his word a month later, though, when Justus opened for KRS-One in Los Angeles. The former frontman of Boogie Down Productions recorded some raps for Justus' song "Hip-Hop Today & Forever," shouting out Justus' name and giving props to the city of Phoenix. The song appears on Justus' record, Born Justus.

The Rhythm Room

This supergroup includes some of the most talented blues players in Phoenix — Big Pete Pearson (vocals), Chris James (guitar, vocals), Bob Corritore (harmonica), Brian Fahey (drums), and Patrick Rynn (bass) — and they've been bringing a classic Chicago blues sound to the Valley since 1991, when Corritore founded the band. They've been bringing down the house at their home venue and namesake, the Rhythm Room, ever since, also serving as a backing band for touring acts such as Bo Diddley, Louisiana Red, Pinetop Perkins, Nappy Brown, and Henry Gray. Whether they're rocking a raucous blues number like Lowell Fulson's "Too Many Drivers at the Wheel" or a slinky slide-guitar crawler like Little Milton's "Possum in My Tree," the Rhythm Room All-Stars always deliver a high-energy, soulful show brimming with blues. They play regularly at the Rhythm Room — more than monthly — but can most often be found rocking out on the third Friday of every month.

Best Place to Hear Jazz in Downtown Phoenix

The Lost Leaf

The Lost Leaf
The Lost Leaf

Every Sunday and Monday night, two of the Valley's best jazz ensembles, Jiggle and Moseyhorse, nestle themselves in the exposed-brick corner of this artsy beer/wine bar and play the hippest burning jazz in town. Jiggle, which starts at 9 p.m. each Sunday, is an experienced quartet that plays both originals and standards and features ASU prof and tenor saxophonist Bryon Ruth, woodwind player Scott Zimmer, in-demand bassist Ted Sistrunk, and young-buck drummer Shaun Lowecki. Every Monday at 10 p.m., the Tempe-based Moseyhorse focuses on straight-ahead takes on jazz originals and showcases guitarist Jeff Libman, John Chapman on bass, tenor saxophonist Jeff Gutierrez, and percussionist Lowecki.

Seeing these serious jazz cats jam in the no-frills environment reminds us of some of our favorite listening experiences in New York City, where jazz is king. But unlike NYC, where you're forced to pay at least $10 for one 45-minute set of music, there's never, ever a cover charge at The Lost Leaf. That rules.

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