Best SXSW Buzz for a Local Band 2008 | What Laura Says Thinks and Feels | Bars & Clubs | Phoenix

You couldn't go anywhere at the 2008 SxSW music festival in Austin without hearing somebody rave about Tempe band What Laura Says Thinks and Feels. They were named in Soundcheck magazine's "Label Alert: The 411 for Lovelorn A&R Reps" section, which proclaimed that WLSTaF "will slay you" live, and "you will die of pure, unadulterated happiness." They received a shout-out from Miami New Times music editor Arielle Castillo, who called them "a bunch of shaggy, long-haired types with a really pleasant, tripped-out, fleshed-out, psych-y sound." They got props in numerous national music blogs, from and Some Velvet Blog to and ultra8201. They even were mentioned in news stories by, MTV, and Reuters.

Anyone who's heard the amazing pop arrangements and Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies of these multi-instrumentalists shouldn't be surprised at all the buzz. What's shocking is that the band is still unsigned by a record label. We suspect it's not because there's a lack of interest (the band reports it has been in talks with some labels but won't reveal details until a contract is inked). If you didn't catch the band at SxSW, check out one of its local shows soon, because this band is bound to hit the highway for greener pastures at some point.

Led by singer/guitarist Mark Zubia (formerly of the Chimeras, the Pistoleros, and the Zubia Brothers), Los Guys provide the perfect medium between drunken dance-party music and straight-up rockin' Americana. The core is the soulful 'n' tough twang of Zubia, the consistency of drummer Gary Smith (also of alt-rock trio Storyline), the coiling rhythms of bassist Paul Cordone (also of Phoenix funk band Chocolate Fountain), and pianist/organist Tim Rovnak (whose crisp, soloist style is similar to the Rolling Stones' main ivories man, Chuck Leavell). But there are also numerous notable "guest" members who join Los Guys in the studio and on the stage, including guitarist Josh Kennedy of Violet Wild, rock troubadour Shelby James, indie rocker Jim Beach of the Jim Beach band, and Scott Andrews of Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers and Gin Blossoms.

This six-piece band was formed in 2002, after a group of musicians got together for a last-minute gig at a company awards party in Hawaii. When the new band was informed it'd be playing five nights, it assembled a list of cover songs that it could quickly learn. At the party, the company vice president dared the band to let some businessmen sing onstage with it. The Instant Classics have been letting countless people sing onstage with them ever since, branding themselves a live karaoke band. They play everywhere from clubs to company parties to weddings, and their song list has grown to include something for everyone, whether you want to sing your guts out to Alanis Morissette's "You Oughtta Know," slaughter Bob Marley's "Jammin'," or drag your friends onstage to shout along to AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long." Free-for-alls are a regular occurrence, especially as the hour grows late and singers consume more alcohol. Have you ever seen six of your colleagues onstage with a rock band, drunkenly swaying arm-in-arm and all shouting, "Give it away give it away give it away now," into a single microphone? Call The Instant Classics, and you may see just that. The best part is, all the musicians are skilled session players and seasoned from touring, so no matter how bad you sound, they always sound good, managing to mask the most peripheral imperfections.

When the young, petite sisters of death-metal band Hellen, Mindy and Desiree Duponte, first caught our attention two years ago, we were impressed with their raging brand of guttural metal and psycho-operatic vocals. But before the sisters could fully realize their potential as Hellen, Desiree passed away suddenly in April 2007. Mindy took a hiatus, unsure whether she would even continue playing. Ultimately, she decided to continue with Hellen, landing new bandmate Corrie Zazzera (former guitarist for Phoenix punk band The Dames), who found Duponte on MySpace and auditioned at her house.

The result is an even heavier, more full-sounding Hellen than ever before. The live track "OMG," on the band's MySpace page, showcases the burlier sound, and the unfinished demos ("Falling Asleep" and "Pow") contain some impressive vocal harmony by Zazzera and Duponte, whose lead vocal/fierce drumming combination is an anomaly. They've got a handful of new songs and started recording their first album in the spring. In between recording, they've opened gigs for national acts like Otep and played other shows on the West Coast, proving you just can't keep a good metal band down.

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.

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.

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