Best Tribute Band 2008 | UnSkinny Bop | Bars & Clubs | Phoenix

Very few tribute bands attain such a degree of national success that members of the original band recognize or perform with the tribute band or such that the tribute band is able to sustain itself on a national tour. There are The Atomic Punks (a tribute to Roth-era Van Halen) and Led Zepagain (Led Zeppelin tribute), both from California. And there is UnSkinny Bop, the nation's foremost Poison tribute band, from right here in Phoenix. The band not only physically resembles '80s-era Poison — right down to the big hair, lipstick, and spandex — but does a pretty amazing re-creation of Poison's sound live, too. UnSkinny Bop is so sincere in its spot-on renditions of Poison songs that the band actually records the covers and posts the audio files on the UnSkinny Bop Web site. The band is so sublimely imitative of the original that — prior to Poison's reuniting — promoters were looking to book UnSkinny Bop to open shows for Poison's fellow '80s hair-metal acts Warrant and Firehouse. UnSkinny Bop recently returned from a national jaunt called the Bad Boys 2008 Tour and is currently unleashing its brand of jock 'n' roll at a Valley club near you.

TDO rocks on the contemporary tip, with an original sound that blends folk, rock, jazz, and pop — sometimes in a single song. The band's latest (and only) studio album, East Meets West, displays the Phoenix trio's ability to merge smart acoustic arrangements with unbridled jams, but it's Ten Dollar Outfit's two live albums — Live at The Clubhouse and Live at Chandler Center — that really show off the band's musical dexterity. Like the Grateful Dead, Ten Dollar Outfit takes its studio recordings and stretches them into epic, extemporaneous odysseys in a live setting. Given that frontman Brian Chartrand names Steely Dan as one of his biggest influences, it's no surprise that these jams are often keyboard-heavy and lean in a progressive-rock direction. In the studio, TDO is solid, but the live show is where the trio really comes unhinged and rocks it. And in an era when studio wizardry often masks musical ineptitude, being able to say your group is a "live band" is quite an accomplishment.

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."

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