For the second year in a row, UnSkinny Bop, a local Poison tribute band, is the undisputed best in Phoenix. When we wrote about them last year, we discussed the amazing potential they have, given their physical resemblance to the original act along with their ability to either do spot-on renditions or go with the flow, reinterpreting the songs where appropriate — just like the real deal. Now, that potential is being realized, as they're appearing in John Cusack's upcoming movie Hot Tub Time Machine, playing Bret, Rikki, Bobby, and C.C. on the silver screen. Not too many tribute bands anywhere can claim such a compliment.
Throughout his decade-long career as a guitar-wielding country music star, Phoenix native (and Capitol Records artist) Dierks Bentley has penned many a heartfelt song for his fans. There's "My Last Name," an emotional number from his 2003 self-titled album in which he sings about his family's history and legacy, or "I Can't Forget Her," an aching and remorseful post-mortem of a broken relationship. But Bentley's most poignant and personal song, by far, to date is "Hey, Jordan," an upbeat and soulful acoustic ballad that's laced with melancholy and sorrow over the loss of Jordan Sterling, a lifelong friend and fellow Valley native who passed away in January at the age of 34. Sterling had spent his entire life battling cystic fibrosis (as had his sister Brooke) but took a turn for the worst last year after doctors accidentally pierced an artery near his lung. Bentley wrote the song as a tribute after Sterling's death, encapsulating his memories and feelings for his fallen friend in such lines as, "Hey, Jordan, do you remember all the good time we both had? / Hey, Jordan, it made me so happy, and oh so sad." He sung it at Jordan's funeral and publicly debuted it at this year's Last Call Ball at The Cannery Ballroom in Nashville, bringing a tear to the eye of many of his fans in attendance. Sterling's family was also touched by the song, as evidenced by comments left by a relative on its YouTube page: "This song is about my cousin! It's awesome that Dierks has taken [it] to the world. It was amazing to have him sing this song at the funeral." We're certain that wherever he is now, Jordan enjoyed hearing the song, too.
Are you a little bit country, but your friends are more rock 'n' roll? Then Graham Central Station in south Tempe is where you should head, partner, as everyone in your party will find a rip-roaring good time every Wednesday through Saturday night. While the multi-room nightspot boasts different club areas (offering karaoke, hip-hop, and retro music), cowboys are treated like kings here. In addition to line-dancing lessons on different nights of the week, cowpokes and their ladies can boot-scoot and bounce their badonkadonks to current country tunes (or the occasional performance by singing stars like Neal McCoy) inside the Rockin' Rodeo. There's also a mechanical bull-riding contest every Wednesday, which offers the chance to win a $500 cash prize. That oughta buy a lot of Wranglers, right thar!
The Chandler strip mall that houses Tom Ryan's is turning into a virtual ghost town, for all intents and purposes, with more than a half-dozen shuttered retail spaces looking more vacant than Boot Hill Cemetery at midnight. But the bar has managed to cheat death (à la Clint Eastwood's badass bounty hunter in Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars), thanks to the loyal patronage of buckaroos and urban cowboys. One of the major draws is the bar's live shows, each Thursday through Saturday, by a Southern-fried slate of boot-scootin' bands like Mesa's country-rock trio Mogollon. Another regular is ASU poli-sci student Michael Easterday, a CMT Music City Madness contestant who performs along with a three-member backing band. Everyone at Tom Ryan's thinks the kid crooner will someday make it to Nashville. Guess they can say they heard him here first.
Every Thursday, The Blooze Bar dusts off its blue suede shoes and greases its gears for "Rockabilly Night," a roof-raising weekly that features some of the Valley's best rockabilly bands, including The High Rollers, The Jump Back Brothers, The Toomstoners, The Rhythm Dragons, and Voodoo Swing. National acts light up the stage, too, with performers like Johnny Falstaff coming from Texas and The Booze Bombs coming from as far away as Germany. Pabst Blue Ribbons are only $1.75 on Rockabilly Night, and the presence of numerous Valley car clubs — with their retro rods and custom classics, enjoying the perk of "VIP Hot Rod Parking" — adds to the ambiance.
The late Sid Copeland was reportedly a helluva guy. The former owner of this east Phoenix punk institution, who sadly passed away in 2006, had a reputation of being easygoing and generous. He was a much-beloved figure in the local scene, providing his customers with a shoulder to lean on in times of woe or making sure every musician who played got paid (even if it was only $5). In the shadow of such a legacy, it's only natural to feel Jugheads' current proprietors Donnie Phillippi and Chris Ceimo have some big shoes to fill since buying the place in January. We're happy to report it's been so far, so good. Like Copeland, they've booked a mix of established local punk and rockabilly acts (Grave Danger, Dephinger, Casket Life) with up-and-comers (Cosmeticators, Automatic Erasers). Besides being just as affable as their predecessor, the trio plan on keeping the PBR cheap ($1 a can most nights) and the jukebox stocked with tunes by the likes of G.G. Allin, Propaghandi, and Face to Face. We're sure Sid would be proud.
The rarity of live-music shows taking place in Valley homes isn't so much about a lack of interest as it is a by-product of our desert ecology. You see, the impenetrable Sonoran Desert prevents many dwellings from boasting a basement, so noise from amplified bands tends to leak into neighbors' bedrooms and, we imagine, peeve the neighborhood. That's why The Tribe House is so special: There's a friggin' basement, which showcases a wide range of hip-hop, singer-songwriters, noise ensembles, and local grindcore. Though the home's forever-rotating core of residents books some talented groups, they aren't too on-the-ball with publicizing the last-minute, donation-based concerts, so check area coffee shops for fliers or MySpace/Facebook for event postings.
It's been 13 years since Senbad (a.k.a. Sean Badger) first burst upon the Phoenix DJ scene, and a lot has transpired in that time: Nights have come and gone, killer clubs like Freedom in Tempe and Next in Scottsdale were born only to (sadly) die, and the musical tastes of ever-fickle crowds have constantly changed. (Remember big beat, anyone? How about electroclash?) Meanwhile, this 30-something "house music souldier" has remained a constant, slinging out the sounds alongside longtime partner Pete "Supermix" Salaz at venues across the Valley. Their long-running shindig Solstice, which also features hip-hop mavens Benjamin Cutswell and Element, is in its third year at Bar Smith, and their ample patronage shows no signs of abating. Keep battling on, Badger.