Charlie Brand works the self-deprecating-artist shtick better than any other musician we've met. Where most artists may brag about touring with marquee-level acts or getting their faces on TV, the soft-spoken guitarist/vocalist for indie quirk-poppers Miniature Tigers tends to shrug off their numerous successes. So we estimate that Brand's been shrugging a lot over the past 12 months, as he and bandmate Rick Schaier have been on a major roll since last fall. After having the infectiously catchy songs as "Cannibal Queen" and "Dino Damage" broadcast on taste-making SoCal college station KCRW, the Mini T's (who are signed to Sony-funded indie label Modern Art Records) performed to packed houses at October's CMJ Music Marathon in New York. Earlier this year, they were chosen by Ben Folds to accompany him on an East Coast tour, and they followed that up with an appearance at South by Southwest and by winning an online contest that got their videos played on MTVu. We're betting that if you're a frustrated musician in an unsigned Valley band, chances are you hate Brand even more than he detests himself.

Hundreds of Valley bands toured this year, but no one did it with as much panache as Jimmy Eat World, who played their 1999 magnum opus Clarity front-to-back in 10 cities across the country. Sure, those confused, lovelorn teenage anthems like "Can You Still Feel the Butterflies?" sounded great in the suburban bedrooms of a typical Millennial's childhood, but the record that forever linked "Arizona" and "emo" has also aged surprisingly gracefully. We were the tour's last stop, a sold-out Marquee show where Jim Adkins and Company tapped the same opening bands as they did for the CD release party 10 years earlier at the now defunct Green Room. That's classy. The show was nothing short of phenomenal, making many folks who are probably a little too old to lose their inhibitions at a rock show sing along like Gorbachev-era Russian teens seeing Bon Jovi for the first time.

Though they were already signed to a record label — and quite probably already tapped to make an appearance at California's Coachella music festival — before their Texas adventure this year, local indie act Dear and the Headlights seemed to make a breakthrough at Austin's South by Southwest music industry showcase. Leading a contingent of seven Phoenix bands, Dear and the Headlights played four shows in four days and networked like crazy. Like a lot of bands, they went there more to impress industry types than the handful of casual fans shelling out $600 for a badge, and it seemed to work, as something they did this spring opened up doors at the east coast's big festival, Bonnaroo, the Vans Warped Tour, and several influential blogs.

Best Grammy-Winning Group You May Have Never Heard (or Heard Of)

Phoenix Chorale

Quick. Name an Arizona-based artist who scored consecutive Grammys for 2007 and 2008? Alice Cooper, George Benson, or DMX? Nope. It's the Phoenix Chorale. Never heard of them? Then you need to wake up, because the choral ensemble formerly known as the Phoenix Bach Choir is a heavy-hitting enterprise in the classical music world, taking home a bronze phonograph statuette this year for Best Small Ensemble Performance. With eccentric artistic director and composer Charles Bruffy leading the 25-plus-person ensemble, they perform blow-you-away a cappella music roughly a dozen times each season, which runs from October to May. The group also opens up its home base, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral at 100 West Roosevelt Street, for free First Fridays rehearsals.

Okay, so the timing was bad: The Medic Droid broke up a week after we put them on our cover. But, we've gotta hand it to this MySpace success story. They broke up in style, starting with onstage spats and continuing through an exchange of online barbs. This electro-pop act (imagine if Perez Hilton had a band) was poised for serious success, having completed its first national tour and slated to play king-making indie fest South by Southwest. Instead, they flamed out quickly and beautifully, all in the public eye. If we have to have a band break up while an issue featuring them on the front cover is barely off newsstands, we're glad it could happen in such a gloriously entertaining way.

Goat Head Saloon

Attending open mic nights at Valley bars is often akin to being an excited kid on Christmas morn: You're hoping for something good, like an unsigned troubadour who croons beautifully, instead of something lousy, which in this case might be some no-talent freakazoid who should be singing only in the shower. Thankfully, the wanna-be musicians, comedians, poets, and other participants at the weekly acoustic/electric open mic at Goat Head generally fall into the first category. Sure, the tavern's witnessed a few Gong Show-caliber efforts (like one yukster noob whose racial jokes were a bigger bomb than Nagasaki), but most of the performers toting their instruments onstage for a three-to-four song set provide solid entertainment. While the music leans more toward the roots/Americana/country variety (as evidenced by the evening's folkster host Carey Slade), a few rockers are known to pop by occasionally. Just don't expect to see any participants on American Idol anytime soon.

Korean BBQ
Karaoke rooms aren't a total novelty in the Valley anymore, thanks in large part to Scotts­dale's posh Geisha A Go Go, but there's still nowhere that gives you an experience quite as authentic as this Mesa restaurant. Most folks in here are Asian, and the cramped (yet surprisingly comfortable) karaoke room is stocked with songs by all your favorite Japanese and Korean pop stars as well as an odd and slightly off-putting assortment of remixed American fare. When did The Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" get a bouncy bass line and bits of electronica trim? Who cares?! Order another sake bomb and get ready to sing along to the disco-remix of "My Heart Will Go On." The room will set you back about $100, but the drinks come at Mesa prices, so that makes up for it.
Yucca Tap Room
Lauren Cusimano

What's better than rocking out to karaoke? How about doing it with a live band instead of a poorly translated laserdisc with incongruous video footage? The four-member posse of Rockaroke has a repertoire of oldies-but-goodies and a few newer tracks ready for you to obliterate with your drunken renditions. Try belting out The Beatles' "Hey Jude" or Radiohead's "Creep." Whatever you croon, it'll sound better with a backing band. If you think it sounds too good to be true, we have one thing to say to you: Don't stop believin'.

Tossing the fat guy out of your hair metal cover band seems like a good idea. Sure, maybe the dude can play, but if you're getting all dolled up in lipstick and leather pants, and maybe growing a real mullet to increase the authenticity (you know, so you can make this a career, man), you need to make sure everyone looks as young and coked-out as possible. So, traditional wisdom says Metalhead was probably doing the right thing by parting ways with their former guitarist G-String, however that went down. That is, until he got involved with Hairforce, doing the same Bon Jovi songs in the same ridiculous outfits for the same Old Town Scottsdale crowd his old band had used as a launching pad for their now multi-city empire. Now they've got competition fighting them for the same slice of pathetic pie. And, from what we've seen, that competition is actually better. Hairforce has some dudes who've had a few rather successful local bands, and they've set themselves up nicely at Upper Deck.

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.

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