Phoenix Suns Arena
When everyone's favorite pop weirdo stopped by US Airways Center in March, Lady Gaga brought the spectacle that follows her wherever she goes. That was to be expected. The woman who once wore a dress made of meat and showed up to the Grammys in a giant egg has a bizarre legacy to live up to, for sure, but seeing it in person is another story. During the second stop on her Monster Ball tour, the pint-size Gaga made her first appearance in a see-through plastic dress, surrounded by gorgeous male dancers wearing Spanx and bike helmets. You get the impression that Gaga could completely drop the "ringmaster of the circus" act. Her talent is almost wasted on the sideshow surrounding her. Her love for what she does still shines through over-exposed pop hits as she belts lyrics with enough emotion that you'd think she had written them on the spot. Well, maybe if thousands of fans weren't screaming the words right back at her. The lovable deviant act is fun, sure — especially when she tells a crowd mostly comprising 14-year-old girls to "Come on, get your dicks out. Dance, you motherfuckers!" — but this show proved she's more than just a Madonna/Marilyn Manson hybrid. Even if she's using all their old tricks.
Arizona Federal Theatre
There are some experiences in life that happen so rarely that one absolutely has to partake in them. Seeing Halley's Comet is one, as the famed celestial object makes it to our corner of the solar system only once every 76 years. Almost as rare is getting to watch Gorillaz performing a live gig in Phoenix. The British alt-rock/hip-hop music and multimedia project has rarely toured, mostly because they were a "virtual band" of cartoon characters (voiced by former Blur frontman Damon Albarn and other artists) up until a few years ago. Even then, they mostly held concerts in bigger cities like New York, London, and Los Angeles. So when Gorillaz staged their show at Comerica Theatre last October, we eagerly plunked down $65 to be in attendance. Consisting of a dazzling mixture of music and animation, the gig featured most of the songs from the Gorillaz discography being played by an impressive array of musicians. The show included a seven-piece string section, the eight-person Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, the National Orchestra for Arabic Music, four backup vocalists, two drummers, and former Clash members Mick Jones and Paul Simonon. Plus, frequent collaborators like De La Soul, Bobby Womack, Bootie Brown, and Little Dragon also performed with Gorillaz. It was worth every penny.
Mesa Arts Center
Mesa Arts Center is known for bringing plays, guest speakers, and classical dance to the Valley, but the venue has established itself as a prime concert spot in recent years. Indie acts like The Weepies and The Decemberists are given equal footing with bluegrass acts like Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers and avant-jazz from Return to Forever. The seating is plush and comfortable — and though it's tough to rock out at the MAC, the sound quality is gorgeous, the lighting is top-notch, and the surroundings are beautiful. Mesa isn't exactly a hot spot for entertainment, but the MAC is leading the charge with like-minded establishments like The Royale and The Nile in bringing thoughtful, creative entertainment to the East Valley.Readers' Choice:
The Trunk Space
It's all true: The Trunk Space doesn't have the best sound system in town, it gets way too hot, and plenty of times the crowd smells like it needs a collective introduction to the deodorant aisle at Fry's. So why is it the best venue for local musicians? Simply because proprietors JRC and Steph Carrico sweat it out for local music, offering a place for local musicians to get started, hosting all-ages shows with an emphasis on spirit and community, and putting the experience of seeing passionate musicians before the comforts afforded by many other clubs. The music is wildly varied, likely to feature pop-punk from acts like Dogbreth, noise-punk from Vegetable, and twee-folk from Owl and Penny. Admission prices almost never go over $10, ensuring that the DIY ethos espoused by the bands fit those of the hardworking people behind the counter.Readers' Choice:
Blooze Bar
The Blooze Bar boasts the longest-running rockabilly night in the Valley — just take a second to think about how many tricked-out custom cars have sat in that parking lot, how many Reds have been casually smoked, and how many combs have nonchalantly been raked through grease-stiff hair under the bar's glowing electric blue neon sign. Some of the Valley's toughest greaser acts have graced the stage at The Blooze, like Pat Roberts & the Heymakers, Voodoo Swing, and The Rhythm Dragons. If you are looking for a place to show off your new creepers, pompadour, or gussied-up sportster, look no further, daddy-o.
Don't go cruising into Norton's Country Corner wearing anything but standard cowboy gear — boots, Levis, and a Wrangler button-down — or you'll be in for some sideways looks from the regulars. Norton's is about as "country" as it gets, located out in Queen Creek, where the locals gather to sip cold ones and catch western bands tearing it up on the dancehall stage. The Pueblo-style building exudes a hickified charm, and the jukebox is loaded with classics from Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Dwight Yoakam — as well as a few odder choices, like a "best of" collection from Prince. Because, you know, cowboys get funky, too.
Handlebar-J
Courtesy of Handlebar-J
Handlebar J comes loaded with no shortage of honky-tonk history. Opened in 1966, the club has been under the management of the Herndon Brothers, whose family band, The Herndon Brothers Band, plays both kinds of music — country and Western — Wednesday through Sunday nights at the longstanding establishment, attracting visiting Nashville stars and Scottsdale urban cowboys alike. The bar offers more than just music, with comedy shows and a menu loaded with steaks and sandwiches, but we don't blame you if you're too buys line dancing and spinning your partner do-si-do to sit down for a bite.
Shady's
Lauren Cusimano
Celebrating its sixth anniversary, Shady's is the not-to-be-missed neighborhood bar in Central Phoenix. With its dark, retro interior, friendly bartenders, and amazing jukebox, Shady's has become a staple for service-industry employees and mature hipsters who like to throw back a few after a long day. Not only does the bar offer custom cocktails (try the signature Drink to Forget, a boozy coffee concoction), it also has been dabbling in the craft-beer scene. From such on-tap beers as Odell's 90 Shilling and Nimbus A-1 Pilsner to bottles of Stone IPA and Dogfish Head 60 Minute, even the biggest CenPho beer snob can find something to drink here. Another cool thing about Shady's: If you become a fan on Facebook, you'll be hooked-up with secret passwords that will get you drink specials galore. Oh, and don't forget, free pool until 7 on Sundays. This is one neighbor you'd be happy to live next to.
The Lost Leaf
The Lost Leaf
You won't find booze or a jukebox. You can't play a game of pool here, and you sure as hell won't be able to stare mindlessly at a TV at this little circa 1920s house turned bar — which is exactly why we love it. What you will find is a huge selection of the best craft beer around (including gluten-free and organic brews), an unbeatable wine list, and the perfect spot to gather with friends, socialize, admire art work, catch a live band, harass the extra-friendly bartenders, or, if you prefer, hang out on the narrow patio and make new friends while chain-smoking away. Beware: Lost Leaf sits smack-dab in the middle of Fifth Street, just south of Roosevelt Street, so expect a line out the door on First Friday.
Zipps Sports Grill
Courtesy of Zipps
Boasting a retro look that's a kitschy mix of English décor (Renaissance-style oil paintings, wrought-iron fixtures, and stuffed deer heads) and more wingback chairs than your grandpa's wood-paneled den, the Fox & Hound gives off the vibe of an old-timey hunting lodge. Since it's located in South Phoenix instead of Southampton, you're more likely to see the blue-collar crowd enjoying a $2.75 draft beer following a long workday than noblemen partaking in a snifter or two after a day of sport. The antique-looking bar is also the gathering spot for guests of the Best Western that houses the lounge, which is manned by a cheeky wait staff. While said drink-slingers probably don't give a flying flip about mixology or the trendiest in flavored vodkas, they'll definitely pour you a no-frills cocktail that's long and strong.

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