Best Local Band 2011 | Andrew Jackson Jihad | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix
Things are looking pretty damn good for Arizona music. Bands like What Laura Says, The Summer Set, Kinch, and The Maine are making national waves, proving that the Valley of the Sun has a thriving music scene. So what makes Andrew Jackson Jihad, the folk-punk duo of Sean Bonnette and Ben Gallaty our best local band? Lines like "I wish I had a bullet big enough fucking kill the sun / I'm sick of songs about the summer / And I hate everyone" from "Hate, Rain on Me," from the group's excellent new album, Knife Man, ought to help prove the point. The record finds the group truly coming into its own, bolstered by big drums, punk rock electric guitars, and a twisted sense of melody and humor. Bonnette's strength as a lyricist has never been clearer; not only does he deliver laugh out loud couplets like the one mentioned above, but also he follows them up with deeply humane, sardonic ones like "I want to put on my sweat pants / You know I'm trying to quit / I want to give a shit again." The group's work ethic is tireless, cranking out EPs and records at a yearly clip, and the duo hasn't been afraid to hit the road. Want to know exactly how much of an impact the band has had on a national audience? Do a quick YouTube search for Andrew Jackson Jihad covers. The results — a bunch of earnest, heart-on-sleeve amateur performers — demonstrate how deeply the band's music has connected with kids all over the country.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Ron Diep and Nathan Black send flowery love letters to Daft Punk every time they perform as a two-man tribute to the French electronica duo. And it's quite the tribute, to say the least. Each time the local act stages a gig (usually at such popular hipster affairs as Sticky Fingers and Cheap Thrills), those in attendance probably have to rub their eyes to make sure the real Daft Punk isn't in the house. That's because Diep and Black invested some serious cash in accurate copies of the costumes and masks used by their more famous doppelgangers. Even better, they've also built the same glowing pyramid-shaped podiums used by Daft Punk in concert. Oh, yeah, and they also do a damn good job of re-creating the band's up-tempo electro-funk sound, to boot. So until the day that the real Daft Punk visits the Valley (which hasn't happened yet), we'll be checking out Daft Punk'd instead.
The Rÿche are hardcore about their dedication to the music of Queensrÿche. While many tribute acts aim to nail the superficial aspects of a band's career — the outfits, hairstyles, and mannerisms —The Rÿche keep their goal strictly music, expertly mimicking the sounds of Queensrÿche's biggest albums, The Warning, Rage for Order, and Operation: Mindcrime. Though the members of The Rÿche are fans of Queensrÿche's modern work, they focus on the band's early discography, simply because that's what fans want to see. The band is humble about its gig, but The Rÿche's earned props from the official camp of their source material; when Queensrÿche singer Geoff Tate stopped by Club Red to sell his Insania Wine, The Rÿche was the event's official band, and Tate enthusiastically endorsed the band on stage.
There is a variety of music on display at Club Red, from indie rock to hip-hop, but the bar really shines when it comes to heavy metal. Saturday nights at the East Tempe venue crackle with the smell of Aquanet-stiff hairdos. Rockers like Y&T and Dizzy Reed of Guns 'n' Roses share the massive stage with tribute acts like The Rÿche and Hollywood Saints, evoking a time when guitar solos were king and the coolest dudes looked a lot like the hottest chicks. The fact that there's a Waffle House located in the same plaza doesn't hurt — scattered and covered hash browns are the perfect end to a night of fret-board histrionics and booze.
The concept at The Compound Grill is fresh Southwest selections, with the majority of its ingredients incorporating an organic, local-first, farm-to-table philosophy. Good food is a plus of this joint, but the real treat is the steady steam of great live music. The Compound Grill is a regional music venue where you can find a mix of offerings such as reggae, country soul, and Americana roots. Oh, and Compound Grill has strong ties to local charities, so when you see a show, the owners give back. That's live music that is guilt-free.
It wouldn't be a rock 'n' roll show if someone wasn't carried out on a stretcher. Or if a handful of concertgoers didn't need to hold ice packs to their cheeks. The kind of show where people go home without a cut or five is an unsuccessful attempt at appearing to look rock 'n' roll. You might as well attend a Jonas Brothers concert. But The Black Lips really know how to beat the crap out of an audience member or two, or at least inspire other crowdlings to do it for them. Okay, violence probably wasn't their intent, but the crowd at The Rhythm Room on June 22 took it as a chance to get their mosh on. Hard. PBR-infused excitement mixed with pure, beachy, indie punk rock lends itself to chaos. The band took the stage, and by the end of the night, a sizable portion of the audience had, too. One so-totally-not-gay kiss between guitarist Ian Saint Pé and Cole Alexander inspired two questionably legal ladies to do the same in front of the crowd. So maybe they're not role models, but would you trust them to kick your punk ass if they were?
Live Nation
It's not often a band plays a tiny mixed-use venue like Modified Arts on their first tour through Phoenix and the city's biggest theater, Comerica, on their second. But there aren't many bands like Arcade Fire. The standard-bearing indie band based in Montreal came through town in April, staging an incredibly memorable show that saw the band spot-on yet humble throughout. It'd been years since they played Phoenix, but their Grammy-winning, Billboard-topping album The Suburbs, which concerns singer Win Butler's deeply ambivalent feelings toward his gingerbready hometown outside Houston, really seemed to resonate with the Phoenix crowd. With the closer, "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)," about a town with dead shopping malls rising like mountains in a sprawled-out metropolis, Butler's wife, Régine Chassagne, put the cherry on top. Canadians stick together, so Steve Nash even showed up at this concert. Wonder if he ever went to Modified?
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.
Live Nation
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 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:

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