Grand Canyon University Arena

The idea of a band doing a 50-song set is enough to make even the most ardent concert-goer a little nervous. Fifty songs? Can any band maintain the level of energy and spirit to make that work? Factor in the band members' median age, 70, and those doubts are even more compounded. But despite all the unlikelihoods, The Beach Boys' 50th Anniversary concert at Grand Canyon University Arena wasn't just passable. It was tremendous. With all surviving original members, Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love, and David Marks, the boys nailed every song they took on — even the dreaded and rightfully reviled "Kokomo." The show was a rare thing in the world of anniversary and nostalgia cash grabs: a bona fide retrospective look at one of the pop music's greatest bands, a powerful stroll through their catalog, and, above all, a tremendously enjoyable show.

Arizona Federal Theatre

We're generally the kind of people who like to see more intimate shows, but you know, you can't see Bob Dylan at the Yucca, can you? (Come to think of it, that would be pretty awesome.) Luckily, the unique layout of Comerica Theatre makes big shows feel, well, a little less "arena-ish." Hosting a wide range of acts, from comedian Louis C.K. to classic rockers Guns N' Roses to Alice Cooper's annual Christmas Pudding soiree, Comerica's comfortable auditorium features nothing but good seats and is refreshingly air-conditioned. We'll take club shows any day of the week, but if we're sitting down, we want to do it here.

The Nile Theater

Few venues can boast as impressive a second act as The Nile Theater, in downtown Mesa. Since reopening under the direction of Mantooth Group in 2010, the venue has spearheaded a kind of downtown revival, hosting punk and hardcore in the sweaty and utterly rock 'n' roll basement (re-dubbed The Underground as opposed to just "the Nile Basement") and singer/songwriter/indie fare in the neighboring (and couch-equipped) Lo-Fi Coffee. Punk and hardcore legends — like The Bouncing Souls and Alkaline Trio — take the stage, and the folks at Mantooth are never shy about fostering a DIY sense of community, tapping the best of the all-ages rock scene to open up for venerated lifers and play the annual Within These Walls festival. Downtown Mesa still has a way to go, but with the likes of the Nile Theater leading the way, it's easy to see things heading where they ought.

The Rogue Bar

The Rogue Bar plays host to plenty of good touring acts (remember when controversial black metal band Liturgy brought its hipster sound to the Valley?), but the venue truly shines when it comes to locals. The venue's residency program, which gives a weekly platform for buzzing locals like Snake! Snake! Snakes! to experiment, curate lineups of their favorite bands, and try new material, has inspired similar shows at Crescent Ballroom and Long Wong's in Tempe. Owner Emmanuel Tripodis is a vocal booster of locals like Yus and rap-rock dynamos Wolphpac, and the excellent sound system at the venue and his tireless support of local music (he was early to champion local-friendly radio station KWSS) keep the Scottsdale bar a destination for fans. What's more, this year saw the return of dance parties at Rogue curated by William "Fucking" Reed, and the new night, "Rebel Yell," instantly reminded locals of the legendary "Shake" night at Rogue.

Crescent Ballroom

Charlie Levy apparently is a very patient man. After his famed Tempe music venue Nita's Hideaway closed in 2002, the local concert promoter waited almost a decade to open another place of his own. He was biding his time until a spot that was just the right size and in a perfect location became available. And when that day finally dawned last summer, he pounced, starting the process that brought the Crescent Ballroom to downtown Phoenix. Making up for lost time, Levy snatched up the location of flash-in-the-pan R&B joint Bentley's Nightclub and began a whirlwind three-month renovation of the building, a former auto garage constructed in 1917. Outside, unsightly stucco was removed to expose the original red brick underneath, while the inside was transformed into a concert hall with a swanky bar and lounge in the front. The Crescent made its debut last October, and it's been unlike any other music venue in the Valley. Patrons and musicians have raved about its choice acoustics and crystal-clear sound system, as well as such nifty amenities as the bleacher-like stadium seating in the rear of the house allowing the more diminutive fans a primo view of the stage. And they wouldn't want to miss a minute of any show, considering the level of talent that's performed here. A "who's who" of indie tastemakers, folk troubadours, and art rock icons have passed through the place, including names like Iron & Wine, Phantogram, Santigold, and St. Vincent, just to name a few. As a result of all of these factors, the Crescent has become a much-beloved concert palace and increased Levy's legend tenfold. Guess that patience paid off, right?

When nightlife impresarios Edson Madrigal, Pete Salaz, and Sean Badger dubbed their newest endeavor the regal-sounding Monarch Theatre, it wasn't a self-aggrandizing gesture. Truth be told, the trio pretty much reigns supreme over the downtown Phoenix club world. They already own Bar Smith, arguably the hottest joint along Washington Street's stretch of clubs, which hosts some of the more epic dance nights around — including Sticky Fingers, Solstice Saturdays, and The Scenario. (Plus, Senbad and Salaz are widely considered to be kings of the local house scene, thanks to more than two decades of working the mixers.) And the Monarch Theatre, which opened in April, is the veritable crown jewel of their growing empire. They took old-and-busted hip-hop spot PHX Nightclub and gave it a thorough makeover by pimping out the décor, installing a boss PK Sound system, expanding the dance floor to 7,000 square feet, and constructing an enormous stage. Renowned artist Lalo Cota also created a unique monarch butterfly painting out front. Aiming to give downtown its biggest room dedicated solely to electronic dance music, they teamed up with local promoters Relentless Beats to bring in marquee-level talent. Thus far, they've packed the 500-person venue by featuring the likes of electro-popsters Designer Drugs, house heavyweight Satoshi Tomiie, and Grammy-nominated electronica vocalist Nadia Ali. Plans are afoot to bring in nationally known Latin acts and turn the Monarch's second floor into a swanky lounge, thus bringing even more bodies to their door. It's good being the kings.

Readers Choice:

Yucca Tap Room
Lauren Cusimano

Don't let the fact that shows at the Yucca Tap Room are free fool you. The bar consistently books some of the best garage, power pop, punk, and metal acts in town, from touring stars like The Ataris and Radio Moscow to showcases from local stunners like Earthmen and Strangers and Avon Ladies. Things can get pretty wild at the Yucca, with bands often hopping off stage to roam the dance floor and bar (pop-punker Nobunny stood on the bar, wearing only a pair of briefs and a leather jacket), and that's part of the charm. You can wander in almost any night and find something crazy going down, and the selection of craft whiskeys at the Yucca's neighboring boutique bar certainly makes the decision that much easier.

Red Owl

The March shooting at a Nipsey Hussle show at the Clubhouse Music Venue in Tempe was a low point for the Valley hip-hop scene but hardly was indicative of the vibes cultivated by promoters like Sean Healy Presents and Universatile Music just down the street at Club Red/The Red Owl. The split club hosts punk, metal, and rock acts, too, but really shines with performances by hip-hop legends Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest and Talib Kweli and buzzy up-and-comers like Big K.R.I.T. and Brooklyn rapper Action Bronson (the latter performed part of his set from the Club Red bathroom). The selections walk the thin line between arty backpack rap and street-credible and savvy bangers, but consistently prove that the city's hip-hop tastes run deep.

The Rhythm Room

Local blues king Bob Corritore's long-running club turns 21 this year. That means it's old enough to drink legally, but something gives us the impression that the club has had a shot or two of the good stuff already. Corritore's mission to keep the blues flowing in Phoenix extends to his five-hour Sunday night blues radio show, Those Lowdown Blues, on local NPR affiliate KJZZ, but his dedication sweats it out on the stage, too. Each weekend, the club features some of Phoenix's finest, like Cold Shott and the Hurricane Horns, Bill Tarsha and The Rocket 88s, Tommy Dukes, George Bowman, and The Rhythm Room All-Stars (featuring Corritore on harmonica), as well as welcoming in traveling bluesmen like Shawn Pittman, Texas Red, and Arizona legend Hans Olson. They say it's all downhill after your 21st, but something tells us that the Rhythm Room's best days are still ahead.

Handlebar-J
Courtesy of Handlebar-J

The Herndon family has owned Handlebar J since 1975. In all those years, they've maintained a very simple policy: People like steaks and ribs, and they like country music. They've been giving Scottdale patrons exactly what they come for year after year. It's just a stone's throw from the bustling and flashy Old Town scene, and while you're certain to catch a few sparkly Ed Hardy T-shirts, Handlebar J fondly recalls the days when Scottsdale was known as "The West's Most Western Town." The latest dance moves might be practiced just a few blocks away, but on Handlebar J's sawdust-sprinkled floor it's all classic two-steps, and we're happy for the hoedown.

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