Best Place to See an Underground Punk Show 2012 | Meat Market Garment Factory | Bars & Clubs | Phoenix
Jason P. Woodbury

At Meat Market Garment Factory, it's business up front, party in the back. We're not suggesting that Ben Funke or Cory Martinez, the fashionable young couple who run this small DIY venue, proudly sport Kentucky Waterfalls. We simply are describing how things are set up here. The anterior portion of this under-the-radar space, located in a Tempe office park, is devoted to storing stock for their Mill Avenue clothing shop Meat Market Vintage, while the rear is where underground punk, hardcore, and indie rock shows are staged. Despite being in the same ilk as other lo-fi industrial storage venues like the dank (and now-shuttered) Yellow Canary Dancehall, MMGF has some charm and actual décor to it, including retro-style salon hairdryers serving as seating and a variety of quirky-looking sweaters and shirts hanging from the ceiling rafters. And then there's the old neon signage from defunct punker haven Eastside Records, which Funke (a longtime member of the local music scene) somehow got his hands on and placed along one wall. It adds an extra bit of punk legitimacy to the proceedings.

Mesa bar Hollywood Alley is a longstanding fixture in the Phoenix scene, known as a home to hip-hop, punk, garage, and, notably, metal. In recent years, a specific brand of powerful and crushing Phoenix metal has found a home at the venue, with bands like Daughters of Fission, TwinGiant, Enirva, and Hogjaw lugging heavy amps into the bar to blast the down-tuned stuff. It's not bonehead metal, the scene that gathers at the Alley — it's something else, something knottier and more complicated, but not lost up its own rear end or lacking soul. The Alley's been around forever, and if it's home to this kind of stuff, we hope it never goes away.

You can't ask for much more. On a cool evening (Saturday, January 21, to be exact) Wilco performed at beautiful Gammage Auditorium. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the pink wedding cake of a structure is, arguably, not the best when it comes to acoustics. Didn't matter this night. Carefully blending disparate elements of country rock, experimental German art music, driving pop, and blue-eyed soul, songwriter Jeff Tweedy and his band had the sold-out audience swooning. The stage was gorgeous, bathed in blue light with orange accents on hanging papier-mâché cut-outs. The set was perfect, featuring crowd favorites like "Hotel Arizona" and the ecsatic "Impossible Germany." It's one of those shows you lie and say you were at even if you weren't. In a word, legendary.

It almost feels like cheating: Joel Marquard's spectacular Through and Through Gospel review performance on Saturday, July 14, was a local music triumph, uniting members of some of the Valley's best bands — Gospel Claws, What Laura Says, Where Dead Voices Gather, Ladylike, Yellow Minute, and more — for an eight-song set that felt almost as much like church (in a good way) as it did a club show. Not to mention that most of the aforementioned bands played beforehand, making the show feel almost like a festival, a sort of precursor to Crescent's Dias de la Crescent two-day event in the fall. Marquard's makeshift gospel hymns were given a powerful lift by the all-star Phoenix cast, and the whole thing was made even more special by its exclusivity: Marquard doesn't plan on trying to re-create it. And how could he?

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.

Live Nation

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.

Benjamin Leatherman

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 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.

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.

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