Although it was definitely one of the more smaller of the outdoor stages at the Viva PHX last night, I'd be willing to bet the PHX Alley Stage offered, by far, the highest energy and most raucous crowd out of the entire music festival.
This shouldn't come as a surprise, seeing as it sort of became the unofficial Rubber Brother Records stage with three bands from the cassette-spewing and popular DIY label bringing the garage punk excitement.
As its name portends, the stage was nestled in an alley between the seven-story Heard Building and the much smaller structure known as The Hub just down the street from the Hotel San Carlos.
A large spray-painted banner hung above the stage helped provide thing a street art/DIY feel. Add in the street signs, the light rail trains rolling by, and half of a bike positioned above a door and the show almost really felt like it was some underground gig put together by punks. However its blaring sound system definitely detracted from the DIY vibe a bit.
Gap Dream's set was already in progress upon my arrival to the stage. The SoCal-based band was one of the many touring acts at the festival who made a stop in Phoenix while on their way to South by Southwest and their set was solid. Fronted by guitarist/vocalist Gabriel Fulvimar, Gap Dream's sound is a mix of garage rock with a hint of soul and hip-hop and was a good fit for the stage. They were on last night and will probably do very well in Austin.
The PHX Alley Stage's lineup was largely the domain of locals, and the ferocious-sounding Wolvves were right after Gap Dream. There is a good chance that anyone with a wristband who was not at the stage by 8 p.m. with the hopes of getting a good view of the show was completely wasting their time since it got packed by then.
"It was pretty wild," says Wolvves lead guitarist Isaac Parker about the band's set, which featured the night's first mosh pit. "When I heard about the festival, I was like I want to play that," he says. "I envisioned Wolvves on it."
Although they incited bodies that start colliding in front of the stage and left a crowd of more than 150 people satisfied and smiling, a few of the band's members (Parker and lead singer Aydin Immortal in particular) were very critical of their performance. "We kinda sucked," Immortal says. "The first half of the set we couldn't hear anything in the monitors. The gear was weird, there were monitors and shit. What the fuck is a monitor? It was stressful."
Orange County-based pop-punkers GRMLN experienced the same problem as Gap Dream. Their set was strong, their tunes sounded great, but the audience drawn to that particular stage just seemed to be locally focuses. The audience clearly enjoyed the music, they just did not respond the same way for the touring acts as they did for the locals.
Parker perfectly highlighted that local spirit that was flowing through the place with his reply when I asked what bands he was excited to see at Viva PHX. His answer: "Petty Things," who were up next in the Alley.
The band went on at 10 p.m. with bassist Austin Owen rocking an interesting black bass with no head on it and equally interesting pair of ripped underwear that showed off his ass crack. The crowd started out being a bit modest (unlike Owen) but quickly grew into a frenzied bunch of moshers, movers, and shakers. Some people were pushing and shoving and others were frolicking about to Petty Things' old-school garage rock sound.
The Alley Stage's last act Playboy Manbaby was running late in starting its set, so I went to the Hotel San Carlos to catch some of Dry River Yacht Club, but that stage was running behind as well. After meandering back to the alley where I watched something I had only seen happen before in commercials: An empty alley went from being almost empty to being filled to the brim with a crowd in a matter of moments as people were drawn in by the sound of awesome music.
Members of the Bad Cactus Brass Band joined playboy Manbaby on stage during their set, and together they collectively began filling the alley with great music. If it the outdoor venue would've had a roof over it, the two bands would've torn it off.
From the moment of their arrival, those in the crowd were following the direction of Manbaby frontman Robbie Pfeffer. At first, there was dancing, which became a full-on mosh and then included jumping up and down for "Minivan." Before Playboy Manbaby even realized it, they were putting on one of the most inspired sets of an altogether inspiring night.
For one single evening when Art Detour intersected with Viva PHX within blocks of each other, this little conservative cesspool of hate-mongering politicians and backwards-thinking knuckle draggers seemed like a vibrant city capable of exploding on to the national scene as a premier location for music and arts, if only for a few hours.
Immortal probably summed it up best: "It's a good omen that this festival exists today," he says. "Holy shit, five years ago there is no fucking way that this would happen. Five years ago I don't think this could have happened and five years from now I think it's going to happen right."