So, it's May. From the weary looks of Phoenix locals, it appears the desert hell that is a Valley of the Sun summer is about to fall. But fear not, heat-weary Phoenicians: Relief is as close as the bar at your favorite music venue. Here are five shows to check out if you have a free night this week. And if none of these tickle your fancy, check our extensive concert calendar for something more to your liking.
Who knew Wichita, Kansas, bred kick-ass bands? Japanese Game Show hails from the heartland but plays from the heart, with good humor and strong songwriting. A three-piece with a bassist-singer, a drummer, and a guitarist-synth player, Japanese Game Show is one of those regional bands touring through foreign markets, working their asses off to get exposure, that you just instantly want to root for. Check them out.
In one cover version of his sophomore album, Neon Icon, Riff Raff stands before hot pink lasers clutching a Husky puppy in one arm and a dumbstruck toddler in the other. You might not pick the Houston-based rapper to watch your kids or your dog, but if you wanted a night that was insane, this might be your MC. And not your "Haha, we drank too many cosmos and can't remember much" insane. More like "let's tattoo the BET logo on ourselves, take selfies with Harmony Korine, record a song about agriculture with Andy Milonakis and Dirty Nasty, and drive around on mushrooms" insane. Indeed, these are the kinds of after-school specials Riff Raff likes to get on, albeit not in one evening. But while on the rise just a few years ago, many called into question the authenticity of Horst Christian Simco (maybe that explains why he changed his name to that of the hunchback in The Rocky Horror Picture Show). If the last few months of bizarre frothing and insane collabs (everyone from Drake to Snoop Dogg to 2 Chains to Wiz Khalifia are apparently gonna be on this album) have proved anything, Riff Raff is definitely the animal he claims to be. --Troy Farah
Nikki Lane is raw, unabashed, and commanding -- and alluringly soft. Her music hardly follows the stereotypical country blueprint, which is part of what makes it so refreshing. Another part is the intensity packed into each song, from ferocious growls to sexy whispers, sneering jeers to quiet laments -- it's all Lane, inside and out. She simply kicks ass. Her latest album, All or Nothin', was produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, who gave it a distinctive edge. Lane states in a press release she was unsure Dan was the man to produce "country's next star," as she's been called. She was dead wrong, and her debut album, Walk of Shame, reveals her simmering potential hiding behind more trad-country. Auerbach exploits that potential, bringing it to the forefront by allowing Lane's true fire to burn though 12 tracks of scorching rockabilly (think early Wanda Jackson), blues-fueled country, and blustery paisley pop, all scattered with hints of vintage voodoo surf guitar, lusty New Orleans backbeats, and Duane Eddy twang filling the gaps. Lane's hell-raising side emerges often, notably on the promiscuous "Sleep with a Stranger" and the locomotive "Right Time," in which she proclaims, "It's always the right time to do the wrong thing." Indeed! --Glenn BurnSilver
Even after four albums, each drastically different from the others, Manchester Orchestra is a band headed in the right direction. The Atlanta band's 2006 debut, I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child, balanced anthemic jaunts "Wolves at Night" and "Now That You're Home" with the heartbreakingly reflective "Where Have You Been?" and "Don't Let Them See You Cry." On 2009's Mean Everything to Nothing, the band again offset soft ("I Can Feel a Hot One," about quietly grieving over the end of a relationship) with hard ("Pride," in which a jilted lover seeks revenge). With the release of 2011's radio-friendly Simple Math, the subdued, introspective moments began to make way for more straightforward rockers. And the just-released Cope shows Manchester Orchestra coming into its own as a bona fide rock band. The title track captures the same fury heard in "Pride," and the earworms "The Ocean" and "All That I Really Wanted" are chock-full of memorable riffs and hooky lyrics. It all adds up to a trajectory that sees Manchester Orchestra headed straight for the arena circuit. --Melissa Fossum
Loudon Wainwright III is father to Rufus and Martha, both of whom have cranked out some excellent albums. He was married to their mother, Kate McGarrigle, who also put out phenomenal albums, with her sister Anna McGarrigle (a suburb collection, Tell My Sister, is out on Nonesuch Records). So, call Wainwright the patriarch of a truly musical family. Wainwright's albums, especially his '70s output, are some of my favorite singer/songwriter records. He gets everything right most artists in the genre get wrong. He's funny without being a joke ("Rufus Is a Tit Man," "Lullaby"), he's a sad-sack without relentlessly hitting the same melancholy note ("The Man Who Couldn't Cry"), and he can sing about a casual hookup like its the most meaningful thing in the world, completely aware of his ruse ("Motel Blues"). His recent stuff isn't bad, either. 2008's Recovery was especially nice, a Joe Henry-produced set of full band takes on songs from his early solo albums, and last year's 10 Songs for the New Depression applied Wainwright's considerable wit to the financial crisis. --Jason Woodbury
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