The third annual Viva PHX festival will take over downtown Phoenix this Saturday, March 12, and it promises to be bigger and better than ever. With 70 bands spread across 17 venues in one night, there will be something for everyone. Whether your tastes are country and cumbia or hip-hop and indie rock, the only difficultly you may have is getting to see everything you want to hear as you race around downtown. I’ve listened to every artist playing the festival and after quite a bit of review, here are ten artists I consider acts that you just can’t miss, either because they are music legends or they soon will be. Check out the full Viva PHX 2016 schedule here.
Afrika Bambaataa (11:30 p.m., Monarch Theatre)
Afrika Bambaataa is one of the progenitors of rap and hip-hop. Upon releasing "Planet Rock" in 1982, he became recognized as one of the great pioneers along with the likes of The Sugarhill Gang paving the way for the rise of hip-hop music and culture. Before even stepping up to lay that mad groove on wax, he was already considered one of hip-hop's preeminent DJs and the founder of The Zulu Nation. Not only is he the Godfather of hip-hop culture, the first time the term hip-hop ever appeared in print was when Steven Hager quoted Bambaataa in the Village Voice. If you've ever heard Rage Against The Machine's "Renegades of Funk," that's a cover of his song. This is one set not to miss for this man's legacy alone.
Eleanor Friedberger (10 p.m., Valley Bar)
You may know Eleanor Friedberger better as one half of The Fiery Furnaces, which she founded with her brother Matthew. Now she is three albums into her solo career, and that's how she'll be playing at Viva PHX. Fresh off the release of her third album, New View, which just dropped at the end of January and has been greeted by critics with favorable reviews all around the board. MOJO raved that "New View furthers Friedberger's quest to declutter, finding great pop and occasional profundity in getting to the point and letting her tunes ring clear." Her current aesthete is bathed in nods to '70s pop maestros like Harry Nilsson and Jackson Browne and are best heard resting your head outside in the sunshine on a lazy afternoon.
Rocket From The Crypt (9:15 p.m., Monroe Street outside stage)
Rocket From The Crypt were on the crushing wave that founded indie rock in the early 1990s. Their early records such as Paint As A Fragrance, Circa: Now, and Scream Dracula Scream are considered classics of the decade and were more than enough to ensure their legacy for the ages. Rising with the likes of Pavement, Sebadoh, Superchunk and others, RFTC took to merging punk rock with a horn section and a lo-fi aesthetic. This was groundbreaking material back in the day and now more than 20 years later, these records still hold up incredibly well. They may not have put out an album in over a decade, but they don't need to as they continue their reunion tour, which has been running strong for nearly four years. This is what sold me on Viva PHX, period.
The Growlers (10:45 p.m., Monroe Street outdoor stage)
California's The Growlers have been putting out their own fantastic brand of garage-laden surf rock since their debut with 2009’s Are You In Or Are You Out? They blend genres from country to indie rock to heavy doses of psychedelia and they are going to be one of the most fun bands to catch at Viva PHX. They call their style "Beach Goth" which may be what happens when you throw so many influences into a blender and give it heavy effects and the reverb treatment. Lead singer Brooks Nielsen has a bit of a Bob Dylan edge to his voice and it accents the swirling musical backdrops they create perfectly and lends the Americana feel to the entire affair. They somehow achieve the impossible, using their classic rock influences to create a great sound without sounding out of place with the modern times.
Kitten (9 p.m., Masonic Temple)
LA's Kitten is largely the musical conduit for one Chloe Chaidez, and across three EPs and a full-length album, she has been putting some of the most compelling danceable indie rock around. She is on the cusp of releasing her highly anticipated new EP, Heaven or Somewhere In Between, and if the new single "Fall On Me" is any indication, it's going to be a real stunner. When Kitten released their full-length debut album in 2014, Rolling Stone named it number 16 in its list of 20 Best Pop Albums of that year. The band has had an ever changing array of members with the exception of Chaidez, whose signature voice is honestly all that matters here. She can somehow rage with the best of raving post punk influences or careen into new wave and synthpop romanticism.
This Will Destroy You (10 p.m., Crescent Ballroom)
This Will Destroy You is going to be one of the more engaging acts featured at this year's Viva PHX, more for standing out stylistically than anything else. This fascinating post-rock band (which they hate being called) presents stunning instrumentals filled with atmospheric effects and may seem reminiscent of Explosions In The Sky or our very own Underground Cities. They've been putting out their challenging ambient compositions for over a decade, and their roll through three studio albums seems unabated. I'm certainly hoping another album is in the works, but 2014’s Another Language is still getting heavy play for me, so maybe I can wait a bit longer. I would highly recommend that you check out their wall of noise performance. Let's hope their set is a little later in the evening for maximum enjoyment after the imbibing of your choice.
Sage Francis (9:15 p.m., Crescent Ballroom outdoor stage)
Sage Francis hails from Rhode Island, and he is both a hip-hop artist and a spoken word poet, as well as the founder and CEO for indie hip-hop label Strange Famous Records. Francis has been putting out albums since 2002, and some of his best songs are deeply personal poetry recited over lush musical backdrops, like 2010’s "Best Of Times." I am incredibly curious how his performance will be on stage, because this has a chance of being one of the most captivating and moving shows of the entire evening. Of note, Francis was the first hip-hop artist to be signed to a punk label when he joined Epitaph Records in 2005. Being outspoken and quite political, it will be interesting what his set will hold in regards to our current climate in that realm.
Mystic Braves (8 p.m., Monroe Street outdoor stage)
If you haven't heard 2014s Desert Island by Mystic Braves, I would suggest you pull up to your favorite streaming service and give it a serious listen. It is a half hour well spent and you will be looking for where they are playing and what time that's going down. They have the psychedelic sounds of the '60s down pat in a very similar way that other California bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club evoke that garage heavy era. Their new album just released last November is Days of Yesteryear and you catch that as well as the rest of their catalog on their Bandcamp site to get you fully prepped for what is sure to be an amazing and memorable live set. If you dig retro revivalists, it will only take a few notes of that organ to get you hooked completely.
DZ Deathrays (11 p.m., Punk Rock Alley)
Hailing all the way from Brisbane in Australia, DZ Deathrays are bringing a little dance punk to this festival. They've had two back to back amazing full length albums so far with 2012's Bloodstreams and Black Rat from 2014. Keep in mind this duo is more bent on the "punk" in their dance punk sound, with amazing guitar riffs that are heavy as hell and crashing, explosive drums. They've been making some of the most exciting music coming from down under in recent memory (though fellow Aussies Stonefield may give them a run for their money at VIVA, to be fair). While clearly rooted in finding their own sound, the only thing they are reminiscent is music found at the start of this century when people remembered what rock 'n' roll was all about.
Olmeca (10 p.m., Goldwater Room at Renaissance Hotel)
Bilingual MC, producer, and activist Olmeca is certain to put on one of the most exciting shows of the entire night. I first heard "Browning Of America" when I was researching VIVA's lineup and I ended up getting lost in the entire Brown Is Beautiful album from 2013. His entire catalog from the past eight years is some of the most imaginative hip-hop I've encountered in a while, with a fantastic creative bend that is both reflective and intellectual in its various turns. Olmeca blends so many different influences throughout his records that it’s sometimes difficult to tell that it's the same artist from track to track, and I mean that in the best way possible. His raps and compositions are stunningly compelling and this will be one of the most amazing sets to behold.