It stuns me each year as Viva PHX, Stateside Presents' mini-South by Southwest that takes place in 17 venues in downtown Phoenix on Saturday, gets better and better, how difficult the decisions are about when and where to be. In addition to the sheer mind-blowing volume of touring acts booked, there is a ton of local talent scattered throughout the event. Now it's easy to dismiss them, because you can catch them in a week or two, but some of the local acts that are a priority this year don't play out as often as some would like. I've listened to every band that will be at Viva PHX, national, international, and local, and in many cases the local bands win hands down. Here are 10 picks to get your local groove on throughout the festivities.
No Volcano (7 p.m., Valley Bar)
Over the last year, No Volcano has quickly become not only one of my favorite bands in the Valley, but one of my favorite live bands. They have a fantastic style of punk-tinged art rock that recalls the likes of Television and the Bowery bands of the '70s. They blend a punk aesthetic, with New Wave sounds and a catchy-as-hell pop element that is completely infectious. Their debut album was one of the best local releases of last year, and even better than that is their live performance, which is absolutely captivating and electrifying. They are one local band I go out of my way to catch live every chance I get. This is a great way to start the night, and I can promise that you won't be disappointed by their energy alone.
Bear Ghost (8 p.m., Last Exit Live)
Bear Ghost was named as one of THE bands to watch in 2016, and it's not difficult to understand why after they sold out their record release party at Last Exit Live for their full-length debut Blasterpiece. I will be very surprised if another local album can be released this year that will knock Bear Ghost from the top position they currently hold in my ranking of the year so far. Not only is the album a stunner, their live show is ridiculously fun, and it's what drew me to the band in the first place. Their signature brand of theatrical indie prog rock mixed with a touch of nerdcore is possibly the most fascinating sound going on in Phoenix right now. Every one that sees them live seems to fall in love with them on the spot, so I would highly recommend getting to Last Exit Live for their set.
RØÅR (9 p.m., Punk Rock Alley)
RØÅR has been a staple in the indie Arizona scene for many years, and though it's been a while since they've put out some new music, I have a feeling that something is in the works. RØÅR is the vision of one Owen Evans, who, during live performances, has employed some of the most talented musicians in the Valley to bring his vision to life. There's no telling who will be on stage with Evans for this performance, but I've seen him fly solo as RØÅR and it's every bit as good. It's art-soaked indie pop with a quirky flair to say the very least, but then Evans has always been an artist above all else. Another thing to note is that RØÅR doesn't play out all that often, so it's best to catch them when you can. I may have to skip one of the national acts I was itching to see just to catch this set.
Playboy Manbaby (10 p.m., Punk Rock Alley)
One performance that I look forward to every year at Viva PHX is Playboy Manbaby playing in an alley. Playboy Manbaby is currently working on their next album, but the group is taking its sweet time with this one. As a result, there should be plenty of new material as well as live favorites throughout their set. If you have never seen Playboy Manbaby, especially when they play in an alley, then you are totally missing out and should make this a priority. First of all, Robbie Pfeffer is one of, if not the, most amusing bandleaders in the Valley. His banter is usually as entertaining as the music itself, and the music is some of the best Phoenix has to offer.
MRCH (10 p.m., Last Exit Live)
Another band named in our picks for bands to watch in 2016, MRCH has grown organically into its sound over the last year, and here is a great opportunity to find out what all the fuss is about. The band is currently working on tracking a new EP, and it's one of the most highly anticipated debuts of the year. Their synth-soaked indie pop will have you dancing at Last Exit Live on Saturday, as will their more guitar-heavy rock material. They released three of the best local singles last year, and have a ton more in store for you this year. MRCH is definitely going places, and when they aren't touring or providing the soundtrack for Ford's "In Focus" series, they are playing gigs all around the Valley. Be sure to catch them while you can!
Celebration Guns (11 p.m., Last Exit Live)
Celebration Guns are on the cusp of releasing a new EP, The Me That Used To Be, and it's easily their best release yet. They also happen to be one of the most engaging live acts happening in town these days. It's one thing to enjoy the sounds of Celebration Guns on their studio releases, but it's a completely different ballgame to catch them live. This isn't your run-of-the-mill indie rock; they have a vibe about them that is absolutely intoxicating, especially on stage. If you haven't caught them in any capacity, check out the brand new video for "The Volunteer" off their forthcoming release, then plan on attending their show. You will not be disappointed.
The Technicolors (11:10 p.m., Masonic Temple)
The Technicolors do not play live locally as much as they should, but on the other hand, it's always a special event when they do. They released one of my favorite EPs of last year, and recently, they've been working on writing songs and cutting demos for their next record and writing some more, which gives everyone a lot to look forward to later this year (it is to be hoped). After their gig at Viva PHX, they'll be heading to Brazil to play some shows, but they are being hush-hush about their overall plans for what's to come. I would highly recommend you check out their set at the Masonic Temple, because these guys are stunning live, much more than their records reveal, and their records are great.
Dry River Yacht Club (11:15 p.m., Crescent Ballroom 2nd Stage)
The Americana Gypsy folk rock of Dry River Yacht Club is some of the most compelling and engaging music that has ever come out of Arizona. After nearly a decade of releasing records and playing shows, they are also one of the best live music experiences you can hope to have in Phoenix. They will consume you with their music until you find yourself swaying and dancing to their tunes whether you wanted to or not. Though the lineup has changed throughout the years, their vision remains the same and their energy is unabated. Lead singer Garnet has one of the finest voices I've ever heard, and she surrounds herself with at least half a dozen of the finest musicians that can be found. After attending only one show, it's not difficult to understand why they are one of the most beloved local bands!
Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra (12:10 a.m., Valley Bar)
The joy of seeing Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra live cannot be overstated. At times, their shows border on spiritual experiences. With a lineup led by the mystical lead singer Camille Sledge, the band sports no fewer than 15 members in its current incarnation. If you are looking toward getting a soulful groove on 'round midnight, I cannot recommend this set enough, and I would be very surprised if Valley Bar was not packed for this particular act. If you do have your heart set on seeing them, you may want to get to the venue just a little bit early to make sure you can even get in. I just hope at this point that the Valley Bar stage is actually large enough to fit the entire band. Prepare to have your mind blown by this flawless group.
Harrison Fjord (1:10 a.m., Last Exit Live)
The last band on this list was also featured in our 16 to Watch in 2016 feature, and will be the last local band to hit a stage and close the festival out at Last Exit Live. Just plan on ending your evening with this fantastic band, and think of it as a bit of an after -party as they bring their jazz- and funk-flavored, psychedelic indie rock to your ears that still need to hear more music Saturday night. Harrison Fjord is another band where their recordings, as great as they are, simply do not do justice to how fantastic their live set is in person. They tend to cut loose and get more into the groove on stage, and it is captivating to say the very least. I cannot think of a better band than Harrison Fjord to be the icing on the cake of an already phenomenal evening of live music.
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