Viva PHX

10 Sleeper Bands to Catch at Viva PHX

Viva PHX 2015 offers festival goers 90 bands at 20 different venues for an incredibly reasonable $24 ticket price. For you mathematicians, it works out to an average of 4.5 performers per venue and if you were to catch say, five of them during the course of your night, that's $4.80 per act. Though you're probably familiar with the headliners like Best Coast, Coolio, and Thee Oh Sees, there are probably dozens of acts on the lineup that are mysteries to you. We thought we would give you a list of 10 sleeper bands to keep in the back of your mind as you look at the schedule and plan your route around downtown Phoenix.

No Volcano - Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center - 7 p.m

These affable hometown heroes are a four-piece, genre-defying band from Central Phoenix. If you dig a healthy dose of early '70s Rolling Stones meets the Flaming Lips, then No Volcano is a band you may not know yet, but definitely should. Jim Andreas (vocals/guitar) and Christopher Kennedy (drums/vocals) hail from Trunk Federation, one of the most acclaimed Valley bands of the 1990s and have continued to make great music together in the years since. In No Volcano, Andreas and Kennedy are joined by Moody Fishermen alum Jake Sevier (bass/vocals) and Jeremy Randall (guitar/keys), formerly of popular locals Colorstore. Regardless of your musical taste, if you appreciate unadulterated musical talent, you can't go wrong making your way over to East Adams Street and check out one of the groups we chose last year in our 14 for '14 bands to check out. While you're at it, be sure and pick up a copy of their excellent new CD, Who Saved the Party.

Thee Commons - Goldwater Room - 8 p.m.

Thee Commons hail from East Los Angeles and play a brand of cumbia heavily mixed with some trippy surf-tinged punk rock. While they are not a household name by any stretch of the imagination here in Phoenix, the trio can really play their instruments, and for a group of young dudes, they are crazy prolific in their recorded output with a goal of releasing a new EP every month. Twin brothers, David (guitar/vocals) and Rene Pacheco (drums) team up with buddy Jose Cruz (bass/vocals) to create one of the cooler sounds you will find at the festival. Thee Commons are known in their hometown for their generator-fueled shows, so you never know just where they might pop up and start shredding. Check them out at the Goldwater Room (Between Monroe and Adams on Central Avenue) at 8 p.m. and make sure you are ready to rock.

The Stone Foxes - Crescent Ballroom - 10 p.m.

Like many of the other bands taking part in Viva PHX, San Francisco's The Stone Foxes will be sadly overlooked for bigger, trendier names, but those who choose to see them will truly luck out. This band is rock 'n' roll personified with killer, hooky riffs and deeply felt blues and soul roots. The band eschews individual attention, and we can respect that, but their three LPs and four singles beg to be heard at high volume, especially 2011's Small Fires, which absolutely slays. While there are some stellar choices for your 10 p.m. rock fix, we highly recommend spending at least part of that hour at the Crescent Ballroom (Second Avenue and Van Buren) checking these guys out. You might just forget about the other bands you thought you wanted to see.

Lonna Kelley - Grace Chapel - 8 p.m.

You're probably not planning to be at the Grace Chapel (Monroe between Third and Fourth Avenue) at 8 p.m., which is a shame. Lonna Kelley is a truly talented singer/songwriter and a local gal to boot. She's worked with Giant Sand (also appearing at Viva PHX), as well as the Reluctant Messiahs (who featured a Valley favorite, the late Kevin Pate on bass, as well as Jeremy Randall from the previously mentioned No Volcano, and drummer Shane Kennedy). Kelley's unique blend of rootsy charm and dreamy pop chanteuse is mesmerizing and while you listen to her, it is easy to forget she's just another Phoenician doing her thing. We're not sure exactly what she's planning for the big night, but we're certain she'll have something pretty cool up her sleeve for her performance.

2:54 - ALAC - 11 p.m.

London, England's 2:54 are finishing up its North American tour playing for us at Viva PHX, and we couldn't be more excited, even if the average festival goer might think of their name as more of a length of time than a band. Started by sisters Colette and Hannah Thurlow, their band name refers to one of their favorite points in a song by the Melvins (Washington's sludge purveyors who have influenced many bands over the years) which may be one of the coolest inspirations for a band name ever. 2:54's cool style, like a cool shoegazer-ish indie dreamsicle, reminds us of a cross between Garbage and Chavez, and this is a wonderful thing. The band takes the stage at ALAC at 11 p.m., and you have to love gals who dig the Melvins.

Fishbone - Monroe Street Stage - 11 p.m.

We're championing Fishbone, the 36-year-old ska/funk/punk godfathers, as a sleeper band at the festival this year because we fear they might get swept up in the mix due to their set time. While there is some very deserving competition at the 11 p.m. time slot (some of which will also be championed as a "sleeper" band), we know what a great show the LA band has been putting on for decades now, and we can't help but feel strongly about making sure you know it. Led by founding members Angelo "Dr. Madd Vibe" Moore (vocal/saxophone/theremin), John Norwood Fisher (bass/vocals), and "Dirty" Walter Kibby II (trumpet/vocals), Fishbone soldiers on with a host of new members. They are no stranger to Phoenix, having performed here many times over their career, but if you haven't seen them, do yourself a favor and head over the Monroe Street Stage (Monroe and Third Avenue) and do some skanking.

Maudlin Strangers - Hard Rock Cafe - 10 p.m.

Jake Hays, who plays music under the moniker Maudlin Strangers, knows his way around a well-crafted song. Sure, the songs tend to be a tad on the dark side of the electro-indie rock spectrum, but we will never hold it against Hays. He brings his band to Viva PHX where they'll play the Hard Rock Café (Jefferson Street and Second Street) at 10 p.m. To say Maudlin Strangers' song "Overdose" is catchy is an understatement, and this track from their EP (Vagrant Records) of the same name is just the tip of the iceberg. We also highly recommend checking out their song "Penny" before you decide to choose another band playing in the same slot.

Meatbodies - Alley Stage - 7 p.m.

Channeling the ghost of Jay Reatard, pieces of the Three O'Clock, and a shred of the Locust is Meatbodies who play the Alley Stage (just off Monroe betwixt First Avenue and Central Avenue) at 7 p.m. The band's bio on Facebook is simply this: "fast, fast, fast, loud, loud, loud." If you dig the fast and loud, don't sleep on this killer band from Los Angeles. Bandleader Chad Ubovich, who also has spent time in the highly acclaimed Fuzz, has a style you don't readily find at just any punk rock club, but the man certainly knows how to write an infectious riff you won't soon forget. Their 2014 eponymous release on In the Red Records is a must have for any fan of furiously played punk presented in a super-friendly, if not slightly angular and funky way.

Playboy Manbaby - Alley Stage - 11 p.m.

Playboy Manbaby is a local act we pray the locals won't ignore. Leader Robbie Pfeffer is among the most entertaining frontmen our town has ever produced, and we anticipate his reputation will only grow from here. The band's unique blend of trumpet, pulsing rhythm section, and often minimalistic yet spazzy guitar makes it terribly difficult to pinpoint their attack, suffice it to say it is brilliantly warped. Also playing the Alley Stage, Playboy Manbaby drew the unenviable 11 p.m. timeslot, which puts them up against some of the more acclaimed bands of the night, including three others who made this list.

Michael Rault - Last Exit Live - 11 p.m.

Toronto's (via Edmonton, Alberta) Michael Rault brings a similar, yet slightly less raucous, vibe to Viva PHX as one of the valley's favorite sons, Bob Log III. Unlike Log, though, Rault does not seem to be a one man band in the live setting (we get this idea from watching Youtube). Simple, yet driving beats and a twangy guitar reminiscent of Thee Headcoats, the multi-instrumentalist Rault knows how to sing about the girl who got away and how much he loves and misses her. The über-cool LA based record label Burger Records is putting out his newest LP, Living Daylight, which is probably going to turn him into a much bigger player in the underground scene over the next year, but you can say you saw him first at 11 p.m. if you make your way over to Last Exit Live (Central Avenue and Grant Street).

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon