While it seems downright batty, there are actually some people who are planning a visit to our overcooked city during what's arguably the hottest month of the year. And there's a good chance you've heard of 'em before, or heard them on the radio.
Superstar recording artists like Taylor Swift, Jackson Browne, Jill Scott, Sam Smith, Idina Menzel, Lindsey Stirling, and George Ezra will be heading for Phoenix throughout August to perform, each of whom are likely to pack 'em in at concert venues across the Valley.
They're not the only ones as such acts and artists as Tinariwen, Rocky Votolato, Screaming Females, Jesus and Mary Chain, Man or Astro-Man?, and Grace Potter are also headed to town.
And all of the aforementioned artists are included on list of 25 “must-see” shows to check out around Metro Phoenix in August.
Rodney Carrington - Saturday, August 8 - Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino
Rodney Carrington takes blue collar comedy and adds a cowboy hat and a thick Southern drawl to create his uniquely "hick-and-proud" comedy and country music routine. For those who aren't familiar with the boyish-faced standup star and crooner (and failed to catch Rodney, his sitcom that ran for two years), he's equal parts country music singer and headlining comedian. Past comedy albums like Morning Wood (featuring the weirdly successful "A Letter to me Penis") and Nut Sack nabbed spots on Country charts — but don't let the blue-humor juvenile titles put you off. Rodney Carrington cracks jokes about his upbringing, his cancelled sitcom, and his family life with an amiable humility. Sure, there's a dick joke or two, but not enough to avoid selling out the Ovations Live! theater at Wild Horse Pass. Better get your tickets while they last. ERIN DEWITT
Grace Potter - Saturday, August 8 - Celebrity Theatre
Grace Potter has been known as the guitar-wielding, gravel-and-satin-voiced frontwoman of blues rock group Grace Potter and the Nocturnals for the past 13 years. Though the Vermont band earned its success slowly, Potter has always demonstrated a commanding onstage presence, whether it's alongside the Nocturnals, the Rolling Stones, or country stars like Kenny Chesney. On her debut solo album, Midnight, Potter departs from her previous work to boast a slick, modern sensibility anchored by the psychedelic '80s dance beats she grew up listening to at home.
It's easy to assume that when a band member forays into solo territory, he or she is making a calculated grab for fame. When New Times spoke with Grace Potter via phone, however, her mind galloped spontaneously from one subject to the next, seemingly without filter. It was evident that Potter is no diva. "At first, I was in self-denial," she says. "I couldn't see it as a solo thing. It was clear to everyone else that I was doing something different, but I was like, 'No! It's a Nocturnals album!'" She finally acknowledged that her evolution didn't fit within the framework of the Nocturnals' music and began to figure out who she was alone. She tried on all the hats — folk, punk, etc. — before realizing that she didn't need to style herself differently. She just needed to be herself. STEPHANIE CHEN
Lucinda Williams - Sunday, August 9 - Crescent Ballroom
For lo these 30 or so years, Louisiana-born singer-songwriter-guitarist Lucinda Williams has forged an idiosyncratic path through American roots music, melting down Delta-infused country soul, funky folk and rock strains into her gritty, Southern Gothic sound. Her smartly sassy worldview drenched her self-titled album in ’88, which along with the Grammy-winning Car Wheels on a Gravel Road launched and defined the Americana movement of the ’90s. Highly literate songwriting, nice singing and great playing abounds on Williams’ new double-disc set, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, a ridiculously good-feeling thing released on her own Highway 20 label and graced by guests such as Tony Joe White and Ian MacLagan. JOHN PAYNE
Idina Menzel - Sunday, August 9 - Comerica Theatre
It’s safe to say that things were just fine for Idina Menzel before November 2013. After all, by that time she had won a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for her work in Wicked, had sung for President Obama and had been in Rent, one of the few musicals that even people who don’t really like musicals like. And then a little film called Frozen hit theaters, and for the first time in a long time, Disney didn’t just have a movie that made money, it had a (non-kid-friendly word) phenomenon. “Let It Go” became one of the biggest songs in pop culture, and Menzel became a legit crossover star. Her summer concert tour sees her doing songs from all parts of her career plus a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep,” because when you have a voice and a career like hers, you can sing whatever you want and people will listen. CHRIS GRAY
Sam Smith - Wednesday, August 12 - Gila River Arena
Loneliness was a blessing for Sam Smith, a London-born singer who first gained popularity in 2012, when he was featured on electronic music duo Disclosure’s single “Latch.” His 2014 hit “Stay with Me” resonated with one-night-standers worldwide who, though they may not have felt love for their nighttime companions, wished their lovers would linger in the morning. It soared to top 10 status in more than 12 countries, including the United States, solidifying the young singer as a mainstay. Conveying heartbreak in his oh-so-smooth falsetto helped the openly gay 23-year-old vocalist notch four 2015 Grammy Awards for music from his debut album, In the Lonely Hour. Shortly after the Grammy Awards, Smith underwent surgery for a vocal cord hemorrhage, forcing him to cancel tour dates and be on vocal rest for weeks. Feeling better, Smith is working on new music while on a headlining tour across the country. For those who reminisce about his early joint effort, listeners can hear him reunite with his Disclosure collaborators on the new “Omen.” Besides the accolades he has received for his music, Smith has something else to be proud of: He recently lost more than 14 pounds. Is vocal cord surgery the new Atkins? NICKI ESCUDERO
Man or Astro-Man? - Wednesday, August 12 - Crescent Ballroom
Ever wonder what kind of music aliens would play if they made a pit stop on Earth? Maybe dubstep?Droning metal machine music? Lady Gaga covers? Turns out, they’d probably be into a mix of surf rock and punk, as Alabama’s Man or Astro-Man? Demonstrate. Claiming to be extraterrestrials that took the form of college students, MOAM? Mind-meld Dick Dale with Kraftwerk with a little Devo thrown in for good measure. During the ’90s, MOAM? Was one prolific rock group. Between 1993 and 2001, they released eight Lps, two Eps, and a huge stack of 7-inch singles. Their latest album, Defcon 5...4...3...2...1, broke a nearly decade-long hiatus, hopefully hinting at another seemingly endless supply of bizarro albums. MOAM? Also tends to tour nonstop, which, as you can imagine, might give you interstellar culture shock (or least a very bad case of solar jet lag). TROY FARAH
Raekwon & Ghostface Killa - Wednesday, August 12 - Marquee Theatre
On the 1993 Wu Tang Clan debut album Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers), Raekwon rapped about “running up in gates, doing hits for high stakes” in order to survive. By contrast, in the intro skit to his 2015 album, Fly International Luxury Art, the same rapper talks over a customs official at an airport, unsolicitedly listing off opulent pleasures such as Dom Perignon and “Versace shower sprinklers” all while she tries to tell him she has nowhere to stamp on his well-worn passport. Whether he is portraying himself as a young artist trying to make it or an older artist who has made it, Raekwon shows a strong indifference to any boundaries put before him. His current tour with Ghostface Killah celebrates the 20th anniversary of his 1995 solo debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx . . ., a classic record about organized crime and the American Dream, immersed in the cryptic jargon of the Five Percent Nation and the collaborative spirit of the Wu Tang Clan. Rae and Ghostface converse on the record that they “don’t believe in Heaven because we’re living in Hell.” Evocative as that is, I hope their outlook is better 20 years later. MIKE BOGUMIL
Lindsey Stirling - Thursday, August 13 - Comerica Theatre
Lindsey Stirling, a California native and onetime Valley resident, is the greatest musician in the narrow genre of classical/dubstep/hip-hop/Celtic folk. Her original training consisted of weekly 15-minute “half lessons,” but by age 16 at Mesquite High School in Gilbert, she was in her first rock band. A few years later, her blending of genres impressed the judges of America’s Got Talent, on which Stirling competed in 2010 as a self-proclaimed “hip-hop violinist.” Since being voted off the show, she’s released three albums, selling hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide. Stirling brings excitement to each track and has filled her latest album, Shatter Me, with lyrics about overcoming her personal struggles. On stage, Stirling moves with grace and earnest, her bow flying across the strings to provide melodies over electronic backbeats. Her intensity is infectious. And it is impossible not to get caught up in the spectacle. TAYLOR GILLIAM
George Clinton - Thursday, August 13 - The Pressroom
The first time I became truly aware of George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic was while listening to local skate-punk godfathers JFA (Jodie Foster’s Army). They had a song called “Standing on the Verge,” which I thought was super-funky and cool. After digging around a little, I realized JFA’s tune was a cover of “Standing on the Verge of Getting It On,” from Funkadelic’s 1974 record of the same name. As I began the hunt to learn more about the band that spawned such a groovy song to skateboard to, I found out about George Clinton: wild man, possibly from another planet, and all-around funky spastic fantastic. I scored a copy of Parliament’s 1975 opus, Mothership Connection, which was like nothing I’d ever heard and, outside of other Clinton-produced projects, nothing I have heard since. Alternately funky, psychedelic, heavy, jazzy, and freaky, the music is huge, and the personality of Clinton is like the head of a sweetly poisonous snake you can’t help offering a bobbing booty to bite. If you can’t find a beat to dance to when listening to one of Clinton’s records, whether solo, Parliament, or Funkadelic, then you are either deaf or dead. TOM REARDON
Circuit Des Yeux - Friday, August 14 - Valley Bar
With the release of In Plain Speech, Circuit de Yeux singer Haley Fohr’s fearless forays into cinematic drone have shifted from solo production to collaboration inspired by collective living. Orchestral bursts and sparse string arrangements alike populate this latest work, Fohr — who's based in Indiana with close ties to the Chicago noise scene — wields a dramatic howl like a somehow more androgynous Nico or an avante-garde Cher. Given Fohr’s sensitive treatment of environment on her LP, the likelihood that her free show at Valley will be worth seeing is very high. LINDSEY RHOADES
The Jesus and Mary Chain - Friday, August 14 - Marquee Theatre
When Psychocandy came out in November 1985, it established the Jesus and Mary Chain as an important band of the era, with a sound that harked back to the raw quality of early rock and roll as well as the tunefulness of ’60s pop. The album also put the band in line with the avant-garde movement, which was characterized by groups willing to trying any idea that would make their songs interesting. Psychocandy helped usher in an exciting phase in underground rock at a time when so much that was popular seemed to aim for safe mediocrity. Still, the group never aimed to stay in the underground. TOM MURPHY
George Ezra - Saturday, August 15 - Marquee Theatre
James Blake, James Bay, and now, George Ezra — all these English dudes repurpose the tropes of American R&B, country, blues, and soul in their own respective ways, but the British-born Ezra's vein may be the most radio-friendly and pop-centric take to snare Middle America and capitalize on the warmth of a rollicking chord progression since his former tourmate Hozier stormed Top 40 with "Take Me to Church." I know it's crazy hard to believe, but yes: It's completely and totally possible for a scrawny white kid with a cowlick from across the pond to listen to, love, and make music that rips from the more treasured refrains of American soul, blues, and R&B without offending its very existence.
Whether or not he's everyone's cup of PG Tips isn't really the point — he's a fine, approachable, and enjoyable performer, though not a revolutionary one (and a bit dead-eyed), to be sure. Ezra's big single, "Budapest," is a tune that regales the object of his affection with all the ritzy items he'd discard to prove his love for them. (A house in Budapest, treasure chests, grand pianos and such — Ezra's got a vivid imagination, as you'd be hard-pressed to find a 21-year-old with that kind of old-world romantic whimsy and wealth outside of Prince Harry's social circle.) That velvet voice unfurled and wrapped us in a warm embrace, and the uplifting chorus of the tune was downright lovely, rife with shades of the Marc Cohn and Bryan Adams and Mellencamp tapes kicking around Mom's glove compartment for sunny drives. HILARY HUGHES
Inner Circle - Saturday, August 15 - Club Red
Inner Circle helped invent reggae. Now, 45 years after they started, the group is still on tour — not even a bus crash in Baton Rouge can stop them — and still going strong. And while they're identified most as the creators of the song, “Bad Boys” (famously know to the entire world as “that song from Cops”), Inner Circle's fame extends way beyond that pop cultural footnote. The group formed in 1968 in Kingston, Jamaica, in a lush and rolling tropical paradise area at the foot of a mountain. As kids, founding brothers Roger and Ian Lewis would sneak under a fence to see the Skatalites and the Dragonaires. In 1971 they played over 150 shows on the "bandwagon tour" with Bob Marley and The Wailers and others, including Clancy Eccles, who is said to have derived the term reggae from the word "streggae" (roughly, 'easy girl').
In 1974, fiery rasta youth Jacob Miller talked his way into the band after receiving an introduction. He energized crowds with his improvisations, and vocal tricks. He added an echo effect to his singing, and was dubbed "man with the bionic voice." He helped the band become the most in-demand act on the island. After Inner Circle's set, which was caught on film for the movie Heartland Reggae, Peter Tosh performed, and then Bob Marley. Inspired by Miller's bravado and in a friendly act of competitive one-upmanship, Marley invited the leaders of the rival political parties, Edward Seaga and Michael Manley, onto the stage. He got them to lock and raise their hands at the height of his set during the song "Jammin'." This moment is often referred to as one of the more historic in Marley's career. As you can see, Inner Circle's roots run deep. JACOB KATEL
Taylor Swift - Monday, August 17 - Gila River Arena
It is impossible to ignore Taylor Swift, which makes it incredibly easy for music fans to dislike her — people just don't like to have their attention monopolized, whether they enjoy somebody's music or not. Her music is explicitly autobiographical, which means that every new song about never getting back together with somebody is examined in excruciating detail until every last biographical detail has been excavated by gossip bloggers. But a Taylor Swift show — that's something else entirely.
When Swift performs, all the people who are interested in her primarily for her regular appearances in Us Weekly are priced out. And the people who follow along for the ease with which she can be hate-watched are priced out. What's left are Taylor Swift fans: astoundingly devoted, completely engaged, and probably at their first concert ever, unless they've seen Taylor Swift already. It's easy to lampoon all the messy breakups or reduce her to a manufactured pop star with an acoustic guitar. I wouldn't do it, personally, but it would be easy. But if thousands of kids leave her show excited about music and valuing the idea of being an artist, whether you think she's an artist herself seems kind of academic. DAN MOORE
Heaters - Monday, August 17 - Valley Bar
Unless you count Lake Michigan, there’s not much surf in Grand Rapids — but listening to garage-punks Heaters might fool you. Their reverb-soaked noodling is as authentic as anything that might wash up on the West Coast. After teasing surf-rock aficionados with the Mean Green seven-inch last April, are now gearing up for their full-length debut, Holy Water Pool, out September 25. Band members Andrew Tamlyn, Nolan Krebs, and Joshua Korf have toured pretty relentlessly since forming Heaters two years ago, and are currently on the road getting everyone warmed up for Holy Water Pool. The latest track, “Propane," is as explosive as its title might suggest.
Like the discolored afterimage that haunts one’s retinas after staring too long at a blazing sun, the vocals on “Propane” have a searing, ephemeral quality. If you focus too long on a word or phrase, it’s already gone with a ghostly echo, skipping out of vision the second you try to home in, but still peripherally present no matter how hard you blink. Words stretch and melt into twanging, twisting guitar solos that would easily inspire Dick Dale to get down, while the contrast of crashing, crystal-clear cymbals build a cacophonous beat. Like a faded radio transmission from some golden era of surf-psych, “Propane” blasts through its own haze to leave an indelible burn. LINDSEY RHOADES
METZ - Tuesday, August 18 - Crescent Ballroom
At a time when most artists on the seminal Sub Pop label like Beach House and Fleet Foxes are on the mellower side of indie music, METZ’s blistering noise rock is a welcomed addition to the club. The vibe doesn’t correlate with the mild head-bopping at most club shows, either. The Canadian trio’s punk rock ethos is as apparent on recordings as it is in a live atmosphere: Distorted guitars, frenzied drum beats and rough vocals that balance between singing and screaming make nods to the '90s alternative rock of early Bleach-era Nirvana. METZ’s sophomore album II was just released in May, and the first track “Acetate” doesn’t hold back the energy. Get in head-bang mode for the stop at Trees, because it will be loud and fast. (Last November’s performance at Untapped Festival was no exception, and no doubt they'll at more at home in Trees.) According to singer and guitarist Alex Edkins, II “punches you in the gut.” In a good way, of course. KRISTIN LOCKHART
Rocky Votolato - Tuesday, August 18 - The Rebel Lounge
Singer-songwriters are a dime a dozen these days. It's like they're being churned out on a never-ending assembly line, manufactured with the same blueprint: rough-hewn voice, tattered button-up shirt, handsome face, guitar. Rocky Votolato is like the original of those copies of copies, and he has the lyrical integrity and experience to back up such claims. From his work in the late '90s with his band Waxwing to his continuing decade-plus long career as a solo artist, the Pacific Northwesterner (by way of Texas) has been enchanting both sexes with honest songs of love and heartache, his scratchy voice and down-to-earth stage presence. BREE DAVIES
Screaming Females - Tuesday, August 18 - Valley Bar
Searing New Brunswick trio Screaming Females would really like it if people stopped making a big deal out of their longevity. Yeah, they've been around ten years, and in those ten years they've cemented a reputation as one of the hardest-rocking, most beloved guitar bands in the U.S. And yes, that is an impressive accomplishment for a resolutely DIY group. But as drummer Jarrett Dougherty puts it, "We're not going to commemorate it. We're just going to keep going."
For them, "keep going" means releasing their fifth studio album, Rose Mountain, out February 24 on Don Giovanni Records. Its ten unrelenting tracks represent thirty-five minutes of kinetic intensity, courtesy of singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster's powerful voice and unmistakable solos, which have become the band's calling card. It's the most ambitious record Screaming Females have ever made. ZOE LEVERANT
Tinariwen - Thursday, August 20 - Musical Instrument Museum
When it comes to guitar armies, Tinariwen has everyone else beat. The Malian collective features a multitude of brilliant guitarists whose multilayered interplay seamlessly blends psychedelic hypnosis, bluesy solitude and traditional West African influences. But many band members also fought in an actual army, as rebel Tuareg soldiers against the Malian government, before making peace and moving away from violence in the early 1990s. Tinariwen's tangled backstory was told in the fascinating documentary that accompanied their 2009 album, Imidiwan: Companions, but what really matters is their music, which in recent years has shifted from the acoustic idyll Tassili back to the full electric power of their 2014 release, Emmaar. FALLING JAMES
Jackson Browne - Thursday, August 20 - Mesa Arts Center
When one thinks of the sensitive singer/songwriter types who thrived in the early 1970s, certain artists come to mind: James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young were the big buzz, and yet, though their songs embodied a starry-eyed sensibility, none of them could squeeze more pathos from their platitudes than Jackson Browne.
While Joni sang serenely, James waxed wistful and reflective, and Young went off on his metaphysical tangents, Browne allowed his music to pierce the soul by laying bare his personal turmoil and private tragedies. Be it the uncertainty of youth, turbulent relationships, a wife's suicide, or unsettled feelings about the politics and upheaval during the Reagan era, Browne never wavered. LEE ZIMMERMAN
Diana Krall - Friday, August 21 - Symphony Hall
You don't see many jazz artists booked to perform at Symphony Hall these days, but Diana Krall is hardly a typical jazz artist. Her 1999 LP, When I Look In Your Eyes, was the first jazz album in 25 years to be nominated for an Album of the Year Grammy, if that tells you anything.
Krall has gone on to both critical acclaim and commercial success by deftly negotiating the line between traditional pop and modern jazz, as much for her nimble yet understated piano skills as her husky, sensual vocals. (She also happens to be Mrs. Elvis Costello.) A few of her most recent albums for Verve, like 2012's Glad Rag Doll and this year's Wallflower, are rooted in the Tin Pan Alley tunes and gentle, subtle swing of the '30s and '40s. CHRIS GRAY
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Dawes - Sunday, August 23 - Crescent Ballroom
Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith doesn’t quite understand some recent comments singling out their fourth album, All Your Favorite Bands, as a nostalgic album with songs about the past. To him, he simply writes it as it comes. “It’s funny: People tell me it seems to be a record that deals with looking back and with memories,” he says. “But isn’t that what most records do? Isn’t that what most songs do? I thought that’s what the whole thing was. I thought that’s what songs do.”
When it comes to songwriting, Goldsmith prefers the Seinfeld approach and just lets it roll out without an agenda. It’s partly due to the music he grew up listening to: “A lot of the artists we look up to — like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Bob Dylan, and the Grateful Dead — it doesn’t seem like they were trying to achieve anything. They seem to let the album present itself as far as what the feeling is going to be. That’s how it is for us.” LINDA LABAN
Kelly Clarkson - Tuesday, August 25 - Ak-Chin Pavilion
Consider it a testament to the enduring likability of Kelly Clarkson that she’s still filling arenas right as American Idol is about to drag what’s left of its mangled carcass into its final, pathetic season. Clarkson’s massive voice and girl-next-door charms will rightfully outlive the cultural behemoth that birthed her. And while her latest album shows more than a few signs of her formula yellowing, she’s still the reigning queen of road trip singalongs, from “Since U Been Gone” to current single “Heartbeat Song.” Despite a few recent flirtations with EDM, Clarkson appears to be in the midst of a career sea change. She has stated an interest in country music — no doubt aided by new mother-in-law Reba McEntire — now that she’s free from the contract she won 13 years ago on the first season of Idol. Until then, Clarkson’s still in Top 40 mode, promising an evening of sassy kiss-off anthems, soaring ballads, and the type of gimmick-free pop music that parents can feel safe sending their 12-year-olds to, allowances in hand. Clarkson will be joined by a cappella group Pentatonix, truly the modern embodiment of Up With People. MARCUS MICHALIK
Jill Scott - Friday, August 28 - Comerica Theater
Jill Scott's music is generous and contains multitudes: scorching brushfires of soul tracks with the Roots and (in her best spot this decade) Eve, plus fifteen years' worth of post-R&B flecked with spoken word and inhabited by one of the genre's warmest voices. This past May she released her single, “Fools Gold,” where she laments a failed relationship for our listening pleasure. She'll be at Comerica Theater promising emotions that transcend the summer season's glitz. KATHERINE ST. ASAPH