25 Best Concerts in Phoenix in May 2016

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Aesop Rock — Sunday, May 15  Crescent Ballroom

Aesop Rock is a New York-bred MC who came of age in the '90s, when keeping it real was the highest ethos a rapper could reach for. Throughout his nearly two-decade recording career, he has never dumbed down the expansive vocabulary of his lyrics or felt the need to rely on hooks or superstar producers. At his shows, there are no choreographed dance moves, flashy guest appearances, or elaborate stage shows, just the only thing that matters: the music.

It has been proven by scientific study that Aesop Rock uses a more diverse vocabulary than any rapper in the game. Just as awe-inspiring as it is to witness a Shakespearean actor recite by memory all his arcane text, it is equally impressive to catch Aesop Rock effortlessly spit out so much dense lyricism, especially when you consider his memory bank has to fight the forgetfulness caused by the second-hand marijuana smoke in full effect. But he never misses a beat. DAVID ROLLAND

The Sonics 
— Tuesday, May 17  Crescent Ballroom

The Sonics are, outside of Dick Dale, the oldest, most influential rock band still touring today. All garage rock as we know it stems from what the Sonics, who hail from Tacoma, were doing when they formed as a band in 1960. Favoring a passionate attitude and confrontational energy over technique was at the core of the Sonics' music and was a clear influence on punk. When artists as disparate as Nirvana, Bruce Springsteen, the Cramps, L7, Mojo Nixon, and the Fall, to name just a handful, cite the Sonics as an inspiration, it's safe to say that this group — which got started when its members were just teenagers in a remote corner of the United States — has had a major impact on almost all of the raw rock music that has come along since. TOM MURPHY

Titus Andronicus  Thursday, May 19  The Rebel Lounge

On their first three albums, Titus Andronicus earned a reputation as one of America’s hardest-working and most exciting indie-rock bands of the new millennium, developing a curious Civil War fascination even as their sound followed the arena-chasing example of fellow Jersey natives Bruce Springsteen and Gaslight Anthem. However, they lacked that Big Statement that could grab people’s attention outside their own tight-knit fan base, but now they have it in The Most Lamentable Tragedy (Merge). Presented as a rock opera in five acts, their fourth album takes almost 30 songs and more than 90 minutes to unspool its convoluted plot about a hero and his evil twin. Clearly, both their ambitions and the grandiose music of TMLT place Titus Andronicus among rock’s other great Angry Young Men of past generations — The Who, The Clash, Elvis Costello — who grew up quickly enough but had a much harder time mellowing out. CHRIS GRAY

Frightened Rabbit 
— Friday, May 20  Crescent Ballroom

While the name Frightened Rabbit conjures up disheartening images of timid waifs lamenting lost love with Hallmark diction, this Scottish act packs quite a bite. Sure, the group uses an acoustic guitar accompanied by a trembling voice and has ample references to heartbreak — but the sense of melancholy, desperation, and perseverance packed into its songs is too earnest to resist. Over its 13-year history, Frightened Rabbit has merged singer-songwriter sensitivities with ardent pop aggression. At the forefront, singer and guitarist Scott Hutchinson spits his witty narratives with poetic inclination and a raw vibrato howl. Alienated, anxious, and battered, this Rabbit is scared, but still has plenty of fight left in it. BRIAN MOSS

Scott Biram — Tuesday, May 24  Valley Bar

Mr. Scott Biram is nothing short of a total and complete badass mofo. First of all, he is the one man in his namesake one-man band, and his many quality releases over the past 15 years have proved he doesn't need anyone else to help him get the job done, and done well. From vocal duty to playing guitar and percussion, Biram delivers his style of hillbilly country with a vengeance — tangling it up with elements of punk, blues, metal, classic rock, and an undeniably ferocious spirit. Whether he's blasting out a fierce and noisy tune or bringing it down a little more low and slow, you know he isn't holding back anything. Another testament to his tenacity: Biram survived a head-on collision with a semi-truck in 2003, suffering multiple internal and external injuries, including the loss of a substantial portion of his organs. A mere month later, with a couple of broken legs, he took the stage in Austin, performing in a wheelchair, an IV still hanging from his arm. Just like his tunes, that's pretty fuckin' tough. AMY YOUNG

Mayer Hawthorne — Tuesday, May 24  Crescent Ballroom

Andrew Mayer Cohen, aka Mayer Hawthorne, approaches his music with the same zest as his culinary cravings. As a DJ, producer, singer, and songwriter, he reaches into various genres of music, but finds himself pulled back into soul every time. As a young kid, he performed as Michael Jackson for his family, sequined white glove and all. As an adult, his work with other artists he's looked up to, such as Pharrell Williams (on 2013's Where Does This Door Go), and Memphis soul legend Booker T. Jones, has helped him explore the depths of his own soul. His recently released album, Man About Town, which dropped in April on Vagrant Records, gets deeply personal on topics of love, loneliness, and heartbreak in the City of Angels. MICHELE MCMANMON

Tyler, the Creator 
— Wednesday, May 25 — Marquee Theatre

Tyler, the Creator is undoubtedly a crass man-child afflicted with arrested development. To him, a casual chat — perhaps over tea and crumpets — about sex, class, and religion must sound like a literal nightmare or a concoction fashioned by Rod Serling. He’s yet another dude in a line as long as the lunch rush at the DMV who's an asshole that should be punched in the throat for his personality. But he should at least also be given a bag of ice and a shoulder rub for his art. Tyler is rap music’s Peter Pan: He refuses to grow up, except musically perhaps, and his sole purpose is aimless fun.

His latest album, Cherry Bomb, has the rooted and recognizable workings of a Tyler, the Creator album. There’s a whole bunch of N.E.R.D., Pharrell Williams, and the Neptunes fan fiction. It’s loud and poorly mixed in spots because he just thinks it sounds better that way, bro. But there are flashes of a man all grown up, particularly when he hunkers down on the production and gets jazzy. You can expect this to be a rowdy show, as Tyler is the James Warren “Jim” Jones of the cult of rowdy for no-reason millennial idiots. It’s the hottest ticket in town for the night, and recommended if you can grin and bear it. H. DREW BLACKBURN

STRFKR and Com Truise  Thursday, May 26  Marquee Theatre

When STRFKR first appeared nearly a decade ago, it was hard to tell where its brand of minimal electro-pop would land. But with musical mastermind and vocalist Josh Hodges at the helm, the band soared into its own, creating breezy and sweet songs, and tracks like “German Love” and “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second” found homes in both the robust music blogosphere and Target commercials. Fast-forward to the present, many albums and tours later, and STRFKR is still churning out beautiful modular beats, carrying its signature bedroom-recording style more closely in line with the mainstream while managing to stay just below the surface in its own indie world. On new single “Never Ever,” the band follows a tried-and-true formula of combining Hodges’s sexy murmur with a throwback dance vibe — a promising sign that STRFKR won’t stray far from the silky, playful sound that makes it great. BREE DAVIES

Skrillex  Saturday, May 28  Talking Stick Resort

It's easy to hate on Skrillex or even just razz the dude, probably since the erstwhile screamo frontman, once known as Sonny Moore, is sui generis and a polarizing figure in electronic dance music who provides critics with plenty of ammunition. Many have sampled the haterade when it comes to Skrillex, but would probably agree that when it comes to his overwhelming success, the 26-year-old is unassailable. Like it or not, Skrillex and his style of EDM helped light the fuse on electronic music's resurgence in 2011, gave it a massive paradigm shift, won several Grammys, fostered the careers of producers like Seven Lions and Jack Beats (via Skrillex's popular vanity label, OWSLA), and has made more money in a single year than you'll see in six lifetimes.

Accordingly, Recess, Skrillex's debut full-length, charted higher than any of his previous releases, including his breakthrough 2010 EP Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites. Although Skrillex has dabbled here and there outside his usual subwoofer-quaking stomping grounds, Recess, as did the 2013 EP Leaving, expanded his palette considerably, this time with shades of ragga, funk, jungle, dancehall, disco, reggaeton, and both indietronica and indie rock mixed in with his usual grinds and wobbles. BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN

Built to Spill 
— Sunday, May 29  Crescent Ballroom

Before indie rock was a thing, like the hip, Urban Outfitters thing we know today, there was Built to Spill, one of the most indie of indie bands to ever indie. Which is kind of confusing, because the band has been on Warner Bros. Records for most of its career, but whatever: Built to Spill is still, like, indie, you know? What does "indie" even mean, anyway?

Twenty-three years and eight albums later, the Boise group still is defining what independence means in modern rock, returning with its latest indie opus, Untethered Moon. If your '90s nostalgia tank was running on empty, saturnine songs like "Never Be the Same" and the peach-fuzz rock on "Another Day" should assuage that indie itch. "Living Zoo" opens like a slowed-down version of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Pin" before crashing into a Galaxie 500-like pensiveness. It's indie rock to rule them all, and, in the darkness, bind them. TROY FARAH

Modern Baseball 
— Tuesday, May 31  The Pressroom

Modern Baseball began with songwriting duo Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens, high-school friends who moved from Maryland to Philadelphia for college. There, they met Farmer and drummer Sean Huber. In the space of three years, they put together the band, recorded a debut album, Sports, went from basement shows to touring with The Wonder Years and opening for Taking Back Sunday. And though Huber had already graduated, his bandmates have stayed in college through it all.

By the time Modern Baseball caught its breath, the band had signed on with its dream label, Boston's Run for Cover Records. Then came You're Gonna Miss It All, the first time Ewald and Lukens actually wrote songs specifically for an album. "With Sports, it was the first time we recorded anything all. We were clueless and just tried what we could do. We booked sessions from 11 p.m. until whenever we fell asleep, which was like 8 a.m., and then we had class," Farmer says. "When it came time to actually record [You're Gonna Miss It All], it felt way more relaxed." Much of the attention the band has earned stems from the true-to-life lyrics of Ewald and Lukens. Equal parts smart and smart-ass, the songs are full of moments and images so relatable it almost seems they're written with you in mind. ERIC SWEDLUND
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