The 30 Best Concerts in Phoenix in May 2017

John Legend is scheduled to perform on Wednesday, May 24, at Comerica Theatre.
John Legend is scheduled to perform on Wednesday, May 24, at Comerica Theatre. Eliot Lee Hazel

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All Them Witches
Tuesday, May 16
The Rebel Lounge

All Them Witches are the very definition of baleful. The Nashville quartet constructs a heavy, doom-laden hard rock sound that’s full of dark portents and foreboding. They’re too restless to be called metal, and their sudden mood swings turn acoustic interludes into full-blown psychedelic noise. ATW’s 2016 album, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker, ranges from trudging blues wallows (“Call Me Star”) and grungy hypnosis (“El Centro”) to surging rock anthems (“Dirt Preachers”). Their most recent EP, A Sweet Release, is even heavier, with two tracks that clock in at more than 11 minutes and another epic that’s nearly 25 minutes in length. Falling James

Los Lonely Boys
Wednesday, May 17
Mesa Arts Center

Los Lonely Boys is famed for making the adult contemporary Billboard charts for “Heaven,” which they produced with Texas singer-songwriter/legend Willie Nelson in 2003. Adult contemporary is a pretty spot-on description for this Chicano power-rock trio from San Angelo. And with their latest album Revelation, the band revisits their roots. The Garza brothers combine their classic mix of Tejano, a brush of the blues, a tinge of country and a healthy dose of rock ‘n’ roll guitar solos in songs like “Blame It on Love” and “Don’t Walk Away.” Singer Jojo Garza shines in particular with his rugged, yet calm vocal styling, as brothers Henry and Ringo lay down the smooth rock foundation for Jojo’s guitar solos. They also have elements of conjunto and reggae in some of their songs, like “Give It a Little More,” demonstrating that the group isn’t just sticking to their old formula. Of course, their lyrical content is filled with the emotional heartbreak of life, just perfect for that solitary uncle. Pablo Arauz

L.A. Witch is hitting the road. - MONI HAWORTH
L.A. Witch is hitting the road.
Moni Haworth
L.A. Witch
Thursday, May 18
Valley Bar

All-female rock trio L.A. Witch is at the forefront of the current femme-punk movement, though its music doesn’t boast an overtly feminist message. The band — Sade Sanchez on vocals and guitar, Irita Pai on bass and Ellie English on drums — is currently on tour and its main goal seems to be making absolutely killer garage-punk songs. With singles like “Kill My Baby Tonight” and 2016’s “Drive Your Car,” L.A. Witch declares its noisy independence from any expectations other than stirring up raucous rock and roll. Tom Murphy

Chris Stapleton
Friday, May 19
Ak-Chin Pavilion

Established Nashville songwriter Chris Stapleton — the pen behind such massive country-pop hits as Kenny Chesney’s “Never Wanted Nothing More,” Josh Turner’s “Your Man” and Luke Bryan’s “Drink a Beer” — has stepped into the spotlight himself. In 2015, Stapleton’s solo debut, Traveller, won the Country Music Association Award for Album of the Year and the Grammy for Best Country Album. The long-haired, heavy-bearded singer-songwriter has now become known for soulful yet understated performances of classically constructed country songs — but his powers aren’t limited to the country genre: Recently, the Kentucky native has been paying tribute to fallen heroes at his live shows, and his rendition of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” in Berkeley went viral. Katie Moulton

The Damned's Captain Sensible (left) and Dave Vanian. - DOD MORRISON
The Damned's Captain Sensible (left) and Dave Vanian.
Dod Morrison
The Damned
Sunday, May 21
Marquee Theatre in Tempe

There might be no band in all of music that’s harder to peg than The Damned. Though they came out of, and in many ways ignited, the punk movement in the U.K., they were nothing like their peers. They weren’t angry or ugly or driven by rebellion. Rather, they aimed to take listeners on a riotous journey, a heady sound trip that delved into psychedelia and macabre rock, ominous aesthetics and aggressive, hook-driven sounds. Then they constantly changed things up with each subsequent release and live show, defining and then defying what punk rock has stood for over the last 40 years and counting. For the next year and a bit beyond, the band’s two iconic remaining original members, singer Dave Vanian and guitarist Captain Sensible, will be celebrating The Damned’s prolific career on the road. Sensible says that like The Stones, The Damned have battled ageism over their long career, and that particularly when it comes to punk, no one expects their kind of longevity. But they’re obviously still full of vim and vigor right now, having survived dramatic breakups and makeups plus hard partying over the years. In many ways, Sensible still seems like the life of the party, while his bandmate Vanian remains a more mysterious contrast. Their yin-and-yang thing still makes for appealing chemistry onstage and diverse textures on record. “I’m the light, happy pop guy,” Sensible says. “Whereas the other guy [Vanian] is the prince of darkness. We’re opposites. That’s the dynamic of the band.” Lina Lecaro

Flynt Flossy and Turquoise Jeep
Sunday, May 21
Valley Bar

Fast fashion Youtube video rap crew Turquoise Jeep exist in the same universe as Pee Wee's Playhouse, Paper Rad, and Yo Gabba Gabba; like the aforementioned productions, they're colorful, control freaked, and hands-on. Lead MC, Flynt Flossy has a refreshingly light-hearted persona along the lines of Shock G, Sir Mix A Lot, and DJ Lance Rock, lyrically rife with double-entendres and goosey figures of speech. Compared to the great big world of hip-hop and it's endless procession of yachts, slabs, and brand-name everything, a turquoise jeep provides an apt description of their hands-on, arts-and-crafts forever aesthetic. Tex Kerschen

Brian Wilson
Monday, May 22
Celebrity Theatre

No one can deny the influence that the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds has held over pop music during the last half-century. It was a giant leap forward sonically and lyrically for a band primarily known for songs about girls and surfing. The concept album has appeared on numerous lists that name it one of the greatest albums of all time. In short, it broke both the rules of pop music and the mind of Brian Wilson, the man who conceived it. His bout with mental illness after the recording of Pet Sounds is captured in the 2015 film Love and Mercy. Most critics consider Pet Sounds a Beach Boys record in name only, so it's fitting Wilson is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the album with a solo tour. He is playing Pet Sounds in its entirety (along with some Beach Boys hits) with a group of 10 musicians, including founding Beach Boys member Al Jardine, hoping to capture the psychedelic pop sounds originally created by an army of studio players. Jason Keil

The men of Catfish and the Bottlemen. - COURTESY OF CAPITOL MUSIC GROUP
The men of Catfish and the Bottlemen.
Courtesy of Capitol Music Group
Catfish and the Bottlemen
Monday, May 22
The Pressroom

OK, let's get that name out of the way first. Even within the realm of rock and roll, it's so unusual that Catfish and the Bottlemen have posted an adorable animated YouTube video about it. Long story short, front man Van McCann spent the early part of his life in Australia, and one day he spied a street musician playing a drum kit and an assortment of bottles; this unusual fellow called his act Catfish and the Bottlemen. The name stuck, as these things often do. The Bottlemen's songs also tend to stick – as buoyant, kinetic bites of guitar rock that to date all have one-word titles. (That policy does not apply to their covers, which have included Kanye West's “Black Skinhead” in the past.) Their music scratches a familiar itch in a slightly different way, so it's possible to detect hints of the past generation or two of significant indie bands in their DNA; though the Strokes certainly loom large, it's also not terribly far removed from Arctic Monkeys or The 1975, UK countrymen who have also recently found welcoming audiences on this side of the Atlantic. But then, that's only fitting for a group that professes to never stop thinking about music. Chris Gray

click to enlarge British-born pop songstress Bishop Briggs. - CHAD KAMENSHINE
British-born pop songstress Bishop Briggs.
Chad Kamenshine
Bishop Briggs
Tuesday, May 23
Crescent Ballroom

Radio pop has swung into darker territories lately, with vocalists like Tove Lo, Elle King, Lykke Li and even Hozier inflecting electro-pop with soul-influenced brooding. Bishop Briggs, aka Sarah Grace McLaughlin, joins the moody parade with singles “Wild Horses” and “River,” which feature her impressive, throaty vocals over swaggering, relatively minimalistic beats. The 24-year-old British musician is now based in Los Angeles, but she was raised in Japan and Hong Kong, on her Scottish parents’ affection for Motown and karaoke culture. While pop today draws from a range of genres, including electronica, hip-hop and acoustic, it will be interesting to see whether Briggs can turn her unique background into a clear point of view rather than another mash-up of influences. Katie Moulton

click to enlarge The Meatbodies are rock 'n' roll with a side of psychadelic. - KELSEY RECKLING
The Meatbodies are rock 'n' roll with a side of psychadelic.
Kelsey Reckling
Tuesday, May 23
Valley Bar

Chad Ubovich used to back Mikal Cronin and plays bass in Ty Segall’s Fuzz, but he gets much wilder in his own group, Meatbodies. The band’s self-titled, 2014 full-length on In the Red Records is filled with intense bursts of pure punk rock, but the album also is leavened with unexpected psychedelic digressions. Much of Meatbodies’ sound is encompassed in the song “Mountain,” which is wrapped up in elaborate hard-rock riffs and rumbling tempos until it downshifts into a grungy ending that’s crowned by celestial harmonies and spiked with proggy shards of intricate guitar. Throughout all the changes, Ubovich intones with a spaced-out, reverb-heavy delivery like a garage-punk Syd Barrett. Falling James

click to enlarge R&B/pop hitmaker John Legend. - ELIOT LEE HAZEL
R&B/pop hitmaker John Legend.
Eliot Lee Hazel
John Legend
Wednesday, May 24
Comerica Theatre

John Stephens is the R&B/pop singer-songwriter and pianist who, in a relatively short amount of years, has earned the right to personify his stage name: Legend. With a genuine smile, handsome but not overbearing good looks, and a litany of hits, John Legend is as true and real (trill) as anyone can be in today's modern music business. Who else plays his instrument with such intensity and mastery? Who else writes his own songs and produces his own arrangements? If we were to make a list, it would be surprisingly short. His talent is unmistakable, and his appeal unmatched. And when performing in venues that hold a few thousand people, Legend makes the show feel more like a family get-together than a concert, almost as though he were playing a baby grand in our living room, just friends gathered around for some fun. And he’ll pay a visit to his nearest and dearest here in the Valley on May 24 at Comerica Theatre during his current tour, which is in support of Darkness and Light, his latest album. Marco Torres

Lisa Fischer
Thursday, May 25
Musical Instrument Museum

According to her bio, Lisa Fischer clapped so hard upon hearing that Patti LaBelle had won the 1992 Female R&B Performance Grammy for “Burnin’,” a song Fischer had sung backup on, that she almost didn’t notice her name had also been called for “How Can I Ease the Pain.” (It was a rare Grammy tie.) One of the stars of the Oscar-winning 2013 documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom, Fischer has also sung with Luther Vandross, Tina Turner and Sting, but her main gig since 1989 has been one of the Rolling Stones’ touring backup vocalists; she brings the arena or stadium to a standstill during “Gimme Shelter” every time. Chris Gray

click to enlarge Shonen Knife make a long-awaited return to the Valley in May. - COURTESY OF REYBEE
Shonen Knife make a long-awaited return to the Valley in May.
Courtesy of Reybee
Shonen Knife
Wednesday, May 24
Yucca Tap Room

Unlike other dinosaur musicians rising from the grave to play a routine reunion tour or the now-ubiquitous live-album-in-full payday, Shonen Knife has never had to step into such territory. The Japanese power-punk trio has rolled on uninterrupted for close to four decades, a workhorse of an outfit spitting out more than a dozen records while touring the world with a smile. That smile is a crucial component of the Shonen Knife formula: The band’s nineteenth release, 2016’s Adventure, is full of bubblegum raucousness, with singer, guitarist and founding member Naoko Yamano leading the band’s happy charge. Ever keeping up with its youthful contemporaries, the group sings about emojis and has made its full digital discography available on Bandcamp. For an outfit that began in 1981, toured with Nirvana and perfected the Carpenters’ “Top of the World” at the height of the ’90s’ celebration of the ’70s, Shonen Knife is a model for staying punk and staying relevant. Bree Davies

Living Colour: Still relevant after all these years. - KARSTEN STAIGER PHOTOGRAPHY
Living Colour: Still relevant after all these years.
Karsten Staiger Photography
Living Colour
Friday, May 26
BLK Live in Scottsdale

Living Colour bucked the trend of hard rock in the 1980s by infusing funk and avant-garde guitar work into the nearly all-white genre, picking up devoted fans and two Grammy Awards, going on tour with Guns N' Roses and the Rolling Stones, and creating an environment and message to other minority musicians that music is for everyone, no matter the genre. Formed in 1984 by English-born guitarist Vernon Reid, Living Colour went through a few iterations before finally settling on the quartet of Reid, Muzz Skillings on bass (who has since left the group and was replaced by Doug Wimbish), Will Calhoun on drums, and lead vocalist Corey Glover. In 1988, Living Colour released its debut album, Vivid, which includes the lead single "Cult of Personality." On the strength of the song's lyrics, frenetic guitar solos, and memorable riff, "Cult" became a radio hit. But even with a hit, things didn't come easily. "We dealt with a lot of overt and subliminal racism when it came to a band like ours," Glover says. "Beyond the skin color, it was the way we dressed, and people thought, 'What are you, a reggae band?' We were a band without a country. We weren't metal enough to be a metal band, not punk enough to be a punk band, and not R&B enough to be an R&B group." Nearly 30 years later, the band's signature song seems more topical than ever. "It's not just [Donald] Trump. There is a cult of [Barack] Obama; there is a cult of Bernie Sanders," Glover says. "People like Trump have been constructed by us to fit what we want to hear and what we want. The same thing with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders." Matthew Stewart

Modest Mouse
Wednesday, May 31
Crescent Ballroom

The guys in Modest Mouse have followed their own stubbornly idiosyncratic path since 1992, when singer Isaac Brock put the band together in Issaquah, Washington. Unlike other groups from the Pacific Northwest, Modest Mouse have always seemed unaffected by grunge, garage rock, and other regional trends. Instead, Brock and his ever-evolving lineups — which in the past have included the Smiths’ Johnny Marr and the Helio Sequence’s Benjamin Weikel — have never settled long in one sonic space. On their latest album, Strangers to Ourselves, the band sweeps back and forth from pointedly quirky, Talking Heads–style New-Wave funk (“The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box”) to celestial dream-pop (“Of Course We Know”) and hip-hop-flavored psychedelia (“Shit in Your Cut”). Perhaps Brock is just being, ahem, modest when he claims, “Pack up again/Head to the next place, where we’ll make the same mistakes.” Falling James
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.