The year 2015 A.D. is in the books, so its time to turn the page and start looking ahead at what’s on tap for the new year, starting with the first “can’t miss” concerts that will kick things off.
And during the first weekend of 2016, that includes the chance to attend a marathon session of anti-folk starring a slew of local bands, reunite with perennial Phoenix favorite Jerry Riopelle, and hear tidbits of some of the most legendary and memorable movie scores ever.
People Under the Stairs - Friday, January 1 - Crescent Ballroom
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Eschewing the braggadocio and fronting that riddles most hip-hop themes, People Under the Stairs go straight for the heart. Sometimes labeled a “feel good” act, which is a disservice to the landscapes and influence that MCs Double K and Thes One have had on independent hip-hop, there’s no better representation of the duo than their 2002 classic “The L.A. Song.” Riddled with inside-baseball references that will make any Angeleno feel at home wherever they are (shout out to San Pedro, Busy Bee, and the Korean Bell), it’s a towering ode to the city that shaped them. O.S.T., the record on which “The L.A. Song” makes a late appearance, is a timeless, sprawling departure from the Escalade-and-Cristal era that was taking over rap in the early Aughts. It’s conscious without being preachy, it’s proud without pretension, and it’s an evolution of the West Coast sound that’s still a fan favorite. There’s a laid-back take on the production that lets the lyrics shine from cover to cover. That’s the appeal of People Under the Stairs, and the reason why they can still draw diehards and newcomers alike: Down-the-line, no holds barred hip-hop will always buck trends. If you’re looking to coast and just pour one out for the City of Angels, then P.U.T.S. is your ticket to ride. K.C. LIBMAN
The Echo Bombs - Saturday, December 2 - The Lost Leaf
Formed in 2010 following the dissolution of electro-dance band The Analog Society, The Echo Bombs aimed for a more lo-fi approach, a la Best Coast. They switched gears again with their first full-length, King of Uncool, which dropped last year. It's more primal and creepy as fuck, with sludgy garage-rock riffs that typify characters with "blue skin, hands of a dragon" and "like the taste of teens." "We were going for minimalistic and energetic like Pixies," lead singer Eddie Horn says. "Sex Bob-omb [from the Scott Pilgrim movie] was one of our big inspirations as well, even though it's just a movie band."
But despite being around for four years, The Echo Bombs haven't released much. After frontwoman Cecilia Olea left the band to focus on her work in Sedusa, the Bombs restructured themselves and completely changed direction and the result is the darker, grittier King of Uncool. Even for a three-piece, Echo Bombs show a lot of range. Self-described as "psycho surf," the band mixes the lo-fi edge of garage rock with a grungy aggression. They get swampy on "Creeper" or blast melancholy crescendos on "Summerlong" while "Tear It Down" takes Dick Dale and the Deltones to a scuzzy truck stop restroom and gives it a flushie. TROY FARAH
Jerry Riopelle - Saturday, January 2 - Talking Stick Resort
Queue up any YouTube rip of a Jerry Riopelle song and you’ll find shining accolades from a number of Arizonans. Riopelle’s so revered here that December 31 is Jerry Riopelle day in Phoenix, as bestowed upon him for his riotous New Year’s Eve shows that he has played since the mid-’70s. Starting with a now-fabled set at the Celebrity Theatre and leading up through 2013, Riopelle’s kickoff parties are a thing of yore, even if they’re specific to a certain age demographic, but a Phoenician institution and tradition nonetheless. Hailing from L.A. as a producer in the golden age of recording, Riopelle’s now a Scottsdale resident for part of the year and a fixture around the Valley. Don’t know any Jerry Riopelle songs, you say? Play “Easy Driver” and that hummed opening will definitely come back to you, although it might be one of your parents’ favorites more so than your own. That’s where the conundrum with Riopelle lies — he’s a seminal part of Arizonan music history, fiercely beloved by those within the borders but translates questionably outside of them. Though Riopelle is playing just after the new year, some of that magic that’s made him a legend will definitely still shine through.
Music of John Williams - Saturday, January 2, and Sunday, January 3 - Symphony Hall
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The music of John Williams is ubiquitous, but who's complaining? Over a span of several decades, the sheer stylistic variety of his film scores has amazed and awed audiences. While many of us grew up with Williams' epic works for blockbusters including Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Harry Potter films, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jurassic Park, and every entry in the Star Wars saga (including the recently released blockbuster, The Force Awakens) this is the same man who created those kicky scores for Gidget Goes to Rome and Valley of the Dolls! Let's not forget, too, that Williams' theme music graced the 1984, 1988 and 1996 Summer Olympic Games and the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Some of the legendary composer’s greatest works – including highlights from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jaws, Schindler’s List, Born on the Fourth of July, and the aforementioned Raiders and Star Wars epics – will be performed by the Phoenix Symphony this weekend on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. JOHN PAYNE
Phoenix Anti-Folk Fest - Saturday, January 2, to Sunday, January 3 - Trunk Space
Many might not know it, but Phoenix has a burgeoning folk punk scene, steeped in acoustic tradition with the right “fuck you” attitude, á la Violent Femmes and our own Meat Puppets, who scratched out a definitive cowpunk swagger in Phoenix during the ’80s. Today, the folk praxis is typified by locals such as Field Tripp, Andy Warpigs, Dinosaur Love, Run-On Sunshine, Egg Princess, and many others who will be at Phoenix Anti-Folk Fest this weekend. In keeping with the compulsory anarchistic, “fuck the rules” attitude, others who are not really folk-y will join the two-day festival including pop punks Genre, dance pop from Couples Fight, garage rockers Psywave, and electroclash diva The Doyenne. If you need help keeping up with the 32-plus bands on this roster, which will perform during the two-day event that starts Saturday and runs until Sunday evening, and there are rumors there’ll be a zine with bios of each act. This is a great way to immerse yourself in some local talent, as well as a handful of musicians from out of town, including Bat Country and Roo from Nevada. TROY FARAH