'Tis the season for something. Whether you unironically don an ugly Christmas sweater and embrace the holidays or spend December bitching about consumerism and the inherent shallowness of modern society, there's something about the last month of the year you're doing differently. If you can spare the dough from your gift-buying budget, check out the following concerts. You can find many more options on our comprehensive concert calendar.
From the outside looking in, Spoon has always appeared to be a critics' band. The quintet seems to make its next album in response to the reception of the previous one. Gimme Fiction, with its catchy rhythms and shimmer, is the tonal opposite of the stunning, rousing rawness of 2002's Kill the Moonlight. The band's sound then expanded with 2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, adding tuneful horns to a mix that already worked well. Transference (2010) kept the music more internal, setting an introspective mood for the listener.
It was after that 2010 release that the band decided to take a break. Daniel formed indie supergroup Divine Fits with Wolf Parade's Dan Beckoner and Sam Brown of the New Bomb Turks, and Eno has been a producer and engineer for bands such as !!! and Heartless Bastards.
The time apart has allowed the band to bring forward their most satisfying album yet: They Want My Soul. The 10 tracks are a reflection of the band's past, whether referencing Daniel's middle school bully Jonathon Fisk (who was immortalized on the eponymous track from Kill the Moonlight) on Soul's title track or revisiting rhythms and riffs explored on previous albums on "Let Me Be Mine." The album got production help from Flaming Lips and MGMT producer Dave Fridmann, who adds a synth sheen to the proceedings. (Mike McCarthy had produced the band's releases prior to Transference, and Jon Brion co-produced the popular horn-infused anthem "The Underdog.") JASON KEIL
Only a few bands ever spend time in the zone Cage the Elephant has dwelled in for the past few years -- opening for major acts, releasing major-label albums. Now, the band is all grown up, and now, it's headlining ALT AZ 93.3's Ugly Sweater Holiday Show at Mesa Amphitheatre. Many people got to know the band through the once-ubiquitous single "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked," and then "Shake Me Down." The band has seen any singles reach the same heights as those in recent years, but the time on the road and in the studio has let them hone their chops, and they'll bring a cool professionalism to their Mesa show.
Since dropping his "Brick in Yo Face" video this past April 30, 19-year-old hip-hop artist Phillip Katsabanis -- AKA Stitches -- has become Miami's rapper of the moment. His gangster anthem has garnered more than 2 million Facebook shares, close to 13 million views on WorldStarHipHop, and gushing write-ups on well-known music websites like Complex and Noisey. Even South Beach's twin late-night palaces, LIV and Mansion, have given him the VIP treatment.
"He is one of the top five most-watched artists in Miami," says Abebe Lewis, co-owner of the legendary North Miami recording studio Circle House. "There are a lot of labels looking at him."
The rise of Stitches provides a blueprint for modern-day hip-hop myth-making. Almost overnight, Katsabanis went from being a suburban Kendall kid known as "Lil Phill" to a bona fide gangsta rapper. Though there's scant evidence to prove his claims of being a cocaine kingpin since he hit puberty, he created a viral reality that fed on the Magic City's reputation for drugs and violence, which began with Scarface's Tony Montana and continued through Rick Ross. FRANCISCO ALVARADO AND ALLIE CONTI
Cover the Crescent received attention from Weezer fans several weeks ago when the band's website stated that the quartet responsible for "Buddy Holly" was scheduled to perform at the intimate Crescent Ballroom. Once devotees caught on that Phoenix band Luau was to cover Weezer songs to benefit one of the venue's security guards (whose car was totaled by a drunken driver), Weezer removed the date from its website. Some felt duped, but when you consider the cause and the local talent behind Cover the Crescent, why would you be worried about whether Rivers Cuomo would show up? In addition to Luau, psychedelic rockers The Lonesome Wilderness will cover the White Stripes. If that's not enough Motor City for you, Mitch Freedom's Phantasmagoria will take on the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Also, soul singer Morris Alan will cover Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding. As with past Cover the Crescent events, you never know whether the bands are going to play the music straight or put interesting spins on familiar tunes. Take a break from wrapping presents to find out for yourself. JASON KEIL
Whether it's apathy or simply ignorance, some bands tend to remain mostly hidden from the world of which they're trying to be a part. This can add an air of mystery, or perhaps lead to an underground cult following that ultimately will lead to a burgeoning career. For Los Angeles' Francisco the Man, there's no real answer for the band's inaccessibility. "We're a real band. We do exist," guitarist and vocalist Scotty Cantino confirms during a recent phone interview. "I don't really think too much about online presence, maybe to a fault . . . We just focus on writing songs, recording, and playing shows." The band just released its debut album, Loose Ends, a dreamy atmospheric pop extravagance that deftly melds '90s shoegazer with '80s New Wave and '00s floaty electronics. It's an interesting stylistic mix -- urgent, buoyant, and pulsating. "I wouldn't say our sound was reflective of any one scene," Cantino says. "We've always tried to steer clear of a particular scene or sound. We ignore what's going on around us so we're not trying to sound like anybody, but doing what comes naturally for the four of us." Even if it's hard to find out exactly what that might be. GLENN BURNSILVER
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With heavy notes of Grace Potter, while still sounding like the soundtrack to your next bar fight, Sara Robinson and The Midnight Special are looking to graduate from local staple and on to the next big thing. It is hard to shake the feeling that this is a band that's simply a vessel for Robinson's blues gesturing, though there's no denying that she's more than a competent vocalist -- and that's not to say that they're any less entertaining a band. They're headlining Crescent Ballroom's Girls Who Rock and Rule, along with funk-hop act Catfish Mustache, tropical-leaning roots band Kush County and the wailing soul of Ruca. While these acts tend to range from left of field to down-the-line rock 'n' roll, there's no mistaken that the women at the helm are steering their bands' artistic direction however they want.
That can come with a price, however. It hasn't been an easy year for Ms. Robinson and her ilk. There's been the break from her original co-writer and guitarist, Brandon Croft, the departure of her drummer, replaced by Scott Sievers, and the short hiatus the band announced back in July.
As a longtime fixture of Tempe's music scene, with a meteoric rise in years past, Robinson and her band, as well as her compatriots, are a reminder of Tempe's vibrancy, infused with some good ol' rock 'n' roll grit. Here's to their restoration to their former glory, and may they never go commercial or poppy -- we like Ms. Robinson, Ruca, Catfish Mustache and Kush County just the way they are. K.C. LIBMAN