Pop music has a proud tradition of socially awkward lead singers -- the Brian Wilsons, the shoegazers, the Rivers Cuomos. They are not what this list is about.
This is about the other kind of frontman and frontwoman -- the one who gets inside your head or maybe right up in your face.
Garnet - Dry River Yacht Club
Dry River Yacht Club puts on a tremendous live performance. The eight-piece lineup is unbelievably entertaining, but what really brings it all together is the theatrical performance and operatic singing of lead singer Garnet.
Her delivery of the band's fantastical lyrics is obviously the crux of Garnet's appeal as a frontwoman. But it's much more than just singing the words as if she's on Broadway. Garnet really sets the vibe of her bands shows with attitude and attire, always bringing the crowd with her on her excursions into her colorful world.
For DRYC's release of its album El Tigre, the singer took the stage in a diamond tiara and the dress of a fairy tale princess. For Apache Lake Music Fest, it was a black dress and top hat that brought in a witchy vibe. Garnet is the total package as a frontwoman -- performing to the highest of standards and creating a unique setting where the crowd can enjoy it.
Ray Reeves - Ray Reeves and the Masters of the Economy
Ray Reeves is hands down the most enthusiastic frontman in Phoenix.
Reeves can proficiently play just about any instrument you hand him, but nothing beats catching him and the rest of the Masters of the Economy performing, usually with members of other bands in tow and Ray at the front being the tornado of strange that he is.
The three-piece-suit-wearing, multi-instrumentalist madman is at his best in front of the mic, guitar in hand, yelling out his lyrics, though his famed police-siren electric drum solo is also a sight to behold.
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His over-the-top brand of country (not Western!) music is indescribable by mere mortals. He took the Sun City Girls' cover of The Fugs' 1965 tune "CIA Man" and turned it into a seven-minute mind-bending psychedelic experience, ranting about the evils the "Cocaine Importation Agency."
After a period of time living in the Verde Valley, Reeves is back in Phoenix and acting as eccentric as ever while entertaining local crowds.
Emma Pew - Black Carl
What once was What Laura Says is now Black Carl, the undisputed biggest band in the Valley. In Phoenix and the surrounding area, Black Carl seems able to fill just about every venue it books.
Besides having one of the most recognizable voices in local music, Pew also possess one of the most powerful. Her soulful delivery exudes confidence and adds a lot of the crypto-hip-hop style that Black Carl hangs its hat on.
It also doesn't hurt that the Tempe-based singer with the powerful pipes also is a snazzy dresser. She has a keen style and dresses for the occasion, like her final performance of 2013 at Crescent Ballroom The event called for attendees to "dress to entice," and she took it to heart with a classic "little black dress." An afternoon set at True Music Festival merited a more casual look, featuring Ray-Ban sunglasses.
Robbie Pfeffer - Playboy Manbaby
Few lead singers in Phoenix can control a crowd like Robbie Pfeffer. When Pfeffer tells his crowd to get down on their knees for dramatic effect, they do. When it's time for the crowd to go all out, Pfeffer gives the cues and the crowd responds in kind.
A Playboy Manbaby show isn't going to bring the dramatic intrigue you get when Garnet and DRYC are in motion, but what Pfeffer lacks in theatrical instincts and flashy costumes, he makes up with pure uninhibited madness.
At a recent show, Pfeffer was lifted off of the stage by his fans for an impromptu crowd-surf; another crowd-surfer lit a sparkler inside the Trunk Space in mid-air. It takes a charismatic act to incite the kind of crowd reaction that Playboy Manbaby receives, and Pfeffer is certainly a large part of the band's appeal.
Brandon Decker - decker.
There is a rumor that Brandon Decker stands on his signature platform so he'll be as tall as the rest of his band, but that is probably not true. The real reason Decker brings his own stage is to create that amazing thump with his makeshift percussion instruments, which include a tambourine played with a drum pedal and a piece of wood with a speaker attached to it.
With a persona that comes off as half-preacher half-cowboy, the intensity of Decker's performance is not easily matched. While his tunes and lyrics paint the landscape of a dusty desert, his emotionality, stage performance, soulful voice, and cryptic lyrics create the aura of a preacher.
Seeing decker. is as much an emotional experience as it is a musical one, and so much of the performance is based on Brandon Decker's voice and mannerisms.
Travis James - Travis James and the Acrimonious Assembly
Though it does not hurt to have two Haymarket Squares back him up, Travis James really is the heart and soul of TJAAA. His choice to play among the audience instead of on stage as often as possible always adds some panache, but a Travis James performance is so much more than that.
Travis James performances sometimes include destruction, usually include a waltz, and almost always includes a sing-along. But by sing, I mean mosh like crazy and scream your heart out.
Any frontman who encourages his crowd to do more or less anything it wants -- including boo or throw things at him -- is obviously a good sport. But James takes it a step further by acting in kind, and does just about anything he wants while performing. Whether he's overtaking abandoned buildings, performing at unpermitted festivals in parks, or just playing around the backyard fire at Lawn Gnome Publishing James, it is a lot of fun to see him make music, with or without The Acrimonious Assembly.
Austin Rickert - Naked Pizza / Bacchus and the Demon Sluts
Naked Pizza was one of the most fun and energetic bands to emerge in Phoenix, and frontman Austin Rickert was a huge part of that. Now that they are on hiatus and only playing if "the money is right," Bacchus and his Demon Sluts is Rickert's vehicle to get in front of people and act like a total nutjob.
Rickert, a multi-instrumentalist, has been known to play the saxophone, guitar, and bass in addition to his singing duties. But what has really become a staple of a Rickert performance is his erratic behavior -- and even more erratic outfits.
At a show where Rickert's singing lead, expect colorful outfits, possible cross-dressing, brightly colored fingernails, and a cheerful voice marching around the crowd. He might be yelling depressing things, but they'll come with a very uplifting delivery.
James Hanna - The Oakland Raiders
James Hanna is one of Phoenix's truly unique performers. Hanna dresses as if he is from a different era and carries himself as such. At shows, watching him strum his Gibson SG and twitching on stage with his curly, stringy hair while singing his one-of-a-kind lyrics like "I can't stand my girl / she's a boy" -- it's a genuinely unique experience.
Watching Hanna play the Lost Leaf with the Raiders, it's easy to imagine him in some lounge in California in the '70s, entertaining a different era of music lover.
Danny Torgersen - Captain Squeegee
Captain Squeegee has been a staple of the Phoenix music scene for years, and their longevity has afforded them some amazing opportunities. They have played for a presidential candidate in Gary Johnson, conducted a full orchestra, and most recently releasedTo the Bardos
, one of 2013's best local albums.
The face of the band is its quirky lead singer and trumpeter, Danny Torgersen. Besides being an extraordinarily talented musician, he also brings his likes and interests on to the stage with him. His lyrics and performances and even the albums themselves are heavily influenced by the paranormal, the extraterrestrial, and conspiracy theories.
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Going to a Squeegee show is part high-energy jazz-fusion performance and part education about, well, whatever Torgersen feels like teaching you.