The 25 Best Concerts in Phoenix This January

St. Vincent is scheduled to perform on Friday, January 26, at The Van Buren.
St. Vincent is scheduled to perform on Friday, January 26, at The Van Buren. Nedda Afsari

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click to enlarge Mustard Plug is still skanking after all these years. - COURTESY OF BRIXTON AGENCY
Mustard Plug is still skanking after all these years.
Courtesy of Brixton Agency
Mustard Plug
Thursday, January 18
Crescent Ballroom

Not many bands have attained popularity and commercial success outside the mainstream music industry box the way that Mustard Plug has done. While they can't claim to be most famous ska-punk band in existence, the septet have amassed a sizable cult following, as well as radio-friendly songs and music videos, like "You" and "Everything Girl."

After forming in 1991 and, a year later, releasing a full-length tape on Dashiki Clout, Skapocalypse Now!, Mustard Plug released the popular Evildoers Beware! in 1997 via punk label Hopeless Records. This was the beginning of their zenith, coinciding with the mid-'90s ska craze, which would continue for roughly five years until their breakup in 2002.

Fortunately, Mustard Plug got back together five years later and have since dropped a couple more records, including In Black and White (where they took their music in murkier directions, and 2014’s Can't Contain It. Now, 15 years after their breakup, Mustard Plug, who swing through Crescent Ballroom in January, is still kicking out ska and have come back around to their older, poppier rhythms while still developing a new sound. Garyn Klasek

Katy Perry performing in December 2017. - BRANDON MARSHALL
Katy Perry performing in December 2017.
Brandon Marshall
Katy Perry
Friday, January 19
Gila River Arena in Glendale

Katy Perry’s Witness Tour is two solid hours of pop-music razzle-dazzle with the pop singer strutting around the stage, empowering girls and performing along with her dexterous troupe of dancers.

There are fireworks, a pole dancer, a massive set of lips that gobble up the singer, a massive tiger head for the song “Roar,” a pair of dice that singers dance on, a planet she rides over her the audience while strumming an acoustic guitar; and a ginormous basketball court where she battles in a game of hoops with a cool dad that’s handpicked from the crowd.

You should also expect an inescapable amount of eyeballs during her show on January 19 at Gila River Arena in Glendale. It’s a common motif in her Witness Tour (get it?) and the show will feature a massive moving eyeball projected onto on an eyeball-shaped screen. There are eyeballs in flowers and eyeballs on beach balls. There are robots with TV heads with eyeballs in the center. They are meant to evoke that nagging sense that we’re always being watched, a logical response to surveillance culture, in which cameras record our every move and marketers track our desires.

Party kids will trip in her fantasy world. Children will understand it as Saturday-morning cartoon fodder. And the rest of us can bask in the sheer wonder of it all. Kyle Harris

click to enlarge Morris Day at a 2012 concert. - JEREMY PEREZ/CC BY-SA 2.0/VIA FLICKR
Morris Day at a 2012 concert.
Morris Day and the Time
Saturday, January 20
BLK Live in Scottsdale

Even though Prince's control-freak tendencies made him itch to play every instrument himself in his first band, Grand Central Corporation, friend and guitarist Morris Day swung his swanky balls around enough to earn a place in the little guy's future collaborative royalty.

Day's song "Partyup" ended up on Prince's genre-ravaging Dirty Mind (the first R&B LP any punk owned), and Day was repaid with his own band, The Time, a funk-rock powerhouse that was the first of Prince's many post-success pet projects.

The Time was the unbridled id of Paisley Park, and the group's 1981 self-titled debut was led by choice workouts like "Cool" and "Get It Up." The band dressed like dandy New Wave pimps and featured geniuses like Terry Lewis and Jimmy "Jam" Harris. When Prince had The Time open for him on a tour with The Rolling Stones, The Time's vibrant grooves and comedic energy tended to make the Purple One purple with jealousy before he hit the stage. As goofy as their antics were, The Time's masculine excesses kept it raw.

Despite masterpieces like "Jungle Love," The Time never got too huge, but then again, we know punks who traded in their LPs after Purple Rain and held on to the bold funk jams of their Time sides. Chris Estey

click to enlarge Jessica Lea Mayfield - COURTESY OF ATO RECORDS
Jessica Lea Mayfield
Courtesy of ATO Records
Jessica Lea Mayfield
Tuesday, January 23
Valley Bar

Jessica Lea Mayfield has risen through the songwriting ranks with one foot in the old and the other in the new. She got her start touring with her family bluegrass band, but after a stroke of luck, she was suddenly pushed into the spotlight with high-profile tours accompanying the likes of Black Keys, Ray LaMontagne, Lucero, and Jay Farrar.

But success hasn't seemed to make her too happy: Her songs are still dark, brooding little things you'd expect more from a cranky old woman, not a 28-year-old. Listening to her, you might think she was an old country or folk performer, as her drawl comes across as something you'd be more likely to hear in the '70s than today. Still, she doesn't always play the jaded, lovesick adult, and 2011's Tell Me experiments more with rock and pop than her debut. Thorin Klosowski

Wolf Parade
Wednesday, January 24
The Van Buren

Wolf Parade has its own quirky appeal. In the first five years after the indie roc/post-punk band formed in 2013, they put out three well received, eclectic records: 2005's Apologies to the Queen Mary, 2008's At Mount Zoomer, and 2010's Expo 86. In 2011, though, they had decided to call it quits. "By the time we toured that last record, it wasn't as fun," drummer Arlen Thompson says, "We realized if we pushed it and did this as a job we would end up totally hating each other. We all had side projects going on, so we thought if we stopped Wolf Parade then, maybe there would be room to come back to it."

In 2016, that room opened up. Thompson was back in his hometown of Vancouver, where his trumpeter father once encouraged him to play drums, (since every band needs a drummer) when he learned keyboardist Spencer Krug and multi-instrumentalist Dante DeCaro were also living nearby. "We thought it was a good idea to get back together. We hung out, talked out some issues, and played some music,” Thompson says. “We sounded terrible that first time, but it felt good, so we started writing new songs."

And you can hear those tracks on their LP Cry Cry Cry, which debuted in October 2017 via Sub Pop. The two singles that were initially released, "You're Dreaming" and "Valley Boy," have a catchiness that will attract new listeners. "Every one of our albums is a response to the last album we made. We look at what we didn't like with the last one and work on it. Expo 86 we tried to get to sound live, like one of our shows. This one, we wanted more lush, so we expanded with horns and synthesizers. Lyrically we were informed by what was happening in America politically." David Rolland

click to enlarge Nasty Woman performs at last year's Phoenix Rock Lottery. - MICHELLE SASONOV
Nasty Woman performs at last year's Phoenix Rock Lottery.
Michelle Sasonov
Machine Head
Thursday, January 25
Nile Theater in Mesa

Any list of great thrash-metal bands – Slayer, Metallica, Hatebreed and a few others – has to include Oakland's Machine Head. Approaching its 20th year, the band deserves props for longevity alone and continues to raise the bar, despite sometimes confounding fans with elements like the rap-style vocals of 1999 LP The Burning Red. And with multiple members coming and going, drug abuse, record-label shenanigans and general personality disorders, Machine Head seems perfect for a big-screen biopic.

Their 2011 full-length Unto the Locust marked a return to form for a band that seems to have finally righted its ship, with "ReaperMan" of the online Encyclopaedia Metallum opining, "These are the kinds of songs that the band could walk out onto a stage, play, throw down their instruments, and walk off, the unsaid (and unanswered) challenge being 'follow that.'"

Machine Head’s been busy as of late putting the finishing touches on its new album, Catharsis, which drops on January 26 via Nuclear Blast Records. The night before, they’ll be causing the brick walls of the Nile Theater in Mesa to shake with their thrash-metal. William Michael Smith

click to enlarge Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent. - NEDDA AFSARI
Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent.
Nedda Afsari
St. Vincent
Friday, January 26
The Van Buren

Performing as St. Vincent, Annie Clark is a writer of lush, adventurous pop music. As a teenager she was the tour manager for her uncle's band, Tuck & Patti, where she learned not only a great deal about the music business but also a bit about musicianship and effective performance.

In her early 20s, Clark became a member of the Polyphonic Spree and later on joined Sufjan Stevens' band for his 2006 tour. The following year, Clark released her first solo album, Marry Me, a promising debut filled with effervescent melodies and experimental flourishes throughout.

The follow-up album, Actor, appeared two years later and garnered a great deal of acclaim for Clark. Actor was a sonically and artistically mature work that reveals an uncommon depth of artistic imagination and ambition in songwriting and musical conceptualization.

Her current record, Masseduction, hovers in the netherworld between two opposing forces and coasts. The sparse piano ballad “New York” is a straightforward and heartfelt elegy to a vanishing way of life: “New York isn’t New York without you, love / Too few of our old crew left on Astor.” Tom Murphy

Phoenix Rock Lottery 2018
Saturday, January 27
Crescent Ballroom

For the fifth straight year, Crescent Ballroom will play host to the Phoenix Rock Lottery. How does it work? Take 25 local musicians, put them in a room, mix them up, and give them a day to come up with a brand-spanking-new name, three original songs, and time to master one cover. The result? Some of the most interesting juxtapositions in the Valley.

Past incarnations have included members of Captain Squeegee, Dry River Yacht Club, Emby Alexander, Mergence, Slow Moses, and Jimmy Eat World. In fact, it was at 2015’s Lottery that Jim Adkins and friends started Wet Lab, a pop punk quintet who went on to release a cassette single.

This year’s roster hasn’t been announced yet, but will likely include a “who’s who” of the Phoenix music scene. The only way to witness the wild stuff these impromptu bands will invent is to see it yourself. And get your tickets now because the show typically sells out. Troy Farah
click to enlarge New Wave artist Adam Ant. - AARON RUBIN/CC BY-ND 2.0/VIA FLICKR
New Wave artist Adam Ant.
Brad Paisley
Saturday, January 27
Gila River Arena in Glendale

When Brad Paisley isn't writing and performing sweet, tender songs that make women melt into a big pile of mush — or even haunting songs about death — he's writing some hilarious, off-the-wall, kind of stupid songs about the things happening to or around him.

That's the charm of Paisley, though: He's the perfect balance of sweet and salty. While other country crooners might be singing about a woman's tight jeans and lipstick (not that Paisley doesn't sing about that, too), Paisley's strength is observing his surroundings and singing about them with some, or a lot of, humor sprinkled in. In late January, Paisley will perform at Gila River Arena in Glendale with support from openers Dustin Lynch, Chase Bryant, and Lindsay Ell. Paige Skinner

Adam Ant
Sunday, January 28
Celebrity Theatre

Always a pop-minded performer and consummate singles artist, Adam Ant has had a more fearless and confounding career than almost anyone else associated with New Wave. Announcing "ridicule is nothing to be scared of" on 1981's "Prince Charming," he's brushed up against the line between commercial-minded music and something much much more avant-garde too many times to mention, whether post-punk ("Kings of the Wild Frontier") or hip-hop ("Ant Rap").

Still, he may have topped himself with Adam Ant Is the BlueBlack Hussar Marrying the Gunner's Daughter, a concept album (obviously) that doesn't necessarily need to be understood to be appreciated for its bluesy textures and Ant's Iggy-esque slither. Chris Gray

click to enlarge MALIN JOHANSSON
Malin Johansson
Jose Gonzalez
Monday, January 29
The Van Buren

Jose Gonzalez’s welcoming yet melancholy folk tunes have earned him a reputation as a sensitive singer-songwriter capable of balancing different musical impulses to moving effect.

Take “New Leaf,” the lead single off of 2015’s Vestiges & Claws, in which Gonzalez and crew chant “Make the light lead you out” over and over, almost hypnotically, accompanied by uplifting guitar strums and what sounds like a congregation of hand-clappers. But the exuberance is cut by Gonzalez’s understated and melodically perfect vocals, creating the impression that the singer might be trying to convince himself to take his own advice.

Throughout his work, Gonzalez balances the joy of being alive with a sad reserve, sounding something like Simon and Garfunkel — minus, thankfully, that duo’s string-laden bombast. Luke Leavitt

No, you're not seeing things. Wolf Parade is back. - SHANE MCCAULEY
No, you're not seeing things. Wolf Parade is back.
Shane McCauley
Flo Rida
Wednesday, January 31
Birds Nest at Waste Management Phoenix Open in Scottsdale

It ain't easy being Flo Rida, but it's gotta be a "Good Feeling." For the past decade, this self-described "international hustler" has kept his grind cranked to "Club Can't Handle Me" levels, endlessly zigzagging between the studio, the gym, and arena-size stages.

Since releasing his debut album, Mail on Sunday, and its breakout lead single, "Low," in 2007, the notoriously ripped hit machine's waking hours have become entirely consumed by ever-exploding obligations. Stuff like repeat trips to the American Music Awards winner's circle, halftime gigs at the NBA All-Star Game, soccer stadium concerts in Europe, über-exclusive VIP fashion parties on South Beach, and impromptu Japanese Jacuzzi parties with 30 female fans from Okinawa.

The cause of all this hard work and even harder play: a four-song string of Billboard number one house-hop hits — 2012's "Whistle," 2011's "Good Feeling," 2009's "Right Round," and the aforementioned "Low" — that's proven the 38-year-old rapper to be one of Planet Earth's most bankable pop stars. S. Pajot
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.