From bangin' clubs to marvelous concert halls, from tiny bars to outdoor arenas, Phoenix has no shortage of great places to see a show, hear some tunes, and maybe meet some cool people while you're at it. Whatever your musical proclivities may be, whether you're a basshead raver, a hip-hop head, a little bit country or a little bit rock and roll, whether you see a show once a year or every night, there's a spot for you somewhere out in the Valley. Here are our very favorite music venues.
Best Tiny Music Venue: The Trunk Space
1124 North Third Street
When the venerable, long-running all-ages DIY institution The Trunk Space closed its doors on Grand Avenue in 2016, it didn't stay dead for long. After a few months of pop-up shows put on by the venue's dedicated team of volunteers, The Trunk Space found a second life as part of Grace Lutheran Church on Third Street. The gumball machine and photobooth are gone, but The Trunk Space's spirit of booking iconoclastic acts and being a place for young bands to find their voices remains. Since reopening at Grace Lutheran, Trunk Space has hosted underground legends like Lydia Lunch, packed anniversary shows by hometown heroes AJJ, film noir musicals, and marathon show events like Endless Bummer and the Indie 500 (where the space hosts back-to-back performances until 500 songs are played).
Best Small Music Venue: Valley Bar
130 North Central Avenue
If you want to hear what's going on in local or national underground music, then you go underground — literally. Jaunt through the alley west of Central Avenue and down a flight of stairs to join 250 of your closest friends inside Valley Bar's music hall. Once there, you can catch an album release party by a local band, indie musicians on the verge of stardom, or intimate shows by legendary artists such as Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore. If your claustrophobia starts acting up, you can listen to the show while playing Skee-Ball in the game area or grabbing a flatbread pizza in the Rose Room.
Best Midsize Music Venue: The Van Buren
401 West Van Buren Street
It's inevitable. At some point, you're going to see a show at The Van Buren. Guaranteed. And it's due in large part to the sheer number of "can't miss" concerts at the 1,800-person downtown Phoenix music venue co-owned by Live Nation and Charlie Levy of Stateside Presents. Since opening in August 2017, The Van Buren has hosted gigs in a wide variety of genres — from hip-hop and heavy metal to reggae, regional Mexican, and (of course) rock 'n' roll — within a stylish milieu that features gorgeous digs, primo acoustics, and excellent sightlines. There's also a gorgeous lobby and ample patio, each with its own bar.
Best Large Music Venue: Ak-Chin Pavilion
2121 North 83rd Avenue
Seeing a show at Ak-Chin Pavilion is something of a rite of passage for Valley residents. Concertgoers have made the trek to this 20,000-person outdoor venue in the West Valley for decades now, dating back to the '90s, when it was known as Blockbuster Desert Sky Pavilion. Any number of recording stars and legendary bands from a wide variety of genres have performed here over the past three decades, including such notable artists as The Moody Blues, Nine Inch Nails, Blake Shelton, Rob Zombie, and KISS. Its ample open-air pavilion roof provides shade to those fortunate enough to possess reserved seating tickets, while general-admission types can kick back on the hilltop lawn area with blankets and still have a great view.
Best Punk Music Venue: Yucca Tap Room
29 West Southern Avenue, Tempe
At Yucca Tap Room, you make a decision the moment you arrive — left door or right door. The left door leads to the Whiskey Lounge, where you've got a pool table, some booths, a bar separating patrons from selections of craft beer, and maybe a DJ. But the right door takes you to the original Yucca Tap Room, the well-worn music venue around since the early '70s that has seen many famous local and touring acts in its four decades of operation. And thanks to its short, approachable stage, decent sound, and somewhat of a floor area, some great punk shows have gone down. Agent Orange normally make a stop here, as well as comp punk darlings like Mustard Plug, Guttermouth, No Use for a Name, and Pulley.
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Best Rock Venue: Pub Rock Live
8005 East Roosevelt Street, Scottsdale
If the walls of Pub Rock Live could speak, they'd probably offer up many twisted tales of rock 'n' roll exploits that've gone down at this Scottsdale spot during its many iterations over the decades. For a good chunk of the '90s, it was a hard-rock sanctum called The Atomic Cafe. Then, it transformed into Chasers, a dive-y haven for both heavy metal and punk effin' rock. In 2012, it became Pub Rock Live, but has continued its predecessors' predilection for rock and its many different flavors. During any given month, the club's 20-by-26-foot stage hosts all manner of touring acts, particularly those specializing in metal, pop-punk, garage rock, and hardcore. Locals love the place, too, including bands like Doll Skin, Fourbanger, The Beast of Bailey Downs, and Ebinezer.
Best Blues Venue: The Rhythm Room
1019 East Indian School Road
Why do we keep coming back to The Rhythm Room as our pick for the best blues destination in town? Probably for the same reasons that local blues hounds keep coming back, year after year, to indulge their taste for toe-tappin' and rump-shakin' tunes at this central Phoenix blues institution. The many shades of the genre — from Delta and Chicago to 12-bar and boogie-woogie — are showcased several times a week at this no-frills joint equipped with just a stage, seating area, and bar. There's always room to dance, though, which patrons do with gusto when things get jumping. The Rhythm Room is a longtime favorite of local artists and touring legends alike, and has been since owner Bob Corritore, a veteran harmonica man and longtime host of KJZZ's Those Lowdown Blues, helped open the spot 27 years ago.