Phoenix Comicon is in the rearview, as are Memorial Day weekend and cooler temperatures. And so we begin the time of year that pretty much everyone in the Valley dreads: summer.
While the season doesn’t officially begin for another few weeks, anyone who’s lived in Phoenix longer than a minute knows that we’re sort of an exception to that rule.
Here’s another trope about summer in the Valley we’d like to debunk: There’s plenty going on around town, including memorable concerts. During this week alone, you’ve got the chance to catch such fantastic acts and artists as Wavves, Sam Outlaw, Modest Mouse, and Fishboy.
Read on for full details about these shows, as well as a few others we feel are worth your time and money. (And for even more live music options this week, hit up our online concert calendar.)
Tuesday, May 30
A love of hard rock and heavy metal has been a common bond for Conan and Mario Moreno since the cousins dressed up as KISS' Gene Simmons and Ace Frehley for Halloween as kids in the late '90s. Now in their 20s, Conan and Mario are the frontman/guitarist and drummer, respectively, for thrash metal upstart Exmortus. The band's sound is a blistering blend of European-influenced, neo-classical thrash metal. Conan's magnificent guitar solo centerpieces tie songs together and evoke memories of '80s shred guitar greats like Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai. Altogether, Exmortus' sound is a major leap from the KISS-worshiping days of the Whittier cousins' youth. Exmortus's heavy sound, however, is rooted in family. "We were barely teenagers when we started the band," Mario says. "At that age, it's hard enough to find band members period, let alone band members whose parents were okay with their 16-year-old sons going out to play backyard parties in East L.A." The group's current lineup includes new members David Rivera on second guitar and Jovanni Perez on bass. While these latest additions aren't blood relatives, the four guys went to high school together and at one point all lived within blocks of each other. Jason Roche
Tuesday, May 30
Fishboy is the brainchild of Denton, Texas, musician Eric Michener. It started simply enough — i.e. as a rock band — back in 2003, but over the years Michener (a videographer by trade) has gradually blended the band together with his love for visual art. In recent years, that's meant increasingly incorporating elaborate artwork into Fishboy's aesthetic: intricate vinyl inserts, self-published tour diaries, conceptual 7-inch comics. Anything is fair game. "Comics were something I had always wanted to be a part of," Michener explains. "So I used the band's small but dedicated fan base as a testing ground for self-publishing my own stuff. We still sell more records than comics, but hopefully one day my talents will be somewhat equalized and I'll have an audience for both." In the case of Fishboy's 2014 album, An Elephant — which tells the story of Topsy, an elephant that was publicly electrocuted by Thomas Edison in 1903, and her attempts to "avenge her death and pass into the afterlife" — that means a 13-song LP accompanied by a 160-page comic. (Check out both at an-elephant.com.) "'Wordless graphic novel' is a fancy way for saying a comic book with only pictures," Michener says of the format. The reasons for the lack of text, he says, are twofold: one, Topsy (being an elephant) can't speak, and two, he wanted to honor the silent movies that Edison helped pioneer. All in all, some pretty high-concept stuff. Jeff Gage
Tuesday, May 30
Outside of the trucks and the girls and the beer, country music is, at its core, music for sad people. But then there’s Sam Outlaw, the California cowboy with a rugged name that belies his subdued and subtle West Coast country aesthetic. In April, Outlaw released his sublimely sad sophomore album, Tenderheart, a meditation on life, love, and the complications of intimacy that covers a broken heart from pretty much all angles. It’s a remarkable effort, one that may catapult Outlaw to the alt-country stardom he deserves. After the release of his debut, Angeleno, in 2015, many country critics thought that Sam Outlaw was poised to become the next big thing in country music, but perhaps it wasn’t his time just yet. With songs like “Jesus Take The Wheel (And Drive Me To A Bar)” and the album’s beautifully brooding title track, it seemed like Outlaw was really living up to his name and producing country music that was decidedly left of mainstream. But with Tenderheart, Outlaw dials in that dreamy, Laurel Canyon-inspired sound to produce a devastatingly good extension of what he kicked off with Angeleno. Amy McCarthy
Wednesday, May 31
The guys in Modest Mouse have followed their own stubbornly idiosyncratic path since 1992, when singer Isaac Brock put the band together in Issaquah, Washington. Unlike other groups from the Pacific Northwest, Modest Mouse have always seemed unaffected by grunge, garage rock, and other regional trends. Instead, Brock and his ever-evolving lineups — which in the past have included The Smiths’ Johnny Marr and The Helio Sequence’s Benjamin Weikel — have never settled long in one sonic space. On their most recent album, Strangers to Ourselves, the band sweeps back and forth from pointedly quirky, Talking Heads-style New Wave funk (“The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box”) to celestial dream-pop (“Of Course We Know”) and hip-hop-flavored psychedelia (“Shit in Your Cut”). Perhaps Brock is just being, ahem, modest when he claims, “Pack up again / Head to the next place, where we’ll make the same mistakes.” Falling James
Read on for more "can't miss" concerts this week, including Wavves, Barrows, and The Wailers.
Wednesday, May 31
The Rebel Lounge
L.A. group Barrows churn out extended, propulsive slabs of sound that are simultaneously hypnotic yet also very heavy. Call them post-rock or post-punk, but it doesn’t really matter as the quartet craft darkly engrossing instrumental passages on their upcoming album, Obsidion. The bass-heavy tracks have curt, one-word titles, such as “Zenith” and “Entrada,” that belie their sprawling lengths. As with Barrows’ previous releases, the new record is a kind of concept album, in this case about a man who is “abducted from Earth and brought to Obsidion, a place where dimension is indefinable.” That vague story line is merely an excuse to launch spacey, metallic forays into distortion and volume that are occasionally broken up with more melodic interludes. Moons Eat Stars, The Idiot Mars, and Forming Stories open the evening. Falling James
Wednesday, May 31
Wavves didn’t start out as a political band. The musicians are better known for fun surf-rock songs and razor-sharp lyrics that are directed inward, not at the state of the world at large. It’s not so surprising, then, that the band have missed the mark on an act or two of artistic opposition. A month before artist Karen Fiorito’s provocative Donald Trump billboard went up in downtown Phoenix, Wavves frontman Nathan Williams announced on the band’s Twitter that he wanted to crowdsource an anti-Trump billboard. And his project could have been just as controversial as the one gracing the intersection of Grand Avenue and Taylor Street. That is, if it had come to fruition. Some have noted that this act of resistance comes just as Wavves is releasing their latest album, You’re Welcome. And six albums in, you can detect a renewed sense of focus in Williams both melodically and lyrically. The track “Animal” is written from the point of view of a man ready to resist, with a chorus that begins, “The whole world covered in gasoline / And burning alive / I feel taken advantage of / And empty inside.” This newfound awareness seems suspect coming from a band that is frequently questioned about partying and drug use (much to their annoyance) or their song detailing Williams’ admiration for Nirvana’s drummer titled “I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl.” (For the gazillionth time: No, he hasn’t.) But, Pope explains, in the connected world we live in, it’s impossible to separate politics and art. Jason Keil
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Wednesday, May 31
It's been more than four decades since Bob Marley & The Wailers' inception and 36 years since the death of their founder and guiding star, but the band continues to spread the positive messages of reggae. Guitarists Junior Marvin and Donald Kinsey are acutely aware of the significance of their early days playing alongside one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. "What I could feel from the music was that there was a very positive energy," Kinsey says. "It was a different message in the music, and it was a different rhythm." He still sounds giddy when he speaks of those days. His breath wavers and his voice pitches up with excitement as memories flood back. "It was an event — to come and to feel that ... I tell people that for me, every time I hit the stage, it felt like a revival." Junior Marvin recalls feeling that the Wailers had invented a new sound, but he's careful to acknowledge the influences. "The history of Jamaican music comes from British church music. Back in the slavery times, [slaves] were only allowed to sing gospel songs, and they weren't allowed to play the drums because people were afraid that they might be sending messages to each other and revolt." Remaining grounded in the history of their ancestors is important to the Wailers, and for Barrett, understanding the anthropological aspects of reggae's rhythm is a key to its legacy. "It's important that we don't forget the struggle that brought about this music. Because of its popularity, it can easily become fanfare," he says. "When you hear the stories about the freedom-fighters in Zimbabwe who were inspired by the Wailers' music, and young Rasta youth still coming out of Jamaica who listen to Bob Marley's music and gravitate toward Rasta, the spirituality [of the music] is what helped during certain political struggles." Celia Almeida
Miss May I
Thursday, June 1
Metalcore band Miss May I, started — like most bands — in a basement, just a bunch of high school kids jamming out to cover songs. This fivesome from Troy, Ohio, never expected anything to come from it. But when they caught the attention of the Devil Wears Prada guitarist Chris Rubey, a fellow Ohio band hailing from nearby Dayton, things really took off. “It got crazy, because we kept at it every weekend, and we started to get better and better, practicing more,” says singer Levi Benton. “And, a year later, in our senior year, we had become a local phenomenon. And that's when it all started to happen.” A record deal, and a few tours later, brought success to a whole new level for the band. But it's okay, because Miss May I isn't just another fad, and they don't want to be just another "scene" metalcore band. They want to endure, and are working hard to sculpt their unique sound to be even more metal than the rest. “I tell my friends now that are just starting bands, or in bands, just keep at it because you love it. We never, ever wanted to get signed. We never had a goal to go on tour, or put together an album,” Benton says. “Even when we went out and played a show and there were only a few people there, we didn't care. That's not why we were there. We were having fun, and we never stopped enjoying what we do.” Nicole Danna