Five Great Shows We Saw This Spring

It's coming. College kids are circling the Valley in hand-me-down Corollas; especially eager snowbirds are lying to their friends back home about it being A Dry Heat, even in August; the days are very gradually getting shorter. And big touring acts, who've stayed away from Phoenix all summer, are announcing shows.

Ahead of the fall rush, then, we thought it would be nice to take a look at the year so far. Today, we've got five of the shows that earned rave reviews from our writers this spring; on Monday, we'll be taking a look at some shows that blew us away over the summer.

We want to know yours, too, whether we covered it or not: What are the best shows you've seen so far this year?

Yasiin Bey (a.k.a. Mos Def) - Celebrity Theatre - 3/21/2013

Celebrity Theatre played host to an experimental show from Yasiin Bey (better known as Mos Def), according to

our review from Jaron Ikner


Dressed in white, Mos Def hit the stage around 10:30 to an eager audience. As the crowd went into a complete uproar, it was exciting to see the rapper turned actor bless the audience with his wide array of songs. Interestingly enough, Mos Def was accompanied by two DJs instead of the standard one. It would seem that Mos Def normally does his shows with a live band. I say this because the first half of his set included lots of pre-recorded live instrumentation and dance numbers. Yasiin Bey was not afraid to show off his dance moves as he sashayed and shimmied across the stage with an almost James Brown-style swagger. The first half of his set was clearly experimental, but he played the occasional hip-hop track from his first effort, Black on Both Sides, as well as few from more recent releases like The Ecstatic and True Magic. He also blended in the occasional soul song. The first 30 minutes of the set was more a jam session than anything else, as Yasiin would consult his two DJs as to which song to play next. The crowd ate it all up as they tried to keep up with the energetic Mos Def. Bey bounced across the stage effortlessly with a huge smile that didn't leave his face the entire night.

Billy Bragg - Crescent Ballroom - 3/26/2013

In late March Billy Bragg visited Crescent Ballroom, convincing a new generation of fans that he is not a character Wilco invented.

Here's Eric Swedlund


For his first-ever Phoenix show, Billy Bragg gave his all, of all of his sides -- the young punk firebrand, the activist, the lover, the Woody Guthrie acolyte, the folk malcontent, and the Bard of Barking hawking his new album.

Though the new record, Tooth & Nail, may hew to domestic and philosophical songs, presented in a calmer, pedal-steel-drenched Americana style, Bragg remains plenty provocative in concert.

For the encore, Bragg went new, somber, and classic, leading with the single from Tooth & Nail, before playing "Tank Park Salute," his tribute to his late father, and ending on the endlessly vital "Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards."

"The enemy of all of us who want to make the world a better place is not capitalism or conservatism, but cynicism, our own cynicism," Bragg cautioned at the end. And his 55 years of living that principle makes the damn thing ring true.

McDowell Mountain Music Festival - 3/22-24/2013

The Valley's charity-focused music festival got big names and a new venue this year, and by all accounts it paid off. When the dust and the

animated hippie shenanigans

cleared, there was a great combination of local performers, jam-oriented rockers, "

carefully selected indie bands

," and The Roots, who left Jason Woodbury convinced that it was possible to

get away with a drum solo

, under certain very rare circumstances.

Seeing The Roots is kind of like tasting everything at once: every style, genre. It's a meal almost too big to eat, with so many different tastes to sample. As The Roots slinked into "The Seed (2.0)" from 2002's Phrenology, you almost didn't notice that Cody ChesnuTT, the neo-soul singer responsible for the song's hook ("I push my seed in her bush for life") wasn't there. The Roots don't just "get away" with that kind of stuff, with drum solos and expansive cover selections. They own the stage, and as the crowd cheered, it was clear that no one doubted what the band could pull off.

Jeff Mangum - Crescent Ballroom - 3/28/2013

90 percent of the world's supply of pensive Jeff Mangum fans grew up with one incontrovertible fact in their mind: Jeff Mangum had had some kind of nervous and/or J.D. Salinger thing happen and

would not be touring

, full stop.

So this new set of facts on the ground -- Jeff Mangum is touring, and in fact played two shows on the same day in Phoenix earlier this very year -- has not totally set in yet. Said Troy Farah, who reviewed the show and produced the artist's representation you see above:

What I saw was wondrous. I understand now why some see a Jeff Mangum concert as a rite of passage. I mean, it really isn't and let's not take ourselves too seriously, but you don't exactly come away the same.

It seems everyone who has ever listened to In the Aeroplane over the Sea has a special, unique relationship with that album, so I'll spare you my own. Just insert your own personal feelings here and that'll explain why everyone in this crowd was so fucking happy, present company included.

it didn't matter what show I was able to catch. Mangum played with the same energy both times and both crowds seemed completely radiant. I swear, I saw a few grown men crying. It was bizarre. It was magical. It was beautiful. In fact, it made me have a small amount of ego death and realize how "strange it is to be anything at all . . ."

Jimmy Eat World - Paramount Theatre, Casa Grande - 5/9/2013

Jimmy Eat World is more than a decade removed from having to play a venue the size of Paramount Theatre in a place the size of Casa Grande, which made their brief spring tour of Arizona all the more interesting -- most of it took place in smaller towns and venues, offering a rare post-"Middle" look at the band up close.

That allowed our own Melissa Fossum--among other people--on stage. From the review:

Robin Vining of Sweetbleeders, Colorstore, and Minibosses joined in on synths and backup vocals. Adkins explained: "Robin plays in just about every band in Phoenix. We felt left out, so we stole him." Vining added a bit more synth to "The Middle," providing a new take on the song.

Not surprisingly, songs from Bleed American and Clarity were among the best received. The band performed "Bleed American" and "A Praise Chorus" back-to-back, without a doubt stirring up some feelings of nostalgia. Highlights included "Blister," "Lucky Denver Mint," and a shortened "Goodbye Sky Harbor," which continues to sound absolutely stunning live all these years later.

Jimmy Eat World closed with "The Middle" and "Sweetness," continuing to play as a fan got up on stage and jumped up and down. At a show this small, neither security nor the band seemed to mind; in fact, Adkins gave him a high five at the end of the set.

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