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The 25 Best Concerts in Phoenix in December 2018

Childish Gambino is scheduled to perform on Saturday, December 15, at Gila River Arena in Glendale.
Childish Gambino is scheduled to perform on Saturday, December 15, at Gila River Arena in Glendale. Miles Chrisinger
Childish Gambino is scheduled to perform on Saturday, December 15, at Gila River Arena in Glendale. - MILES CHRISINGER
Childish Gambino is scheduled to perform on Saturday, December 15, at Gila River Arena in Glendale.
Miles Chrisinger
Look, we get it. You’re probably going to be really short on money and time this month, what with the holidays exhausting your supply of both. But if you can somehow pry yourself away from the yuletide hullabaloo and set aside a few bucks, any of the following concerts happening during December would be worth attending.

It includes gigs by Childish Gambino, Travis Scott, Tom Morello, Skrillex, Smashing Pumpkins, and Lil Ugly Mane, Ministry, Skrillex, Magic Sword, and others. As you’d expect, there are also plenty of holiday offerings in the mix, including yuletide shows from Brian Setzer and local radio stations ALT AZ 93.3 and Live 101.5.

Details about each of these concerts and events can be found below in our list of the best shows happening in the Valley in December. And for even more live music happening around the Valley, hit up Phoenix New Times' online concert calendar.

click to enlarge Get serenaded by Andrea Bocelli. - TICKETMASTER
Get serenaded by Andrea Bocelli.
Ticketmaster
Andrea Bocelli
Sunday, December 2
Talking Stick Resort Arena


One of the most talented vocalists of our time, the Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli earned his first Billboard No. 1 album last month with Si. For those not familiar with Bocelli’s work, his version of “Ave Maria” is a beautifully sung rendition of the classic that showcases the singer’s range and power. Aside from the new album, Bocelli did some work with Ed Sheeran on his song “Perfect Symphony” and performed it with him live in June. Julio Lugo

click to enlarge Camila Cabello will headline this year's Live 101.5 Jingle Bash. - DENNIS LEUPOLD
Camila Cabello will headline this year's Live 101.5 Jingle Bash.
Dennis Leupold
Live 101.5's Jingle Bash feat. Camila Cabello
Monday, December 3
Comerica Theatre

Between her hit song “Havana,” earning the MTV Artist of the Year and Video of the Year awards, and touring with Taylor Swift, Camila Cabello has had a banner year, despite some frostiness with her old band, Fifth Harmony. In a recent interview with Marie Claire, she revealed that creative differences in appearance and music urged her to leave the band in 2016. That didn’t stop the remaining members from dissing her in a stunt at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards, but the pop star has managed to rise above the controversy. Her last album was Camila, released earlier in 2018. Cabello’s headlining Live 101.5's Jingle Bash this year, which will also feature sets by off-kilter EDM producer Dillon Francis, dance/electronic artist Lauv, DJ trio Cheat Codes, and rapper Bryce Vine. Julio Lugo


Redd Kross
Thursday, December 6
Last Exit Live


Influential proto-alternative band Redd Kross started in 1978, when bassist Steve McDonald and his older brother, Jeff, were 11 and 14, respectively. They had grown up in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, where they, led by Jeff, discovered underground music from magazines like Creem and Rock Scene. They'd already experienced stadium rock at a young age. By the time they started their own act, they had discovered a punk band whose members lived and practiced nearby: Black Flag.

The Flag, a fairly new band at the time, took these kids under their wings. And Redd Kross's first show, as "Red Cross" – the band's name before it was legally forced to change its name by the medical organization – was at an eighth-grade graduation party in someone's living room.

From those humble beginnings, Redd Kross took its glam-rock influences and infused them with a wide variety of musical styles and a punk attitude defined by irreverent humor and a skepticism about fitting in; the result was one of the most secretly influential bands of the era. You can hear the impact of Redd Kross in generations of musicians, including Sonic Youth, the Melvins and Nirvana. Tom Murphy

click to enlarge Stephen Steinbrink is coming home. - HANNAH KLEIN
Stephen Steinbrink is coming home.
Hannah Klein
Stephen Steinbrink
Thursday, December 6
The Rebel Lounge


Before he was Olympia, Washington's Stephen Steinbrink, he belonged to Phoenix. He makes some of the best indie pop available these days with his glorious vocals, melodic guitar lines, and a dreamy soundscape that closely approaches The Shins at their best moments. The exception here is that every one of his songs seems like one of those "best moments." His albums are amazingly consistent, including his latest, Utopia Teased, which came out earlier this year on Western Vinyl. Steinbrink returns to the Valley on December 6 for a show at The Rebel Lounge. AJJ frontman (and fellow “local boy made good”) Sean Bonnette shares the bill. Mitchell Hillman

CupcakKe - COURTESY OF PUB ROCK
CupcakKe
Courtesy of Pub Rock
CupcakKe
Friday, December 7
Pub Rock Live

CupcakKe’s known by many names, including Queen Elizabitch and Marilyn Monhoe. Her Twitter feed is full of selfies in skimpy outfits and fluorescent hair, captioned with the foulest, proudest, bawdiest tweets. A sample: “I got to sit by the window with my legs open cause with these thick thighs my pussy like Jordin Sparks it gets no air.” Now, you might think her persona makes CupcakKe little more than a novelty rapper, right? Wrong. She can rap anybody in the hip-hop game festival under the table and equals 2 Live Crew in their prime when it comes to debauchery. Look out. Douglas Markowitz

Alice Cooper - JIM LOUVAU
Alice Cooper
Jim Louvau
Alice Cooper’s Christmas Pudding
Saturday, December 8
Celebrity Theatre


When it comes to tradition during the holiday season, Phoenix isn't known for snowmen, hot cocoa, or sledding. But one thing that can always be counted upon is the tradition of Christmas Pudding — Alice Cooper's Christmas Pudding, to be exact. And it's a tasty recipe.

After nearly five decades and 30 records, Cooper has perfected his craft of putting on shows and making music. Now in his mid-60s, he's reaping the career rewards and has gone from rock 'n' roll's official villain to a charitable hero in the Valley of the Sun. In November 1995, Cooper and his wife, Sheryl, a professional dancer, began the foundation Solid Rock to raise money for music and arts programs. But then the duo proposed a teen center to provide an outlet where teens could learn and equip themselves for their future.

The variety show Christmas Pudding kicked off in 2001 as a way for them to raise enough money to open up the center, dubbed "The Rock," where teenagers could be taught dance, music, and art in a safe place. Some of the biggest names in music flock to the desert to be a part of the show, which raises around $100,000 each year. This year's lineup includes appearances and performances by Hollywood Vampires, Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, Sebastian Bach, Beasto Blanco, and comedian Larry the Cable Guy. Lauren Wise


6LACK
Saturday, December 8
The Van Buren


Originally from Baltimore, east Atlanta is where 6LACK (pronounced “black”) honed his skills as an artist. He battle-rapped in high school and even went against one of today’s biggest names, Young Thug, way before stardom. 6LACK was nominated for two Grammys in 2017: Best Urban Contemporary Album for his project Free 6lack and Best Rap/Sung Performance for his song “PRBLMS.” His successes even earned him the attention and praise from Jay-Z and Beyoncé according to an interview on Sway’s Universe. Time will tell if he receives the same praise and hype for his newest project, East Atlanta Love Letter. Julio Lugo

click to enlarge Billy Corgan performs "Space Oddity". - KELSEE BECKER
Billy Corgan performs "Space Oddity".
Kelsee Becker
Smashing Pumpkins
Friday, December 7
Mesa Amphitheatre


For Smashing Pumpkins fans, the future's so shiny and bright they gotta wear shades. Billy Corgan, James Iha, Jimmy Chamberlain, and the rest of Smashing Pumpkins' reunion tour ensemble have announced that they'll be bringing their Shiny and Oh So Bright Tour back to the Valley in December.

Despite getting off to a rocky start thanks to some he-said/she-said drama between Corgan and founding Pumpkins bassist D'arcy Wretzky, the Pumpkins’ tour has turned out to be a victory lap. It kicked off in Glendale this past summer with a show that was surprisingly engaging and full of energy, overcoming some of its weirder idiosyncrasies. What could have just been a desperate cash grab revealed itself to be a stirring reminder about why the Pumpkins matter in the first place.

Long story short: If you're a Pumpkins fan and you didn't catch their show at Gila River, you owe it to yourself to snatch up tickets to their upcoming show in Mesa before they sell out. Ashley Naftule

click to enlarge Magic Sword beams into the Valley in December. - ARTIST GROUP INTERNATIONAL
Magic Sword beams into the Valley in December.
Artist Group International
Magic Sword
Saturday, December 8
The Rebel Lounge


Magic Sword is a synth-rock band based in Boise, Idaho, whose members dress as space knights from a galaxy far, far away. It’s the kind of high-fidelity synth rock that embodies everything glorious about 1980s epic science-fiction movies. Soundwise, think Wendy Carlos’s work for Tron, Tangerine Dream’s soundscapes for The Keep, and Mike Moran’s score to Time Bandits.

The band’s three members (The Keeper, The Seer, and The Weaver) keep their identities secret, but there’s nothing alienating about their presence. Concertgoers are encouraged to join the fun, with merch like light swords on offer. Yes, the theatrics are a gimmick, and so, perhaps, is the retro synth sound of the music. But in an era when many bands only go halfway with a gimmick, Magic Sword commits to the whole experience, which is reflected in its unusual, powerful, and unforgettable shows. Tom Murphy


Lil Ugly Mane
Saturday, December 8
Crescent Ballroom


Perhaps no one has done more for the revival of southern horrorcore than Travis Miller, known by several names but most famously as the rapper Lil Ugly Mane. At first a noise musician in Richmond, Virginia, he became associated with SpaceGhostPurrp and Raider Klan, the Miami collective that pioneered the subterranean sound of contemporary trap now found on released by Sheck Wes and 21 Savage. Despite being hundreds of miles away from this scene, Miller produced its essential document, the LP Mista Thug Isolation, in 2012. Full of mysterious jazz samples, noisey effects, and moody, proficient bars from the Mane, the record formed a dark, grimy sound that gave street rap its own Southern Gothic slant, perhaps even more so than the legendary Three Six Mafia.

Miller has unfortunately lived some of that darkness himself. He has spoken with candidness about his struggles with mental health, and his rap project with Wiki, Secret Circle, splintered when fellow member Antwon was accused of sexual misconduct. His work has gotten similarly dark: The more recent Ugly Mane releases are darker, showing even more influence from noise music, substituting the gang-rap flexes with lines projecting a frayed mental state. For now, he carries on, releasing music and playing shows. He performs at Crescent Ballroom with the Arizona-based death metal band Gatecreeper, whose last record came out on the Relapse label. Douglas Markowitz

click to enlarge Young the Giant - WESLEY YEN
Young the Giant
Wesley Yen
ALT AZ 93.3's Ugly Sweater Holiday Party
Monday, December 10, and Tuesday, December 11
The Van Buren

Many of the concertgoers that will flock to The Van Buren during this annual two-night event put on by radio station Alt AZ 93.3 are certain to be clad in ugly sweaters of some sort, considering it’s the theme and all. You might even catch many of the musicians onstage sporting an awful-looking pullover during their performances. Speaking of which, this year’s lineup will include sets by Young the Giant and Barns Courtney on Monday, December 10; and from LANY, Flora Cash, and Morgxn on Tuesday, December 11. Both shows start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $29.50 to $32 each night. Benjamin Leatherman

Koo Koo Kanga Roo
Tuesday, December 11
The Rebel Lounge

Koo Koo Kanga Roo are two guys name Neil and Bryan (first names only, please), who together are the epitome of the "love-'em-or-hate-'em" kind of music act. Hailing from Minneapolis, Neil and Bryan first began fusing their twisted hip-hop and dance music with kindergarten memories about four years ago. Since then, they've done major tours with the likes of Reel Big Fish and have garnered an audience that ranges in age from 4 to 24.

With these guys, it's just iPods and costumes as they lead crowds in sing-a-longs concerning the best sounding letters in the alphabet and the joys of eating sandwiches without the crusts. Kind of like a really demented and even more nerdy version of They Might Be Giants, Koo Koo Kanga Roo want everything to be as dance-minded and light-hearted as possible. Darryl Smyers

Skating Polly - ANGEL CEBALLOS
Skating Polly
Angel Ceballos
Skating Polly
Wednesday, December 12
The Rebel Lounge

The stepsister duo Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse met when their parents started dating. Soon, the pair were writing music together with instruments lying around the family home. “I was 12 or 13, and I was kind of like a moody teenager who thought I was too cool to hang out with my little sister,” Bighorse recalls. Obviously, she got over it pretty quickly, because in 2009, by the time she was 14, and Mayo was 9, the two had started Skating Polly in Oklahoma City.

“We just started bonding over music, and when we weren’t writing songs together, or drawing comics for our band,” Mayo says, “we’d go on walks to the park and each take an earbud and listen to Sleater-Kinney, The Dandy Warhols, Nirvana, or The Clash.” Along the way, while making their self-described “ugly pop,” the sisters have received acclaim from some of their musical heroes, including Exene Cervenka of X and Kat Bjelland of Babes in Toyland. Peyton and Mayo, known for being multi-instrumental, bring an assured, raw emotional range to their music rather than prettily truncating it. Sativa Peterson

OK Go
Friday, December 14
Mesa Arts Center


Honestly I can't name a single OK Go song, and I've seen every one of the group's "viral" videos that they seem to put out on a yearly basis. You gotta hand it to them: They were the first act to figure out the power of YouTube and exploit it. Damian Kulash and crew have been making quality power-pop since 1998, and while that's admirable, there's no doubt that the band's audience tripled (and then some) after their first video in 2007. So, go to Mesa Arts Center on December 14, listen to some power pop, wait for the treadmills to be brought out, and have a really great time enjoying the spectacle of their show. Jaime-Paul Falcon

click to enlarge Christian Berishaj, better known as JMSN. - SEBASTIAN MALDONADO
Christian Berishaj, better known as JMSN.
Sebastian Maldonado
JMSN
Saturday, December 15
Crescent Ballroom

When Christian Berishaj writes music, he disconnects. The iPhone is turned off, the email and texts and phone calls reach an electronic dead end, and the Los Angeles-via-Detroit artist seeks out space. Berishaj has no time for bullshit, and he will tell you so. Having undergone a series of musical iterations — first as multi-instrumentalist Love Arcade, which signed to Columbia Records, then later under the moniker Christian TV, which signed with Universal Motown — he struck out on his own and formed his own independent record label, White Room Records.

With that independence, Berishaj built his own wheelhouse. As JMSN, Berishaj has been labeled as R&B, featuring atmospheric, aerated vocals and layers of hall reverb that draw immediate comparisons to the likes of The Weeknd and How to Dress Well. Music critics and fans alike simply labeled the first JMSN record, Priscilla, as "dark," created in a drugged-out vein that could be just at home in a truck stop strip club's champagne room as a low-lit bedroom. K.C. Libman
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Phoenix New Times Music Writers