The 10 Best Concerts in Phoenix This Week

U2 are scheduled to perform on Tuesday, September 19, at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
U2 are scheduled to perform on Tuesday, September 19, at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. Anton Corbijn
This week’s concert lineup features one of Phoenix’s biggest shows of the year, hands down. And it’s one that’s been three decades in the making.

Thirty years after kicking off the now-legendary Joshua Tree tour in the Valley, rock band U2 will return to town in celebration of the 30th anniversary of both the album and the tour. And just like they did back in 1987, Bono and company will sling songs like “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “Running to Stand Still” for a packed stadium filled with adoring fans.

U2 isn’t the only iconic act headed for the Valley over the next few nights. Janet Jackson’s current world tour hits Talking Stick Resort Arena on Thursday.

Other big names performing in Phoenix this week include Jason Isbell, SZA, Stephen Kellogg, Billy Changer, and Japanese Breakfast.

Read on for more details about each of these shows or hit up our online concert calendar for even more music events happening in Phoenix.

click to enlarge Michelle Zauner is Japanese Breakfast. - EBRU YILDIZ
Michelle Zauner is Japanese Breakfast.
Ebru Yildiz
Japanese Breakfast
Monday, September 18
Valley Bar

For most people, their first exposure to Japanese Breakfast was the 2016 single "In Heaven." A swirl of sighing vocals, widescreen choruses, and twinkling instrumentation, at first blush it sounds like a sweet slice of dream-pop. And then you listen to the lyrics chronicling Japanese Breakfast's Michelle Zauner coming to terms with her mother's death, and the song turns into a gut-wrencher. For anyone coming to terms with the loss of a loved one, it hits that unexpected Murakami sweet spot.

Zauner's debut album, Psychopomp, continued that delicate balancing act between pop sweetness and harsh emotion. Already an emo vet as the former singer for Philadelphia's Little Big League, Zauner crafted an album that was achingly personal but packed with lo-fi pop hooks. It was an album that sounded like it was recorded in a basement with choruses that were born to ring out in auditoriums.

Earlier this year, Japanese Breakfast created another moment of unexpected magic with "Machinist," the first single off Zauner's sophomore album, Soft Sounds From Another Planet. A synth-heavy, electro-pop song about falling in love with a robot, it's a striking departure from her past work. And yet, much like "In Heaven," it's the kind of song that sounds like you've been waiting your whole life to hear it. Ashley Naftule

click to enlarge Billy Changer - COURTESY OF LOLIPOP RECORDS
Billy Changer
Courtesy of Lolipop Records
Billy Changer
Monday, September 18
The Rebel Lounge

Billy Changer is part of Corners, an L.A. band just bristling with talent, documented most recently on frontman Tracy Bryant’s own standout solo release, Subterranean.

But sometimes Changer needs a change, and the most recent result was last year’s self-titled LP, something between a self-portrait and a reflection in a cracked mirror. Unlike Corners’ precision-machined goth-y post-punk, Changer’s songs – put on vinyl by Lolipop after a run of cassettes – start somewhere between The Velvet Underground and Spacemen 3 and decay in various chaotic ways, revealing an unexpected kind of intimacy amid the fragments.

There are a lot of people making good rock 'n' roll these days, but there’s something especially interesting about this one. Chris Ziegler

The concerts U2 played in Tempe in 1987 are the stuff of legend. - ANTON CORBIJN
The concerts U2 played in Tempe in 1987 are the stuff of legend.
Anton Corbijn
Tuesday, September 19
University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale

In their first tour since summer 2015, Irish-born rock icons U2 will put on a show that they famously played on four separate occasions 30 years ago in the Valley (with the latter two at Sun Devil Stadium being filmed for the rockumentary Rattle and Hum). U2’s 1987 album, The Joshua Tree, was frontman Bono’s love letter to America and its traditional forms of music and will be played in its entirety, along with a selection of older hits and possibly snippets of the group's still-in-production album, Songs of Experience.

The show is presented with a clear political message, but one that fits well with the equally political album. Nonetheless, reviews of the various shows on the tour have said the music is the driving force. Beck will open for U2 in Glendale but will likely be overpowered by nostalgic tracks like “With or Without You” and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," presented against an accompanying video specially made for each of Joshua Tree’s 11 tracks. Nicholas Bostick

click to enlarge Jason Isbell (center) with The 400 Unit. - DANNY CLINCH
Jason Isbell (center) with The 400 Unit.
Danny Clinch
Jason Isbell
Tuesday, September 19
The Van Buren

A title like The Nashville Sound may help center Jason Isbell’s latest effort musically, but the lyrics are meant to address a whole country in upheaval. “Last year was a son of a bitch / For nearly everyone we know / But I ain’t fighting with you down in the ditch / I’ll meet you up here on the road,” Isbell sings on “Hope the High Road.”

It makes sense that a theme of unity played a major role for Isbell, who enlisted The 400 Unit band for their first title billing alongside him since 2011. He knew he needed their collaboration to make the songs work, especially given producer David Cobb’s (Shooter Jennings, Sturgill Simpson) strict no-demos, no-rehearsals, live-recording process. Needless to say, the right kind of band is key, and with Isbell’s achingly honest lyrics, they’re unstoppable. Ashley Harris

Singer-songwriter Kevin Morby. - ADARSHA BENJAMIN
Singer-songwriter Kevin Morby.
Adarsha Benjamin
Kevin Morby
Tuesday, September 19
Valley Bar

Kevin Morby got his real start in New York as bassist for jammy, lo-fi folk outfit Woods and later as co-leader of The Babies with Vivian Girls’ Cassie Ramone. Starting in 2013, with Harlem River, Morby parleyed his skill at writing pop songs into ambitious solo albums, an output bolstered by his voice, which draws comparisons to Bob Dylan for its throaty assuredness. And his last two albums have been nothing if not ambitious.

After moving to L.A. from New York City in 2015, Morby found himself shut off from the world for the first time in his life. He led a reclusive existence and, in solitude, wrote enough songs for two separate albums: last year’s Singing Saw and City Music, his newest record. The former is expansive and poetic, almost biblical at times – a chronicle of willows and mountaintops, of lonely mothers and great destroyers. It is musically maximal, making room for well-placed sax solos, angelic choirs and, as befits its title, a chorus of musical saws.

The songs on City Music are more obviously the product of that period of solitude. If Singing Saw seemed to capture, in its own elliptical way, the edenic lushness of a certain place, City Music is about the paradoxical loneliness one can feel in a city of endless crowds and concrete – a city more like the one Morby came from. Chris Kissel

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