We’re hip-deep in the yuletide season, and things couldn’t be busier. There are gifts to wrap, halls to deck, parties to attend, and myriad other tasks to accomplish as we all make our lists and check them twice.
If you need a break – or even want a bit of holiday cheer – consider making time in your busy schedule for one of the many concerts happening around the Valley from Monday, December 16, to Sunday, December 22. There are plenty of seasonal shows, of course, running the gamut from Dave Koz and his friends (a.k.a. the “Voltron of jazz”) to Alt AZ’s final Ugly Sweater concert series featuring Silversun Pickups.
If you’d like to be a Grinch, there are shows by thrash metal legends Death Angel, rip-rocking rock supergroup Hellyeah, and rapper Rittz.
Details about each of these shows can be found below. And for even more live music happening around the Valley, hit up Phoenix New Times' online concert calendar.
Motel RadioMonday, December 16
The Rebel Lounge
Formed in 2014 during their final year at Louisiana State University, Motel Radio, with their harmony-filled catalog of songs, quickly made a name for themselves within the Baton Rouge circuit before deciding to “put off the real world” and moving to New Orleans.
Their debut full-length, titled Siesta Del Sol, is not typical of today’s fast-paced musical landscape. Instead, it represents a product of time — a detailed collection of songs from a group that has put in the work both on the road and in the studio, gradually developing their sound and personality over the years. They're coming to The Rebel Lounge on Monday. Lieu of You opens the 8 p.m. show. Tickets are $10 in advance, $13 at the door. Connor Fields
Dave Koz & Friends ChristmasTuesday, December 17
Mesa Arts Center
Grammy-winning saxophonist and smooth jazz king Dave Koz is bringing his annual Christmastime tour back to the Valley for a Tuesday night performance at Mesa Arts Center’s Ikeda Theater. This year, he's accompanied by saxophonist Michael Lington, guitarist Jonathan Butler, pianist Chris Walker, and vocalist Melissa Manchester to form a Voltron of jazz.
All four guests appear on Koz’s latest yuletide album, Gifts of the Season, which boasts 11 holiday standards, ranging from “O Come All Ye Faithful” to “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” and will be performed in its entirety, so plug your ears when they play “Last Christmas” if you're playing Whamageddon this year. The performance is at 7:30 p.m. General admission is $67 to $97 and a VIP package (which features premium seating, a Q&A and meet-and-greet with Koz, and other perks) is $197. Brett Gillin
Winner's Circle Tour feat. RittzTuesday, December 17
Club Red in Mesa
Rittz, an unforgettable performer who plays Club Red in Mesa this week, is named after the Nabisco cracker, a self-deprecating jab at himself for being a white rapper and also his outstanding long, curly Ritz-colored hair and beard.
He first broke into the national hip-hop scene with help from Tech N9ne's independent music label Strange Music back in 2013, when he dropped his debut album, The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant, and the song “Switch Lanes ft. Mike Posner." With catchy beats and a rapid style, he garnered critical attention starting in 2014 with some of his most popular songs yet, like “In My Zone ft. Mike Posner and B.o.B." and “Bounce ft. Twista,” on his album Next to Nothing.
His 2017 album, Last Call, fittingly wound up being his last with Tech N9ne's label after Rittz parted ways with Strange Music. But his career is far from over. More recently, Rittz dropped his latest album, Put a Crown on It, last month on his indie hip-hop label CNT Records and teamed up with Dizzy Wright for the Winner's Circle Tour, which stops at Club Red on Tuesday. The gig gets going at 6:30 p.m. and Ekoh and Whitney Peyton will open. Tickets are $15. Morgan Bia
Il DivoTuesday, December 17
Since being discovered by Simon Cowell in 2003, Il Divo have sold more than 30 million albums, reaching gold and platinum status in 33 countries around the world. The popera (pop + opera) ensemble haven't released any new material since last year's Timeless, but their current tour will give fans a chance to hear the classical crossover act perform tracks from the Christmas collection, which included classics like "Silent Night" and "O Holy Night." Il Divo will bring holiday cheer to Comerica Theatre on Tuesday and take the stage at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $39.50 to $350. Matthew Keever
Death AngelWednesday, December 18
Club Red in Mesa
From 1982 to 1991, there probably wasn't a more interesting metal act than California's Death Angel. Not only did the band consist of five Filipinos, but they didn't stick to any standard metal blueprint either. Despite the serious moniker, Death Angel displayed a musical variety and sense of humor missing from most bands in the genre. Sadly, a horrific auto accident sowed the seeds for the band's dissolution. But after a decade-long hiatus, Death Angel were reborn in 2001. Since then, albeit with a slightly different lineup, Death Angel haven't looked back. And on Wednesday night, the band will hit the Valley for a show at Club Red in Mesa. Exmortus, Hellfire, Varkan, and Malo De Dentro open the gig, which starts at 6 p.m. Tickets are $20. Darryl Smyers
Alt AZ 93.3’s Ugly Sweater Concert Series feat. Silversun PickupsWednesday, December 18
Marquee Theatre in Tempe
If you missed out on any of Alt AZ 93.3’s Ugly Sweater concerts over the last few weeks, don’t, um, sweat it. The series wraps up on Wednesday night with one final gig headlined by Silversun Pickups. And if for some reason you’re unfamiliar with the alternative band, it's certainly not due to lack of exposure or airplay.
The Los Angeles-based quartet, which comprise of guitarist and vocalist Brian Aubert, bassist Nikki Monninger and keyboardist Joe Lester, released a lauded but relatively ignored EP in 2005, Pikul, before quickly gaining popularity in 2007 with the album Carnavas. The latter quickly catapulted the band to modern-rock radio off the strength of the songs "Lazy Eye" and "Well Thought Out Twinkles."
In the interim, the group released four albums, were nominated for a Grammy in 2009 (and were also the inspiration behind a Jeopardy! clue that same year) before starting a label, New Machine Recordings, which released the band's two most recent albums, 2015’s Better Nature and 2018’s Widow's Weeds. See what you’ve been missing when Silversun Pickups hit the Marquee Theatre stage on Wednesday. Fellow alt-rock radio favorites The Wrecks and The Unlikely Candidates will open the evening, which starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $36 to $56. Andy Thomas
HellyeahThursday, December 19
The Van Buren
Founding member Vinnie Paul may have gone to that great gig in the sky, but metal supergroup Hellyeah continue to rock on his behalf. Formed in 2006 when Nothingface guitarist Tom Maxwell and Mudvayne vocalist Chad Gray joined forces with Paul (a former member of Pantera) and others, the band became more than the sum of its parts. Together, they created rip-roaring hard rock that’s been described as boasting “the complexity of Mudvayne or angularity of Nothingface and much more of the full-on, pedal-to-the-metal style of Paul's previous work.”
Hellyeah’s 2007 self-titled album debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 and earned the band plenty of radio play. Five more albums followed, including this year’s Welcome Home, which includes drum work by Paul recorded before his death in June 2018. Hellyeah’s current tour, which comes to The Van Buren on Thursday, is also reportedly paying tribute to Paul’s memory. The show starts at 8 p.m. and Nonpoint and Deepfall open. Tickets are $34.50-$38. Benjamin Leatherman
The Sugar ThievesFriday, December 20
The Rhythm Room
Guitarist Mikel Lander and vocalist Meredith Moore originally met in 2006 through a mutual friend at a Tempe house party. It may not have been a meet-cute sort of encounter (and Lander initially rebuffed Moore’s invitation to jam together), but it wound up changing both of their lives forever. The couple, who’ve been married for a few years now, form the core of The Sugar Thieves, one of the Valley's best roots/blues acts the serve up “meat shakin’” sounds that showcase their singing talents (Lander boasts a Tom Waits-meets-Nick Cave growl, while Moore has an astounding vocal range that’s always pitch-perfect) and Lander's skills as a picker. Over the years, they’ve won the Arizona Blues Challenge on three occasions, gigged at venues across the Valley, put out five albums, and signed to Fervor Records. Their latest show is at 8 p.m. on Friday night at The Rhythm Room. Admission is $10. Benjamin Leatherman
Wade CotaFriday, December 20
Pub Rock Live in Scottsdale
Phoenix resident Wade Cota moved audiences of American Idol earlier this year with his story of how his father abused him and his family until his mother removed him and his two older siblings from the situation. He channeled these emotions into his performances. Though he was eliminated shortly after earning a spot in the Top Five, the singer’s music career isn’t over.
Since returning to Phoenix, he continues to sing and perform, even making an onstage appearance with Luke Bryan back in June. More recently, he raised $30,000 on Kickstarter in September to fund his debut album and performed in a few East Coast cities during late November and early December. Cota returns home for a gig at Pub Rock Live along with SoCal rock band The Jacks. Tickets for the 7 p.m. show are $15. Sara Edwards
The Milk Carton KidsWednesday, December 18
MIM Music Theater
Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale were veteran songwriters — 14 solo albums between them, to be exact — before they began collaborating on what would become the duo's first album, Prologue. But when they started writing songs, they stripped the sound from their previous projects and wrote melancholy, earnest tunes on 1950s Martin acoustic guitars. The result was The Milk Carton Kids, and since Prologue, the duo has released three more albums (including 2015's Monterey and last year's All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn't Do), toured the country and gained a fiercely loyal following. Their live show is unexpectedly great, as well.
Ryan and Pattengale often perform in their Sunday best and break the somber tone of their songs with playful — nay, delightful — stage banter. The duo's silky, effortless harmonies recall CSN&Y, and Pattengale shreds the occasional solo like an acoustic Hendrix. The overall package is irresistible. See and hear for yourself when they perform at MIM Music Theater at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. Tickets are $38.50 to $53.50. David Accomazzo
Mary X-Mas 2019Friday, December 20
It all started on Christmas night in 1999 at the Nile Theater in Mesa. Mary X-Mas, the now-infamous holiday-themed dance party, made its debut, bringing together more than 1,500 people for an all-night rager filled with beats, bass, and plenty of PLUR. Legendary local DJs like Inertia, Substation, and NRG were on the lineup and future superstar Markus Schulz (a Valley resident at the time) was a headliner.
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Matt Dunn, the local DJ/promoter behind Mary X-Mas, recalls it being a packed house. “I remember guests telling me they heard Markus advertising he was playing that night on his radio show The Edge Factor as they were driving there,” Dunn says. “I still have his contract [and he charged a] $100 DJ fee.”
The first Mary X-Mas was such a hit that it returned in 2000 – and every year since. It’s now the Valley’s longest-running annual dance party and has gone down at a variety of locations, including the now-defunct Firebird International Raceway in 2007. “It was two nights at Firebird [that year],” Dunn says. “We took over Santa’s theme park [and] they had the rides open and they had live African animal acts.”
Flash-forward to present-day and Dunn’s gearing up for Mary X-Mas 2019, which takes place on Friday, December 20, at a TBA location somewhere in the Valley. There won’t be any rides or exotic creatures present, only a selection of renowned local DJs doing their thing, just like at the first Mary X-Mas 20 years ago.
Valley club scene veteran DJ Tranzit headlines this year and will spin tracks both vinyl and digital. The lineup will also feature sets by Dunn, as well as trance aficionado Blakeland, electro fiend Grund, future house artist Duhq, and riddim guru D33. Other DJs scheduled to perform include Sid, Hedron, Kronos, and Gimmie. The party starts at 8 p.m. Admission is $12 in advance, $15 at the event. Tickets and more info can be found here. Benjamin Leatherman