The 25 Best Concerts in Phoenix in December 2016

Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Phoenix and help keep the future of New Times free.

The last month of every year is typically the busiest, which is completely understandable with the holiday season and all. Like ‘em or loathe ‘em, its probably going to dominate and complicate almost every aspect of your life from now right up until the end of the year.

That’s certainly the case with the slate of concerts and live music events happening around the Valley during December. There are more than a few holiday-related shows taking place over the next several months, ranging from David Bazan’s melancholy Christmas Miracle and local legend Alice Cooper’s annual variety extravaganza to more traditional performances of yuletide favorites.

Grinches of the Valley needn’t worry, however, since not every concert will be decked out in holly and bows. December will also include “can’t miss” concerts of a non-Christmas variety from such blockbuster names as Snoop Dogg, Jonny Lang, The Sounds, Deadmau5, and others.

So if you somehow scrape together some time and money during the holiday hullabaloo over the next couple of weeks, we wholeheartedly recommend checking out any of the following 25 gigs. (For even more options, hit up our extensively updated online concert calendar.

Haley Bonar – Friday, December 2 – Valley Bar
Impossible Dream, the latest album from Haley Bonar is another confident step forward for the singer-songwriter, who was famously discovered at an open mic by Low’s Alan Sparhawk many years ago. She has since evolved from an evocative folk-rock singer to an ambitious artist with a gift for pairing stirring melodies and bittersweet pop-rock. Sonically, Impossible Dream is her most aggressive album, paced by quicker tempos and draped in more guitar effects than ever before. Lyrically, Bonar sounds like a woman who is grappling with many things: the past, the future, heartbreak, her art, her career, getting older, other stuff. She sees it differently. “I’m constantly grappling with the fact that everybody thinks that my songs are a diary entry,” Bonar says, her voice breaking into a mildly annoyed half-laugh. “Everybody says, ‘What’s wrong with you? What’s going on in your life?’ and all this stuff, and I’m like, why do people think that songwriters are just putting some chords to their journal entries?” BEN SALMON

Roger Hodgson – Friday, December 2 – Celebrity Theatre
Somewhere in the world, odds are better than good that right now, as you read this, Roger Hodgson’s song "Breakfast In America" is being played on the radio, and there is at least one boyfriend or girlfriend singing along with tears in their eyes. Hodgson released seven albums with Supertramp and has done five solo records as well in his prolific career. After leaving Supertramp in 1983, he took a number of years off to raise his children before getting back out there and playing his songs for literally millions of fans during his subsequent tours. The soft-spoken expatriate Brit has been living in the United States, both in Los Angeles and now in Northern California, since the late 1970s. "Take The Long Way Home," "Give A Little Bit," and "The Logical Song," just to name a few, are songs that Hodgson penned that everyone has heard. In fact, most people probably know his lyrics even if they don't know his name or the name of his former band. Hodgson has a unique ability to craft songs that speak clearly to (and about) what it means to be a human being, and that is a very special thing. TOM REARDON

Alice Cooper’s Christmas Pudding – Saturday, December 3 – Celebrity Theatre
The Hollywood Vampires are headlining this year’s 15th Annual Alice Cooper’s Christmas Pudding alongside Korn, Sammy Hagar (Van Halen), and Gin Blossoms, with more special guests to be announced soon. Hollywood Vampires is Alice Cooper, Joe Perry of Aerosmith, and Johnny Depp. All proceeds for Christmas Pudding will support Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock Teen Center for at-risk youth. The center offers a safe space for any teen to spend time and play music. In previous years, artists like Joan Jett, Peter Frampton, and KISS have played at the annual event. The name “Hollywood Vampires” actually derives from a drinking group formed by Cooper in 1972. Some members of the club included Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, and Keith Moon of The Who. The group used to meet at the Rainbow Bar in Hollywood. Different members that showed up from time to time included John Belushi, Jimi Hendrix, and even Jim Morrison. The Hollywood Vampires band pays tributes to the music of these ’70s rockers. There will also be performances by an illusionist and magician, Murry SawChuck. KAYLA CLANCY

Gucci Mane – Saturday, December 3 – Mesa Amphitheatre
Gucci Mane knows a thing or two about being cool. He released an avalanche of killer mixtapes before it was rapper standard operating procedure. He rocks the mic with an unconventional voice that seems to slur and lurch on the beat, like a drunk trying to walk steady during a sobriety test. He made hit songs while maintaining his underground credibility, went to prison, and came back out sounding fired up: King Gucci on a mission to reclaim his throne. He even had an ice cream cone tattooed on the side of his face.
Without his example, it’s hard to imagine rappers like Young Thug, Future, Lil Yachty, or Fetty Wap ever getting a toehold, let alone a stranglehold, on rap radio. And to top it all off, he’s still making music that’s hard and inventive enough to keep his fans and followers on their toes. Opening Gucci’s upcoming Mesa Amphitheatre show is one of his disciples, D.R.A.M., who’s already got classic singles like “Broccoli” and the so-good-Drake-had-to-steal-it “Cha Cha” under his belt. ASHLEY NAFTULE

Underworld: Elysian Fields – Saturday, December 3 – Nile Theater
Sam Groove is apparently a big fan of mythology, particularly that of the Greek variety. Hence the reason why the local electronic dance music promoter named his company Hades Entertainment and has spent the last few months putting on a series of parties at the Nile Theater in Mesa, that are inspired by the myths of the underworld. And after journeying through the realms of hellish Tartarus and the purgatory-like Asphodel Meadows at previous events, the series now heads for its conclusion in the idyllic and beatific setting of the Elysian Fields (for you plebes out there, its Grecian heaven, more or less). That’s not to say that the music that will course through the Nile on Saturday, December 3, will be tranquil by any means, since the DJs and dance music fiends that will perform at Underworld – Elysian Fields will be blasting dirty, bassy, and ultra-heavy sounds aplenty. The main theater will feature such names as Elysian Fields with UZ, Sikdope, Far Too Loud, Victor Niglio, and ATLiens, while the second stage in the Nile’s basement venue The Underground will be manned a crew of local DJs. BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN

David Bazan’s Christmas Miracle – Sunday, December 4 – Valley Bar
Childhood is at the heart of Dark Sacred Nights, David Bazan’s new yuletide album, which collects a number of traditional Christmas carols Bazan has released as singles over the last decade and covers of Christmas songs by Low and John Lennon and Yoko Ono. With great care, he unpacks Christmastime in all its complexity. There’s deep sadness. But there’s also a sense of wonder he felt as a child at Christmas, long before he started his indie rock band Pedro the Lion, which explored faith and politics, and before he went solo with Curse Your Branches, an album about leaving behind his Christian faith. Like all of Bazan’s recordings, it’s complicated, and it finds him coming to terms with the most radical elements of Christianity, the acts of goodwill, and love that Christ said required becoming like “little children.” “I’m still in the stage where I don’t really know what to make of it,” Bazan says. “You could put it on a mix with Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown stuff maybe, or some really somber boys’ choir shit from the U.K. [But as far as Christmas] music you’d hear in the mall or at your friend’s house at a Christmas party, this doesn’t really work in those contexts.” Instead, it soundtracks the private, contemplative moments that the season brings. JASON P. WOODBURY

YG – Sunday, December 4 – Marquee Theatre
Donald Trump is perhaps the most divisive presidental candidate in U.S. history and is about to become the most diveses POTUS ever. And when rapper YG was planning a new tour, he thought it was the perfect opportunity to let Trump know how he felt about him. "I ain't a political dude, but I got to speak up," YG, an abbreviation of "Young Gangster," says. "If a beat sounds political, that's where I'll go." So he named his tour the Fuck Donald Trump Tour because, in his own words, "Trump is disrespectful. He don't represent us right. He ain't thinking about people living regular lives. His level of disrespect is so high, people are going to bomb our asses. He's endorsed by the KKK and he's cool with that? That ain't humane." YG makes his feelings known on songs such as "FDT," with its refrain of "Fuck Donald Trump" and verses like, "Don't let Donald Trump win, that nigga cancer/He too rich, he ain't got the answers." It might not surprise you that YG got his start MCing on a diss record. "When I was 16, someone made a diss record about me. I made one back," he remembers. DAVID ROLLAND

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain – Sunday, December 4 – Mesa Arts Center
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain doesn't have a flashy name or even a flashy look. But don't let that fool you. While the ensemble takes its collective picking skills quite seriously and its vocals are better than average, its real strength is in doing exactly what the audience doesn't expect. Tuned to its own four-stringed pitch, the orchestra's repertoire swings wide, touching on everything from classical pieces and new-music spoofs with audience participation to pop, rock and comic Spaghetti-Western strains — with whistling. And on it’s current tour of the states, the orchestra will perform a number of holiday favorites such as “Good King Wenceslas” and “Jingle Bells” where the audience will be encouraged to play along on ukuleles provided to them. As a matter of fact, they’ve even got tutorials and sheet music available on their website. No joke. SUSAN FROYD

Aesop Rock – Tuesday, December 6 – Club Red
He doesn’t give a shit if you confuse him with A$AP Rocky, and by some metrics, he’s got a vocabulary more unique than Shakespeare’s. He formed an anti-folk rap group with singer-songwriter Kimya Dawson and wrote a children’s book (that wasn’t kid friendly) with bearded illustrator Jeremy Fish. He’s often collaborated with El-P of Run The Jewels and he produced the third album for Murs and Slug’s duo as Felt. He’s Aesop Rock, sometimes known as Ian Bavitz, and he’s one of the most original voices in hip-hop today. The Portland rapper first got heads nodding to his beat in underground hip-hop circles in the ’90s, and became one of the first Def Jukies — a prominent member of Definitive Jux, the label founded by El-P, now on hiatus. Aesop’s first major release on the imprint in 2001, Labor Days, earned critical acclaim and cult status. Twenty years into his rap career, Bavitz says he’s been feeling fairly reflective these days. In fact, he says he’s surprised he’s still doing this rap thing at all. TROY FARAH

Asking Alexandria — Tuesday, December 6 — Livewire
Whatever questions you direct at Asking Alexandria, you can be sure the answers will be delivered in some kind of scream. The Alexandrians trade in the breakdown-heavy thrashing known as metalcore, which, true to its name, combines the excesses of both metal and hardcore into one headache-inducing brew. Asking Alexandria likes to spike its metalcore screeching with the occasional melodic moment, and spices the whole thing up with the addition of synthesizers here and there. CORY CASCIATO

Sara Watkins – Wednesday, December 7 – Crescent Ballroom
Sara Watkins is just 35, but her career has already spanned a quarter-century. She was still losing teeth and watching cartoons when she debuted as the prodigious fiddle player for the hit bluegrass band Nickel Creek, which also featured her brother, Sean, and Chris Thile, the latter of whom just took over Prairie Home Companion hosting duties from Garrison Keillor. Bluegrass, fiddle, Prairie Home — these are rock-ribbed touchstones of heartland America that point to the purest of cultural pedigrees. Since Nickel Creek disbanded in 2007 (notwithstanding a 2014 reunion album), Watkins has put out three superb solo LPs, unified only by their unpredictability. She still peppers her sets and records with bluegrass ditties that show that her chops as a traditional fiddler haven’t diminished a bit. MIKE SEELY

Children of Bodom – Wednesday, December 7 – The Pressroom
Having changed its name from Inearthed to a reference to the infamous Lake Bodom murders of 1960, this Finnish band continues to defy easy categorization in any specific subgenre of metal. The band's precision and furiously fast and melodic riffing are clearly influenced by the new wave of British heavy metal, while the players use enough underlying atmospheric tones and thrashy leads to garner a black-metal comparison, as well. But these Children perform their music with a clear zest for life, even if most of their lyrics focus on the kind of subject matter that inspired their current moniker. Like the thrash legends of the '80s, Children of Bodom has toured like its life depended on it over the course of its career — a work ethic that has yielded a consistently energetic and masterful live show. TOM MURPHY

The Donkeys — Friday, December 9 — Valley Bar
With so many bands using the musical equivalent of Mr. Peabody's WABAC Machine, San Diego-based quartet The Donkeys are hardly alone in terms of looking to the past for direct inspiration. Often enough, Americana and country are where punk rockers end up when their anger peters out. These four may not have gone that route directly, but their psychedelically tinged pop songs tend to recall the free-flowing aesthetic and mellow vibes of such country-rock heroes of yesteryear as the Flying Burrito Brothers while still forgoing the more washed-out sound of that band's immediate followers. TOM MURPHY

Jonny Lang – Friday, December 9 – Talking Stick Resort
Being a prodigy can sometimes suck. Take Jonny Lang, for example. When he burst onto the scene as an astonishingly gifted 14-year-old guitar wünderkind, it must have seemed like the coolest thing in the world. Of course, as gifted as Lang is, his success was intimately linked to his youthfulness — a sort of novelty factor. Pretty quickly, that novelty began to take on a different air, with critics frequently applying his age as a qualifier, asking, essentially, if his limited years had an inverse relationship with his audience's perception. Lang, however, chose to do something at which prodigies often fail — he grew as an artist. Over the course of a decade and five albums, Lang has moved away from the strictures of structured blues, embracing a host of styles ranging from Southern-fried rock to Memphis-style soul to gospel, finding room in his music to embrace the spirit of the blues that got him started in the first place. NICHOLAS L. HALL

Assuming We Survive – Friday, December 9 – The Rebel Lounge
A bouncing synthesis of New Millennium middleweight rock influences, this five-member rock outfit sees no reason why metal's clanking guitars and pop-punk's sanguine melodies and sunny harmonies shouldn't seamlessly coexist. These stylistic bedfellows get it on with gusto on songs like "Yea, So What If I'm Sprung," which is less frat-boy flippant than, say, Blink-182 but not as grudgingly burdened as full-bore "core" bands. It really helps that singer Adrian Estrella actually can (and shuns his peers' almost obligatory screaming), while his bandmates convincingly summon many a mood from their instruments. Tuneful, rhythmically captivating, sincere without sounding overly serious, if they can avoid lower-common-denominator sonic compromise, Assuming We Survive should downright thrive. PAUL ROGERS

The Sounds – Saturday, December 10 – Marquee Theatre
Bringing the spirit of rock 'n' roll to the stage is easier said than done. For a band like Sweden’s The Sounds, however, it's an art that seems to come naturally, as the New wave-influenced indie rock band circles the globe, making dance floors tremble from continent to continent. Frontwoman Maja Ivarsson is compellingly thrilling, to say the least. Her wildly charismatic presence is both aggressive and sexy. And some of her stage antics would even make your ex-biker babe grandmother blush. Usually with cigarette in mouth and middle finger in the air, she tends to punch and kick the air, bitch-slap the mic, crawl on the ground, hike up her skirt, and snarl whatever crowd The Sounds are in front of at the moment. Their shows are a mix of both old and new as they alternate back and forth between songs from all five of their studio albums, The Sounds do more than enough to please both old and new fans alike, not to mention provide one of the most entertaining shows you’re likely to see. ALEX SILVA

Steve Vai – Monday, December 12 – Scottsdale Center for the Arts
Few people on this planet know their way around a guitar like Steve Vai. Put simply, he’s a six-string deity who’s recorded with Frank Zappa, Whitesnake, David Lee Roth, and even Mary J. Blige. All that said, it is his solo career where he's been able to write musical compositions that allow him to noodle around the guitar like no one else. Vai is coming to the Valley on December 12 to perform his most famous record, Passion and Warfare, from front to back during a gig at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts.

Alt AZ 93.3’s Ugly Holiday Sweater Party – Monday, December 12 – Mesa Amphitheatre
Many of the concertgoers that will flock to Mesa Amphitheatre during this annual 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 any of the musicians onstage sporting some while onstage performing, including this year’s crop of acts, which includes Kings of Leon, The Head and the Heart and Band of Horses. BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN

Rumer Willis – Wednesday, December 14 – MIM
Look, if your only reason for buying a ticket to see Rumer Willis perform at the Granada is to catch a glimpse of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore’s kid up close, we can’t fault you. That’s probably true for a lot of people. But you may walk away with more than you bargained for, since you probably don’t know that Willis began studying opera at a music conservatory at the age of 12, has continued her classical music training ever since, and The New York Times has praised her singing, calling her a natural at delivering emotional material. She’s already impressed you once by winning Dancing With the Stars, and now Willis will attempt to do so again when she brings her Over the Love Tour to the Musical Instrument Museum. CAROLINE NORTH

Brian Setzer Orchestra – Thursday, December 15 – Celebrity Theatre
Ex–Stray Cat Brian Setzer has found life after rockabilly by stepping forward into the past with a dazzling big band that rips up the roots of swing, jazz and early rock & roll. A warmly kitschy vibe pervades the Setzer crew’s annual Christmas really-big-show, which sees the nattily dressed guitarist-singer leading a brass-heavy ensemble in a compendium of classics from decades past, plus some Stray Cats stuff and a sprinkling of Christmas standards tricked out in appropriately swingin’ settings. This is a visually spectaclar extravaganza, done up all purdy and nice on a stage strewn with Christmas trees, giant wrapped gifts, a golden arch framing vintage video clips (hot rods, sock hops, dancing Santas), and a glimmering jukebox center stage. JOHN PAYNE

Rich the Kid – Friday, December 16 – The Pressroom
Rich the Kid could be the freshest face in the rap scene right now. 2016 has been pretty good to him so far, having collaborations with Diplo, Justin Bieber, Frank Ocean, Ty Dolla $ign and Jaden Smith. He even shared the stage with G-Eazy earlier this year. He's not exactly new to the game, though: Rich the Kid's voice has been heard in the background of various other artists' releases, including Young Thug, for a few years now. But after signing with the label Quality Control Music back in March and even creating his own label, Forever Rich Music, this 24-year-old has proven he's a hustler and likely on his way to wider popularity. DIAMOND VICTORIA

Blind Boys of Alabama – Friday, December 23, and Saturday, December 24 – MIM
Maybe the greatest gospel group ever assembled, the Blind Boys of Alabama have a list of awards and honors that would take up more space than allotted here. Formed in 1939, the group has done a command performance at the White House, sharing the bill with Bob Dylan. In recent years, they've become one of the darlings of the Americana Music Association and won so many Grammys, they're probably bored with the whole thing. Unlike many of the important gospel groups, the Blind Boys embrace secular music and have worked with people like late soul music giant Solomon Burke and Nashville über-producer Buddy Miller on a wide range of projects. After 71 years, Jimmy Carter is the only original member still working full time with the group, although Clarence Fountain tours occasionally, depending on his health. But the Blind Boys have never been about any particular member — they are a collective and a movement, no matter who's in the lineup. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH

El Ten Eleven – Wednesday, December 28 – The Rebel Lounge
Los Angeles post-rock duo El Ten Eleven isn't your run-of-the-mill indie-rock two-piece. For starters, their live sound isn't stripped down like fellow duos Matt and Kim or the White Stripes, and they don't have to rely on drum machines or prerecorded backing tracks to faithfully reproduce their recordings, like the Kills and Sleigh Bells. Instead, guitarist/bassist Kristian Dunn and drummer Tim Fogarty rely on an array of effects pedals and a looping machine to create intricate atmospheric works that actually do sound as big live as they do on record. What's more, El Ten Eleven's danceable melodies pack enough of a punch so that audiences forget they're watching a dreaded instrumental band. CORY GRAVES

Snoop Dogg – Thursday, December 29 – Comerica Theatre
Snoop Dogg is one of the very few performers in hip-hop who can say he's watched the genre grow old with grace. From his tumultuous times at Death Row Records to a questionable signing with the No Limit label, Snoop has soldiered on through the years to become one of the game's greatest legends. His lyrics, his California swag and his consistent ear for head-banging rap beats continually put Snoop ahead of the class. His coolness is immeasurable, and he envelops his audiences with it at his shows. Well, that and marijuana smoke. Through it all, Snoop has built the Doggfather legacy and amassed a cult following that grows with every performance and carries his hip-hop message to the world. And later this month he’ll carry it to Comerica Theatre when his Puff Puff Pass Tour – which also features fellow hip-hop legends Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Warren G, DJ Quik and Tha Dogg Pound – rolls through the Valley. RU JOHNSON

Decadence NYE 2016 – Friday, December 30, and Saturday, December 31 – Rawhide
Quick prediction: if you’re a fan of electronic dance music, particularly the bombastic and high-energy kind that dominates big rooms and even bigger festivals, they you’re definitely going to at least one of the two Decadence New Year’s Eve parties, maybe even both. Its not that hard to prognosticate, considering the enormous lineup of EDM heavyweights scheduled to perform at the two-night affair. There’s the legendary Deadmau5, of course, who headlines the first evening on Friday, December 30, along with fellow masked madman Marshmello and dance music kinds Porter Robinson, Tritonal, Ookay, Disclosure, Sam Feldt, Disclosure, and Green Velvet. The second night on New Year’s Eve itself is just as stacked as it will feature DJ Snake, Arty, The Chainsmokers, Jauz, Shiba San, Zedd, Zomboy, and others. BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN

Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.