The 25 Best Concerts in Phoenix in December 2016

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
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