The year 2018 saw Valley musicians bid farewell and return home as heroes. It saw tremendous touring acts and formidable festival sets infiltrate Arizona. There were also more than a few fantastic local releases hitting the shelves at Stinkweeds and other record stores. All in all, it was a fine year for music in Phoenix, and these were our favorite moments from the past 12 months.
Injury Reserve’s Homecoming at Crescent Ballroom
At their sold-out Crescent Ballroom gig in March, Injury Reserve encored with “Oh Shit!!!” a second time, about 30 BPM faster than it was 30 minutes prior. Here, the graduated Phoenix rap group completed a beautiful metaphor for their last few years. Months before, IR were playing ASU secret shows. By the end of 2018, they would sell out gigs across the globe, co-star in a summer banger with Aminé, and party with (or at least near) Björk at Iceland Airwaves. At this victory lap gig in Phoenix, they returned with a family affair, putting on Tempe’s own rising star Lil Qwerty. And when “Oh Shit!!!” hit the crowd the second time, Crescent shook like I’ve never seen before. Gerrit Feenstra
Grouper at FORM
Sitting onstage at Arcosanti in front of a card table loaded with cassette tape players, Grouper’s Liz Harris closed her eyes and bobbed in her chair. The shadow of swaying trees and the tarp blowing over the stage were cast down on her. She was solemn and still as a prayer before a rapt audience. Her music rose up from those spinning tapes, reverberating across the outdoor space. The sound was massive and forceful, shaking us as we sat around the amphitheater. Leisurely and intimate, it was unlike any other festival performance we had seen at FORM. It didn’t feel like a concert; it felt like we were sitting in her backyard, watching her play to no one but herself. Ashley Naftule
Saddles’ Last Show at The Rebel Lounge
After 10 years of pushing local shows, releasing two full-length albums, and having some fun with music videos, Charles Barth and George White, better known as Saddles, decided to sunset themselves at The Rebel Lounge in August with a final show. Saddles as a project fused stonily honest songwriting with onstage jokery, and the last show was without exception. Accompanied by their full band, they played to a boiling crowd of friends, family, and friends. Opened by band-pal Rachel Kennedy’s debut performance and local band Dent, Saddles performed from a setlist of recent tracks and way-back songs like “The Philanthropist.” Though Barth and White wanted to move on with other projects and their lives, their participation in Valley sound strongly continues. Lauren Cusimano
Nine Inch Nails at Comerica Theatre
September 14, night two of Nine Inch Nails at Comerica Theatre, and the band have just wrapped up the live debut of Bad Witch cut “Over and Out.” Trent puts down the saxophone after 10 straight minutes of action. He looks to Atticus Ross, frowning. “Maybe we overdid it on the sax,” he says. The crowd, many repeat customers, erupts in disagreement, enjoying a second night of their favorite band with almost an entirely different setlist. The night before was heavy-handed, with Broken played in full. Tonight is murkier, more brooding, exploring experimental terrain. It’s two nights of hellacious heaven. Trent laughs. “You guys all said on the internet that you wanted sax,” he says. “Well, there you go.” GF
Mac Demarco at Punk Rock Alley
The best performers can command an audience simply by their presence. Case in point: Mac Demarco, kicking off his Purple Bobcat Next to the River Tour in the alley next to Valley Bar, commanded the undivided attention of a rapt, packed-in audience, with just a synth keyboard and an acoustic guitar. The show may have been sold out, but that didn’t keep people from hanging out atop nearby buildings and in the parking garage next door, just to get a glimpse of Mac and hear his many beloved tunes: “Ode to Viceroy,” “Salad Days,” “One Another.” It was a beautiful, simple show, but one I’ll remember for quite some time — and not just because I touched Mac’s butt when he went crowdsurfing. Douglas Markowitz
Deafheaven at Crescent Ballroom
Damp air and the smell of July rain filled Crescent Ballroom as blackgaze heroes Deafheaven took the stage. Uniform’s dissonant industrial set and Drab Majesty’s androgynous, glacial synth-rock warmed us up for the main event. Playing in front of hazy Super-8 footage of a car driving through California, the band tore through the songs from Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, along with a few older classics like “Sunbather” and “Come Back.” Kerry McCoy ripped through demonic Siamese Dream riffs while George Clarke howled into the mic and fixed a wide-eyed, baleful glare at the crowd. They brought the house down as rain kept tap-tap-tapping on the roof over us, keeping time. AN
Weird Radicals’ Bangers Ball
Were NASA ever looking to share Phoenix’s musical contributions with the distant universe, they’d be wise to forego gold disks for a payload of Weird Radicals’ Bangers Ball. There’s charming, sugar-addled garage-pop (“John Lennon (Headbangin’”), psychedelic-tinged desert rock (“Don’t Want Yr Love”), this gnarly third cousin of Meat Puppets (“Slow Knife”), and blistering, metal-tinged anthems (“Super Stoker”). Yet the seven-track LP is more than a distillation of Phoenix’s creative essence — it captures something bizarre and rebellious permeating the city’s air. And just like those giant saguaros planted elsewhere, the record’s rambunctious energy and cheeky sneer could easily take root in punk scenes from Sacramento to Boston. Plus, unlike actual gold disks, this aural encapsulation fits on smartphones. Chris Coplan
Willetta’s “Passing Trains”
Released in October, “Passing Trains” is the advance single off Willetta’s upcoming album The Arrow & The Bow. Willetta have built a spooky and lush wheelhouse in the Valley’s music scene, creating a sound that mixes ghostly Americana with dream-pop and post-rock flourishes. “Passing Trains” shows the band sounding more like a full-fledged unit: Ethereal backing vocals swell while a violin skitters around the track like a nervous hummingbird as the rhythm section locks in and the guitar twists itself into melodic curlicues. It pulls off a neat trick: The song sounds incredibly busy and jam-packed with stuff but still manages to sound lean and cohesive. There’s not a wasted note in this haunting jam. AN
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Cut Copy at M3F and Crescent Ballroom
When Australian dance outfit Cut Copy was announced for McDowell Mountain Music Festival, I was amazed. Phoenix doesn’t make it onto the radar for many international bands, and this felt like a gift. But when they announced a headlining gig at Crescent Ballroom months later in September, I really started to question reality. The two shows didn’t differ much from each other, production-wise, both leaning into 2017’s Haiku From Zero and featuring lots of lights (and music). But between the two, the band showed us their incalculable ability to bring people together, in big settings or small. Whether blasting across the Margaret Hance lawn or shaking the rafters at Crescent, Cut Copy never fail to set our hearts on fire. GF
Travis Scott at Talking Stick Resort Arena
It was scarcely a week ago that ASTROWORLD touched down in the center of downtown Phoenix, but I still haven’t come down from that night. From the midway out front, to Sheck Wes and the crowd belting out “Mo Bamba,” to the fireworks-and-roller-coasters main event where Travis played all the hits, it’s clear the memories of the great psychedelic arena rap carnival will reverberate for years in the hearts and minds of the sold-out crowd. “Sicko Mode” doesn’t even begin to describe it. DM