It's a big weekend for landmark local shows in the Valley. At least three different music venues are celebrating birthdays — including The Rebel Lounge, Valley Bar, and Scottsdale's Chop and Wok — as is indie band Japhy's Descent.
There are plenty of other notable shows also happening, of course. To wit: the friends of injured hip-hop artist Bob Domestic are putting on a fundraiser in his honor on Friday. Meanwhile, influential Scottish indie rock band Frightened Rabbit and experimental rock band Polyenso both have gigs around the Valley this evening. You can also catch legendary punk band Horace Pinker, which got its start in Tempe back in the early '90s, return to its old stomping ground, get into some grubby fun at the latest Dirty Disco, or dive into the EDM wonderland of Bingo Players. (Even more shows can be found via our online concert calendar.)
Here are our picks for the best concerts in Phoenix this weekend.
Bob Domestic Benefit Show – Friday, May 20 – Jay's Cocktail Lounge
Local musician and hip-hop artist Robert Evers, better known as Bob Domestic, has racked up considerable medical bills since being struck by a motorcyclist earlier this month. So much so that the 34-year-old performer is reportedly facing down a mountain of debt after spending the last few weeks at a local hospital.
Thankfully, his friends are more than happy to step in and lend a hand. In addition to launching a crowdfunding campaign to assist Evers with his medical and living expenses, they’re also putting on a benefit show in his honor over in the West Valley on Friday. The lineup includes performances by rock bands like Camel Enamel and Hollow Point Vigils, as well as such hip-hop artists as Orangubang, K Dangerous, and Fated. Admission is free but donations on Evers’ behalf will be accepted and a prize raffle will be conducted. BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Frightened Rabbit – Friday, May 20 – Crescent Ballroom
Glasgow's Scott Hutchison, an art school grad who tired of drawing, picked up a guitar five years ago and hasn't looked back. His shambling, jangling indie pop with Frightened Rabbit recalls the sweet, guileless, ramshackle charm of '80s Scottish twee poppers The Vaselines and The Pastels. Steeped in fragile honesty, Hutchison's songs are an unyielding ache expressed with unusual frankness. Lamenting his ex-lover's departure on "Good Arms vs. Bad Arms," he sings, "Armed with the past, and the will, and a brick/I might not want you back, but I want to kill him." The manic energy and unrestrained emotion transform ballads into anxious, shout-along anthems fueled by insecurity, like the Wedding Present channeling Morrissey's self-doubt. And the live performances are somehow even better. CHRIS PARKER
The Rebel Lounge’s First Anniversary Show – Friday, May 20
It’s been a busy first year for The Rebel Lounge, to say the least. According to the stats posted to its frequently snarky outdoor marquee, a total of 335 shows and 1,172 bands have graced the stage of the esteemed Central Phoenix music venue, which is co-owned by local concert promoter Stephen "Psyko Steve" Chilton. Some have been more memorable than others, of course, and we ain’t referring to the disastrous night that the numbskull musicians of Three Bad Jacks set off the sprinkler system. You can add four more bands to the tally after Friday, as the joint will feature folk-punk singer Jeff Rosenstock, pop punk act Upset, and locals Diners and Twin Ponies during its first anniversary party. BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Shawn Phillips – Friday, May 20 – Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
Perhaps no one has made more contributions to rock and roll, with so little recognition, than Shawn Phillips. No less than late Bay Area super-promoter Bill Graham once called the Fort Worth native the "best-kept secret in the music business." Phillips was tutored on sitar by master Ravi Shankar, later gave George Harrison lessons and is credited with popularizing (as such) the sitar in pop music. He taught guitar fundamentals to Joni Mitchell, sang backup on The Beatles' "Lovely Rita" and lived in a London apartment with Donovan Leitch (a.k.a. Donovan) and Paul Simon.
Phillips played on longtime Elton John collaborator Bernie Taupin's first album and co-wrote "Ratcatcher.” He also worked extensively with Paul Buckmaster, the conductor and classical musician who arranged much of John's work and supposedly gave the Rolling Stones the idea to put a gospel choir in the coda of "You Can't Always Get What You Want." A vital part of both the Greenwich Village and West Coast singer-songwriter scenes of the late '60s, Phillips has been referred to as both the father of folk-rock and the "Godfather of New Age." Now living in South Africa, Phillips, one of the double-neck guitar's earliest devotees, mostly composes classical music. Critics have praised him for the beauty, depth and complexity of his work, which still holds up to this day. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
Japhy’s Descent Five-Year Aniversary Festival – Saturday, May 21 – Shady Park
Tempe-based five-piece Japhy’s Descent is the sort of band that just wants to make a scene thrive and grow. They are the type of act that will happily play almost any show they are offered – big or small, paid or not – as long as the people putting it on are legitimately trying to do what’s best for Phoenix music. It doesn't really hurt that they can write a damn good song together, either. Perhaps some of their tunes come across as a bit formulaic, like their big single off their Christopher Robin EP, “Owls,” with its chorus “We’ll pretend like we’re prepared/And act like we’re not scared/I’ll meet you in the air.”
But formulaic doesn’t have to mean bad or boring; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Take Travis Ryder’s raspy voice, add it together with Martin Sugg‘s wailing guitar, and mix that in with Brian Neil's bass and the otherworldly drumming talent of James Sharpe, and what’s there is a formula for excellent rock ’n’ roll. While there has been some member turnover, which is to be expected of any band, the core of the group has managed to keep it together for nearly five years, and to celebrate their wooden anniversary, the boys are going to take their descent into total madness a little deeper with a big-time party this weekend at Shady Park in Tempe, which will also feature Dry River Yacht Club, Of The Earth, The Sugar Thieves, Sunset Voodoo, and close to a dozen other bands. JEFF MOSES
Justin Vandervolgen – Saturday, May 21 – Location TBA
Whenever the members of the Stellar Well collective throws one of its under-the-radar parties, a few things are guaranteed: it’s probably going to happen in some clandestine setting, you won’t learn of the exact location until the day of the party, and the music will be unforgettable and unparalleled. True to form, Stellar Well’s latest shindig this weekend will take place at a currently undisclosed location and feature renowned remix artist and producer Justin Vandervolgen making his first-ever appearance in the Valley.
Dubbed by Resident Advisor as a “DJ’s DJ,” Vandervolgen’s famous for his stints as the soundboard operator for electronica band Out Hud and playing bass for !!!, as well as his excessive talents at crafting perfectly executed dance music remixes and re-edits, often of the house, disco, techno, and acid variety. As the SF Weekly puts it, Vandervolgen “specializes in razor-sharp re-edits that bring to mind the glorious excesses of the 1970s [and] his DJ sets tend to inspire that same reckless revelry.” If you’re up for hearing his work for yourself, hit up Stellar Well’s Facebook page for the lowdown on the party. BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Dru Hill – Saturday, May 21 – Celebrity Theatre
Baltimore's Dru Hill swept the late-'90s teen-beat era (the era also culpable for Dawson's Creek, Jennifer Love Hewitt and all the "ohmigods" in between) with winking, raspy harmonies and a frantic obsession with dragons. And, of course, after three albums featuring "How Deep Is Your Love" and its various permutations, breakout vocalist Sisqo would continue on to rhapsodize the refined boudoir garment known as the thong-thong-thong-thong-thong. Original member Woody has since departed for less bare-chested pastures, but the quartet is still performing and touring to this day. STACEY ANDERSON
Dirty Disco 2016 – Saturday, May 21 – Rawhide
As its name portends, Dirty Disco is what you’d call a messy experience. It’s sort of expected, given that the annual electronic dance music event takes place in the middle of Rawhide’s outdoor rodeo arena and features thousands stomping and strutting around in the dirt while DJs drop high-energy and bass-filled sounds. Dirty Disco promoter Sam Groove says it’s one of the hallmarks of the event.
“I tell everyone that comes to Dirty Disco every year that they need to wear an old pair of shoes since they’re not going to be clean by the end of the night,” he says. “This isn’t a party where you’ll want to wear your $80 pair of Abercrombie jeans or anything like that.” The messy nature of Dirty Disco hasn’t kept EDM fans away from the event, which boasted a crowd of thousands last year, as well as an enormous stage featuring jets of flame and a number of notable headliners like Camo and Krooked. And this year’s edition of Dirty Disco promises to be even bigger and will offer its biggest lineup to date, including such headliners as Getter, HeRobust, Dirty Audio, Freedom Fighters, and Wasted Penguinz. BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Fruit Bats – Sunday, May 22 – Valley Bar
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In 2014, singer/songwriter Eric Johnson felt like blowing it all up. Reeling from his wife’s recent miscarriage, he shut down Fruit Bats, the alt-pop group he'd led since 1997, releasing the elegiac album EDJ under his own name. It was a fantastic bit of folksy charm, but earlier this year, he “reunited” the Fruit Bats for Absolute Loser upon the realization that Fruit Bats, always primarily a solo project, was where his heart was. It’s clear why: The record’s as compelling a work as Johnson’s ever put to tape, bolstered by pedal steel and synthesizers, a stirring set of songs certainly informed by grief and bummers, but focused on the art of moving on.
From heartland-rocking gems like “My Sweet Midwest” and “From a Soon-To-Be Ghost Town” to the George Harrison-evoking “Baby Bluebird," Johnson sounds wry and in the driver's seat. "Let's take it easy on ourselves," Johnson sings on "Don't You Know That," a line not delivered like some baby-boomer platitude recycled from an Asylum Records deep cut, but rather a powerful recognition of time ticking on. "Take it easy on yourself, you're not getting any younger," Johnson coos, not a line about letting yourself off the hook, but recognizing that simply living is a fight worth fighting. JASON P. WOODBURY
Bingo Players – Sunday, May 22 – Talking Stick Resort
When Paul Baümer and Maarten Hoogstraten began making music together at the Bingo Players in the Netherlands in 2006, they built up a respectable following in Europe on the backs of their underground tech-house. But it wasn't until around 2010, when dance music exploded in the U.S., that they really broke through into mainstream success with their massive hits “Devotion,” “Cry (Just A Little),” and “Rattle.” Sadly, despite the band's name, the Bingo Players has been the solo project of Hoogstraten ever since Baümer died of cancer in 2013. It was Baümer’s wish that Maarten continue the Bingo Players project under the same name, to keep the dream alive and to release all the music they were working on but hadn’t finished yet.
Hoogstraten is still putting out some incredible music. His 2015 single, “Curiosity,” follows the same formula that always worked for them in the past: repurposing old vocal samples and building catchy tunes that sound just as good on the radio as they do in the club. This is no easy feat, nor has carrying on after the passing of his partner, but Hoogstraten has managed to do both. ADAM FOSTER