Top 5 Must-See Phoenix Shows This Week

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We're just about three weeks into 2014 and it seems like the concert schedule has finally shaken off its post-holiday doldrums. Bands and musicians everywhere -- especially those of the touring variety -- have finally finished their month-long sabbaticals and returned to the grind of the road. And you, the die-hard music fan, ultimately will reap the benefits, as the calendar of upcoming shows in the days and weeks ahead is overflowing with must-see artists and fun shows.

To wit: This week's offerings include a couple of Brooklyn faves at the Crescent (such as scrappy post-punkers Parquet Court later tonight and eclectic art rockers Islands on Thursday), a few singer-songwriters (like onetime Lumineers instrumentalist Maxwell Hughes), and even a throwback to the heyday of third-wave ska (a.k.a. Reel Big Fish). Read on and rock on.

Josh Ritter - MIM Music Theater - Monday, January 20

Even as a happy person, if a relationship ends and you happen to be a singer-songwriter, chances are good that your next album or batch of songs is going to be negative. Sad? Sure. Angry? Almost certainly. Confused? Quite likely. But self-assured? Happy? Relieved, even? These are not the emotions you expect to find in a post-breakup record, but they're exactly the sentiments that filled Josh Ritter's 2013 release, The Beast in Its Tracks.

The acoustic strummer "New Lover" actually sees Ritter congratulating his ex on finding a new lover. "Joy to You Baby," for its part, is the sort of ebullient acoustic pop track that should accompany Christmas ads, and it's hard not to do a double take on "A Certain Light" when Ritter sings "I'm happy for the first time in a long time." Sure, there are moments of darkness and discomfort on tracks like "Evil Eye" and "Nightmares," but Ritter's tone and the music's surprisingly upbeat nature offer unexpected juxtaposition. The Beast in Its Tracks -- and Ritter, by extension -- surprise with their uncanny ability to do the unexpected even in the face of great pain. -- Brian Palmer

Parquet Courts - Crescent Ballroom - Monday, January 20

On that fateful, frigid night the Mayan apocalypse didn't happen, Brooklyn's Parquet Courts nonetheless decided to take matters into their own hands. "We quit our jobs today," vocalist and guitarist Andrew Savage announced from the stage at NYC's Polish community center and concert venue Warsaw, where they were opening for Fucked Up.

"If this is our last night on Earth, there's no way I'd rather spend it than with this group right here." Before they decided to pursue their industrious, sardonic post-art-punk revivalism full-time, Savage and bassist Sean Yeaton held respectable day jobs at a print gallery and as an online editor at Vice's Motherboard, respectively. Both were good jobs with understanding bosses, but eventually the two musicians decided to forsake stability for their art.

Parquet Courts might be onto something worth quitting for. The band's full-length debut, Light Up Gold (which dropped last week via What's Your Rupture?), exercises stiff-legged guitars and articulated verses reminiscent of '70s/'80s groups Wire and Gang of Four. The acerbic lines Savage and Brown spit into the mic about everything from wandering through Queens bodegas ("Stoned and Starving") to nostalgia's relationship with mortality ("Borrowed Time") invoke the old-fashioned idea of punk as something more than music. In conversation, the band jumps fluidly between gun control policies, the quality of shows available on Netflix, and David Foster Wallace's addiction to television. -- Harley Oliver Brown

Read more on how Parquet Courts is making the familiar sound new again.

Maxwell Hughes - Yucca Tap Room - Tuesday, January 21

It's easy to mistake Maxwell Hughes' furious output on the acoustic guitar as the work of multiple players. Through percussive taps on wood, dense and dizzying fingerpicking and a two-handed approach to tapping, Hughes coaxes every possible sound out of the instrument. That majestic sound is the most consistently impressive element of Only in Dreams, a collection of twelve (largely) instrumental tracks.

Apart from a spoken-word poem on the final, aptly named "Track 12" and a guest appearance by Nathan Lindzey on "String Theory," the album consists of Hughes and his guitar. From chord structures and melodies that summon the work of the best roots, folk, blues and bluegrass players to impossibly speedy runs and riffs that are both eerie and evocative, Hughes shows a level of mastery on par with guitar legends like John Fahey. -- A.H. Goldstein

Hughes is also scheduled to perform on Monday, January 20, at Scottsdale's Rogue Bar.

Reel Big Fish - Marquee Theatre - Wednesday, January 22

Have you ever said, "Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up!?" Have you ever skanked while somebody else was saying it? If you answered yes to question one or two, you already know Reel Big Fish is coming through town. If you answered no to both, and you lived through the third wave, you're a member of the demographic Reel Big Fish would like to reach.

Diehard ska fans already have made up their mind about RBF, one of the only big names to stick around through the middle Aughts' bottoming-out of the general public's ability to care about what "rudeboy" means. The only member who remains from those glory days is lead singer Aaron Barrett, but the current iteration of the band is as active as ever -- and the band released Candy Coated Fury, its seventh full-length, in 2012. If you only know RBF for its covers of "Take On Me" and "Hungry Like the Wolf," you'll be happy to know that the last track is a cover of When in Rome's "The Promise." -- Dan Moore

Islands - Thursday, January 23 - Crescent Ballroom

Nick Thorburn calls Islands' fifth album, Ski Mask, a culmination and summation of everything the band has done. Since the band arrived with Return to the Sea (after the dissolution of The Unicorns), Islands has turned in stylistically varied albums, from explosively poppy to emotionally somber. "Ski Mask is everything we've been about," Thorburn says. "Part of why that's the case is in the most literal terms because a lot of the material on the records spans six years or so of Islands. Certain songs were sitting with me for many years before I could find the right home for them. The songs on Ski Mask for me feel connected and joined. That helps give it the feels of an overall reflection of Islands at this point."

Thorburn says the songs on Ski Mask are aggressive, written about the darker side of people's intentions, and make use of harsh imagery, like with the album's first single "Becoming the Gunship." "That's always been a theme I've been interested in, the ambiguity of someone's intentions," says Thorburn, describing how the album's garish cover art and name work together with the songs. "A ski mask could be used for nefarious means, but it isn't necessarily anything evil. That ties into the theme of the record, the potential for evil and amoral decisions." -- Eric Swedlund

Find every show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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