'Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the venues, most people weren't really doing all that much. But they were doing something, and here are five shows that will give you something to do whether you're in the spirit or not.
Brian Setzer Orchestra - Celebrity Theater - Tuesday, December 17 When Brian Setzer says "Christmas Rocks!," those words take on a completely new meaning. For 10 years now the former Stray Cat has been putting a big band splash on holidays favorites, spicing that rum with a rockabilly twist. Ramping up holiday classics is nothing new, of course: James Brown gave old Saint Nick some funk, while Trans Siberian Orchestra offers Christmas a metallic edge. Setzer's party harkens back to the big bands days of Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington--coat-and-tie affairs sprinkled with elegance. Setzer takes it to the next level, though, compliments of backup singers The Vixens, revved-up guitar solos, and an ever-present rockabilly stroll inhabiting most numbers.
Thus, tracks such as "Dig That Crazy Santa Claus," "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" (strikingthe perfect balance between holiday tradition and Setzer's rockabilly roots) make this concert the holly, jolly Christmas event. And while the big band is a fun diversion, Setzer sticks to his roots with a small band set of Stray Cats classics, including "Rock This Town," complete with duck walks, exaggerated knee bends and one-leg hopping--all without rumpling his suit. --Glenn BurnSilver
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Avery - Crescent Ballroom - Tuesday, December 17 There's nothing stately about Mariah DeRaet. She's an unassuming character offstage, a 25-year-old barista with a warm demeanor that could belong to any college-aged girl next door. Yet when she straps ona parlor-sized Martin acoustic as the vocalist of Tempe's Avery, she andher band (drummer Eric Estrada, guitarist Matt Safranck, and co-founder/cellist Allison Galbreath) turn heads. Avery straddles the line between folk, pop, and alternative country, at times recalling Rilo Kiley at its most wistful. For a young outfit in a scene as eclectic as Tempe's, it's Avery's combination of down-home sound and DeRaet's songwriting sensibilities that sets the band apart. Avery is a band that requires listening, however. DeRaet knows this, having carved out a niche that evokes introspection rather than the raucous nature of their Tempe contemporaries.
"When we first started playing out, we were paired with loud bands, and it was really hard to say, 'This is what we're doing and that's okay,' because we don't have to be loud to get our stuff across," she says. "A lot more people listen, because what we're doing is quiet and soft." Determined to place Phoenix's tight-knit scene in the national scope, DeRaet knows that it requires breaking down some walls to get some light to shine on the Valley. "There's a desperation to prove ourselves," she says. "We want to put ourselves out there and be like, 'Hey, not everybody in Arizona is a cowboy, not everyone in Arizona is a racist.' What we have going on here is really cool, there's a lot of love." --K.C. Libman
Jake Miller - Nile Theater, Mesa - Thursday, December 19 In 2005, and maybe even 2009, Jake Miller would have been a pop-rocker, playing sensitive but soul-ish midtempo acoustic guitar numbers for the benefit of 17-year-old girls sending in their state-college applications the world over. Instead he plays hip hop, and whose stated goal back in 2011, when he won some contests and began to build a regional following in Florida, is to take some of the Justin Bieber audience for himself. Thus far that hasn't really happened, but Miller, 21, has built up a different niche of his own in time for the release of his debut album, Us Against Them: He's the hip hop kid next door that it looked, for a moment, like Bieber would be.
There's absolutely nothing hip or hop about this Winston, Florida native, except that he doesn't sing all that much; he's the final proof of rapping's ascendancy into total pop accessibility. All he wants to do is perform songs about you, girl, and how no matter what They say the two of you will be together forever; as of November, 2013, that's not just the province of the college acoustic-guitar troubador, but the college white-kid beatboxer, as well. -- Dan Moore
Andrew W.K. - Pub Rock Live, Scottsdale - Thursday, December 19 The are many sides to Andrew W.K. Omnipresent is the bloody-nosed image that adorns his major label debut, I Get Wet, and his well known propensity to party hard, a lifestyle he's constantly promoting. Dig deeper, however, and one comes across 55 Cadillac (an album of solo improvisational piano forays), commercial jingles, and production credits ranging from hip-hop to rock to a most unlikely collaboration with dub reggae icon Lee "Scratch" Perry, which earned the pair a Best Reggae Album Grammy nomination. Go figure! W.K.'s been cast in films, hosted a live-action TV show (and wrote the theme music), and briefly was U.S. Cultural Ambassador to Bahrain.
He just completed a stint as the opening act for a portion of Black Sabbath's reunion tour, and his book, The Party Bible, comes out in 2014. So given all that, while a surprise is entirely possible, it's best not to expect a cozy, warm-by-the-fire holiday sing-a-along show when Andrew W.K. rolls into town. Especially not on what's dubbed as the "Party Hard Holiday Tour." No, AWK has made a life of bringing the party to the people, inviting audiences on stage to dance and create mayhem. Why should this be any different? --Glenn BurnSilver
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Shurman - Last Exit Live - Friday, December 20 If you haven't seen Shurman before, it's hard to entice you by saying this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience; the Texas natives tour relentlessly, and they've been to Phoenix at least once already this year and last. Lead singer Aaron Beavers has a simple explanation: "We're not shoegazers... the interaction between our band and the audience is really paramount to us." Sever that connection and there's nothing going on, right? Not quite; their studio sound, much as it varies from record to record, is a fair-enough substitute for the real thing if it's been a few months since they came around. But they don't play 20-plus shows a month because they like traveling--they're doing it because their country-soul-hard-rock hybrid is dependent on the energy the crowd is giving off. Your response to their performance could be the difference between a good show and a great show. Since they're back in town so soon, the energy in Phoenix must have been to their liking.