Top Five Must-See Phoenix Shows This Weekend

You know what I like to do every year around this time? Go to the Back to School section at my nearest Target and buy some pens. (More selection than usual, and I can't pass up a deal on those Pilot Precise rollerballs.)

You might not be as boring as I am, though. If you aren't, or you've already finished your shopping, take a look at these five Phoenix shows that will make it worth your while to leave the backpack section. (View our complete concert calendar here.)

Lonnie Holley - Crescent Ballroom - Friday, August 23

Lonnie Holley's art begins with troubled times. The 63-year-old's first artistic project was carving headstones for his sister's two children, who died in a house fire in Alabama in 1979. Since then, his found-object assemblages, paintings, and collages have endeared him to the fine art world -- they have even been displayed in the Smithsonian and the White House -- in part due to the patronage and care of Atlanta art collector and historian Bill Arnett.

He's always sung, too, recording crude cassettes full of impressionistic melodies. In recent years, Matt Arnett, Bill's son, has helped expose Holley's musical work. In 2012, Georgia folk label Dust-to-Digital released Just Before Music, featuring Holley's first professional recordings, and on September 3, the label will release Keeping a Record of It, a new album featuring contributions from Deerhunter's Bradford Cox and Cole Alexander of the Black Lips.

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With its repetitive loops and free stretches of melody, Holley's music is often placed in "outsider" or "avant-garde" contexts. But at its core, Holley's music is folk music, and his chief concern is expressing the relationship of humans to their art.

"In a sense, the record has a lot of offerings being made toward the ways of life," Holley explains over the phone from Atlanta, having just finished a pastry and iced coffee at Octane Coffee/Little Tart Bakeshop with Arnett. "What I mean by that is our ways of life as humans; how that information gets to us." --Jason P. Woodbury

The Senators - Last Exit Live - Friday, August 23

The Senators are aware that their acoustic sound and vest-friendly look create expectations they didn't even two years ago. "Everyone is wearing vests and suspenders now," Jesse Teer told us back in December. "That look is just vogue right now." Their sound is vogue, too -- "Cross of Gold," the title track of their 2012 EP, doesn't go to the overdynamic lengths of a Mumford and Sons single, but it's got the propulsive, bells-and-strumming sound they made famous and/or infamous.

If you've been hiding from the Mumfords ever since they landed on American shores, though, don't write the Senators off--the difference is in their tone, which lacks the stentorian sadness of the genre's most unavoidable earworms. The Senators take themselves seriously, but their loose, melodic songs don't collapse into the kind of acoustic-apocalyptic fervor that closes, say, Phillip Phillips' "Home." If you've found yourself listening to that song and liking something about it, almost against your will, the Senators, lighter and more versatile, are the answer to a question you didn't want to ask out loud.

Grandest Night of the Season - Rogue Bar, Scottsdale - Saturday, August 24

Sundressed, Diners, Green Line Operator, and Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold are among the well-regarded local acts performing Saturday at the Rogue Bar, but the headline fact of The Grandest Night of The Season is just who's benefiting: Dan Somers, Lisa Savidge's lead singer, who died in June. All proceeds from the event, which starts just after noon at the Rogue Bar and runs past midnight, will go to Somers' final expenses, as well as to assist veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, a cause his death has helped bring to public attention across the country.

The bill, which runs 14 deep at last count, is filled with bands that Somers worked with, enjoyed, or just befriended during his time on the Phoenix music scene. If you can't get to Scottsdale that day, donations are being accepted for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors as well as Team Rubicon.

Ultimate Cross-Fader DJ Battle - Cyphers - Saturday, August 24

Think you're down with hip-hop culture? Okay, son, then which of its four elements -- be it rapping, b-boying, graf artistry, and turntablism -- is the most vital part of its mix? According to veteran local selector DJ Akshen, it's the latter, since the beats dropped from the decks help fuel everything else. "Without [DJs]," he says, "The other elements couldn't exist."

So strong are Akshen's beliefs in the importance of the wheels of steel in hip-hop culture that he's spent the past couple of years teaching turntablism courses over at Cyphers: The Center of Urban Arts, 9201 North 29th Avenue. A dip in enrollment in recent months is endangering the classes, but he's trying like hell to the curriculum from being scratched. He organized this weekend's Ultimate Cross-Fader DJ Battle and The Scratch Exchange, a pair of back-to-back competitions, to help raise funds to keep things going.

Both contests will involve local platter jocks and wax workers showcasing their skills and one-upping each other on Saturday, August 24, in pursuit of fame, glory, and primo rewards. --Benjamin Leatherman

Arizona Pro Arte - Tempe Center for the Arts - Saturday, August 24

Love symphony music, but hate tuxedos? Skip the traditional classical music experience characterized by stuffy crowds, and head to Tempe Center for the Arts for a more laid-back show where the musicians wear regular clothes, and where attendees get a chance to get up-close-and-personal to the performers before and after the concert. At AZ Pro Arte's Two Greats performance, the local musical performance group welcomes international double bass player Catalin Rotaru to captivate eyes and ears with the massively beautiful instrument.

Haydn's Concerto for Cello in C Major was written for an instrument half the size of Rotaru's, giving audience member's a whole new taste for the classic work. While AZ Pro Arte usually pairs visual art with their music, the ensemble is going all melody for their summer concert series, which has seen sell-out crowds at the hip performing arts venue. "I will say it is a very unique experience to see and hear a true musical virtuosity up close," says conductor Timothy Verville. "It leaves you in amazement, in awe, in true admiration of what we are capable of as humans, as artists. Catalin Rotaru is essentially bringing the musical equivalent of a semi-truck to a racetrack, and beating the competition by miles." Bet you never thought classical music would get your adrenaline going. -- Nicki Escudero

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