It used to be that playing the state fair circuit meant you were a has-been, that your rock 'n' roll career had gone belly-up (you know, like billed after the puppet show, Spinal Tap-style).
Maybe it's still like that in most places, but the Arizona State Fair always manages to corral a decent-to-great lineup. Remember past years, when the Fair hosted Snoop-freaking-Dogg and Judas-freaking-Priest?
Acts headed to Veterans Memorial Coliseum (which has got the most Almost Famous-like vibe of any venue in the Valley) in 2012 look to uphold the standards of previous years.
There's a little something for everyone, including American Idol rocker Adam Lambert (his fans hated us for suggesting he didn't make a good Queen fit?), country superstar Billy Currington, on-the-rise pop duo Karmin, metal-gone-dubstep rockers Korn, and alt-rockers Sublime with Rome, Weezer, and Jane's Addiction.
Billy Currington (Saturday, October 13): Currington's easygoing everyman appeal has earned him a CMT Award for "Hottest Video of the Year" and a couple Grammy nominations.
His song "Like My Dog" is an ambling, tongue-in-cheek (we're hoping) plea for his baby to "love him like his dog." (He gets a pretty bitter line in about calling his lady's sister a bitch, but who's going to fault the guy for going after a lazy canine pun?)
Something tells us the ladies find him hunky, too, what with those muscles, tousled hair, and piercing eyes.
Weezer (Sunday, October 14): While discerning listeners live and die by the phrase "Blue and Pinkerton only," California power-pop combo Weezer maintains a stranglehold on the pop airways. 2010's Hurley showed signs of improvement, with a couple of pleasing pop jams, like "Ruling Me," co-written by under-appreciated pop genius Dan Wilson (of Semisonic).
Live, the Weez can still thrill: The strength of "Say It Ain't So" is enough to outweigh the stank of a couple dozen "Beverly Hills."
Adam Lambert (Wednesday, October 17): Let's just turn this over to one of our Up on the Sun blog's illustrious commenters, Kerry Kolsch, who left this missive when we wrote about five people better suited to sing with Queen that Adam Lambert:
"Like you, from the time I was a kid when my mom took me to concerts, I have seen everyone from Prince to Madonna, the Rolling Stones to Britney Spears, Paul McCartney to Billy Joel. You get my point. I have never seen a better live performer than Adam Lambert. He has the sex appeal of Elvis and a voice like no other. He is 6 foot, 1 inch of handsome, strutting alpha male, and he is getting ready to rock the world. The five guys listed here are no match for Adam Lambert on the best day of their lives."
Glamberts, we offer our recommendation to go see Lambert at Veterans as an olive branch. We don't want to arouse your wrath again.
The Mavericks (Sunday, October 18): Miami isn't exactly the first place you'd expect to find country music, but that's where The Mavericks hail from, and it goes a long way toward explaining the band's Latin flair (they're best known for their collaboration with accordionist Flaco Jiménez).
Songwriter Raul Malo embarked on a solo career as the band's fortunes waned, but they reunited this year, armed with a new album, Suited Up and Ready.
John Fogerty (Friday, October 19): The voice of Creedence Clearwater Revival has been an abiding force in the realm of easygoing swamp rock since striking out on his own. At Coachella 2012, the guy hooked up with the reigning kings of blues rock, The Black Keys. That his signature craggy vocals fit in perfectly with the twosome during a cover of The Band's "The Weight" is a perfect example of his sonic staying power. He is the voice of Creedence, so much so that CCR's old label, Fantasy, actually tried to sue the guy for sounding too much like himself.
Nas (Saturday, October 20): Nas' 1994 effort, Illmatic, is an enduring hip-hop classic, the kind of album that showed that his wordplay put him in the master class. He's still at it, and his 2012 record, Life Is Good, finds him navigating one of the most difficult roles modern hip-hop has to offer: that of elder statesman. Nas pulls it off with aplomb, ruminating over nostalgic beats about fatherhood and responsibility, while never stooping to preachy, syrupy rhymes.
Prince Royce (Sunday October 21): Bachata/R&B pop star Prince Royce has enjoyed a charmed couple of years. Collaborations with Latin rapper Daddy Yankee and high-profile tours with Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias have put his potent blend of Latin sounds and urban pop in the ears of new listeners, and his cultural sidestepping got them quickly taking notice. His 2012 record, Phase II, instantly shot to number one on the Latin iTunes charts.
Jane's Addiction (Wednesday, October 24): Do you know how many albums Jane's Addiction has? Four. That's four records in 27 years. But at least two of them are straight-up classics — Nothing's Shocking (1988) and Ritual de lo Habitual (1990) — and the others aren't terrible or anything (TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek added some cool textures to last year's The Great Escape Artist). In their own way, Jane's blended the bare-chested nonsense of Los Angeles pop-metal with a wounded, mystic hippie aesthetic. Sure, "Jane Says" and "Been Caught Stealing" have been driven into the ground by modern rock radio, but tell me you don't have an urge to strut a little to "Mountain Song."
Karmin: (Thursday, October 25): Karmin, the pop duo of Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan, met at the Berklee College of Music, and their musical education has gone to good use in covering all sorts of radio-dominating pop music, like Nicki Minaj's "Superbass" and Lil Wayne's "6 Foot 7 Foot." They've done all right with their own tunes, too: Their single "Brokenhearted" made it to number one on the Billboard Hot Dance Club songs chart.
Jerrod Niemann (Friday, October 26): Ask your average crate-digging, vintage Levis-sporting alt-country fan what the genre needs, and he might well respond with something like "more guts" or "to get in touch with its outlaw spirit" or "more pedal-steel." Ask Jerrod Niemann and he'd likely respond "One More Drinking Song."
Niemann's hit has a little more in common with the slick Nashville modern sound than "tear in my beer" classics, but he's got chops, having penned hits for Garth Brooks, Neal McCoy, and the outlaw-minded Jamey Johnson.
Korn (Saturday, October 27): According to our own Benjamin Leatherman, "classic Korn" is gone but the dubstep-leaning wobble-wobble rock outfit in its place is plenty awesome in its own right.
"As much as Davis has brayed about reinventing rock 'n' roll with the hybridization of Korn's nu-metal swagger with the grimly powerful crunch of dubstep, the band's M.O. is crystal clear," Leatherman wrote in his review of Korn's last visit. "The Path of Totality was born from the desire to avoid a path to obscurity."
(You gotta wonder whether Korn frontman Jonathan Davis' J Devil DJ guise will appear at some dark club the same night, spinning nasty, dark IDM for sweaty club kids.)
Sublime with Rome (Thursday, November 1): Sublime with Rome is down to only one original Sublime member, bassist Eric Wilson. Drummer Bud Gaugh left the trio in 2011, after playing with Rome Ramirez and Wilson since 2009.
In an interview with Budz TV, Gaugh said, "In hindsight, I would not have used the name. I didn't want to in the first place. I was talked into it, and I would like to apologize to certain people and the fans for trying to justify or talk them into it as well. The recording was awkward. It felt rushed, felt like I was playing someone else's parts/songs."
But Wilson and Ramirez still are at it, with legendary session drummer Josh Freese sitting at the drum throne. With no lack of Sublime tribute bands out there, you might as well see the one featuring the guy who laid the bass down on those records in the first place.
Old School Jam with Midnight Star, Ready for the World, Timex Social Club, Shannon, Connie, & Stacey Q (Friday, November 2): With soul and R&B artists like Drake, The Weeknd, and Frank Ocean combining slick electronic textures with their grooves, the artists performing at the Old School Jam deserve a little reconsideration. Midnight Star straddled the post-disco world of R&B and Quiet Storm, while Timex Social Club pre-dated the New Jack Swing sound movement of the early '90s, and Stacey Q blended new wave sounds with soul radio.
I'm willing to bet there'll be less hairspray and mousse present, but who knows? Maybe it's time to bust out that old can of Aqua Net you've been saving for a special occasion.
Zendaya (Saturday, November 3): Sixteen-year-old Zendaya Coleman is the latest in a string of young budding Disney pop stars, a new sensation from the same Magic Kingdom that cranked out Miley Cyrus and Raven-Symoné. She hasn't quite blown up yet, but it's just a matter of time. Her current single is a remix of Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend," re-titled, of course, "Girlfriend."