25 Best Concerts in Phoenix in May 2016

Look, we know it’s coming and so do you. And truth be told, there’s nothing that any of us can do to stop it. Summer is just around the corner, it's probably going to be as miserable as ever, and the only thing you can do is make sure your A/C is in good working order and try to keep yourself busy for the next several months. 

And one of the ways you can do that is by checking out any of the great concerts happening in the Valley, including any of the “can’t-miss” shows happening in May.  (For more live music options around town, check out our online concert calendar.) 

Peter Murphy 
— Tuesday, May 3  Crescent Ballroom

Peter Murphy is probably best known for his role as the charismatic, mysterious, ectomorphic frontman for influential post-punk band Bauhaus. But before that act reunited in the late '90s and since, Murphy has released a string of accomplished albums under his own name. It wasn't until his second solo record, 1988's Love Hysteria, that he came to be known as an artist in his own right, outside of his past projects. He had a hit with "Cuts You Up," from 1989's Deep, and became something of a figure in the early days of alt-rock with his song "I've Got a Miniature Secret Camera," which appeared on the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack. Murphy is currently on his Stripped tour, where he's performing acoustic versions of song throughout his career. TOM MURPHY

Black Mountain — Tuesday, May 3  Valley Bar

In the 1980s, the practice known as backmasking became popular. Musicians recorded messages backwards and inserted them into their songs, often in a satiric response to Christian groups that accused rock groups of delivering satanic messages with their music. Recently, Vancouver band Black Mountain held a contest to win a pair of tickets to their shows for a lifetime along with every album in their catalog. All fans had to do was find the backwards hidden message on Black Mountain’s latest release, IV, and report what they heard on Facebook or Twitter.

The contest and the record’s title is an obvious nod to the Led Zeppelin album that contains “Stairway To Heaven,” a single which featured heavily in the backmasking controversy. The dubious contest began on April Fools’ Day. Cynics saw this as a ploy to lure hardcore geeks of hallucinatory blues rock away from streaming their record and nudge them toward purchasing a pricey vinyl copy of Black Mountain’s music. Their label insisted it was not a joke, and crowned the lucky winner, a Bay Area-based artist, one week later. Ironically, the message wasn’t satanic at all. It was the question, “Do you want my love?” JASON KEIL

Violent Femmes — Tuesday, May 3  Marquee Theatre

Has any rock band ever captured adolescent angst quite like the Violent Femmes? Songs like “Blister in the Sun” and “Add It Up” have helped at least two generations of lonely youth survive. Before they were lifesavers, the Violent Femmes got their start in Milwaukee in 1980. Ritchie and original drummer Victor DeLorenzo, who were huge Velvet Underground fans, heard a local singer named Gordon Gano. The band’s 1983 self-titled debut album was so simple and self-assured that it became a rite of passage for every kid looking for “just one kiss.”

Three decades and seven albums later, those early songs are still what the Violent Femmes are best known for among even the most casual of music fans. It hasn’t been all happy in the Violent Femmes camp in recent years. In 2007, Ritchie sued Gano for half of the songwriting rights after Gano allowed “Blister in the Sun” to be used in a Wendy’s commercial. Fortunately, they were able to make peace. “We’ve had many falling outs over the years,” Ritchie says. But happily, “we decided there was something unique between us and with our audience that we thought was worth setting aside our differences.” DAVID ROLLAND

Pentatonix — Wednesday, May 4  Comerica Theatre

Emerging as champions of NBC's The Sing-Off in late 2011, the young quintet combines several key ingredients for contemporary pop success: impeccable singing, cool cover choices (Daft Punk to Beyonce), plenty of seasonal product (two holiday LPs against five overall), a pervasive social-media presence, and a wholesomely multicultural image. They'll win your heart if you don't cringe at all that cuteness. CHRIS GRAY

— Wednesday, May 4  Crescent Ballroom

Yes, Tortoise is still around, even it doesn’t make a big show about it. This year, the band released its first album in seven years, The Catastrophist. While not well known to mainstream audiences, Tortoise was influential in the '90s. Instead of taking cues from punk, it incorporated all sorts of other interesting sounds into rock, like avant-garde jazz, classical minimalism, ambient, and British electronica. The Chicago band is also made up of essential members of the Windy City’s music community, most notably drummer and producer John McEntire.

Expect a seasoned ensemble playing several instruments and probably two drummers. But get this: Chris Brokaw is opening. He played drums for slowcore heavyweights Codeine and guitar for the blues-rock outfit Come, and both groups produced classic albums in the ’90s. Since the early 2000s, Brokaw has focused on his own body of work while undertaking countless collaborations along the way. In addition to his blues-rock solo albums, he has scored several soundtracks. You definitely want to go to this show. JEREMY HALLOCK

Dream Theater 
— Thursday, May 5  Mesa Arts Center

Formed in 1985, this American progressive metal band still contains original members guitarist/vocalist John Pertucci and bassist John Myung. Throughout the years, the band has undergone various lineup changes, including most recently the split with original drummer Mike Portnoy. The music has always been a boiling pot of traditional heavy metal riffs, shredding guitars, and elements of traditional old-school metal like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, glam, speed metal, classic rock, hard rock, classical music, and of course prog rock, with heavy influences from such bands as Rush, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, and Yes. The band has toured all around the globe, earning fans on every continent, having shared the stage with everyone from Megadeth and Iron Maiden to Deep Purple and Lamb of God. ALEX DISTEFANO

 Thursday, May 5, and Friday, May 6  Filmbar

Negativland, a collection of artists from the Bay Area, first gained notoriety for its legal battle with U2’s label Island Records. In 1991, the band released an EP named after the Irish quartet containing samples of American Top 40 disc jockey Casey Kasem going on an expletive-laced rant while a kazoo-filled version of the song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” played. The label feared that fans would mistake Negativland’s release for an U2 album; the EP was pulled from shelves as a result.

While it’s fun to hear Kasem scream “these guys are from England and who gives a shit,” the EP was meant to be a sonic artistic collage exposing the hidden realities of media, but the message was lost in the litigious aftermath. It’s reassuring to know that 25 years later, Negativland is bringing its “culture jamming,” a term they coined, to Phoenix for the first time. It’s working with Tuscon-based artist Steev Hise to create an audiovisual experience that utilizes devices they call “Boopers”: clock-radio amplifiers rigged to create feedback. They combine the resulting audio with found sounds and visuals to create an original statement. JASON KEIL

Kenny Chesney 
 Saturday, May 7  Chase Field

Kenny Chesney is getting up there in years, but his latter-day career has given him a sort of gravitas he didn't have in his youth. In those days, his albums were pretty much standard-issue '90s hat-act country, not that bad but more than a little callow; now, he's America's favorite singing beach bum not named Jimmy Buffett. That said, Chesney has actually dialed down the surf and sand a bit in favor of small-town Americana on his latest album, The Big Revival, a collection of sentimental character sketches that radiates wistful nostalgia rather than sun-dappled easy times. It's a pretty good look for Chesney, too. CHRIS GRAY

The Final 1506 Trunk Space Show  Saturday, May 7  Trunk Space

Unless you’re completely removed from the downtown Phoenix art and music scenes – or have been living under rock the past few months — you’re likely aware that the Trunk Space will leave its original home on Grand Avenue later this month. Before its proprietors of the beloved DIY venue and gallery put the location in the rearview, however, they’re planning one final show featuring a few of its favorites and regulars. There’s Fathers Day (the whackadoodle local punk band that pretty much got its start at Trunk Space), as well as singer/songwriter Jason Anderson, The Dietrichs, and the curiously named F/G/G/T/Failur. Also on the lineup is IHYWYP (a.k.a. I Hate You When You’re Pregnant), which is one man dressed in clothing suited for teenage girls howling weird-ass songs along with a drum machine. Needless to say, it's entertaining as all get out, and is the sort of fringe act that fits in well with an outsider art venue like Trunk Space. BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN

Beach Slang 
— Saturday, May 7  The Rebel Lounge

Despite their band’s name, Beach Slang are decidedly not garage, not beach-y, and they’re not from California (Pennsylvania actually, which may be the polar opposite of California). Beach Slang have taken shoegaze-y, layered guitars and sped them up to forge a complex and driving sound. They lure you in with crystalline guitar leads before bringing in slicing chord hits with raspy, yelling vocals. It feels as if each song may rip at the seams at any moment. That’s when they pull it back and the tide pulls in — but only so the next wave will hit you even harder. MATT WOOD

Bettye LaVette — Monday, May 9  Musical Instrument Museum

Soul singer Bettye LaVette’s genius lies in her uncanny ability to wring emotional depth from even the most innocuous of pop songs. Her plaintive rasp exposes the lovestruck vulnerability at the heart of “Maybe I’m Amazed,” plumbs the spookiest depths of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and fills Elton John’s barroom confessional “Talking Old Soldiers” with almost unbearable world-weariness. An R&B ingenue in the 1960s, LaVette’s career never really took off until a boutique French label released her debut album in 2000 — 28 years after she recorded it for Atlantic/Atco Records, which for mysterious reasons chose not to release it. Since then, she’s sung “A Change Is Gonna Come” at Obama’s first inaugural celebration, stolen the show at the Kennedy Center Honors with a rendition of “Love, Reign O’er Me” that reduced Pete Townshend to tears, and generally disproved F. Scott Fitzgerald’s old saw that American lives have no second act. ANDY HERMANN

The Slackers 
— Tuesday, May 10  Crescent Ballroom

Ska! Say it. Sounds funny, huh? And not just because the genre has become one of the most beloved-turned-maligned styles in history since disco. Ska, at its core, is unpretentious, buoyant, and just plain goofy. But it has deep soul and jazz attached to its calypso roots, a fact that hasn't been forgotten by the Slackers. Formed nearly 25 years ago in New York City — then a hotbed for retrofitted ska — the horn-packing sextet eventually signed to Epitaph Records (and, later, Rancid's Hellcat imprint), releasing a string of discs featuring singer Glen Pines's impassioned rasp that paid homage to the traditional ska and rocksteady eras of the Skatalites and the Paragons. JASON HELLER

The Internet 
 Thursday, May 12  Livewire

Though there have been bigger names to emerge from the Odd Future camp in recent years, The Internet have quietly maintained their independence from the original crew. Beginning with the group’s highly praised 2011 album, Purple Naked Ladies, Syd tha Kyd and Matt Martians have become top practitioners of the so-called PBR&B genre. Now a six-piece, the group released its third effort, Ego Death, earlier this summer and successfully showcased that, despite lying low for a few years, The Internet continue to be a work in progress in the best sense of the phrase. They explore sonic space, allowing for exciting pivots and an industrious live show that’s as adventurous as their sound. DANIEL KOHN

Vince Staples 
— Friday, May 13  Crescent Ballroom

At 22, Vince Staples has come a long way since giving up a gangbanger lifestyle in Long Beach in his teens. On a fateful trip to LA with friends Dijon “La Vish” Samo and Chuck Wun, Staples met Syd Tha Kyd, Mike G, and Earl Sweatshirt of Odd Future. He had never really rapped before, but with the encouragement of his new associates, he found his calling in Syd’s studio.

This alliance with the Odd Future crew and the influence of its experimental beats and gritty surrealism may have helped Staples realize his potential: Ever since he released his debut mixtape, 2011’s Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1, he’s established himself as one of the most talented rappers of his generation. Last year’s Summertime ’06 revealed Staples’s gift for turning harrowing experiences from his youth into inspired and darkly cathartic eulogies for childhood. TOM MURPHY