Hope y’all had a merry Christmas. More importantly, we hope y’all have recovered from Christmas. The good news is that its sort of a light week ahead as we count down the final, grueling days of 2016.
And, yes, there are some great concerts taking place. As a matter of fact, its a big week for homegrown talents as the next few days will offer performances by such notable Arizona natives and favorites as Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb, the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Dom Flemons, and Gilgongo Records’ James Fella.
The Lowlands – Monday, December 26 – Crescent Ballroom
Guitarist Michael Krassner maintains multiple outlets for his musical pursuits: Boxhead Ensemble, his experimental film music combo; Blues Oblique, a more rock-oriented outfit; and the Lowlands, which blends progressive folk, avant-garde blues, and deconstructed country music. Though he’s based in Phoenix now, Krassner’s roots stretch back to the vibrant music scene of Chicago, where he collaborated with modern jazz bandleader Ken Vandermark, Glen Kotche of Wilco, Califone, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and the Dirty Three. His approach is distinctly informed by the genre-blending approach of groups there, where bands were just as likely to pull from Sonic Youth LPs as traditional country ’78s. Krassner’s sets incorporate sonic sensibilities from many fields, including looped, ambient textures, skeletal twangy riffs, and wiry, tangled leads like those heard on Television’s Marquee Moon, but he never sounds more open than when inhabiting the soulful folk of Tim Buckley and Bob Dylan. Lowlands is something of a low-key Phoenix supergroup, featuring Tom Bernard, Scott White, Erik Ryden of Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra, and Aaron Burke of the Minibosses, performing a mix of improvisational material and covers from Krassner’s songbook. JASON P. WOODBURY
Homecoming – Monday, December 26 – The Trunk Space
Harsh environments breed harsh lifeforms. It’s no wonder that Phoenix and Tempe have small but strong noise communities. It’s music that’s as harsh and rewarding as the desert: For every sandstorm blast of feedback or prickly bit of guitar work that washes over you, there’s a cactus flower bloom of gorgeous tones to soothe your soul. If there’s anyone who stands tall and carries water for this hardy community, it’s James Fella. Label head of Gilgongo Records and a familiar face in experimental bands across the Valley, Fella has been quietly championing the weirdest, wildest, and most esoteric sounds. Whether it’s through his curated records crate at the old Trunk Space, his droning solo performances, or his work with bands like Soft Shoulder, the dude has been hard at work blowing minds and making ears bleed. That’s why we’re excited to see what happens at the new Trunk Space location on December 26. Fella and a few friends are presenting a special evening of experimental music. It’s a who’s-who’s of the local avant-garde underground, joined by Arizona ex-pat musicians from Oakland and Brooklyn. The homecoming starts at 7:30 p.m., with performances by Fella, Parker Davis, Lai Yi, and James Roemer + Garrett Johnson. ASHLEY NAFTULE
Dom Flemons – Tuesday, December 27 – Musical Instrument Museum
Although he lives in Brooklyn and started old-timey string band Carolina Chocolate Drops with fellow musician Rhiannon Giddens, in North Carolina, Dom Flemons grew up in Phoenix, where he learned the basics of folk music and collected records. True story. "I was exposed to [bluegrass] through the local folk community that was around Encanto Park at the time," Flemons told New Times in 2012. Trips to the Glendale Folk Festival, Prescott Folk Festival, and Flagstaff Folk Festival also helped shape his perception of folk music as well. "I got to go and meet with a lot of the people that were around there and that's where I learned about folk music and bluegrass, on top of the record-collecting I do." Flemons picked up records at spots around Phoenix, citing Tracks in Wax, Zia Records on Indian School, and Revolver Records as favorite spots to stock up on platters. He didn't discover any black string bands in Arizona's past, but found plenty of music that shaped his personal approach in the Carolina Chocolate Drops. This week, Flemons returns to his old stomping grounds for a special solo show at the Musical Instrument Museum. JASON P. WOODBURY
Lil Uzi Vert – Wednesday, December 28 – Comerica Theatre
Talk to any old head these days, and you’ll hear that the kids aren’t all right. Dexterity and lyricism are being replaced by mumble-rapping and weak rhymes. Besides perhaps Lil Yachty, there are no rappers who better embody that growing generational gap between hip-hop’s old-school and progressive new movements than Philadelphia rapper Lil Uzi Vert. The rapper takes trap beats and infuses them with his innate, catchy melodies, and the result is a fun slurry that is as intoxicating to the kids as it is baffling to the adults. The age delineation really makes you wonder if there’s a physical component to liking the music of Lil Uzi Vert and his mumble-rap colleagues, like those ringtones that only teenagers can hear. Regardless, Uzi is on the vanguard of a new wave sweeping over hip-hop. Hopefully, the old heads won’t get drowned in its wake. DAVID ACCOMAZZO
El Ten Eleven – Wednesday, December 28 – The Rebel Lounge
Los Angeles post-rock duo El Ten Eleven isn't your run-of-the-mill indie-rock two-piece. For starters, their live sound isn't stripped down like fellow duos Matt and Kim or the White Stripes, and they don't have to rely on drum machines or prerecorded backing tracks to faithfully reproduce their recordings, like the Kills and Sleigh Bells. Instead, guitarist/bassist Kristian Dunn and drummer Tim Fogarty rely on an array of effects pedals and a looping machine to create intricate atmospheric works that actually do sound as big live as they do on record. What's more, El Ten Eleven's danceable melodies pack enough of a punch so that audiences forget they're watching a dreaded instrumental band. CORY GRAVES
Howe Gelb – Wednesday, December 28 – Musical Instrument Museum
Howe Gelb has recorded some of the most curious American music of the last 30 years. Whether solo, with his former band Giant Sand (which went defunct earlier this year) or with collaborators that have included PJ Harvey and Neko Case, Gelb has been a master of the unpredictable, offering up everything from tinkling piano rags to bombastic, noisy rock. Among the wild swings from highbrow to lowbrow and the moments of meticulous musicianship that suddenly collapse into muddy distortion, Gelb manages delicate restraint. A knee-jerk reaction would be to call Gelb’s work “shambolic,” but it’s actually a very controlled chaos. There’s also an endearing earnestness in Gelb’s experiments. After all, this is a man who not only recorded a piano-and-conga version of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” he meant it. Gelb is often witty, but he doesn’t wink. The delightfully unironic environment of the Musical Instrument Museum might just be the perfect venue for Gelb’s idiosyncratic Americana. TROY SCHULZE
Snoop Dogg – Thursday, December 29 – Comerica Theatre
Snoop Dogg is one of the very few performers in hip-hop who can say he's watched the genre grow old with grace. From his tumultuous times at Death Row Records to a questionable signing with the No Limit label, Snoop has soldiered on through the years to become one of the game's greatest legends. His lyrics, his California swag and his consistent ear for head-banging rap beats continually put Snoop ahead of the class. His coolness is immeasurable, and he envelops his audiences with it at his shows. Well, that and marijuana smoke. Through it all, Snoop has built the Doggfather legacy and amassed a cult following that grows with every performance and carries his hip-hop message to the world. And later this month he’ll carry it to Comerica Theatre when his Puff Puff Pass Tour – which also features fellow hip-hop legends Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Warren G, DJ Quik and Tha Dogg Pound – rolls through the Valley. RU JOHNSON