Category Archives: Reviews

REVIEW: Bat for Lashes Bares the Unrivaled Beauty of Storytelling at Neptune Theatre (2-10-20)

SEATTLE — Neptune Theatre was graced with the haunting vocals, jovial spirit, and authentic expressions of Bat for Lashes, granting an intimate and ethereal atmosphere to those in attendance. It had been a few years since she last journeyed from England to the United States, and as she stepped out to begin the concert, a hand from the cheering audience extended a bouquet of flowers to her. The beloved artist graciously accepted the gift with a warm smile, and she made her way to center stage. Donning a regal red lace-tiered gown, surrounded by seven electric lanterns, she shifted the tone in the auditorium as she stood still with her hands placed on the mic, raising her eyes toward the balcony, and began her performance with the synthy, notably 80s-influenced opening track of her latest album Lost Girls.

Bat for Lashes is the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Natasha Khan, who was accompanied by the keys and angelic backup vocals of Laura Groves. With a uniquely low and breathy vocal tone in general, Khan’s impressively wide vocal range is noteworthy as she frequently traverses to the soprano end of her range.

Natasha Khan (Vocals, Keys), Bat for Lashes
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

At times Groves’ operatic high notes were quite a palatable complement as she harmonized with her partner on stage. Throughout the night, Khan would go on to alternate between singing while sitting at the keys and standing at the mic – twice gently playing a pink Stratocaster guitar.

Natasha Khan (Vocals, Keys), Bat for Lashes & Laura Groves (Accompanist)
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

This came across as a slightly dressed-down performance for the musician, who has been known to whimsically dance around the stage and pick up a variety of interesting instruments.

Bat for Lashes – April 12, 2013 in Phoenix, AZ (View Gallery)
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

But this more reserved presence may have lent itself to more opportunities for Khan to be an impactful storyteller between songs, which was an enriching experience.

Natasha Khan (Vocals, Keys), Bat for Lashes
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

She explained that as she is also a filmmaker, she wrote her concept album The Bride as if she were writing a film. Preceding the song “Close Encounters”, she spoke about her reflections on those who tell abduction stories, and her take on those as a coping mechanism to deal with trauma. She said that, being a child of the 80s, she dealt with grief by imagining the mythology of aliens. 

Natasha Khan (Vocals, Keys), Bat for Lashes
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

It is apparent that Khan’s music is deeply personal to her, and something that she took to as child to help her work through her trials as she dealt with painful situations such as racial abuse and the absence of her father. It was an inspiring example of the beauty of the way emotions can be channeled into creativity, and transformed into something that brings happiness and unity to oneself and others. Knowing all of this brings a new level of appreciation to the foreground as she joked about her bottle of water and said, “I’ve barely figured out how I can do this in front of this many people without a bottle of vodka.

Natasha Khan (Vocals, Keys), Bat for Lashes
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Anyone who appreciates feeling deeply will particularly find themselves resonating with this musician that at times feels otherworldly. Khan’s profound relationship with music and the environment around her was obvious as she spoke of the English countryside having seeped into her bones, and Kate Bush being part of her musical DNA. Before performing “This Woman’s Work”, she told the crowd that the song makes her very emotional — that she wouldn’t be who she is without Bush.

Natasha Khan (Vocals, Keys), Bat for Lashes
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Afterward, following mention that it had been a long time since she’d been to the States, she said, “I’m so happy there’s people!” and closed the evening with an homage to Cindy Lauper as she covered “I Drove All Night”. Seattle made it clear that Bat for Lashes is unforgotten and adored, her distant travels were appreciated, and her artistry cherished and revered.

Natasha Khan (Vocals, Keys), Bat for Lashes & Laura Groves (Accompanist)
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

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Bat For Lashes – Neptune Theatre 2-10-20

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REVIEW: Dashboard Confessional Impassion Fans at Sold Out 20 Year Celebration at The Van Buren (2-7-20)

PHOENIX — 20 years ago, Dashboard Confessional was started as a side project of Chris Carrabba, the lead singer and guitarist who also fronts Further Seems Forever. In those 20 years, Dashboard Confessional has been a soundtrack for many; the songs for triumph in the high moments, and the songs for the low moments to help them rise back up. The tour that brought Piebald and Dashboard Confessional to The Van Buren on this night was a celebration of these moments and memories that these fans had gathered to relive.

Piebald

First out onto the stage was Piebald. Much like recently reunited The Format – who, coincidentally enough, they opened for during the final tour as a band – Piebald went onto a hiatus after one final show in 2008, though they have played a handful of one-off shows since then. Frontman Travis Shettel, guitarist Aaron Stuart, bassist Andrew Bonner, and drummer Luke Garro released a Christmas album titled A Christmas (seven-inch) Adventure. It is a vinyl of three Christmas songs, an odd choice for a band that seems to pride itself in being quite odd, so perhaps it’s a perfect choice for them.

Dana Bollen (Hype, Tour Mgr, Merch), Piebald
Photography:
Andrew Marshall © All Rights Reserved
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As the show started, it quickly became quite apparent how differently these guys do things. As the first song started, suddenly a head popped up over the crowd: Dana Bollen, who would play the role of hype man/tour manager/merch guy. Throughout the set, he would go from standing on the barricade, flailing his arms around to get the crowd pumped, up to the stage to play some excellent cowbell, succeeding to inspire the crowd to flail along with him when he returned to the barricade. It was a genius touch, and a memorable addition to their excellent show.

At home on stage, Shettel bantered, at one point hosting an impromptu Q&A session with a crowd that was enjoying their quirky performance. At one point someone yelled out, “You’re my favorite!” to which Shettel pointed at them and exclaimed, “You’re MY favorite! OUR favorite, actually!

Travis Shettel (Vocals, Guitar), Piebald
| Photography:
Andrew Marshall © All Rights Reserved
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All of the songs they played were 12 years old, but yet felt so new. Piebald has managed to make their music sound timeless. Times have changed, and now the lyrics to the song “The Monkey Versus the Robot” have a much different and deeper meaning; one that anyone and everyone who works a 9-5 grind has felt at some point: “Work should not control our every minute, Eat to work, sleep to work, live to work, work.

It is not unusual to attend a show and find yourself confronted with a band trying entirely too hard to relate to you and the crowd around you, forced dialog and ham-fisted lyrics. Piebald is none of these things. Rather, they are a quirky band that is at home playing songs that aged beautifully, with the rare ability to walk onto a stage in front of an audience who made up of many who may never had heard of them, and win them over in under 45 minutes.

As Piebald cleared the stage and the preparations were finished for Dashboard Confessional, the lights dimmed and “Sweetness” by Jimmy Eat World started playing. A casual observer would have assumed that the crowd was there for a Jimmy Eat World concert with the reaction the song generated. The crowd gleefully and loudly followed the lyrical instructions to “Sing it back,” demonstrating that there truly is never a bad time to play a Jimmy Eat World song.

Dashboard Confessional 

To attend a Dashboard Confessional concert is to realize that your neighbor is probably going to spend a good deal of the show singing at the top of their lungs. That’s ok, because you likely will be doing the same at some point. This is the magic of Dashboard Confessional: Chris Carrabba is the rare songwriter who can encapsulate not just the words of the moments in life that we all have, he manages to paint a masterpiece with the music behind it.

Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World has a similar talent, and it could be argued that if everyone from this generation were to compile a soundtrack of their lives, it is likely they would have at least one song from these two bands on it. They have mastery of their lyrics and music, and we are an awestruck audience that has not fully realized how lucky we are.

Chris Carrabba (Vocals, Guitar), Dashboard Confessional
| Photography:
Andrew Marshall © All Rights Reserved
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To call what was experienced on this night a concert does not quite do it justice, as it was really a journey through space and time with each song. “Vindicated,” a song from the soundtrack of the 2004 movie Spider-man 2, took us into the past, though it doesn’t feel like that song can get its drivers license this year. Carrabba was a skillful guide through the trip, knowing exactly when to step back from the microphone to allow the crowd the opportunity to belt out their favorite lyrics – saying at one point they sang beautifully – and when to step in and to tell a story before the next stop in this fanciful tour.

Scott Schoenbeck (Bass), Dashboard Confessional
| Photography:
Andrew Marshall © All Rights Reserved
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Halfway through the set he traded his electric guitar for an acoustic and performed alone onstage. Carrabba is an extraordinarily talented guitar player, bringing quite a few guitars on tour and often switching up during the show, but his mastery shines the brightest when he plays acoustic. His vocals were also on full display, holding a note for a superhuman length of time, holding until the cheers finally drowned him out.

Chris Carrabba (Vocals, Guitar), Dashboard Confessional
| Photography:
Andrew Marshall © All Rights Reserved
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As the rest of the band rejoined Carrabba, he introduced them as Scott Schoenbeck on the bass, Armon Jay also on the guitar, Chris Kamrada on the drums, and Dane Poppin who alternated between the keyboard and guitar. The journey that Carrabba took the audience on would look drastically different without the band, which he introduced twice during the show.

Dashboard Confessional
| Photography:
Andrew Marshall © All Rights Reserved
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The reluctant, final stops on this journey included a rendition of “Hands Down” that felt something akin to a religious experience, with almost every person in the venue singing out as loudly as they possibly could. It was a celebration of Dashboard Confessional – a celebration of two decades worth of music and meaning, of memories, and of the songs that seemed to know what we needed to hear when we didn’t know ourselves. It was also a sold-out crowd saying “Thank you” to Carrabba in a way that means the most to an artist: by knowing every single word of every single song and serenading him throughout the show. The tour ends on 3/28 in Nashville, TN at the Ryman Auditorium.

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REVIEW: Horrorpops Deliver Psychobilly Rock from Denmark to a Sold Out Nile Theater (2-1-20)

Mesa, AZ — Hailing from Denmark with a sound that blends punk and rockabilly into something wholly unique, Horrorpops steadily built a following over the course of their three albums in the mid-2000’s (2004’s Hell Yeah!, 2005’s Bring It On, and 2008’s Kiss Kiss Kill Kill). Just as they were reaching their apex, the band went into a period of inactivity. They released no new albums, and aside from a few shows here and there, they didn’t even play live that often. While the band may have gone on a brief hiatus, it didn’t stop their fan base from growing. With the announcement of a new tour, shows instantly began to sell out, and one of those sold out shows was Nile Theatre (“The Nile”). Kicking off the previous night in San Diego, The Quakes and Franks & Deans will accompany the Horrorpops for the entirety of the 13-date tour. 

Robert DeTie (Vocalist, Bassist), Franks & Deans
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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Franks & Deans

We’re Franks & Deans, and we’re here to fuck up your grandmother’s favorite music!” Wearing matching tuxedo t-shirts and playing matching sea-foam-colored instruments for a set comprised of punk covers of old standards (okay, and the theme song to the 1967 Spider-Man cartoon), Las Vegas’ Franks & Deans opened the night. Comprised of bassist Robert DeTie, guitarists Hoss and Sampson, drummer Cam Callahan, and burlesque dancer and hula-hoopist Nickole Muse, they were an immediate shot of adrenaline the moment they came through the door. 

Nickole Muse (Burlesque, Hula Hoop) with Franks & Deans
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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Their sound – two parts punk and one part bar band – started the show off with the exact right kind of fun party music atmosphere you’d want on such a night. While their set may have been built around songs from the various classic Vegas performers. “This next song is by my favorite member of the Rat Pack: Mike Ness!” The Social Distortion’s frontman’s misattribution as a member of Sinatra’s Rat Pack was a running joke throughout their set, with other Rat Pack “members” including The Reverend Horton Heat and Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra. As they mentioned during the closing of their set, they have a regular Wednesday night Weenie Roast residency at Double-Down Saloon in Vegas. For any AZ residents who find themselves visiting Sin City mid-week, it’s a worthwhile stop. 

Franks & Deans, Nickole Muse (Burlesque, Hula Hoop)
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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The Quakes

Fronted by founding member and guitarist Paul Roman and backed by slap bassist Wes Hinshaw, and drummer Juan Carlos, Arizona’s own The Quakes played second. Thirty-year veterans, the band’s sound can best be described as neo-rockabilly. Roman played with the furious intensity of Johnny Ramone from the Ramones classic-era. If Roman’s guitar is punk-rock fury, then the rhythm section of Hinshaw and Carlos served as the perfect anchor, both keeping pace and holding the track together. 

The Quakes
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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From their blistering take on the Stone’s “Paint It Black” to open, their 13-song, 30-minute set was a musical buzzsaw. “I Miss You” by the band’s 2005 album Psyops drew a huge crowd reaction. The Quakes have a three-prong attack and seem to intuitively feed off of each when they’re on stage. 

Juan Carlos (Drums), The Quakes
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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Horrorpops

With the stage set up with white sheets and assorted decorative skulls, you could feel the building excitement for the Horrorpops. With a legitimate max capacity crowd of long-time fans, many of whom were seeing the band for the first time, anticipation built to a fever pitch just as the lights went black. The reaction from the audience to darkness alone is the kind of pop some bands would kill to have. Henrik Stendahl was out first, taking his place behind the drums. He was quickly followed by guitarist Kim Nekroman, looking cool as ever. Arriving last, you realize immediately exactly what kind of icon Patricia Day has become, as she was greeted like psychobilly royalty.

Patricia Day (Vocals, Standup Bass), Horrorpops
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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Picking up her massive stand-up bass, adorned with buzzards and a black skull and crossbones, and went right into “Julia” off of Hell Yeah! One crowd favorite was followed by two more: “Thelma and Louise” from Kiss Kiss Kill Kill and “Kool Flattop” from their debut. The opening trio hit hard, and by the time the band paused and Patricia Day addressed the crowd for the first time, you could feel the crowd needing to take a breather. 

I can only think of one thing… okay two things,” Patricia told the crowd. “1. Why the hell did we stay away for so long? The second is that the greatest show we ever played was right here in Arizona! Anyway, it’s been too long!” Too long it may have been, but you’d never know it had been that long. Even with several years off from regular touring, the band showed no sign of rust, on just their second night of the tour. From the opening chords of “Julia,” they sounded just as tight as ever.

Kim Nekroman (Guitar), Horrorpops
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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The band was on a tight schedule because The Nile had to close at midnight, and their set didn’t start until 10:45, which left them only 75 minutes. The time constraints didn’t detract from their set but instead gave it a blazing intensity. Somewhat ironically during “Hit ‘N’ Run” from 2005’s Bring It On!, Day casually dodged a beer can launched at the stage, with her nonchalant dodging being noticed and vocally appreciated by the crowd. Day’s stage presence combines punk-rock bravado with a kind of effortless grace. She took a brief moment to give her own appreciation: “Thank you so much for singing loud and oh-so-fucking proudly!” 

Patricia Day (Vocals, Standup Bass), Horrorpops
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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While Horrorpops has a particular aesthetic that combines elements of goth with classic rockabilly, with a sound that incorporates both in a punk-rock blender, what often gets lost is that their song-writing revisits so many classic themes. Day and Nekroman are married, and many of their songs, as noted by Day, are love songs because even psychobilly punk rockers need love. 

If their songs were about love, the show – and presumably the entire tour – is a love song to performing live. With Paul Roman from the Quakes joining them on guitar and Nekroman taking over bass duties from Day, they launched into crowd favorite “Psycho Bitches Outta Hell,” as they were also joined on stage by Kelly (their merch girl) who did a synchronized dance routine with Day.

Horrorpops, Kelly (Merch)
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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At this point, time was starting to run out on the night, so the band improvised. “This is the time in the set when we would normally yell ‘Goodnight!’ and leave the stage and make you clap for us so we can come back out and play more songs that we already planned on playing, but we’re on a tight curfew tonight…” The lights were briefly turned out, as the band stayed on stage. The crowd relished the chance to play along with this joke, chanting “One more song!’ before the lights were promptly turned back on. “Alright, we will!” They closed out the night with “Walk Like a Zombie” and “Miss Take.” “We got time for one more song, and then it’s curfew!

They closed their set with “Where I Wander,” took a bow, and exited the stage almost perfectly at midnight. The set may have been a tight 75 minutes, but they gave the crowd everything they had. And their adoring fans, so many who have waited years to finally see them live, gave it right back. Though Horrorpops may be from Denmark, they have a clear love for Phoenix. Hopefully it won’t be another ten years before they return!

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Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo

View Separately: Horrorpops | The Quakes | Franks & Deans

Horrorpops, The Quakes, And Franks & Deans – Nile Theater 2-1-20

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REVIEW: Tsunami Bomb Returns to Yucca to Throw Down with Death By Stereo (1-25-20)

Tempe, AZ — Near the geographic heart of Tempe sits an ancient strip mall, a dinosaur of a building that time seems to have forgotten. On the Eastern end of that building is a sign that simply says “Hu’s Yucca Tap Room.” Below that sits two sets of doors. The doors to the left take you into a bar where the walls are green, the paneling is wood, and the president is Nixon. The doors to the right take you into one of the most legendary live music venues in all of Phoenix. It could be considered sacred ground of sorts — a place where the music scene flourished and where thousands of shows have been held. On this night, 4 punk bands were scheduled to perform — Tsunami Bomb, Death by Stereo, Toxic Energy, and The Venomous Pinks.

There is a certain charm that the Yucca has. It will never win awards for the most beautiful venue in Phoenix, but that’s ok because it doesn’t need to. There is a level of access to the band that does not exist in every venue — no barrier between the crowd and the stage: As the band loads their equipment onto the stage, they must pass through the area where the audience stands, walk up four steps at the front, and work on setting up only feet away from those waiting in anticipation for the upcoming set. There is an intimacy that is taken for granted; a closeness that could feel claustrophobic if one allowed it to. On full display is the part of the grind that the general public rarely considers, much less sees. The band — and anyone helping them — must set up the stage, transporting the equipment from a parking lot and then back out after the last note is played; a labor of love that is rarely recognized as such by many.  

The Venomous Pinks

The Venomous Pinks started the night off with a bang. They were the only Arizona band playing that night, and are also one of the very few Arizona bands that are comprised entirely of women. They are massively talented and extremely underrated, a diamond in the rough. Comprised of Drea Doll, who is the lead vocalist and guitar, Gaby Kaos on the bass, and Cassie Jalilie on the drums, they started the show off with “Never Say Never,” from their EP Exes & Whoas!, released in 2014. They immediately kicked the energy level up to 10, getting the crowd energized and set the tone for quite a show.

The Venomous Pinks
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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Halfway through the set, Doll and Kaos talked about the music video they had just shot for their newest single “I Want You,” which is also the name of their newest album. They admitted they were a bit nervous while shooting it, but they were pleased with the overall result. The song is a cover, originally done by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, and they nailed it in no small part due to the fact that Drea Doll has a voice that is reminiscent of Jett herself.

To say The Venomous Pinks are fun would be an understatement. They are loud, in your face, and incredibly talented. They are opening for the Adicts on 2/11/20 at the Marquee Theatre — a show that promises to be one of the best of the year. Even if you cannot make that show, follow them on social media and catch them at an upcoming show. 

The Venomous Pinks Online:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Toxic Energy

The next band up was one from Orange County — one of the three bands carrying on the long tradition of Southern California punk. Toxic Energy is normally a five-piece band, but tonight their usual drummer had the flu and could not join them. Chris McBride, normally on the guitar, filled in and put on a clinic on the drum kit. Lead singer Greg Dickson — flanked by guitarist Brent Waterworth and bassist Brian Jones — started the set off by expressing gratitude to the fans, to the Yucca Taproom, and to all of the other bands playing that night.

That was the calmest moment of the set. As soon as he finished speaking, the music and mosh pit started. Dickson prowled the stage, seemingly trying to make eye contact with each and every audience member. He sings not with just his mouth, but his entire body. It would be hard not to feel a bit tired for him watching the performance, but it would also be very hard not to dive into a mosh pit and get to know your neighbors a bit better. At the risk of overusing this term, this band truly is a must-see.

Toxic Energy
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

As the set ended, Dickson and his bandmates gathered at the edge of the stage to take a photo of the crowd and thank everyone for coming. Dickson shook the hand of every person who was by the stage, thanking each of them personally. It is a bit of an enjoyable juxtaposition: one moment you are being sonically assaulted by a bone-jarringly loud, hyperactive front man, the next he is shaking your hand and quietly thanking you for the support.

Toxic Energy Online:

Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Death by Stereo

As Death by Stereo set up, they joked with members of the audience, bantering with people they recognized from previous shows. Death by Stereo is made up of guitarists Dan Palmer and JP Gericke, bassist Robert Madrigal and drummer Mike Cambra, with founder Efrem Schulz as the lead vocalist. They were laid back, easy-going, and then the music started and the Yucca felt like the Tardis — far bigger on the inside, expanding due to the frenetic, explosive, incredible wall of sound that Death by Stereo provides. You do not listen to this band; rather, you experience them. The mosh pit was churning, heads were banging, and the band could have powered a small town with their outpouring of energy.

Death By Stereo
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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Mid-show, Schulz mentioned that Death by Stereo was formed 21 years ago. He also talked about his love for the Yucca, exhorting the exuberant crowd to keep going to venues like this, to keep the punk music scene alive. It was an over the top, incredible performance, punctuated by Schulz jumping on top of the bar, running to the sound booth and then into the crowd. It should also be noted that he did all of this with a wired microphone, leading to an unspoken team effort of the crowd holding the cord over their heads, as if it was crowd surfing. Seemingly as quickly as it started, the set ended, and much of the crowd moved outside to cool down a bit before Tsunami Bomb took the stage to close the night out.

Death By Stereo Online:

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Tsunami Bomb

Tsunami Bomb formed in 1998, at about the same time Death By Stereo did, but they took a 10 year break before reforming in 2015. They came back with a new lead singer, Kate Jacobi, who jumped right in, joining bassist Dom Davi, keyboardist Oob Sparks, drummer Gabe Lindeman, and guitarist Andrew Pohl. Sparks was unable to join the band for this tour, something that Jacobi told the crowd early on, leading to chants of “We love Oob!” at the conclusion of one of the songs.

Tsunami Bomb
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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Tsunami Bomb was a bit of a welcome slowdown after Death by Stereo, though slowdown is a bit of a relative term. There were moments where it was obvious that they missed Sparks, but they powered through, delivering a solid set to an adoring crowd behind Jacobi’s incredible vocals. Toward the end of the set, Jacobi was handed a shoe that someone had lost in the mosh pit, followed by a phone. Fortunately, both owners were quickly found, though it was never explained how someone didn’t notice they had lost a shoe, and, after a couple more songs, the show drew to an end. Before leaving the stage, they, like the bands before them, expressed gratitude for all involved – the venue, the other bands, and most importantly, the fans.

Tsunami Bomb
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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The night ended, reluctantly it seemed, and the stage was cleared once again. The bands lingered outside, not ready to leave, not quite yet. There were the fans to talk to — the ones who stopped to thank them for an incredible show, the ones who would be back the next time they were in town, and the ones who will help keep this incredible music scene alive in Phoenix. 

Tsunami Bomb Online:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

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Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo

View Separately: Tsunami Bomb | Death By Stereo | Toxic Energy | The Venomous Pinks

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REVIEW: Motion City Soundtrack Turn Up The Charm at The Van Buren (1-22-20)

PHOENIX — Imagine you’re in your teens during the early 2000’s, public school is the definition of a living hell, and one of the only things keeping you going day after day are the sweet sounds of whining pop punk vocalists leaking in through your earbuds. Sound familiar? This was a very real scenario for many people back in the days when Motion City Soundtrack were first gracing the music scene with their lyrically intelligent and synth-laden brand of pop punk. Many of those same people, among legions of others, were in attendance at their show in downtown Phoenix, supported by Doll Skin and Mom Jeans, and they were still as young at heart for their love of pop punk as they were back in the good old days.

Doll Skin

Kicking off the night were the incomparably talented band, Doll Skin who got their start right here in Phoenix. What they lack in size they most certainly make up for in aggressively inviting energy and excitement that most bands could only dream of achieving on their own. The charisma pouring from each member on stage, especially lead vocalist Sydney Dolezal, is something that cannot be easily described without witnessing it for yourself first. Doll Skin is a band that knows how to kick off a party and with songs like “Love is Dead and We Killed Her” and the excellent Florence + The Machine cover of “Shake It Out”, it’s very easy to see why.

Sydney Dolezal (Vocals) & Nicole Rich (Bassist), Doll Skin
| Photographer:
Andrea Stoica © All Rights Reserved

Mom Jeans.

Given the unenviable task of having to follow Doll Skin, Berkeley, California band, Mom Jeans took the stage with an undeniable sense of pure joy erupting from their faces. This is a band that truly loves what they do and that love is very contagious to members of any audience lucky enough to catch them. It’s incredible watching a band with only two studio albums to their name pump up a crowd so much with instant classics like “Now This Is Podracing”, “Death Cup”, and obvious crowd favorite, “Shred Cruz”. The mood was set for an exciting night ahead but no one could’ve prepared themselves for what came next.

Mom Jeans
| Photographer:
Andrea Stoica © All Rights Reserved

Motion City Soundtrack

By the time Motion City Soundtrack took the stage, one might assume that most people would’ve been easily exhausted from dancing to all the other great music preceding them. This was definitely not the case though considering the audience full of that many diehard fans crammed to capacity inside The Van Buren’s acoustically pristine walls. Motion City Soundtrack sounded more energetic and polished than ever by the time their turn to play came along. This is a band that has truly come into their own over the years and there’s no sign of them losing that momentum for the remainder of their reunion tour.

Justin Pierre (Vocals, Guitar), Motion City Soundtrack
| Photographer:
Andrea Stoica © All Rights Reserved

Lead vocalist Justin Pierre’s quirky and painfully honest lyrics still continue to ring true for the armies of screaming fans who have had them committed to memory for over a decade at this point. The loyalty of their fan base is certainly not to be underestimated; as with the help of Justin’s beautifully gifted voice, it’s highly likely that many of the audience members were able to train themselves to sing in key along to the band’s music over the years — a truly incredible feat that made the concert experience all the more enjoyable and fun.

The rest of the band had no shortage of energy either, and anybody who struggles with maintaining optimum energy levels during their 9-5 desk jobs would benefit greatly from learning their secrets. This was especially true for keyboard player, Jesse Johnson, who would regularly thrash around on stage at his own wild pace. At one point that daredevil even held a handstand on top of his instrument for no less than 5 seconds. The movements were as fluid, crazy, and natural as they’ve been since the inception of the band and it was a beautifully refreshing thing to behold.

Jesse Johnson (Keys), Motion City Soundtrack
| Photographer:
Andrea Stoica © All Rights Reserved

Justin graciously thanked the audience for attending and supporting live music more than once throughout their set. This was another highlight of the show because he came off like an approachable, friendly person, which only confirms everything most people have already heard about him. Throughout the show he’d go back and forth with audience members shouting random things at him like “I named my dog after you!” which prompted him to ask, “Is your dog HERE? I’d like to meet him!” It was incredibly endearing and is something that other bands should definitely take notes on. After ripping into timeless classics like “Everything Is Alright”, and “L.G. FUAD”, the band continued tapping into people’s nostalgia with perfect renditions of “Hold Me Down”, “Make Out Kids”, and “This Is For Real”.

Capping off the night with an encore of “The Future Freaks Me Out”, this only solidified their legacy as an endlessly fun, receptive, and crowd-pleasing band.

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Photographer: Andrea Stoica

Motion City Soundtrack, Mom Jeans., Doll Skin – The Van Buren 1-22-20

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Photography © Andrea Stoica.
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REVIEW: Motionless in White, Beartooth Invoke the Spirits of Disease & Disguise at the Marquee (1-11-20)

Tempe, AZ — The midpoint date of the “Diseased & Disguised” January tour brought co-headliners Motionless in White (MIW) and Beartooth, with support from Stick to Your Guns (STYG) and Nothing Left, to Marquee Theatre. The name of the tour came from the names of the two most recent studio album releases from each co-headliner — Disease from Beartooth (released  Sept. 2018, deluxe edition Oct. 2019), and Disguise from Motionless in White (released June 2019).

Nothing Left

Nothing Left, the opening band, has the most recent studio album release, with Disconnected (Dec. 2019). This supergroup, formed in 2016, consists of members of four other metalcore bands: For Today, A Bullet for a Pretty Boy, Silent Planet, and Take It Back! They kicked off the night with high energy that wouldn’t let up. Lead vocalist Danon Saylor rarely stood in one place, pacing the stage while he delivered the lyrics in his trademark growl.

Danon Saylor (Vocalist), Nothing Left
| Photographer:
Andrew Marshall © All Rights Reserved
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Stick to Your Guns

Stick to your Guns follows a long, proud tradition of California-based punk. They honored the scene with their set — an explosive show that frequently had frontman Jesse Barnett playing to the crowd at the edge of the stage. Guitarist Josh James and bassist Andrew Rose seemingly spent as much time in the air as they did on the stage, which kept the crowd hyped and wanting more. STYG released their sixth studio album True View in October of 2017.

Josh James (Guitar) & Andrew Rose (Bass), Stick to Your Guns
| Photographer:
Andrew Marshall © All Rights Reserved
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Beartooth

Never dialing down, Beartooth kept the spirit of the night going with a vigorous performance that made their dedication to a fun, crazy show apparent. Caleb Shomo, lead vocalist, provoked the mosh pit to keep widening shouting, “We want a big circle pit… bigger… BIGGER.” As strobes and colorful backlights accented their energy, the moshing extended far back into the room. He involved the audience during “Body Bag”, asking them to say “one decision” when he said “one life”. He also gave a heartfelt speech about being vulnerable, and not feeling like you are enough.

Caleb Shomo (Vocalist), Beartooth
| Photographer:
Andrew Marshall © All Rights Reserved
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Despite macabre titles and theatrics, fans know full well that they can expect a positive, uplifting night with these artists. The themes of the night were, “be a good person” and “be yourself“. Both Motionless in White and Beartooth cemented these messages, and encouraged finding the will to persevere. Beartooth expressed how much they love touring with MIW. In fact, during one song, MIW lead vocalist Chris “Motionless” Cerulli came out to hug Beartooth’s frontman Shomo. Later on MIW made it clear that the feeling was mutual, saying that the guys in Beartooth are ‘the nicest guys they’d ever toured with.Burning Hot Events’ photographer Andrew Marshall described the show as “a lovefest” — love between the bands, love of the fans, and encouraging fans to love themselves and others.

Beartooth
| Photographer:
Andrew Marshall © All Rights Reserved
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Motionless in White

With a music box introduction that sharply transitions into synths, then erupts into screams, Motionless in White launched their set with title-track “Disguise”. MIW is influenced by a wide range of genres: hard rock, heavy metal, industrial, gothic rock, punk, nu metal, electronica, and more. Their amalgam of influences shows, making them an absolute delight to the ears, topped off with an eye candy aesthetic. 

Justin Morrow (Bass), Motionless in White
| Photographer:
Andrew Marshall © All Rights Reserved
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Fans sang along to every word, while the heavy beats reverberated through their chests. “Voices” had a particularly notable, enthusiastic sing-a-long, after which Cerulli high-fived a crowd-surfer. Guitarist Ricky “Horror” Olson never let up on headbanging throughout the entire set, and bassist Justin Morrow posed for and wildly interacted with the crowd. The night closed perfectly as “Eternally Yours”, from 2017’s Graveyard Shift, decrescendos to light strumming and soft fading vocals.

Motionless in White
| Photographer:
Andrew Marshall © All Rights Reserved
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The lineup of the “Diseased & Disguised” tour is well-paired and guaranteed to please. We highly recommend coming out to let loose and lose yourself in heavy music. Tonight (January 15) will be the last of Nothing Left’s scheduled tour dates at this time. The tour continues throughout North America until January 30, and then MIW, Beartooth, and STYG will proceed to tour Europe separately.

Setlists:*

Motionless in White | Beartooth
| Stick to Your Guns

Tour Dates:

Motionless in White | Beartooth
| Stick to Your Guns | Nothing Left

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Photography: Andrew Marshall

View Separately:
Motionless in White | Beartooth
| Stick to Your Guns | Nothing Left

Diseased & Disguised Tour – Marquee Theatre 1-11-20

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Co-Authors: Nate Wert, Katherine Amy Vega, Andrew Marshall

Photography © Andrew Marshall
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* Linked setlists are compiled by fans on Setlist.fm and not guaranteed for accuracy.

REVIEW: Styx Continues Their Mission To Rock The World at Celebrity Theatre (1-10-20)

PHOENIX— This day had a solemn beginning as the news announced that the legendary drummer for Rush, Neil Peart, had passed away. Styx keyboardist Lawrence Gowan took the opportunity to pay tribute to his fellow Canadian musician by singing and playing a beautiful acoustic piano cover of “Limelight”. The lyrics pulled at the heartstrings and the chords and melody were hauntingly mesmerizing. As the song faded and commiserating fans’ cheers resounded, Gowan declared, “Thank you for one of the greatest drummers and certainly one of the all-time greatest lyricists, Neil Peart.” This was a highlight of the evening and made this particular show very special. 

Drummer Todd Sucherman provided a link to a fan’s video on Facebook and wrote:

The show kicked off on a high note as the song “Gone, Gone, Gone” electrified the theater-in-the-round. This song also opens the latest Styx studio album, The Mission, which was released two and a half years ago and put Styx back on the radio as it rose to 45 on the Billboard 200. There was no opening act, so Styx had time to unleash all of the “classics” and still sprinkle in a few more songs from The Mission: “Radio Silence”, “Red Storm”, “The Outpost”, and the classically influenced “Khedive” piano piece. Veteran guitarist James “JY” Young hinted at the fact that there may be new Styx music coming our way in 2020. The die-hard Styx fans were thrilled to hear this, but everyone went wild when they launched into the evening of hits, beginning with that classic Hammond organ intro to “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights).”

Styx
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Most bands have a “lead” singer, but at a Styx show, the lead vocals (and bantering duties) are shared between the three frontmen in the band: guitarist Young (original member since the inception of the band in 1972), guitarist Tommy Shaw (who replaced John “J.C.” Curulewski in 1975), and keyboardist Gowan (who replaced Dennis DeYoung in 1999). Replacing DeYoung meant filling some big shoes, since his iconic voice and hit songwriting abilities were equally as important as his talent on the keys. But for the past twenty years, Gowan has held his own with studio albums and touring worldwide. Gowan’s keyboard and vocal skills were put to the test with the next pair of songs penned by DeYoung: “The Grand Illusion” and “Lady.” The keyboards were spot-on. The vocals were noticeably different from DeYoung’s, but very strong, confident, and blended wonderfully with signature Styx harmonies.

Lawrence Gowan (Vocals, Keyboard), Styx
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

The original rhythm section of Styx was comprised of twin brothers Chuck and John Panozzo on bass and drums respectively. Tonight, Chuck would make several guest appearances, but it was Ricky Phillips on the Imola 5-string bass for most of the evening. Phillips was was best known as the bassist for The Babys and later a founding member of Bad English, but then joined the band in 2003. Chuck is still a current member of Styx, but he has limited his playing time due health issues related to HIV. Sucherman has held the drum throne since 1995, taking over for John Panozzo, who was battling cirrhosis of the liver and subsequently passed away in 1996. Gowan introduced Sucherman and mentioned that his mother was in the audience that night, and also dropped a bit of trivia that last year, Modern Drummer Magazine listed him as the number one Classic Rock Drummer in the World.

Todd Sucherman (Drums), Styx
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Danny Zelisko had Styx here at the Celebrity Theatre exactly one year ago for a two-night stand and welcomed them back tonight and tomorrow night to do it again. Last year, both nights appeared to be sold out; tonight, there were only a handful of seats that seemed to be open. It is such an intimate venue for seeing a band, and the sound is always crisp and clear. The rotating stage allows more people to feel closer to the front of the stage. The novelty wears off at times when the stage is facing away during a favorite song, but Styx did a pretty good job of running around the stage when they weren’t stationed to a microphone. One notable exception was on the song “Red Storm”, when the stage stopped rotating for the whole song, presumably because Phillips was perched up high on a riser behind the drum set (author’s note – of course, they were facing the other direction from me for this whole song).

As the stage got its groove back, JY stepped up to the mic to introduce the next song. He reminisced about the old days of lighting lighters for certain songs, but conceded that there were dangers. “We can approximate that with the cell phone camera light…” he said, “…Let’s approximate the way those stars might look and LIGHT IT UP EVERYBODY!” It was exhilarating to be immersed in a sea of LED lights throughout the entire theater as the band broke into “Light Up,” one of only two songs played from the Equinox album from 1975 (the other one was “Suite Madame Blue” to top off the first set).

James “JY” Young (Guitar, Vocals, Keys), Styx
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Chuck Panozzo made his first appearance on stage during “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man).” He had played the powerful yet simple quarter notes on this Tommy Shaw anthem from The Grand Illusion Album released on 7-7-77. The crowd gave a very warm welcome as Shaw introduced him as “Our original bass player, Mr. Charles Panozzo,” and he stepped into the stage lights looking dapper in a navy blue sports jacket and wielding a black Rickenbacker bass. Instead of leaving the stage, Phillips picked up a double-necked guitar with a 12-string and a 6-string neck and joined in on the massive sound.

Ricky Phillips (Bass, Guitar, Vocals), Styx
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

There was a brief 20-minute break before the second set. There was a fundraiser with a giveaway guitar benefiting Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock Foundation that was introduced by Tim and NeanderPaul from KSLX radio station.

The second set contained some of the usual suspects from the vault of hit songs, including “Come Sail Away,” “Too Much Time On My Hands,” “Miss America,” and the definitive power ballad “Crystal Ball.” There were also brief reminders to pick up the newest album, which featured “The Outpost” and “Khedive,” but the song that was a pleasant surprise for the evening was the title track from Pieces of Eight. This song is a fan favorite, but was overshadowed by “Renegade” and “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)” from that album and was not released as a single. Noticeably absent from the setlist was anything from the Cornerstone album, including their only number one single, “Babe” nor anything from Edge of the Century (“Love is the Ritual” nor “Show Me The Way”, which charted at number three).

Tommy Shaw (Guitar, Vocals), Styx
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

The song “Mr. Roboto” had been absent from the setlist for many years although it also charted at number 3. This wasn’t surprising since it may be the defining song that put a rift in the band dynamic. More importantly, it polarized fans into either the rocker camp that thought of Styx in terms of “Renegade” and “Miss America,” or the pop music camp that thought of Styx in terms of “Babe” and “Best of Times.” Fortunately, there is a lot of crossover (or at least no hostilities that lead to disowning the band). What caused more controversy was when the song returned to the setlist a little over a year ago, even though DeYoung wasn’t there to petition for it. The live version is a little amped up, and the good news is that it was well received by fans, finding its way into the coveted encore position.

However, there was still one song left that even “Mr. Roboto” couldn’t upstage and that was the aforementioned “Renegade.” This is the song that starts with soft and haunting vocal by Shaw: “Oh mama, I’m in fear for my life from the long arm of the law.” At this point, everyone’s hand raised to their chest as they mimicked the heart beats that still echo to this day from John Panozzo’s kick drum. There was even a wash of red light over the massive drum set that kept time with these beats. Another line. More heartbeats. Silky three-part harmony for the next line. More heart beats as more of the crowd joined in. More harmonies. One beastial scream and the crowd was in the proverbial palm of their hands as the hardest rocking song of the Styx catalog closed the show.

Styx was flawless. The talent in the band is simply overwhelming. It is so hard for a band that is branded a “classic” rock band to be relevant in a world where “classic rock” stations won’t play anything new from their “classic rock” artist roster. Meanwhile, new rock stations tend to ignore new music from bands that are considered classics. Yet Styx has maintained a growing fan base by continuing to be road warriors and taking the music to every corner of the planet, continuing to write and record music that is true to their roots and diverse style. 

Check out The Mission to form your own opinion if you haven’t heard it yet. Here’s to great new music from them in 2020, and hopefully yet another return trip to the Valley of the Sun to see them again.

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Photographer: Mark Greenawalt

Styx – Celebrity Theatre 1-10-20

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    Setlist

    Set 1

  • Gone, Gone, Gone
  • Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
  • The Grand Illusion
  • Lady
  • Radio Silence
  • Snowblind
  • Red Storm
  • Light Up
  • Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
  • Rockin’ the Paradise
  • Suite Madame Blue
  • Set 2

  • Miss America
  • Crystal Ball
  • Pieces of Eight
  • The Outpost
  • Too Much Time On My Hands
  • Khedive
  • Limelight (Piano/Vocal Tribute To Neil Peart)
  • Come Sail Away
  • Encore:

  • Mr. Roboto
  • Renegade



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Photography © Mark Greenawalt
All Rights Reserved

REVIEW: I’m Not Okay — An Emo & Pop Punk Dance Party at High Dive (12-28-19)

SEATTLE — High Dive was host to an Emo and Pop Punk dance party called “I’m Not Okay” amidst the Emo revival that is sweeping the globe. Being named after their hit single, there is no doubt that some attendees came out to ease the pain of missing out on My Chemical Romance’s December 20th reunion concert in Los Angeles.

The animated DJ Baby Van Beezly led the night, appearing at home amongst the community — many whom were teenagers when the music spinning was new and permanently impacting them. Heard throughout the night were artists such as My Chemical Romance, Yellowcard, Blink-182, The Offspring, Panic! At the Disco, Paramore, Taking Back Sunday, Good Charlotte, The Used, Green Day, and more.

A sole band performed — MySpace Romance, who some may have assumed was strictly a My Chemical Romance cover band. Rather, they additionally covered the likes of Arizona’s very own The Format and Jimmy Eat World, along with Coheed and Cambria, The Starting Line, Fall Out Boy, Dashboard Confessional, and more. (Find the setlist in the photo gallery below.) The band had good energy and put on a delightful set for those that longed to experience these songs in live performance again.

Emo nights occur frequently nowadays, and there is certainly no shortage of them in Burning Hot Events’ home — Phoenix. The venues The Rebel Lounge, The Van Buren, and Pub Rock are some that have been host to emo nights, so keep an eye on their upcoming events. As for Seattle: “The Emo Night Tour” took place at El Corazon the same night as “I’m Not Okay”, but there is another opportunity to experience this event on February 22nd! Wherever you may be located, if you are a fan of the genre, do find an emo night nearby and experience catharsis, nostalgia, community, and the passionate energy that comes with this type of music.

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Photography: Katherine Amy Vega

I’m Not Okay – Emo & Pop Punk Dance Party – High Dive 12-28-19

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Photography © Kataklizmic Design
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YEAR-END LIST: The Top Ten Albums of 2019, According to Ryan Novak

For 13 years, I worked at a record store. Not only was it the most fun I have ever had at a job, but it also supplied me with a constant flow of new music. Few things could beat the moment when an album would come in from a new artist, and we’d play it in the store. While there were a great many forgettable albums given a chance during those closing shifts, every now and then you hit a glorious moment of paydirt: an incredible album from an emerging artist.

Now, approaching three years removed from my last shift behind the counter and ten years into being a school teacher who is increasingly feeling the generational divide between me and my students (try as I might, I just don’t get their music), it’s harder for me to find new music. Going into 2019, I challenged myself to check out new artists and add some new blood to the usual list of bands that I have loved since college.

1. Purple Mountains:

Purple Mountains

Both a triumphant comeback and tragic swan song, the self-titled debut from David Berman’s post-Silver Jews band Purple Mountains showed that his ten-year hiatus hadn’t caused him to lose a step. As a songwriter, Berman’s greatest gift were always his lyrics. It was nearly impossible to listen to any of his albums, whether the original six Silver Jews albums or the lone Purple Mountains album, and not find a lyric that could cut to the emotional core of the listener. On the eponymously-titled album, Berman reflects on the changes in his life over those ten years, including the separation from his wife and the heartbreak he feels over it. Though several songs deal with his sadness over the separation, the album’s true emotional heartbreaker is “I Loved Being My Mother’s Son,” about the passing of Berman’s mother, with whom he was very close. Though Berman’s own untimely death shortly after the album’s release may hang over it, the work stands on its own as one of the finest of his career. 

Spotify

Standout Tracks: “All My Happiness Is Gone,” “Darkness And Cold,” and “I Loved Being My Mother’s Son”




2. Jenny Lewis:

On the Line

On her fourth solo album, Jenny Lewis has settled into her role as a modern-day torch singer, with songs that would sit perfectly alongside the best work of Carole King, Carly Simon, and Joni Mitchell. A known perfectionist, five years separated On the Line and her previous solo record — 2014’s The Voyager — but the wait was well worth it. 

There is a smokiness and soulfulness to the songs, like wandering into an after-hours bar and hearing someone playing the piano and singing their heart for only themselves to hear. Lewis is at her best when she embraces her troubadour tendencies and eschews the temptation to embrace some of her pop sensibilities. 

The protagonists on her songs are hopeless romantics and daydreamers, and Lewis is the perfect storyteller. Whether it’s her reminiscing about a romance that never quite was on “Heads Gonna Roll” or the poppy dissection of a squandered childhood on “Wasted Youth,” with it’s doo doo doo doo doo doo mid-chorus refrain, she takes the listener on the journey with her, until the truth buried in the emotion is finally reached.  

Spotify

Standout Tracks: “Heads Gonna Roll,” “Wasted Youth,” and “Rabbit Hole” 




3. Dave Hause:

Kick

Since going solo from The Loved Ones, Dave Hause has established himself as punk rock’s all-American singer-songwriter. His music is equal parts early Bruce Springsteen or Tom Petty records mixed with The Replacements. The results of that, though, are uniquely his own. Though his first three albums (2011’s Resolutions, 2013’s Devour, and 2017’s Bury Me in Philly) are all incredible albums in their own right, Kick makes the case for being his most mature album to date. 

Since Bury Me in Philly, Hause has gone through some big life changes, which has led to his growth as a songwriter (he found love, moved west, and became a father to twin boys) and resulted in songs of aching beauty of a life recovered from a period of wandering in the dark. On “Fireflies,” the song’s protagonist thinks back on the beginning of the love of his life and those early days of the relationship when everything was new and exciting, but it’s sung with the tone of someone who remembers those days fondly because they led into the deeper love that’s formed over time, as both partners survive life’s challenges together. Dave Hause has always been in incredible songwriter, but on Kick, he’s finally grown up.

Spotify

Standout Tracks: “Saboteurs,” “The Ditch,” and “Fireflies” 


4. Laura Stevenson:

The Big Freeze

My introduction to New York singer-songwriter Laura Stevenson came via her duet with Matt Pond “The Ballad of Laura and Mike” from the final Matt Pond PA album, 2017’s Still Summer. Though all of her albums impress upon the listener that she is a talent worthy of wider attention, The Big Freeze, released in March, represents a huge step forward sonically. 

Recorded without a proper studio in her childhood home in Long Island, Stevenson’s vocals and guitar are at the forefront, as her lyrics seem to allow her to dissect the pain of her past. To that degree, the album serves as a therapeutic song-cycle, as she processes so much of her life’s experiences as a form of reckoning with where they’ve led her as an adult. “Living Room, NY,” is an ode to someone who is exhausted from travel and being everywhere but a home and longs for nothing more than a simple life. Stevenson has found that from all of life’s struggles, peace is found in the sanctuary of love and a quiet life. 

Spotify

Standout Tracks: “Lay Back, Arms Out,” “Living Room, NY,” and “Dermatillomania” 


5. The Mountain Goats:


In League with Dragons

John Darnielle, the primary songwriter and sole original member of the band, has a way of writing songs that are built around a specific concept (the band’s 2015 album Beat the Champ featured songs about professional wrestling) and yet they are written in a way that the audience can still emotionally connect to the song’s protagonists and their respective struggles. 

On In League with Dragons, inspired by Dungeons and Dragons (and other role-playing games), the band uses the concept of the old wizard to stretch beyond the initial images of Gandalf the Grey to reach anyone who once was magical but has since lost their touch. While four of the songs on the album do connect to the album’s cover art, which looks like it could have been lifted from a dungeon-master’s guide, Darnielle’s wizards range from baseball players (“Doc Gooden,” about the legendary New York Mets’ pitcher, as he remembers his glory days) to mythical rock stars (“Passaic 1975,” sung from the perspective of Ozzy Osborne). 

Musically, as with each subsequent album, Darnielle moves the band farther and farther away from the early albums that leaned heavily on acoustic guitar to produce some of the most lush arrangements on any Mountain Goats album. The message of course is that even the greats lose their touch and fade away and therein lies the heartbreak. 

Spotify

Standout Tracks: “Younger,” Passaic 1975,” and “Doc Gooden”


6. Alex Lahey:

The Best of Luck Club

In the last few years, there seems to be a wave of female singer-songwriters and female-fronted bands that are generating all the excitement. At the forefront of that movement is Australian-born singer-songwriter Alex Lahey. For as incredible as her 2016 EP B-Grade University and 2017 full-length debut I Love You Like a Brother were, she raised the bar for herself with The Best of Luck Club, which proved to be a huge step forward from the already immensely talented Lahey. 

The piano-driven “Unspoken History” features a protagonist making a last-ditch broken-hearted plea for a love to stay; one that is made knowing the person has plans that have nothing to do with them. On an album that almost feels like a thematic song cycle about figuring out your life in your mid-twenties, “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself” stands out as the anthem we all could have used at that time in our lives. The song is also notable for including saxophones, as Lahey starts creatively spreading her wings on the track. With a stellar sophomore album now under her belt, Lahey continues to solidify her position as the songwriter of the moment, as she lives her life out loud. 

Spotify

Standout Tracks: “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself,” “Let’s Go Out,” and “Unspoken History” 




7. New Pornographers:

In the Morse Code of Break Lights

With what may have originally seemed like a one-off side project from its participants with their 2001 debut Mass Romantic, The New Pornographers, a sort of indie rock answer to the Traveling Wilburys, have carried on now for 18 years; producing 8 albums in that span. 

With In the Morse Code of Break Lights, the Candian supergroup continues with their particular brand of power-pop, but with a noticeably darker turn. With Carl Newman now the primary songwriter on all the tracks, the group has embraced what Newman has always done so well, both with the group and on his solo albums: present the sorrow of life through the poppiest of filters. 

On “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile,” Newman laments, “Too many soapboxes, not enough violins/Too many shipwrecks, not enough sirens”, and you can feel his disappointment in the turn the world is taking where everyone has an opinion but not the motivation for action. Regardless of the darker tone, The New Pornographers are still anchored by Newman’s songwriting and vocalist Neko Case, a once-in-a-generation singer who could sing my spam emails to me with such power and conviction that by the end I’d be compelled to give up my checking account and social security number. That’s a one-two punch few groups can boast. 

Spotify

Standout Tracks: “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile,” “The Surprise Knock,” and “You’ll Need a New Backseat Driver”




8. Wilco:

Ode to Joy

A band nearing their 25th anniversary, who have released 10 albums in that time, could be forgiven for settling into a place of serving their fan’s expectations to stick to the same old same old. Wilco, on the contrary, has made a career out of defying expectations, avoiding easy categorization, and following their own muse with each album. 

On Ode to Joy, the band is still experimenting and not afraid to take changes, but more than ever, they embrace the quieter moments of life. Perhaps it was from writing his memoir Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) last year, but frontman and principal songwriter Jeff Tweedy seems to be reflecting on his life and enjoying the beauty of it as he grows older. While the lyrics find beauty and reflection on a life lived through pain and struggle, the band, unchanged since 2007’s Sky Blue Sky, has never sounded tighter. Each member is confident and talented enough to know when to let loose on a track and when to reel it in, and they all shine on the album.  

They are capable of letting a song build to a gorgeous crescendo before collapsing onto itself, like the music is imploding, such as on “Quiet Amplifier” and “We Were Lucky.” As the band heads into their 25th anniversary in 2020, they have managed to go from the rowdiness of youth on their debut A.M., to appreciating the quieter moments, even when they are found amongst the chaos of life. 

Spotify

Standout Tracks: “Before Us,” “Everyone Hides,” and “Love is Everywhere (Beware)” 


9. Control Top:

Covert Contracts

I grew up a punk-loving kid, but at a certain point, there was a paradigm shift in punk music and suddenly punk meant something different and became about being funny or cutesy. Punk became more about a style aesthetic than it became about an attitude. That’s what makes Control Top and their debut Cover Contracts so special: it’s a callback to an era of punk long gone but dearly missed. To put it in terms easily digestible, Covert Contracts feels like the best vocal moments of Corin Tucker on early Sleater-Kinney or Kathleen Hanna at the peak of Bikini Kill fronting a Damaged-era Black Flag. Like the best of punk’s bygone era, Control Top has targets for each of its songs. 

On “Office Rage,” the frustrations of the working class expressed through the growing frustration of anyone making it paycheck to paycheck, and the title track locks in on the anger that comes with having too much information in a world where no one wants to do anything with it or about it. On “Betrayal,” they show that no one is exempt from scrutiny and that both sides shoulder some of the blame. Punk may have long ago turned pop, but Control Top’s debut reminds us that we have a lot left to still be pissed off about. 

Spotify

Standout Tracks: “Chain Reaction,” “Type A,” and “Office Rage”




10. Spiral Stairs:

We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized

As the term indie rock continues to evolve and change with each passing year, the heyday of the term seems lost to the history books or at least record guides. One of the era’s last true vanguards, however, has been Pavement founding member Spiral Stairs. After the band broke up in ‘99, Spiral formed a new group (Preston School of Industry) and released two great albums (All This Sounds Gas and Monsoon), but when that chapter came to a close, he finally stepped out on his own and began releasing solo albums that produced his strongest songs to date: The Real Feel and Doris & The Daggers

Like all of his output since the early days of Pavement, Spiral wears his influences proudly, ranging from Echo & The Bunnymen to The Fall to Swell Maps, and his latest effort is no different, save for that it couples those with his position now as an indie rock elder statesmen in our current political landscape on tracks like “Swampland” and “Fingerprintz.” He’s at his best, though, with the psychedelic “Hyp-No-Tized,” the jaunty “The Fool,” and the reflective “Diario.” Therein lies the strength of the album: the songs speak to a time in music long past as a place of comfort in an increasingly polarizing political and social world. 

Spotify

Standout Tracks: “Hyp-No-Tized,” “The Fool,” and “Diario”

REVIEW: Authority Zero Celebrates 25 Years with Friends at the Marquee (12-28-19)

Tempe, AZ — Authority Zero has reached a milestone that all bands aspire to: a quarter of a century of putting out incredibly great music — in their case, punk rock. To celebrate 25 years, they threw a bit of a party, inviting their fans as well as four local bands to join them in celebration. Madd Dog Tannen, Skull Drug, Black Mountain Moonshine, and ZeeCeeKeely all preceded Authority Zero, playing to a rowdy and energetic crowd.

To the uninitiated — those who have never had the joy of attending a punk, ska, or reggae show — it would be easy to be a bit puzzled as to how all three are related. The first wave of ska formed in the 1950s, and reggae evolved from ska in the 1960s. Punk’s roots are also in the 60s, stemming from the garage band scene, and was focused mainly in England and New York, while ska and reggae got started in Jamaica. Ska punk, closely associated with third wave ska, blossomed in the 80s and 90s. The punk scene from the start was anti-establishment, and that carries into today. There is a sizable underground punk scene in Arizona, with smaller venues such as Yucca Tap Room, Pub Rock, Chopper John’s, Last Exit Live, Rebel Lounge, The Underground and others playing host to some loud and fun concerts on a weekly basis.

This underground scene does not get the recognition it deserves; there are many massively talented local bands and artists that play every week, but they rarely rise to the level of national stardom that some ought to. This show was a duality of a celebration of a band that rose to fame, and the introduction and showcase of local bands that are hidden gems.

There was a buzz around Marquee Theatre as the crowd started to trickle in with eager anticipation of the night ahead and the experience of Authority Zero. This is a band who has worked hard to get where they are and appreciate the fans and those that come behind them.

ZeeCeeKeely

The first band was a reggae band from Tucson: ZeeCeeKeely. They were the perfect choice to start the night off. Their music is excellent, albeit a bit calm compared to what the rest of the night had in store. But they are still a loud, energetic, and fun reggae band to watch.

ZeeCeeKelly
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

The short 7-song set included a very nice surprise: a reggae version of “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd. With great vocals from Zachery Keely and a group of talented musicians that will soon include horns, this band is one you should catch if you enjoy reggae. They will perform on February 23rd, 2020 at Rawhide during the Arizona Roots festival.

ZeeCeeKeely Online:

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Spotify

Black Mountain Moonshine

After a quick stage change, the second band, Black Mountain Moonshine, took the stage. Shortly after they started, a staple of a punk show formed: a mosh pit — a unique and nearly sacred place where total strangers can run into each other and pummel one another, and at the end of the night, hug each other and leave exhausted and elated.

Ethan Minney (Vocalist, Mandolinist), Black Mountain Moonshine
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The lead singer Ethan Minney plays an electric mandolin, a piece that is not often seen in a punk band, and plays it very well. Their sound is also unique: at points it sounded like they were about to launch into a country song, while at others, you would swear that Flogging Molly was on the stage. Currently, they have no shows showing as scheduled, so following them on social media is a must to find when and where you can catch this unique, talented band.

Blue Mountain Moonshine Online:

Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Bandcamp

Skull Drug

Skull Drug was up next, and it immediately became apparent that we were in for an incredible set. When asked before the show how to identify lead singer Evan Williams, the band manager described him as looking like he had murdered a muppet. This was accurate, as Williams had bright red hair, a green shirt and blue plaid pants.

The set unfortunately did not start smoothly, but this did not keep them down. While working through technical issues with Williams’ guitar, the guitarists Justin Waldrop and Roger St. John kept the crowd entertained and bantered with them until everything was worked out, including asking the crowd, “Are you ready to party?” Party they did, launching into the loudest and most entertaining set of all the openers. 

Evan Williams (Vocalist, Guitarist), Skull Drug
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Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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All three are amazingly talented guitar players, backed by an incredible drummer in Wyatt Clark. They also have a stage presence and can get the crowd involved to work them into a frenzy. The set felt extremely short, even though it was over 30 minutes long. The style is loud, in- your-face, and impossible to not want to move to it in some way – either by bobbing your head, by running into your neighbor in the mosh pit, or by dancing. All three of those scenarios played out that night. Williams and Waldrop danced around the stage nonstop during this set, and kept the party going after their set ended. Waldrop was spotted crowd surfing during the Authority Zero set while Williams was in the crowd next to the mosh pit. 

Together since 2010, it would not be a stretch of the imagination to see Skull Drug headlining their own tour at some point in the very near future. Their set, from their stage presence to the music, was every bit as memorable as Williams’ hair. You can catch them on January 4th at Yucca Tap Room. They also have an album coming out sometime next year called Your Government and God Won’t Save You.

Skull Drug Online:

Facebook | Twitter | YouTube |
Bandcamp | Spotify

Madd Dog Tannen

Madd Dog Tannen took the stage next as the final opener. For those who think that the name sounds familiar, it should if you are a Back to the Future fan. All members were a bit of a contrast to the previous bands: well-dressed, looking more like they were about to close a business deal with you than melt your face off with some amazing punk music. As they did a quick sound check before their set, Brian Willey (lead singer) comically tried to lead the crowd in a rendition of “Deck the Halls”. 

Brian Willey (Vocalist), Madd Dog Tannen
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Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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Willey and his band quickly jumped into a fantastic set, at times bringing out a younger guitar player as their fifth band member. They are veterans of the music scene, playing since 2006, and have opened for Authority Zero in the past. Willey is an imposing figure on the stage as he puts everything he has into the performance. He is entertaining to watch and produces great power with his voice. While mainly a punk band, there was some ska mixed into the music. As they wrapped up their set, they played a cover of “When I Come Around” by Green Day. They, too, are a band that should be followed on social media to hear about their next dates. You won’t regret tracking them down to see their shows.

As Madd Dog Tannen left the stage, the anticipation built for Authority Zero. The chant “We want Zero!” started right before the band took the stage, growing in volume until they got what they wanted. 

Madd Dog Tannen Online:

Facebook | ReverbNation | Spotify

Authority Zero

To the delight of the band, the crowd exploded as they walked onto the stage. Lead singer Jason DeVore greeted the crowd with a grin and launched into “A Passage in Time,” from their first album. The opening bands had slowly cranked the intensity up to 10, then Authority Zero quickly cranked it up to 12 and never slowed down. DeVore seems to be utterly indefatigable, a force to be reckoned with after nearly a quarter of a century as the lead singer of Authority Zero. He delivers each line with fury and passion, and yet looks out at the crowd awestruck that he’s lucky enough to keep doing this.

Jason DeVore (Vocalist), Authority Zero
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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While DeVore is keeping the crowd pumped up with his incredible delivery, drummer Chris Dalley is tasked with keeping the beats going in the unimaginatively fast songs that are the staple of Authority Zero’s catalog. He seems to do this effortlessly. Rounding out the band are guitarist Dan Aid and bassist Mike Spero, both of whom are incredibly talented and fun to watch. 

Dan Aid (Guitarist), Authority Zero
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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As the set progressed, the mosh pit showed no signs of slowing down and the crowd surfing started. DeVore repeatedly reached out to the crowd surfers to help them as they were being set down, giving a couple of high fives, pointing to crowd members and acknowledging them throughout the night. He announced that they were going to use that night as a New Years Eve party, which hyped up the rambunctious fans. DeVore has apparent and enormous appreciation for the fans and the bands who opened for them. 

Jason DeVore (Vocalist), Authority Zero
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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It would be fair to say that this was not just an early New Years Eve party, not just a celebration of the 25 years of making music, influencing and inspiring the Arizona and national music scene — it was something more. It felt like a love letter to the fans, the people who have faithfully shown up even when the venues were tiny, when the sound wasn’t great, when the band was struggling. DeVore held the mic out to the crowd, asking them to sing lines in the song, gesturing for them to be a bit louder, and all in all, making sure that every single person walked away from that show happy. He also repeated “Thank you Arizona!” more than once, obviously meaning it from his heart every time.

Mike Spero (Bassist), Authority Zero
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Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

As the night drew to a close and after returning to the stage for the encore, DeVore called out onto stage a young fan, one who is known for his incredible music talents. His name is Recker Eans, a name that I believe we will hear many more times over the years, and he played the drums for the song “Mesa Town”. It was a great way to end the night, almost the passing of the torch to the next generation, though I believe we will have many more great years to look forward to with Authority Zero.

The night was one for the ages. It is also a night that happens weekly around the valley, albeit on a much smaller scale than what was at the Marquee on Saturday. The punk scene is alive and thriving, and there are many, many great bands out there who deserve to have you stop by and listen to their music, to watch their shows. There are hidden gems playing in small venues, bands that love their craft and love their arts. The appreciation that these bands all have for each other is clear, and the love for Arizona and the punk scene that Authority Zero has was on full display on a magical night — a celebration of the upcoming new year, and the birthday celebration of an influential and great band.

Authority Zero Online:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Photo Gallery

Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo

View Separately:
Authority Zero | Madd Dog Tannen | Skull Drug
Black Mountain Moonshine | ZeeCeeKeely

Authority Zero 25th Anniversary – Marquee Theatre 12-28-19

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