Category Archives: Concerts

REVIEW: Underoath’s Powerhouse Performance Still Astounds Longtime Fans in Phoenix 4-7-17

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PHOENIX — As I finished my coffee outside Comerica Theater, I watched the ever expanding line of eager concert goers and couldn’t help but marvel at how much the demographic for Underoath and Bring Me The Horizon had changed over the years. Bands who once suffered mile after mile in cramped vans to play to maybe 200 people on a good night were now riding in full size tour buses and playing 5,000 capacity venues decked out in state of the art stage production. Rooms full of angsty scene kids were now joined by radio ticket winners and suburban families all venturing into downtown Phoenix for a Friday night of metalcore’s biggest contemporary acts.

As I made my way down to the venue floor, Beartooth was two or three songs into their opening set and were doing an admirable job of getting the crowd moving and engaged while many were still trickling down to their seats or waiting in the (literally) two story tall merch line. Despite having played multiple sold-out shows at The Nile, sets at KUPD’s Ufest, and enjoying regular radio airplay, the crowd was largely silent when asked “Who here has seen Beartooth before!?”. However, by the time their explosive set wound down to a close, there was no doubt that Beartooth had won over the majority of the crowd and left the stage to raucous applause and an exodus of new fans headed to their march table.

Now, before I get into the Underoath portion of the evening, I must admit that this band has always held a special place in my heart. My first show in 2001 featured Atreyu, Underoath (then touring behind the album The Changing Of The Times), XDeathstarX, God Forbid, and Scars of Tomorrow at the Mason Jar long before it became it became The Rebel Lounge. Throughout high school the memories piled on as I went to virtually every Underoath tour that passed through Arizona with all of my friends who obsessed over every line of They’re Only Chasing Safety and Define The Great Line. My inner 16-year-old was just as astounded when the band opened up with “Everyone Looks So Good From Here” and “In Regards To Myself”, directly into “It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door”, as when I first heard them blasting through the headphones of my yellow cd player back in 2004 and 2006 respectively.

Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Aaron Gillespie (Drummer, Clean Vocalist), Underoath
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design

The rest of the setlist was dominated largely by songs off these two albums, which makes sense given their recent reunion tour featuring both albums performed in full, but featured select songs from Disambiguation and Lost In The Sound Of Separation to add a bit of variety to the setlist for the diehard fans. Spencer Chamberlain and Aaron Gillespie sounded even more in sync than on the reunion tour and proved themselves to be absolute powerhouse vocalists who have more than earned their legendary status as truly influential members of the metalcore scene who have made a lasting impact on everyone from The Devil Wears Prada to headliners Bring Me The Horizon.

Underoath - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Grant Brandell (Bassist), Underoath
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design

Disclaimer: The author (yours truly) watched the entirety of Bring Me The Horizon’s set and was absolutely astounded by how tight they sounded as well as the sheer magnitude of their lighting production. However, due to loss of material and a minor concussion from a recent vehicle accident I was unable to recover my review of their set. Look forward to it in a future Party Dispatch and thank you for the patience.

PHOTO ALBUM
by Katherine Amy Vega

Underoath – Comerica Theatre 4-7-17

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REVIEW: The Paper Kites Get Intimate with Club Congress 4-3-17

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Tucson, Ariz. — The Paper Kites rolled into town from San Diego to perform at the intimate Club Congress inside of the historic Hotel Congress. The 7 year old band of an indie folk-rock genre hails from Melbourne, Australia. The band supported headliner Passenger for this North American tour, however Tucson received the special treat of a show headlined by The Paper Kites.

Opening the night was local songwriter Jess Matsen, who chilled his way through his mellow acoustic set while some in the crowd chattered directly in front of him. In between songs, Matsen spoke to the crowd, stating that he hadn’t anticipated such a large turnout. Despite the noise, there were some attendees that clearly appreciated his performance, and shouted up front to ask for his name. Matsen released The Killing of Our Kind Of in November of last year, and has also performed with local groups Dream Sick & J.R.M.

Jess Matsen - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Jess Matsen
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design

The Paper Kites directly followed Matsen with a sound that one fan was overheard describing as “ethereal”, and they brought passersby into the venue with their notable sound. The band’s harmonies are entrancing, particularly their signature duets between lead vocalist Sam Bentley and keyboardist/guitarist Christina Lacy.

The Paper Kites - Club Congress
Christina Lacy (Keyboardist, Guitarist, Vocalist), The Paper Kites
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design

In between songs, Bentley took the opportunity to chat with the crowd, commenting that the intimate venue was like playing a house show… except not, because it’s much fancier. He also joked about wishing he could take one of the cacti home, that he saw during the drive to Tucson from California. After he broke out his harmonica, he mused that everyone always gets excited about the instrument.

The Paper Kites - Club Congress
Sam Bentley (Vocalist), The Paper Kites
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design

The venue afforded him the opportunity to interact with the crowd in a way not possible on the other dates of the tour in which they performed grand theaters such as The Wiltern in Los Angeles and Fox Theater in Oakland, CA.

The Paper Kites - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
The Paper Kites
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design

With the lighting that Club Congress offers, it was pleasant to be able to observe every band member clearly. The least visible being bassist/synthist Sam Rasmussen, who was tucked in the back right corner behind the other musicians and instruments.

The Paper Kites - Club Congress
Sam Rasmussen (Bassist, Synths), The Paper Kites
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design

With impressive mastery of their musicianship and sound, there was nary a difference in sound between hearing The Paper Kites live and listening to one of their albums.

The Paper Kites “Too Late” live in Tucson

Amidst their set, following the song “Too Late”, came the most intimate segment of all. Bentley asked that the lights be turned off, and the room was then lit only by the faint glow of the exit signs. The next two songs were a unique and meditative period of visual deprivation. The first song in the darkness was “A Silent Cause”, which was fitting considering how silent the crowd felt obligated to become with the lights out.

The Paper Kites - Club Congress
David Powys (Guitarist, Vocalist), The Paper Kites
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design

The second song in the darkness was “Bloom”, which instead had the audience united in a beautiful chorus.  Usually while the unison sing-a-longs at concerts are touching, tone-deaf vocals shout-sang by fans are commonplace. (It doesn’t matter, because it’s about the experience and showing love to the artists.) But The Paper Kites’ fans in Tucson have surprisingly good singing voices, as they fell into a delightful harmony.

The Paper Kites - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Josh Bentley (Drummer, The Paper Kites
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design

Before the encore, the band played “Electric Indigo”, followed by “Featherstone” to close the show. Afterward, the band was so kind as to meet fans, autograph merch, and take group photos outside. It was not just a small concert, but truly an experience to be in attendance at The Paper Kites’ gig in Tucson, with such a personal connection both during and after their performance. No doubt fans were grateful for the rare opportunity before the band heads back to Australia.

PHOTO ALBUM
by Katherine Amy Vega

The Paper Kites & Jess Matsen – Club Congress 4-3-17

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REVIEW: Sleigh Bells SLAY at Crescent Ballroom 3-27-17

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PHOENIX — If I were to describe Sleigh Bells’ unique brand of feedback-laden experimental electro-pop, I’d probably tell someone to imagine the sound that the nighttime cinematography of the film Drive would make if given human form. While admittedly a bit obtuse, I couldn’t help but think of wet streets, leather, and neon once the guitar cabs kicked on and assailed a sold-out Crescent Ballroom with danceable abrasion.

Sleigh Bells - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Alexis Krauss (Vocalist), Sleigh Bells
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design

From the moment the duo of Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller hit the stage, every member of the audience was off their feet and dancing in a writhing chaotic mass. Touring as a two-piece in direct support of November’s Jessica Rabbit seemed like a potentially risky choice given the album’s emphasis on volume and upbeat power. Thankfully, the duo effortlessly executed their career spanning setlist with more energy and precision than is often afforded by an entire tour package.

Sleigh Bells - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Alexis Krauss (Vocalist), Sleigh Bells
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design

Having not seen or closely followed the band since 2012’s Reign of Terror, I was impressed to see how the band had continued to expand on their signature sound while remaining true to the shredding meets dance floor aesthetic that Sleigh Bells fans have come to worship.

This manner of growth was perhaps most notable on Jessica Rabbit lead off track “It’s Just Us Now”. Played third in their setlist, the dramatic build of an almost Southern Rock riff alongside a surprisingly hip-hop leaning drum sample into a soaring vocal chorus over a tempo breakdown showcases the band at their absolute best. Even the title itself is reflective of the band’s confidence in themselves. They aren’t bound by hype, touring members, or notions of what they should sound like. They are simply two artists at the top of their game trying to push their music, as well as dance floors, to the absolute limits.

Sleigh Bells - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Derek Miller (Guitarist), Sleigh Bells
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design

Above all, it was clear that the band was having just as much fun as the crowd. Alexis bounced from one side of the stage to the other, interacting with the crowd and positioning herself for photo ops, while Derek let his metalcore roots show as he headband at the front of the stage all night. Feeding freely from the energy onstage the crowd even broke into a push pit for a few songs, which seemed somehow natural despite it’s unusual setting.

As the evening finally wound down, Alexis brought opening act Tunde Olaniran onstage for a brief duet appearance before closing their set with A/B Machines from debut album Treats, then disappeared out the venue doors while the crowd finally paused to take a breath.

Sleigh Bells - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Sleigh Bells
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design

Highlight: Opening act Tunde Olaniran was absolutely astounding. Blending soul funk with trap EDM beats was the perfect way to set the crowd up early for an evening of high paced dancing while drawing even the most introverted audience member out of their shell for a night. Bonus shout out to the guy wearing an Agitator shirt who looked genuinely lost the entire night.

PHOTO ALBUM
by Katherine Amy Vega

Sleigh Bells – Crescent Ballroom 3-27-17

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REVIEW: Adrenalized Yellowcard Farewell Show Leaves an Impression on Arizona 3-22-17

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TEMPE, Ariz. — For a few hours on March 22nd, current and former orchestra geeks got to feel like the epitome of cool for one more night as Yellowcard wound down their 20 year career to a sold out crowd at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe.

After an acoustic opening set from former bassist Sean O’Donnell and a brief audio message humorously decrying the use of cell phones during the set, the house lights dimmed and Yellowcard exploded onto the stage with a fiery performance of Ocean Avenue lead off song “Way Away”. Despite setting the bar high with such a high-octane classic track, the band showed no signs of fatigue as they powered through a massive 24-song setlist featuring tracks from most of their 10-album catalogue.

Ryan Key, Yellowcard - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Ryan Key (Vocalist), Yellowcard
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design

While the band chose to spend the majority of their stage time blasting from song to song with scarcely enough time to breath between tracks, the few pauses afforded to the crowd were rife with a welcome wistfulness from lead singer Ryan Key as he reminisced on the band’s trajectory leading up to that night. Whether he was explaining how early shows at the Nile Theater in Mesa served to help the band cultivate their first true out-of-state fanbase, or pridefully detailing the various emotions surrounding each album, Key spoke from a place of true sincerity and love for the band which has encompassed the majority of his life.

An unassuming viewer could be easily forgiven for not realizing that Yellowcard’s performance that evening was their third to final show. Every member of the band was visibly having a great time flying around the stage with abandon as they effortlessly nailed every note. Violinist Sean Mackin in particular seemed to visibly buzz with energy as he leaped across the stage and even nailed his signature backflip from the bass cab with seemingly minimal effort. Lead guitarist Ryan Mendez was visibly having a great time playing the old songs as he added discords and dive bombs not present in the album versions, smiling ear to ear as the audience bounced up and down to the tempo.

Sean Mackin, Ryan Mendez, Yellowcard - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Sean Mackin (Violinist) and Ryan Mendez (Guitarist), Yellowcard
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design

For Yellowcard these final shows were clearly a celebration of a two-decade career still capable of churning out fantastic material, not the death toll of aging rockers far past their prime. Having loved Yellowcard since they played my junior high auditorium (seriously), it was definitely difficult to watch such an amazing set realizing it would be the last time I could do so.

However, the beauty of a band leaving on the power of their own strengths was a truly amazing site to behold, and one that every attendee will likely never forget for as long as they live.


Highlights: Despite being familiar with much more than Ocean Avenue, I truly have overlooked a great deal of Yellowcard’s albums from the middle section of their career. The sheer energy of this show has definitely lead me to further explore their discography with a newfound appreciation.

Low Points: For the first time in a long while, there truly aren’t any moments I can recall from this show that were anything other than ideal.

PHOTO ALBUM
by Katherine Amy Vega

Yellowcard – Marquee Theatre 3-22-17

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REVIEW: Phoenix Party Dispatch – Graf Orlock, Denzel Curry, & Complete Chaos 3-25-17

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So let’s start by getting one thing straight, I love chaos. Whether it’s a basement full of people punching one another or taking ill advised jumps off bridges into a river, I vehemently believe that humanity is best served at it’s absolute wildest. As such, I found myself at crossroads when it came to how to best spend my Saturday night on March 25th. Do I head to Valley Bar for an evening of cinema themed powerviolence with Graf Orlock, or do I head over to The Pressroom for the Phx Am after party and scratch Denzel Curry off my Coachella to-do list early? Well I’m not one to do anything half-speed, so the only logical choice was clearly to just go to both shows and see if my mind could survive.

Thanks to an early start time of 6:30, I arrived in plenty of time to see Graf Orlock absolutely ravage the Valley Bar side room with their action movie sample heavy brand of grindcore. Unfortunately, due to the early start time and a considerable lack of promotion overall, the crowd for Graf was relatively thin and only featured moshing from a handful of dedicated fans who had shown up early for the occasion.

Thankfully, by the time headliners Horse The Band took the stage, the room had definitely filled up quite a bit with what looked to be a great deal of people who hadn’t left the house in quite some time, but had made the pilgrimage for one Horse’s infamously raucous live sets. It’s important to note that such a description is not intended as an insult. Horse The Band’s brand of post-modern humor mixed with nintendocore influenced metal is simply the sort of music that inspires a wide swath of people to venture out of their homes to drunkenly destroy everything in their sight.

From the moment the opening notes of “Heroes Die” rung out across the basement, to the closing mash up of “March Of The Pigs” by Nine Inch Nails with perennial favorite Cutsman, Valley Bar was turned into an absolute train wreck of spastic pushing and screaming reserved primarily for epilepsy and Horse The Band shows. Surprisingly, there was only one issue the entire evening, and that was the fault of a drunken fan who would not exit the stage when prompted.

As the bewildered venue staff struggled to collect their thoughts, as well as their hearing, I made my way up the stairs and set of to Pressroom to continue my evening of debauchery.

Now, it’s at this point in the night that so much wildness happened in such rapid succession that the only way to effectively encapsulate it is via bulleted list:

  • So much weed that it looked like the inside of the venue was on fire.
  • A crowd of mostly 16-19 year olds that literally moshed the entire time, including during a jazz set and multiple djs.
  • At least two children who were likely not even 10 years old despite the show being 16+
  • A rowdy patron who kept attempting to start fights get picked up by a group of 15-20 other concert goers who carried him out the front doors and literally threw him into the street.
  • Possibly the absolute worst musical performer I have ever witnessed by the pink haired guy rapping with C-Roy.
  • A fight between two 16 year olds so vicious that blood and teeth were flying before security had time to intervene.
  • Playboy Manbaby getting two full venue circle pits going during their set.

Regarding the performances, Playboy Manbaby played a set more than worthy of the 15 dollar ticket price. While their blend of Primus vocal delivery meets mid 80’s surf funk may have seemed an odd domination to a trap/grime rap show, the sheer energy of their stage presence more than won over the crowd who turned the entire venue into a mass of dancing and thrashing bodies perfect for a skate competition after party.

However, once Denzel Curry took the stage, he easily eclipsed every aspect of the preceding evening. Standing confidently at center stage and letting out a Super Saiyan scream, he proceeded to eviscerate the entire building with his trademark staccato delivery. By the time he played his massive single “Ultimate”, what little was left of the building was reduced to rubble by the onslaught of stage dives that broke out the second the beat dropped.

Exhausted and facing a 3 mile walk back to my car, I made for the exit while I checked my phone and lamented the fact that by the time I got home, I’d have only 3 precious hours to sleep before I needed to wake up and jump off a waterfall the next morning.

REVIEW: Sundressed Supercharges Fans with LP Release at The Rebel Lounge 03-06-17

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PHOENIX Sundressed put on one hell of an LP release show Thursday night at The Rebel Lounge in Phoenix. I’d been anticipating the event since first hearing lead vocalist, Trevor Hedges during an unexpected acoustic performance at the Dashboard Confessional concert earlier this year. Many of you will remember the story of Chris Carrabba welcoming Hedges to the stage after Dashboard Confessional’s hit track “Stolen,” a display of vocal dexterity which was undoubtedly reminiscent of groups like Taking Back Sunday, The Starting Line, 30 Seconds to Mars, The Used and – you guessed it, Dashboard Confessional.

This was my first experience at The Rebel Lounge. I entered through a dark, narrow hallway plastered with peeling posters which wound around to the front of the merch tables where some pinback buttons featuring a colorful portrait of Sundressed guitarist, Forest Walldorf caught my eye. R&B singer-songwriter Trent (Trenton Clark) had just taken the stage and the room was filling fast. I settled in near the bar, notebook in-hand and listened closely as robust, velvety beats tingled beneath my feet.

The Rebel Lounge is an intimate venue, the kind of place that takes me back to the days of punk rock “thrash parties” in my friend’s garage. It’s a bit gritty, on the smaller side, and full of heart. Trent’s sultry, electrified beats caught me by surprise at first. I hadn’t expected to hear anything other than emo or alt-rock tonight. As Trent’s euphoric vocals melted in and out of the speakers I began to notice a slight resemblance to neo R&B duo Trak Joy, who were credited in recent years for stretching the boundaries of contemporary rhythm and blues with their “newly minted sound.” Trent’s was a quick set, but one charged with a unique, soulful intensity – lyrically focused on stories of love, sex and addiction.

Lexi Salazar (vocalist), Eclipses for Eyes - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Lexi Salazar (vocalist), Eclipses for Eyes
© Kataklizmic Design
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega

After a quick changeover, alternative rock band Eclipses for Eyes took the stage with an instant authority that almost seemed to rival frontwoman Lexi Salazar’s petite stature. The moment Salazar’s voice met our ears, Lacey Sturm was at our lips.

Look, our photographer Katherine said holding out her arm,I’ve got goosebumps!

Besides displaying obvious audible similarities to alternative mega-powerhouse Flyleaf; Eclipses for Eyes is a group that commands the stage with an unstoppable energy, and one rooted in authenticity. In a 2014 interview with RiffYou.com the band was quoted saying,

Our music and lyrics are honest and personal, which is something that we find is normally neglected in most modern music.

Lexi Salazar (vocalist), Eclipses for Eyes - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Lexi Salazar (vocalist), Eclipses for Eyes © Kataklizmic Design
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega

The band’s stellar five-piece performance of “Left of You” from the upcoming Polaris EP affirmed that for us on Thursday, and it would seem for other Phoenix fans as well. With the crowd’s energy on overdrive, expectations were high. It was an appropriate transition for Phoenix-based emo rock trio, Way Under who kicked things off with some hardcore vocals and fast-paced guitar, playing through a series of tracks off their latest EP Alone and first solo release, The Way Under EP.

This is going to be our last show for a long time,” vocalist, Aaron Villeda announced before kicking off their next song. Although some of the audience seemed eager for the main event of the evening, Way Under kept the pit jumping as anticipation continued to build.

The final opener of the night was indie rock group Saddles who boasts an unusual culmination of electronic beats, indie pop, experimental synth pop and classic emo rock. Their somewhat subdued vocals seemed to vibrate along the higher-pitched guitar notes giving the whole thing a Muse-like feel. As the set went on however, I found Saddles to be far more reminiscent live of Yellowcard or Dashboard Confessional with a variety of unique instrumentals beneath.

Between sets, fans flooded the bar to refill drinks or head to the patio for a smoke while others secured a spot close to the stage. About fifteen minutes passed before Sundressed’s vocalist Trevor Hedges finally stepped forward in a sea of fluorescent pink light to briefly thank everyone for coming out, almost immediately switching over to the opening lyrics for their latest single “A Little Less Put Together” off Sundressed’s most recent album under the same name. The crowd erupted, surrounding the stage from every angle while forming a sizable circle pit front and center. It was obvious Sundressed was what fans had been waiting for.

Hey, we’re releasing a record,” Hedges said playfully,let’s go fuckin’ nuts!

Sundressed - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Sundressed © Kataklizmic Design
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega

I immediately recognized the next track from my Spotify playlist earlier that day. I always listen to bands while driving around on the day of a review to get pumped up, but today I’d been singing along – loudly. It was “Beck & Call” off their EP The Same Condition which according to the band, “touches on darker territory” involving heartbreak, depression, toxic relationships and “balancing intensely personal stories with universally relatable truths.

Trevor Hedges (vocalist), Sundressed - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Trevor Hedges (vocalist), Sundressed © Kataklizmic Design
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega

The night’s energy was at its peak. I even saw a few people hanging from the rafters, which was precarious considering the risk of a foot-to-head collision with a crowd surfer below. (Katherine actually had a crowd surfer land head-first on her camera a few songs later! Thankfully, the camera survived.) It was the kind of free-spirited, no fucks given, rock show vibe fans live for and Phoenix was eating it up. Even the bartenders were jamming while mixing drinks, commenting on the quality of the music.

Trevor Hedges (vocalist), Sundressed - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Trevor Hedges (vocalist), Sundressed © Kataklizmic Design
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega

Next up was “Mill Ave and Broadway” off of their latest album which featured a fusion of ska-punk sound with a surprise trumpet breakdown. It was magic. The band continued to play through their latest album, leaving only a few songs to be discovered in order to make room for crowd favorites like “Ordinary Day” and “Good As You.” Although Sundressed’s set was packed with freshly released tracks it felt oddly familiar, as if we were rocking out to all our old favorites.

Mosh Pit, Crowdsurfing - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Mosh Pit and Crowd Surfing with Sundressed © Kataklizmic Design
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega

Sundressed LP Release Setlist
Sundressed LP Release Setlist
Click to Enlarge

As the release party came to an end, Hedges said they had one more for us, a newly released track entitled “Something Good.” Hedges also said of it “this song means everything to me.” It was the perfect finale to a supercharged performance, but not without a surprise encore featuring a cover of Saves the Day’s “At Your Funeral” – during which Hedges was lowered into the crowd while the stage was swallowed by energetic fans singing along. It was an all-around phenomenal performance. And also a reminder of the impact that local music can and does continue to have on our community. We are certainly curious to see where this group is headed next, but one thing is for sure – this won’t be the last you’ve heard of Sundressed.

PHOTO ALBUM
by Katherine Amy Vega

Sundressed & Eclipses For Eyes – The Rebel Lounge 3-16-17

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Review: Viva PHX 2017 – Downtown Music Festival Retrospective 3-11-17

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PHOENIX — As the relatively packed light rail rolled to a stop, I knew I was in for an adventurous evening as I was greeted by roughly 50 bridal gown clad men and women shotgunning Red Bulls on the platform as passersby confusedly took pictures for their Snapchat stories. Despite what the light rail’s human to personal-space ratio suggested, Viva PHX kicked off with a relatively mellow start. While there were certainly some larger packs of high school aged patrons eagerly hustling to get prime spots at all ages stages, specifically the 2nd Ave stage outside Crescent Ballroom, the pre-sundown streets were not quite fully alive with festival buzz.

Viva PHX 2017 Lineup Flyer
Click to Enlarge

After picking up my wristband in front of Comerica Theatre, I decided to follow the majority and head toward Crescent Ballroom to watch Rozwell Kid open the evening on the outdoor stage. While opening an unorthodox festival comprised primarily of people unfamiliar with your band can certainly provide a daunting challenge, Rozwell Kid showed absolutely no signs of nerves as they got the crowd bobbing along to their signature blend of old Weezer-style vocal patterns and bouncy pop-driven guitar lines while showcasing tracks from all three of their albums. They also seemed to have the most fun of any band as they dedicated several songs to the glowing AT&T sign they mistook for the moon as well as the users of the stage right port-a-potties. Judging by their post set mercy line, I wasn’t the only one impressed. At this point, the majority of my group was clamoring to go and lock down good spots for The Drums, so I embarked on the first of many trips between 2nd Ave and Comerica Theatre.

A post shared by Rozwell Kid (@rozwellkid) on

We arrived at Comerica to a much smaller crowd than anticipated and easily made our way down to the general admission pit area in time to catch the last few songs of The Mowglis. While they were certainly quite good and seemingly tailor-made for festival season appearances, I couldn’t help but think their music sounded as if it were the background soundtrack for The OC. Either way, they got the dance floor moving with everyone from mid 40’s moms to high school students decked out in their pre-Coachella best. Now, full disclosure, I must admit that I have never listened to The Drums so I didn’t quite have the same excitement as the majority of the crowd. I have nothing against their music, but as soon as the rest of my group made their way to the guard rail I pounced on the opportunity to run back to the 2nd Ave stage to watch The Menzingers deliver one of the absolute best sets of the night.

gettin pumped for this tour guys 💪🏽

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Kicking off their set with “Tellin’ Lies”, the lead off track from their newest album After The Party, the now packed crowd instantly chanted along with the chorus “Where we gonna go now that our Twenties are over?!”, a question that is becoming uncomfortably relatable. With little more than a pause to catch their breath, the band quickly launched into fan favorite ” Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore” and never letting up until their set came to a close. On a stage with primarily slower temp bands, The Menzingers made their punk rock pedigree very visible as they whipped the crowd into a frenzy of circle pitting and crowd surfing. As I walked back toward Comerica to rejoin my friends at The Maine while we waited for Girl Talk, I couldn’t help but notice that the breakneck dashing between stages was easily the strongest asset of Viva PHX. As opposed to single destination festivals like Coachella, the spread out confusion of various downtown Phoenix venues created a nostalgic energy and sense of adventure which could have easily been lifted from Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist (or perhaps Dazed and Confused for the older crowd.)

Phoenix! We’re on at 9 at Viva Phoenix festival tonight. Come hang!

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After a quick detour down Monroe Street for a Lucha Libre match and an average Ghost Pepper cheeseburger, I was dismayed at how quickly I grew bored watching The Maine play a largely lackluster set. While it is almost certain that many bands’ sound and style will evolve over time, it appears that The Maine’s attempts to transition their new material toward an almost Black Keys style is not yet ready to be properly manifested. Even when playing old material, attempts to update classic songs to the new format were met with a lackluster reception evidenced by the dull attempts to create a call and response vibe with the audience. As the set drug to a close, the band awkwardly called for the largely underage crowd to “break out the weed” and ended the set with a cacophony of feedback laden strumming before quickly exiting the stage.

Following The Maine, I made my way to the general admission pit floor area and worried aloud to my friends that the preceding set may have driven too many people to other stages and would result in a dismal turn out for Girl Talk. My worries were quickly dashed as Greg Gillis took to the stage and the floor immediately filled to capacity, as well as most available seats. Storming through a surprisingly Trap-heavy rendition of his signature mash-up style amidst toilet paper cannons and confetti blasters, the largely relaxed Comerica Theatre exploded with non-stop energy as everyone in attendance brought Viva PHX to a close worthy of a true festival experience. From the unhinged visuals streaming across the video wall at the back of the stage, to the 80 person deep mob of dancers strewn across the stage, Girl Talk’s set was that of a tried and true festival headliner worthy of his top billing alongside legendary acts Wyclef Jean and American Football.

With Comerica Theatre left in shambles and Monarch hitting capacity for Murs and Peanut Butter Wolf, I elected to leave downtown on the light rail amidst a group of fellow attendees comprised primarily of ASU students holding one another upright as they half heartedly spoke of trying to find afterparties, despite their sweat stained clothes suggesting that their physical abilities may not match those of their spirit. Until Pot Of Gold next weekend, their adventures had drawn to a sudden, yet fulfilling, close befitting a festival which had truly blossomed into something the Arizona music scene can truly be proud to host.

Low Points: The late start time led to a huge amount of headline quality artists overlapping. While the dashing between stages is sort of the point, I can’t help but think that starting earlier or possibly reducing the amount of stages may help to focus the fest a bit more.

Highlights: The team of Girl Scouts hustling cookies to people waiting in line to get into venues. I respect and applaud your hustle.

REVIEW: Space Punk Zombies From The Future, Quantum Colossus, Shred Faces At The Yucca Tap 3-3-17

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TEMPE, Ariz. — It’s ten o’clock on a Friday night at Yucca Tap Room, and the crowd is starting to trickle in at a greater volume as drum and guitar duo Face The Flames is finishing up their set. It’s a good mix and seems like the typical Yucca crowd. There’s a diverse array of people ranging from crust punks to cow punks and garage punks. The band up next was not one that I was familiar with at all, but my curiosity won the night. Quantum Colossus is a local self-described “Sci-Fi driven Punk/Sludgecore” band, and I’ve been tapped to come out tonight and check them out. So here I sat against the wall watching fans mill around in Bad Religion hoodies and Everything Dead tees, sipping cold Pabst and warm Jack. As Quantum began setting up I ducked outside for a quick smoke before they start tuning.

There was a slight change in scheduling because one of the bands had to cancel. As I sat on the curb speed smoking, I overheard the reason. Apparently one of the guys from the band was arrested the previous night and the other members only found out hours before the show. That sounds pretty damn punk to me. I sauntered back in after stomping out my Camel butt, and reclaimed my seat against the wall just as the show is about to begin, and I resumed people watching. I felt out of place. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to Yucca. The last show I attended here was Future Loves Past with The Sugar Thieves, and this was by far a stark contrast in demographic.

Suddenly, as if a light had been switched on, the show had officially begun. No hello, no introduction, just thrash. I immediately noticed that bass player Andikrist bears a slight resemblance to a young Gary Oldman, which made me think of Batman’s Commissioner Gordon a la Sid and Nancy. As the intro lead into the meat of the first cut, the group had pretty much fully meshed. They sound great. The bass tone is very Godsmack. Deep and clear. Guitarist Kelvin Yazzie is an absolute shredder. The red Schecter SGR he’s playing has a bright tone that compliments the bass so well that I could have sworn it was a Paul Reed Smith. Drummer Mike Driscoll is on point and in time pounding out the heartbeat of the entire band as Yazzie begins a blistering solo that left me thoroughly impressed as well as checking to see if my ear drums were still in tact. Lead vocalist Geoff Lane seems to be a very hands-on kind of guy. He seems more comfortable in the crowd during the set than he does on stage, even going so far as hugging several fans during the set.

The band dedicates “Naked Ape” to legendary vocalist Ronnie James Dio, incorporating an intro that seemed to me reminiscent of “Holy Diver” with plenty of crowd participation. Throughout the rest of Quantum’s time on the stage they shared banter amongst themselves and with the crowd. They were genuinely having fun up there. Their Grand Finale for the evening is “War of the Currents” and Quantum gives it the full beans. The band expertly maintains an impressive ebb and flow to their sound, alternating from slow and brooding into hard and fast with surprising precision. Punk is not my personal genre of preference but these guys are by no means amateurs. The YouTube videos I watched of Quantum Colossus online before coming to the show actually didn’t do the band justice all and I’m pleasantly surprised. They sound far superior live.

If I had even one criticism of the show, it would be that the vocals were difficult to decipher, but that’s to be expected and not necessarily a bad thing. It’s punk. It’s meant to be abrasive. At face value, Quantum Colossus is a pretty talented group of guys who seem to really enjoy what they’re doing on stage. The show had a fun-loving vibe and it was evident that their audience thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Even though this was a free event for a relatively obscure local band, I drove away thinking I would have gladly paid to see that show. Thanks for showing me a good time, fellas!

REVIEW: AFI Brings Despair, Blood, and 26 Years to Tempe 2-17-17

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Eyeliner-tinged catharsis and angst were alive and well at the Marquee on Friday night when AFI made their Arizona stop on The Blood Tour with support from Nothing, and Souvenirs.

Souvenirs got the night started with a set heavy on tracks from their newest album Posture Of Apology. With stark emotional lyrics focused on understanding, loss, and forgiveness, Souvenirs struck the perfect balance between the 90’s Sub Pop records catalogue and The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me-era Brand New. Overall, while their set may not have astounded many of the ardent AFI fans in attendance, it served as the perfect transition to Nothing’s reverb-heavy set which followed after a speedy changeover.

Nothing proved to be an exceptionally polarizing band for the sold-out crowd. With awkward stage presence, dedications to the memory of George “The Animal” Steele, and rambling half-mumbled banter between songs, it would be easy to simply write off Nothing as a band trying to emit a false rockstar facade. However, as they worked their way through a reverb-drenched set of songs that called to mind My Bloody Valentine’s vocal delivery layered over instrumentals which would have felt right at home amongst the Smashing Pumpkins discography, or even Incubus’ Morning View, they revealed themselves to be truly adept performers and songwriters who deserved their spot supporting AFI on a large scale tour. Though Domenic Palerno’s airy, trance inducing vocals may have seemed out of place opening for the concussive ball of energy that is AFI, the fact that they were able to hold a largely unfamiliar crowds attention for a 45 minute set is testament to their well-deserved presence on the Relapse Records roster.

Following Nothing, the stage lights were tuned to an ominous purple while the hazers were ratcheted up to blanket the stage in heavy fog. Finally, the lights dimmed and AFI took the stage to a cacophonous roar from the packed Friday night crowd. Opening with a near-soulful rendition of “Strength Through Wounding” from legendary album Black Sails In The Sunset, Havok and company quickly ratcheted the energy up to a thousand by launching directly into “Miss Murder”, launching the crowd into a frenzy that never relented for the rest of the evening.

Jade Puget (guitarist), AFI - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Jade Puget (guitarist), AFI © Kataklizmic Design
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega

Most impressively, songs from the recently released Blood album received just as much of an explosive crowd response as tried-and-true Sing The Sorrowera favorites. “Aurelia”, “Snow Cats”, and “So Beneath You” all found great strength in a live setting where Davey Havok’s powerful vocal flourishes combined with a wall of guitar tone, propelled them beyond an album sound which many felt was a bit too “clean” for a band which has consistently based their career on raw emotion.

Davey Havok (vocalist), AFI - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Davey Havok (vocalist), AFI © Kataklizmic Design
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega

The setlist also made a direct point to showcase how much pride the band takes in their material from each album by sandwiching Blood album lead single “Snow Cats” between The Art Of Drowning‘s legendary tracks “The Despair Factor” and “The Days Of The Phoenix”. Whether calculated, or simply a serendipitous surprise, this pacing showed that with age, AFI at their core is still focused on the same message of sorrow, regret, pain, and love.

Hunter Burgan (bassist), AFI - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Hunter Burgan (bassist), AFI © Kataklizmic Design
Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega

Throughout the career-spanning set, Davey continually launched himself off of every available surface, while Jade Puget pirouetted effortlessly across the stage; making it clear that nothing about their performance or career would be slowing down at any point in the near future.

Highlights: Deep cuts from Sing The Sorrow, including “This Celluloid Dream” and “Paper Airplanes”, dedicated to anyone who had seen them at The Nile long ago.

Lowlights: An oddly-aged and very drunk crowd, who continued shouting for “Miss Murder” long after it had been played.

PHOTO ALBUM
by Katherine Amy Vega

AFI – Marquee Theatre 2-17-17

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PHOTOS: Unagi Usagi – The Rhythm Room 2-16-17

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PHOENIX — Last night, locals Unagi Usagi performed at The Rhythm Room. They opened the gig with the high-energy “Holy Valkyrie”, which takes the audience by storm without a buildup, and shows them they’re in for something delightfully insane right off the bat.

From start to finish, Unagi Usagi brought constant power and animation from each band member. The vocalist, who goes by Ghostrick Alucard, brings oozing charisma and animation to the stage.

In the midst of their set, “It’s Your Fault I Have Issues… You Stupid Bitch” is a crowd favorite, as all stand together in solidarity for glorious bitterness. The breakdown during the song, which might be their hardest and heaviest instrumentals, unexpectedly blows first-timers away and brings sweet satisfaction to fans.

Setlist

  1. Holy Valkyrie
  2. Pigs!
  3. It’s Your Fault I Have Issues… You Stupid Bitch
  4. You Suck
  5. Reason
  6. Heart In The Graveyard

Unagi Usagi debuted a song called “You Suck”, which is distinguished from their other songs by an infusion of ska. It really rounds out their set list by offering an upbeat sound and comic relief, while retaining their signature angst.

“Heart In The Graveyard” was a fitting closing song, finishing things off with both Big Jake (bassist) and Austang (guitarist) down on the floor, wildly emoting… while, astonishingly, Dead Wesley (drummer) shows no sign of fatigue up to the end.

Every crowd becomes noticeably impressed and intrigued shortly after the band begins playing, and they are always enthusiastically applauding and cheering by the end of the set. Unagi Usagi just keeps getting better and they’re gaining traction in the Phoenix scene, so follow them on Facebook to see what comes next.

PHOTO ALBUM
by Katherine Amy Vega

Unagi Usagi – The Rhythm Room 2-16-17

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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO STEALING