All posts by Nate Wert

Food & Beer Blogger with a passion for small businesses, Craft Beer Aficionado, Music & Concert Lover, Video Games & Sci-Fi Addict, Arizona Native, Traveler to distant lands... like Tucson. Currently owned by 5 rescue dogs.

REVIEW: Tool‘s Epic Showmanship Takes Fans on a Sonic Odyssey for Night Two at Footprint Center (2-10-24)

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PHOENIX — On an unexpectedly brisk February evening, amidst the peculiar backdrop of lightning streaking across the Arizona sky, an eager audience gathered to experience the second night of Tool in Phoenix, accompanied by special guests Elder, on their simply-named “Winter Tour.” It comes as no shock that Tool effortlessly filled their hometown venue for two consecutive nights. These performances were a delight for fans of progressive rock, as both bands firmly reside within this genre’s realm.

Elder

Elder’s journey began as a trio in 2006, in a quaint seaside town in Massachusetts before eventually relocating to Berlin, Germany. Evolving into the present-day roster of 4 members, lead vocalist and guitarist Nick DiSalvo stands as the sole remaining founding member. The group boasts an impressive discography, including, but not limited to, six full-length albums. 

Comparisons abound between Elder and Tool, and while Elder tends to lean more toward the classifications of doom metal and stoner rock, there are undeniable similarities between the two groups. The 4-song, 40-minute set, which felt more like a mesmerizing jam session by a highly skilled and technically proficient ensemble, seemed to defy the passage of time. The band does not do very much that would be considered new, but what they do is done extremely well. 

Nick DiSalvo of Elder performing at Footprint Center
Nick DiSalvo (Vocalist, Guitarist), Elder
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Even without the elaborate visual show that Tool brings to the table, Elder’s performance—accompanied only by their name on the screen behind them—was very enjoyable. It served as a compelling example of why you should show up early to witness the openers. In fact, DiSalvo thanked the crowd for coming early to see them. They are worth catching when they come to town, and one can only hope they will swing by again sooner than later.

Tool

Among the fans in the arena, there was a palpable sense of anticipation, steadily mounting as the clock ticked towards 8:30. Nearly every attendee had settled into their seats about 15 minutes before the lights dimmed, all eager for what was to come—and with good reason. The opening sequence offered a tantalizing glimpse of the extraordinary spectacle about to unfold before their eyes.

The lights dimmed, the crowd erupted into cheers, and a heartbeat from “Third Eye” began. As Tool’s widely-acclaimed drummer Danny Carey climbed behind the kit, a massive skull moved across the screen from right to left in an arc. A second pass gave the skull muscles and blank eyes, a third and final pass gave it skin, irises, and pupils. By this time, guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor had walked out, taking up their places in front of Carey.

Maynard James Keenan (Vocalist), Tool
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Tool sets the stage in an unconventional way: The bassist and guitarist stand in front of the elevated drummer, who has quite the legendary kit surrounding him. On each side, slightly set back, are platforms mostly shrouded in darkness. Behind Carey, there is a walkway, serving as the domain of vocalist Maynard James Keenan, who adamantly prefers not to be at the forefront of attention. He has been known to face away from the audience to immerse himself in the right mindset for certain songs, but he did not do so this evening.

As the notes for “Fear Inoculum” began, Keenan could be seen pacing in circles on the stage-right platform. Keenan rarely stops moving during the show, and can be seen frequently crouching down as if he is preparing for an unseen opponent he could employ his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills against, given his black belt proficiency. He also rhythmically slaps his legs or pounds his chest to the beat when not singing. In essence, Keenan is a spectacle unto himself, captivating the audience with his dynamic presence.

Maynard James Keenan (Vocalist), Tool
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

There is an old adage that everyone knows by now: The only things certain in life are death and taxes. But nowadays, it seems almost incomplete without adding a third certainty: Maynard James Keenan’s disdain for all manner of cell phone usage at concerts. No matter which side you fall on the issue, there is no denying that as a concertgoer in these times, you are likely to partially watch the show through the lens of someone in front of you as they hold up their phone to record a video. Keenan has no problem letting you know how he feels about this, and in fact he insists that venues eject people who have their phones out. 30 or so people were reportedly kicked out during the prior night’s show for violating this rule, and at least 4 were spotted being escorted from the floor on this night. 

After “Fear Inoculum” ended, Keenan addressed the ban on cell phones by laying into the culture of addiction to false connections, informing people if they could not put their phones away for 2 hours, they should seek help. His reasoning was that he—and the band—wanted everyone to be present in the moment as they were taking the crowd on a journey. With the exception of the few who discovered that yes, it was still chilly outside, and yes, security was dead serious about enforcement of the policy, the audience as a whole respected the artists’ wishes. 

Maynard James Keenan (Vocalist), Tool
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Keenan was not using hyperbole when discussing the journey to come. The show truly is a transformative experience, with visuals that sometimes evoke the sensation of a particularly intense trip on psychedelic mushrooms. A prime example occurred when the screen behind the band abruptly showcased towering, 40-foot-tall aliens peering out at the crowd. Overall, the visuals behind the band are absolutely incredible to see, and there is no denying that they immensely enhance the experience. It should also be noted that Jones is an accomplished makeup artist and set builder—including work on Jurassic Park—and as such, some of the visuals came from him. 

Adam Jones (Guitarist), Tool
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Tool has a decent-sized body of work, with just over 50 songs in total, but the shows tend to have somewhat sparse setlists due to the length of their songs. This show was no exception, with just 11 songs, five of which came from 2019’s Fear Inoculum. There was a 12-minute intermission after the first 7 songs, where seemingly the entire arena made a mad dash to offload trash, visit concessions for some more food or drinks, and/or make a pitstop in the restroom. 

For those who managed to return in time, they were treated to the sight of Carey—sporting a personalized Phoenix Suns jersey and basketball shorts—standing before a colossal gong. After gently massaging the gong’s surface with his drumsticks, Carey took a mallet, pointed back toward the crowd, and delivered a resounding strike. Following this striking display, he settled behind his drum kit and unleashed a multi-minute drum solo, captivating the audience as it was magnificently showcased on the towering screens behind the stage.

Danny Carey (Drummer), Tool
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Carey’s drumming prowess is unparalleled, a true maestro behind the kit. It’s not only enthralling to watch but also a delight to listen to him weave his rhythmic magic. 

Next up was Chancellor, who delivered a relatively swift bass solo. Despite its brevity, witnessing him coax sounds from the bass that seem impossible was incredibly impressive.

Justin Chancellor (Bassist), Tool
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Lastly, but certainly not least, was Jones, who effortlessly shifts between styles, making it a bit more challenging to emulate him. However, witnessing someone defy “traditional” styles in such a remarkable manner is truly awe-inspiring. It’s a sheer pleasure to observe this trio craft music in ways that most can only dream of replicating. 

Adam Jones (Guitarist), Danny Carey (Drummer), & Justin Chancellor (Bassist) of Tool
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

There would be a total of 4 more songs, including “Flood,” which saw confetti dropping from the ceiling during the intro. Right before the final set, Keenan informed the crowd – almost resentfully – that since they had been good, they could film the final song. He also brought up the fact that he would be touring with A Perfect Circle and Puscifer, with a return to the valley in April. He then told the audience that they could take out their “stupid” phones, but warned that if they used their flash while taking photos or had their light on while filming, he would come down and “kick them in their vaginas.” As if on cue, someone immediately held up their phone with the light on, which drew Keenans’ wrath, as well as the attention of security.

What other song is better to close the show with than one of the most recognizable songs in rock, “Schism”? The opening notes may not be quite as recognizable as the riff, but almost any rock fan is immediately going to recognize those notes. It is fun to watch Tool live; every facet of the show is nothing short of entertaining, and the journey that Keenan promises to take the fans lives up to his word. As the final notes faded, Keenan left his perch for the first time, fist bumping each of his band mates before exiting the stage and allowing them to take the final bows they deserve. Keenan is an anti-star, if you will, and yet he certainly has the gravity of one. 

Maynard James Keenan (Vocalist), Tool
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Do yourself a favor and go see Tool next time they come to town. And if you are able, go see Puscifer and A Perfect Circle with Primus in Phoenix on April 16th or 17th (SOLD OUT) as well. Especially considering it will be Keenan’s 60th birthday celebration, we have every confidence they will not leave you disappointed. More Tool and Sessanta tour dates on Live Nation.

View Tool’s Phoenix Setlist (Feb. 10) on Setlist.fm

Photo Gallery

Photographer: Katherine Amy Vega

Tool & Elder – Footprint Center 2-10-24

Photography © Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design
All Rights Reserved.

REVIEW: The HU’s Thunderous Finale of the Warrior Souls Tour at The Van Buren (10-26-2023)

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PHOENIX — On a late October evening in Downtown Phoenix, in a venue named for the street it sits next to – Van Buren – an audience gathered to witness an incredible night of musical diversity, and the final stop on the “Warrior Souls” tour. Three dynamic bands would take the stage this evening, bringing the desert night to life with powerful metal riffs and the pulsating rhythms from these unique bands: The HU, Blind Channel, and NERV. The HU is renowned for blending Mongolian tradition and metal, transporting the audience to far off horizons. Finnish nu metal band Blind Channel ignited the stage with incredibly kinetic music, and the hybrid genre band NERV left a lasting impression with their performance. It was an evening where boundaries were transcended, and as a result, the crowd was left craving more.

NERV

NERV performing at The Van Buren
NERV
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

NERV bills itself as a genre-bending rock band, which is an apt description, as their music crosses boundaries between emo and metal, and some pop mixed in for good measure. Formed in 2016, the Sacramento, CA-based band is rather new to touring life, as they have only toured three times since forming. They released their first album We’re All Patients Here in October of 2022. However, while newer to the touring life and new to the majority of the audience, the band managed to do something that all openers dream of: win over an audience who has never had any exposure to them. 

Dillon Jones - lead singer of NERV - singing in Phoenix
Dillon Jones (Vocalist), NERV
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Lead vocalist Dillon Jones and guitarist and back-up vocalist Scott Buchanan took turns bantering with the audience, with Buchanan immediately gaining fans by wearing a Steve Nash Phoenix Suns jersey on-stage – unfortunately, the Suns would fall to the Lakers shortly after the NERV set ended – and both Jones and Buchanan made sure there was never a dull moment or awkward pauses during their set. Buchanan brought up the Arizona Diamondbacks’ improbable World Series run, which drew loud cheers. Jones also mentioned that singing karaoke until 2 in the morning was a really bad idea, apparently alluding to an incident earlier on the tour where the group had a little too much fun – if that’s even possible. 

Buchanan and Jones are joined onstage by guitarist Jordan Grokett and drummer Tyler Clark, and the band put together a 30 minute set that was, in short, extremely enjoyable, and left many hoping for more from the group. Jones has vocals that switch from a buttery-smooth emo style to a gritty sound that would fit in well with Breaking Benjamin, as well as other giants of metal. There is a bright future for this band, and if spotted on a bill as an opener, it is well-worth your time to show up early. You will not be disappointed.

Blind Channel

Blind Channel
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Up next was Blind Channel, a Finnish nu metal band that formed in 2013, and represented Finland in the 2021 Eurovision contest. They would finish in sixth place in the competition with their song “Dark Side.” The organizers of the Eurovision contest asked the band not to flip the audience off – something that did happen during this show, with both the audience and the band playfully flipping each other off – as the Eurovision contest is a family friendly show, so to get around this, the band painted their middle fingers red. 

Niko Moilanen (Vocalist), Blind Channel
Niko Moilanen (Vocalist), Blind Channel
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

The show started off with “Happy Doomsday,” sung to the tune of “Happy Birthday,” with the band wasting absolutely no time in cranking the energy all the way up to 11 as soon as they started the show off. The band was heavily influenced by Linkin Park, and watching co-vocalists Joel Hokka and Niko Moilanen sing using screams that would have made Chester Bennington proud, it becomes very apparent just how influential Bennington and Mike Shinoda were.

In fact, “Scream” from their 2018 album Blood Brothers was dedicated to Bennington following his tragic passing. The lyrics make it very clear just how much they admired Bennington: “My hero, where did you go?/You still echo deep inside my bonesYou gave a choice to those who wanted to bleed/You gave a voice to those who wanted to scream.” The band also did a cover of “Numb” on video, but the song was never released as a standalone. 

Hokka and Moilanen are joined onstage by guitarist Joonas Porko, bassist Olli Matela, drummer Tommi Lalli, and DJ/percussionist Aleksi Kaunisvesi.

Blind Channel's vocalist Joel Hokka head banging
Joel Hokka (Vocalist), Blind Channel
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

The band expressed gratitude for being in town, for being on the tour, and made sure to inform everyone where they came from. The band is known in the EU, but had not made a name for themselves stateside. They call themselves the “Backstreet Boys of the metal scene,” and in fact ended their show with a short singalong to the song “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” which may have been a bit confusing to anyone who is unfamiliar with the band and unaware of their nickname. There is a bit of a boy band element with the group, so it does fit, but they are far more than a boy band. 

Blind Channel performing in Phoenix
Blind Channel
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Blind Channel, like NERV, should be a must-see when spotted on a bill. The blast of pure energy and fun that comes from this group had a profound effect in bringing up the energy level of the crowd. You could not help but have a great time with these guys. The stage presence, the interactions, the ability to get the entire room to do what they asked with absolutely no hesitation (at one point asking the entire audience to crouch way down until given the word to go back to normal), were remarkable. It is just genuinely fun music with a band that is very good at what they do.

The HU 

The HU performing at The Van Buren
The HU
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

To say the crowd was buzzing, ready for The HU would be a bit of an understatement. The HU (which translates to the Mongolian root word for “Human being”) burst onto the scene in 2016 and has grown steadily in popularity ever since.

They are unique in that they only sing in Mongolian, including their Metallica covers, which are arguably significantly better than the originals due to the depth of sound that the traditional instruments provide, as well as the throat singing that provides a unique sound that builds on the growl of James Hetfield. Part of this success comes due to their extensive touring, including quite a few tours throughout the US. They are relatively frequent visitors to Arizona – frequent, that is, for a band that is based in a country half a world away from the Sonoran Desert. The band visited twice in 2022, once this year, and will undoubtedly be back many more times. 

Enkush (Vocalist, Morin khuur), The HU
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

The band expands on tour, from the four core members up to a total of eight, which allows them to bring their immense depth of sound to life. The band uses traditional Mongolian instruments and Tuvan throat singing, or Khöömei, as well as the more modern electric guitar and electric bass. 

Temka (Tovshuur), The HU
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

The core band consists of:

  • Galbadrakh “Gala” Tsendbaatar, the lead vocalist and one of the throat singers, who also plays the morin khuur. This instrument is known as the national instrument of Mongolia and is sometimes called a horsehead fiddle.
  • Nyamjantsan “Jaya” Galsanjamts, another throat singer, who plays the tsuur, an important instrument in Mongolian music culture, as well as the tumur hhuur, which is similar to a jaw harp in the US.
  • Enkhsaikhan “Enkush” Batjargal, who is also a throat singer and plays the morin khuur.
  • Temuulen “Temka” Naranbaatar, responsible for backing vocals and playing the tovshuur. The tovshuur is a handmade instrument with two or three strings and may resemble a guitar at first glance.

The four touring members include:

  • Unumunkh “Ono” Maralkhuu, who plays percussion, tumur hhuur, and provides backing vocals.
  • Jambaldorj “Jamba” Ayush, the guitarist and backing vocalist.
  • Nyamdavaa “Davaa” Byambaa, the bassist and backing vocalist.
  • Odbayar “Odko” Gantumur, the drummer.

The HU played a 15-song set, drawing mostly from their 2022 album Rumble of Thunder, including “Black Thunder,” “This is Mongol,” and “YUT Hövende,” which they dedicated to the indigenous people around the world, but especially to those affected by the Maui wildfire.

Jaya (Vocalist, Tumur hhuur, Tsuur), The HU
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

The lyrics of their songs are often about war and the old ways, with references to war in the song “Wolf Totem.” The wolf is a sacred symbol in Mongolia, with the Mongols considering them the messengers of heaven, and folklore holds that the great Chinggis Khaan – known to the west as Genghis Khan – came from a union between a wolf and an elk. As such, the song sounds like a war chant, one that would strike extreme fear into the hearts of any unfortunate foe who happened to hear it coming over the horizon, while simultaneously giving the army the ability to run through walls for their leader. 

Gala (Vocalist, Morin khuur), The HU
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Throat singing was banned during much of the 20th century by the communist regimes that held the areas that the Mongolians call home due to the fact it was considered “backwards,” and the desire to eliminate all traditions and rituals from a culture before being forcibly assimilated by every communist regime in history. This changed in the 80s, and there has been an explosion of throat singers since the ban was lifted, allowing the general public to once again take part in their traditions. 

There is another layer to the greatness that is The HU: The music videos are absolutely gorgeous, showing off the beauty of the Mongolian steppes, telling an incredible visual and audio story. Each music video, each song leaves you wanting more. 

The same can be said about the shows: they are loud, they are fun, and if you are a fan of metal, you will absolutely have an amazing experience. The show ended with a cover of Metallica’s “Sad But True,” the only song in the encore, and the perfect end to an incredible show. 

The HU performing at The Van Buren
The HU
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

The HU and NERV have not yet announced new tour dates, but Blind Channel will spend much of spring 2024 touring Europe. While there are no current tours or local shows announced, it is well worth your while to listen to the catalogs and music videos from these extraordinary bands.

Photo Gallery

Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo

The HU, Blind Channel, & NERV – The Van Buren 10-23-26

Photography © Reagle Photography
All Rights Reserved

REVIEW: Babyklok Tour 2023: An Unforgettable Night of Metal Madness with Dethklok and BABYMETAL in Phoenix (10-10-23)

PHOENIX — On a mild mid-October evening, with the first signs of fall evident throughout town – as seen in the changing colors of license plates, and the exchange of the brutal dry heat for a slightly less intense dry warmth – a crowd assembled at Arizona Financial Theatre in downtown Phoenix. Next to fine examples of how architecture should not look (brutalist architecture is the unsalted saltine cracker of the construction world) sits the theater. The crowd gathered here this evening had braved the traffic and lack of downtown parking to bear witness to a metal show like no other: Dethklok and BABYMETAL teaming up as co-headliners on the “Babyklok” tour, with Jason Richardson opening the show up. Dethklok – a fictional band that is surprisingly very real – was touring in support of their newest album, Dethalbum IV, and the new movie Metalocalypse: Army of the Doomstar. BABYMETAL was touring in support of the latest album The Other One, released earlier this year. 

Jason Richardson

Jason Richardson took the stage first. Richardson first broke into the music industry at 17, when he took over for Chris Storey in All Shall Perish in 2009. Since then, he has played in Born of Osiris, Chelsea Grin, and currently plays in All That Remains, filling the massive hole left when Oli Herbert mysteriously and tragically passed away in 2018. He has toured as a solo act, and puts on an absolute masterpiece of a solo show. He played for around half an hour, playing a total of 7 songs, including “Tendinitis” and “Ishimura”.

BABYMETAL

BABYMETAL
BABYMETAL
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

The history of BABYMETAL is an interesting look into the culture and entertainment of Japan. Formed in 2010 with then-13-year-old Suzuka Nakamoto (stage name Su-metal) as the lead singer, 11-year-old Moa Kikuchi (stage name Moametal), and 11-year-old Yui Mizuno (stage name Yuimetal), the group was a subunit of a group named Sakura Gakuin. Yuimetal left in 2018 due to an illness, and was replaced in 2023 by one of their back-up dancers, Momoko Okazaki (known as Momometal). The idea was to fuse the Japanese idol genres with heavy metal, with the result being a new type of metal called “kawaii metal”. There is a very strong J-pop sound to the vocals, layered over thunderous, earth-shaking metal music.

BABYMETAL executing precise choreography
BABYMETAL
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

This is combined with choreography that has near military-like precision, with the trio seldom, if ever, being out of sync. The show is equal parts entertaining and organized chaos, and BABYMETAL fans enjoy every second of it.

The chaos began at exactly 8 p.m., with the words “BABYMETAL WORLD TOUR 2023” coming up on the massive screen behind the band. The introduction drew inspiration from Star Wars, with the opening lines being ‘A long time ago in a heavy metal galaxy far, far away,’ followed by a tale of how the FOX GOD chose the heavy metal spirits to make up the band. At the conclusion, the band erupted into a riff that would make Rammstein proud. Even with the band attempting to rearrange the molecules of the audience members with a sustained sonic blast, the cheers from the crowd could still be heard.

BABYMETAL with a bursting, sparkling image on a backing screen
BABYMETAL
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

BABYMETAL has released 4 albums over the years, starting with 2014’s BABYMETAL, 2016 saw the release of Metal Resistance, 2019 brought Metal Galaxy and earlier this year the band released The Other One. They leaned heavily on BABYMETAL, opening the show up with “BABYMETAL DEATH”, and following that up with “Gimme Chocolate!!”.

BABYMETAL dancing while shrouded in blue light
BABYMETAL
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Su-metal and the band said little beyond greeting the audience and giving instructions that were eagerly followed, such as having the crowd turn their phone lights on, getting low (which, in most cases, simply meant taking a seat before jumping back up), and a couple of other actions. While little was said, it is clear that the band has mastered the art of stage presence and crowd interaction. It should also be noted that unlike many recent metal concerts, there was a circle pit from the jump at this show. Watching the dynamics of said pit when the screen showed an overhead view of the audience was also an interesting study. Watching fully grown men slam into each other at full speed while listening to kawaii metal is not something I thought I would write about.

Dethklok

Dethklok logo on the backing screen at their concert
Dethklok
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Dethklok answers the question, “What would happen if Weird Al were a metalhead who decided to write NSFW lyrics?” The answer is a bizarre and yet utterly enjoyable hour-long show. The birth of Dethklok came in 2006, when Metalocalypse premiered on Adult swim. The fictional band would soon release a very real album – The Dethalbum – in 2007, which shot to number 21 on the Billboard top 200 list. Lead singer and founder Brendon Small played all the instruments from 2006 until he was joined in 2007 by Gene Hoglan, one of the greatest metal drummers to ever grace the stage.

Dethklock performs at Arizona Financial Theatre
Dethklok
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

While the premise may seem a bit odd to an outsider, don’t be fooled. It is pure, silly, and rather metal fun. The show begins with the band members walking to their positions in backlit darkness. Then, the screen behind them plays scenes from the Metalocalypse TV show, including scenes from the full-length movie Metalocalypse: Army of the Doomstar, which was released on August 22nd of this year, while the real-life band performs. If you are not familiar with the show, it can be summed up as an over the top world where the fictional band accidently murders thousands of people with every show, and is also a massive economic powerhouse, but they can’t buy groceries or cook a meal due to their incompetence.

Dethklok with an animation with gravestones on the screen behind the band
Dethklok
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

None of that previous sentence is made up, and the over the top moments mixed with the over the top songs attracted a die-hard following that happened to have quite a crossover into the BABYMETAL fanbase. This should be no surprise, as both bands produce some face-meltingly amazing metal, with a twist.

Oh, and Facebones, an animated skull featured in concerts and the TV show, serves as a well-intentioned character, often tasked with providing guidance and explanations, but invariably finds himself unable to convey valuable information before things inevitably go completely off the rails. He makes a couple of appearances, reminding the audience about concert etiquette, such as the importance of not indulging in excessive pot smoking, as no one wishes to take on the role of caretaker.

It gets very weird very quickly, but that seems to be par for the course considering one of the song names is “I Ejaculate Fire,” with an incredibly bizarre music video that redefines the idea of how destructive an STD can truly be.

Dethklok appearing as a silhouette with a large fiery screen above them
Dethklok
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Your aunt is likely to pray for your immortal soul upon discovering your attendance at a Dethklok concert. You might feel a tad confused and uncomfortable, but the music is undeniably absurd in the best possible way, with a real-life band producing some of the finest metal sounds you’ll ever encounter. Just don’t pay too much attention to the lyrics, or you might realize you’ve been headbanging to a coffee jingle. Not that anyone could fault you; “Duncan Hills Coffee Jingle” is undeniably a banger that leaves you uncertain about whether to charge through a wall to get some coffee or flee, especially since the video playing behind the band strongly suggests the brand has mistaken “waking up” for “burning alive in a pool of superheated coffee.”

Dethklok performs in front of a large crowd of fans
Dethklok
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

The Babyklok tour ended on October 12 in the Los Angeles area, and while BABYMETAL will continue on with another touring partner in Europe, fans will have to wait for Dethklok to announce their next steps. It is, after all, a concept band that just released a film to conclude the Metalocalypse era and has wrapped up their first tour in 11 years. The fandom can only hope to see another tour or two, but if there are no more, it would be difficult to argue against the idea that they truly exited stage left on a high note.

Photo Gallery

Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo

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Dethklok & BABYMETAL – Arizona Financial Theatre 10-10-23

Photography © Reagle Photography
All Rights Reserved

REVIEW: AL1CE Enthralls Pub Rock Live, Closing the Shadows and Light Tour (5-13-23)

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Scottsdale, AZ — On a mild Saturday night – one of the last mild evenings before the Arizona summer heat really sets in – a crowd gathered at Pub Rock Live to watch the final show of LA-based band AL1CE’s “Shadows and Light” tour, with Portland-based Adrian H. and the Wounds and AZ local bands Don’t Panic and Mike and the Molotovs opening the show up.

The venue sits less than half a mile from the border of Tempe and Scottsdale, situated in a low slung strip mall, a victim of the questionable design choices architects tended to make over half a century ago. A quick glance tells the viewer that form and function stopped talking to each other halfway through the design process, and at some point, form was found badly beaten in the alley.

It is a minor miracle that this plaza has survived the development of South Scottsdale, something that could perhaps be attributed to being consistently filled with tenants. Today, one can visit and find an smorgasbord of eclectic tenants: two churches, two gyms, a mattress store, three restaurants – including one that is also one of the best places to buy fresh seafood in all of Arizona – and a barbershop that doubles as a time capsule. The interior appears to have had few upgrades since the early 80s, and the owner – Justin, who the shop is named after – will only charge you $12 for a haircut and a conversation.

Around the corner from the barber shop, one will find the destination for this evening. Above the doors, you will be greeted with a simple sign that says “Pub Rock,” with an old-timey radio microphone dividing the words. Below, to the left of the double doors, there is a warning that you’re about to enter the AZ (Kansas City) Chiefs Kingdom.

Pub Rock started life as Atomic Café in the early 90s. Grey Daze – with Chester Bennington – reportedly played there around 1995. In 1998, the name changed to Chasers, and the clientele and music styles changed as well. In 2012, Chasers was sold, and became Pub Rock, hosting some broadcasts from the very short-lived revival of KUKQ. You will now find an autographed Joe Montana jersey hanging over the bar, surrounded with plenty of other memorabilia. There is a wall of CDs next to the stage, and neighboring that, the merch table. You will also find a security guard who may very well ask you to pet her by the end of the show, as she is a Great Dane named “Gucci,” who is exceedingly well behaved.

Mike and the Molotovs

Mike and the Molotovs (MATM) took the stage first, with frontman Mike Lee saying “Let’s get this shit started! Give it up for AL1CE! Thank you guys for making it out here, we’re gonna close your tour out right.” Lee, for those who are not acquainted with his work, deals in satire. One of his previous bands is Goth Brooks, a Phoenix-based band with a sound that combines the goth metal/industrial and country genres. 

Mike Lee (Vocalist, Guitarist), Mike and the Molotovs
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Some of the work of MATM is slightly more subtle than other pieces, but the opening number lacked all subtly, and instead reminded you that he is also not the biggest fan of capitalism. The opening line contains the excellent advice of “Don’t let your babies work at Wal-Mart.” The band bills itself as “Spaghetti Punk,” an apt description for the style. There is an undeniable country undertone with a dose of Flogging Molly with the fiddle – played by special guest Tim Sadow – over the guitars. As the first song came to an end, Lee urged the crowd to come a bit closer to the stage, telling them “we don’t bite,” to which guitarist and back-up vocalist Ivan deadpanned, “I bite. Don’t get too close to me.

After informing the audience that they didn’t have a choice in if they wanted another song, Lee announced that the name of the next song was “If You Want To Be My Lover, The Two Party System Must End.” A glance at the song title may give one the impression that they are about to hear a cover of the well-known song by the Spice Girls named “Wannabe,” but nothing could be further from the truth. There are elements of “American Idiot” hidden in the first few bars of the song, and lyrics that are rather unlike the bubblegum pop that the Spice Girls were known for, save for the line “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want!” yelled by Ivan.

Mike Lee (Vocalist, Guitarist), Mike and the Molotovs
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

There were some surreal moments, including a song about Burger King that involved Ivan slowly ramping up to yelling, “Whopper whopper whopper WHOPPER,” into the microphone, much to the delight of the crowd. This is what makes seeing Mike and the Molotovs a fun event: the band has a message they take seriously, but they don’t turn it into an overly preachy event; instead you’ll have a bunch of fun with listening to a rather fun anti-capitalist band.

Don’t Panic

Don’t Panic took the stage next. Formed back in 2014, the band name is a reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This is reflected in their latest album – 42 – released in August of last year. If you are unfamiliar with “the Guide”, the number 42 is the answer to life, the universe, and everything. Unfortunately, no one knows what the question is. Why? Well, I would tell you, but I think you should read the book. 

Dylan Rowe (Vocalist), Don’t Panic
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

As the band took the stage, your eye could not help but to be drawn to the bejeweled mesh mask that lead vocalist Dylan Rowe wore. It would catch the light throughout the show, throwing it back into the audience, adding to the enchantment of the performance. Don’t Panic is a mix of genres, sounding a bit like rock some moments, then some dance, and weaving it all together is Rowe and the back-up vocalist Jeffery Robens, who is also the guitarist. Bassist Ryan Obermeit and drummer Jesse Mitchell round out the band.

Don't Panic live at Pub Rock
Don’t Panic
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

There is a bit of Evanescence hidden away in the band, with Rowe and Robens sometimes sounding a bit like Amy Lee and Ben Moody from the very early days of the band. One must also recognize those who do not get nearly enough credit as well: whoever programmed the light show. The stage was small, but the production value punched way above its weight class, and it is impossible not to be impressed by the ethereal short set, which leaves you yearning for an encore.

Adrian H. and the Wounds

Adrian H. and the Wounds joined AL1CE on their continent wide tour, marking one of their first tours since the pandemic began. The band has garnered a bit of a cult following locally in Portland, though they haven’t been quite as active as before the pandemic. They have played with AL1CE previously in October of 2020, and at festivals and internationally, but have been a bit quiet when it comes to touring for the last few years.

Adrian H. and the Wounds
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Their sound – according to their website – is sinfully soulful. It could also be described as darkwave, mixed with a bit of Nine Inch Nails. It was a nearly blackout, smoky set, with the fog machine getting a bit of a warmup for AL1CE. The band was backlit, with Adrian H hunched over the keyboard on stage left, and the rest of the band cracking out the paradoxically pleasant and yet somewhat monotone EDM and goth metal music. 

Adrian H. and the Wounds
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

One could not help but – at the very least – sway along to the music, if not join the others in the audience on what was now a dance floor. The final song of the set brought vitality to the performance as the frontman stepped out from behind the keyboard and had a much stronger stage presence than before. The band was enjoyable as it was, but the change in pace and flow elevated the finale. The set ended without much said, and while it was not the most overwhelming set of the night, they had joined AL1CE on a marathon of a tour and undoubtedly felt all of the miles they traveled. Adrian H. and the Wounds kept the dark atmosphere strong and served as a good segue between Don’t Panic and AL1CE.

AL1CE

AL1CE would finish the night off. In spite of a massive 25-day, 10,000-mile, 24-show tour, there was no indication of exhaustion throughout the set. Even though the band is based in the LA area, they have strong ties to the Phoenix area. Jonah Foree – a bandmate of Mike Lee in Goth Brooks, and the goth metal side of the band – was a prolific and well-loved musician who left us entirely too soon in 2022. 

AL1CE
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Foree, who was also a member of Ikonoklast and HARDWIRE, organized an annual free show called Mustache Massacre which fostered a collective bond of the gothic community for over a decade. It often featured his bands along with the AL1CE members’ previous project Mankind is Obsolete, and strongly supported other local industrial, metal, and punk music groups as well. This tour marked the first time AL1CE returned to Phoenix on tour after his passing, and a song written by Foree himself called “Drown” was played during tonight’s show. Vocalist Natasha “Tash” Cox was close friends with Jonah, and performed at the memorial show for Foree.

Natasha Cox (Vocalist), AL1CE
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

AL1CE is an experience. It is not just the music, it is also the feeling of being welcomed, of feeling like you know those on stage, even if you’ve never met them before. While one can eventually learn how to have a stage presence that will capture your attention, making the audience feel at home is not a talent that can be taught. There was nothing forced the entire night, nothing felt awkward or unnatural. Instead, you are welcomed into the venue, and you become a family of sorts with the band, even if you do not realize it at first. The band wears masks, they wear costumes, and it would be easy to think that they may be a bit different off stage, but that could not be further from the truth. 

Sasha Travis (Vocalist), AL1CE
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Cox is joined on stage by vocalist Sasha Travis, bassist and keyboardist Gordan Bash, drummer Steve Kefalas, percussionist Carl Garcia, and Scott Landes on the guitar. The band calls the music “dark electronic rock,” which is definitely true, but there is more to the band than just that. Their cover of “Land of Confusion” is nowhere near as abrasive as the Disturbed cover that most as used to, and is instead a heavy and enjoyable listen. Audience participation came halfway through the show, as a high hat was taken from the stage, put into the crowd, and those who wanted were handed a drum stick to hit the cymbal while one of the band members played a tambourine. While that may seem like a bit of a surreal experience, in context it made perfect sense, and was a unique experience.

Gordon Bash (Bassist, Keyboardist), AL1CE
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

AL1CE also performed an impressive cover of Bjork’s “Army of Me” in their unique and enthralling way. It takes talent to take a song, leave a major nod to the original artist, and yet add your own sound on top, a musical cake if you will. This is what this unique and lovely group of humans do: make music feel familiar in a show that feels like home. The show ended – this is the tragedy of all shows; they begin, and thus must also end – and the band stepped off the stage to mingle with those in the audience. And so, in that low-slung building that has witnessed history for the last half-century or so, another chapter closed, another show ends, and we all disperse into the night with gratitude for the memories made and the opportunity to remember Jonah Foree once again.

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AL1CE | Don’t Panic | Full Lineup

AL1CE, Adrian H and the Wounds, Don’t Panic, & Mike and the Molotovs – Pub Rock 5-13-23

Photography © Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design
All Rights Reserved.

REVIEW: Phantom Planet & AVIV – Warmly Welcomed Musical Guests Whet Appetites for ZONA Music Festival (12-2-22)

PHOENIX – In a city where history seems to be but a suggestion, where a shrinking number of hundred year old buildings sit in the shadow of cranes that throw tons of steel and glass into the arid desert air, hoping that unsuspecting outsiders fall in love with the 3 days of reasonable weather per year – which seems to work at an alarming rate – one can still find the echoes of the past, if you look hard enough. One of these echoes is a building on the corner of Monroe and Central Ave, where one door will lead to a dizzying amount of Cornish pasties, another will lead to a jewelry shop where you will be greeted by a 102 year old man who walked through those doors 68 years ago and hasn’t left yet, and yet another leads down a flight of stairs.

Down these stairs, you will find the destination for this evening: a music hall and bar that is collectively and aptly named Valley Bar. At the foot of the stairs, you can turn to the left and find the Rose room, named after the first female governor of Arizona, Rose Mofford, or go straight ahead and enter the music hall. Within the music hall, fans of Phantom Planet and AVIV gathered to witness a new piece of history: one of the seven different ZONA night events, put on as part of the brand new ZONA Music Festival. Both bands would make an appearance the next day at the festival, which they both noted, asking the fans to come join them the next day during their sets.

AVIV

AVIV performing at Valley Bar 12-2-22
AVIV (Vocalist) with her live band
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

After a quick greeting, AVIV jumped into her set, immediately commanding attention. While she is not very well known in the US, the 16 year old has quite the impressive resume: She opened for Imagine Dragons during their tour through Canada at age 15, has appeared on TV as an actress (including a scene in American Gothic where she fires a crossbow at one of the main characters) and she toured with the Mini Pop Kids – a band well-known in Canada. To say she is an up and coming solo musician appears to be quite the understatement. 

AVIV performing at Valley Bar 12-2-22
AVIV (Vocalist)
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

AVIV also recently released her first EP: an 8 song record titled Drowning in the Culture. Between her stage presence, vocals, and rather on-the-nose and relatable lyrics, she shows flashes of Billie Eilish while also charting her own course. After the first song, she thanked the crowd, and then told them, “I love it here! The last time I was in Arizona, I was 5 years old, so a little while ago, but I just remember for the next decade I talked about how it was the most extraordinary trip of my life.” She spoke about the beauty of the state – an opinion that perhaps changed after rain fell for almost 24 hours straight on the festival that followed over the weekend, turning it into a muddy pit of pure fun.

AVIV performing at Valley Bar 12-2-22
AVIV (Vocalist)
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Afterward, she played “Girl in Red,” the song that garnered the attention of those in the music world, leading to her signing with a label. A few songs later, she stopped to discuss the songwriting process of “Sleep it Off.” She explained that the song was written in LA about a time in her life when she was “about 8 or 9,” when someone in her community passed away. The song was based on the reply her mother gave her, which was to “sleep it off.” As she began to explain the process, she wavered a bit as a man in the crowd decided to bless the entire room with his loud, one-way conversation with his apparent date, who did not seem overly impressed with his uninterrupted desire to talk. Fortunately, AVIV is quite the pro, and moved on quickly – hopefully this guy’s date followed suit.

AVIV performing at Valley Bar 12-2-22
AVIV (Vocalist)
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

AVIV moved around the stage with grace, dancing as she sang, moving to a keyboard, shining flashes of a superstar in the making. It is likely that those in attendance that night will look back and remember the time that they were fortunate enough to see a superstar in such an intimate setting. Before leaving, AVIV mentioned the ZONA festival, stating that she would be “on the stage under the bridge.” This was the Eddy stage (all four stages were named after local musicians) and it appeared to be the driest stage in the festival, while also being the smallest.

AVIV performing at Valley Bar 12-2-22
AVIV (Vocalist)
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

ZONA was held less than a mile from Valley Bar, in a park that was only made possible by another piece of Arizona, and, really, national history: On August 10th, 1990, on a brutally hot summer day, the final piece of the I-10 – a 2,500 mile highway stretching from coast to coast – opened up. This piece was the Deck Park Tunnel, a tunnel that isn’t actually a tunnel; it is instead 19 bridges side by side. On top of this not-a-tunnel sits Margaret T. Hance Park, named after the first female mayor of Phoenix. Who better to open this park than the first female governor of Arizona, the aforementioned Rose Mofford? Sadly, Hance passed away just a few short months before the park bearing her name opened, but her name and legacy will live on.

Phantom Planet

Phantom Planet performing at Valley Bar 12-2-22
Phantom Planet
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

With the music hall now nearly full, Phantom Planet took the stage. Formed in 1994, the band chose their name from a movie that gained second life when Mystery Science Theater 3000 chose to use it in the 9th season of the show. They have taken two hiatuses over the years: The first lasting from 2008 to 2011, and the second was 2013 to 2019.

Alex Greenwald (Vocalist, Guitarist), Phantom Planet
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

In between those breaks, they have done just about everything a band could hope to do: put out 5 albums,Alex appeared on two TV shows and a movie, and their song “California” became the theme song for The O.C.

Andrew Parker (Drummer), Phantom Planet
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

In between all of that, they have had numerous songs show up in movies and TV shows, and have also toured extensively with a rather eclectic mix of bands, including Guns N Roses, Blink-182, and Panic! At the Disco. They have appeared on enormous stages, yet seem to remember the smaller ones more. They even mentioned the time they played in a smaller stage in Arizona, and while they couldn’t agree exactly where it was, however the general consensus was that it was at the Mason Jar, now the Rebel Lounge. 

Darren Robinson (Guitarist) & Alex Greenwald (Vocalist, Guitarist), Phantom Planet
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

While they have the pedigree of major bands, they also are one of the more relaxed and tight-knit groups out there, and seeing them in a small space was quite the treat. As the evening progressed, the band joked with each other and the fans, at one point noting that a cable came unplugged during their song, which led to the joke, “Why do we always talk after this song? It’s supposed to be the next one!” 

Chris Lorentz (Bassist), Phantom Planet
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

The night was rife with technical interruptions and quick thinking and fixes by the band. At one point, lead singer Alex Greenwald broke his guitar string, and a discussion onstage about how to handle it was rather amusing and charming. Lead guitarist Darren Robinson grabbed the guitar from Greenwald, handing Greenwald his guitar, and giving bassist Sam Farrar and drummer Jeff Conrad a break as Greenwald decided to move “California” from the encore to the middle of the set. Greenwald played solo, singing along, while Robinson quickly changed the string, tuned the guitar to the best of his ability, and handed it back to Greenwald upon completion of the song. More lighthearted banter would follow from the band, between each other and the fans who could not get enough. 

Phantom Planet performing at Valley Bar 12-2-22
Alex Greenwald (Vocalist, Guitarist), Phantom Planet
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved
Phantom Planet Valley Bar setlist
Phantom Planet setlist – Valley Bar 12-2-22

The set – which lasted about an hour and 15 minutes – saw the band squeeze in an incredible 13 planned songs and two requests from the crowd at the end. At the height of the performance, the frontman entered the crowd and allowed fans to swarm around him as they thrust smartphones forward, recording video inches from his face. As the night drew to a close, he reminded the audience that Phantom Planet would be playing the next day at the ZONA fest on the Ronstadt stage – a day that might’ve had fans of the band singing “One Ray of Sunlight”. While the crowd cheered with great enthusiasm, the band members radiated smiles as they left the stage.

Phantom Planet Valley Bar setlist
Phantom Planet setlist – Valley Bar 12-2-22

This night was a confluence of history: The forming of a new festival, the gathering in a building where history oozes from the walls themselves, and the memories made during the time the two immensely talented bands were on the stage. While it remains to be seen if 2023 will bring another ZONA Music Festival, the hope and plan is that it will. When it happens, one would be amiss to hesitate in purchasing tickets to see history made once again.

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Phantom Planet & AVIV – Valley Bar 12-2-22

REVIEW: Panic! at the Disco Exacts Vengeance on the Footprint Center (10-23-22)

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PHOENIX – Panic! at the Disco returned to the Valley of the Sun for the first time in over 4 years; the longest absence from the state since the group was formed. At one point – between Valentine’s Day 2014 and March 29th, 2017, Panic! at the Disco (Panic) visited the Phoenix area a whopping 7 times, so the 4 year absence – in part due to the pandemic – meant that the fans in this area were hungry for the pageantry that comes with a Panic stage show. Opening for Panic was Jake Wesley Rogers, who catapulted into the public’s eye in 2012 when he competed – and was unfortunately eliminated in the quarterfinals – on America’s Got Talent. Following Rogers was MARINA, a Welsh-born singer/songwriter who started on her path to stardom across the pond in 2005. 

The three artists visited the valley on the “Viva Las Vengeance” tour, in support of the latest album – of the same name – from Panic! at the Disco. Together, the three bands promised to put on one entertaining show. The stage was a bit different than what most are used to with a square catwalk surrounding a standing room only pit for the lucky few who were able to score those prize tickets. If one were to stand in the middle of that area, it would only be around 15 feet from the stage in all directions, making it an incredible place to view this show.

Jake Wesley Rogers

Setlist

Jake Wesley Rogers
Jake Wesley Rogers
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

As his accompanying band started up, Rogers emerged wearing a white, sparkly suit with ruby red high heeled boots. It was a triumphant entry, his hands held high as he spun around before he took a seat at the piano.

Jake Wesley Rogers
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Rogers may not be the most recognizable name on this tour, but he was an excellent choice to join Panic! He was an entertainer though and through, projecting some Freddie Mercury vibes when he whipped off his jacket, revealing a tank top. It would be easy to get lost in the majesty of his stage presence, but he is not only great at setting a scene and then chewing it right up, he is also a staggeringly talented vocalist. 

Jake Wesley Rogers
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

At one point, he performed a cover of My Chemical Romance’s “Welcome to the Black Parade,” to the delight of the crowd. The mix of his vocal talents and his ability to impressively emulate Gerald Way shows that Rogers is the consummate entertainer, and we will likely see him quite a bit more on tours – perhaps even headlining on the scale of Panic – in the future. 

Jake Wesley Rogers
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Mid-set, he introduced himself and explained he was from Missouri, “You know…the Bible Belt,” and, chuckling, he showed off the soon to be infamous high heeled red boots – perhaps a nod to Brendon Urie’s time in the Broadway musical “Kinky Boots” –  and stated “I like to think I was the rhinestone on the belt buckle.” 

The 30-minute set was capped by “Pluto,” the title track of the album he released last year. As his performance was coming to an end, he announced he was putting his phone number up on the screen, and he would select one person to upgrade their seats. This was his way of giving back, as he had told the story of how, growing up, his mother took him to concerts, but they ended up sitting in the nosebleeds. This was his way of taking someone who was in the same type of situation, giving them a night they wouldn’t soon forget.

MARINA

Setlist

As the stage change occurred, a banner with “MARINA” was raised. This act alone caused a cheer to rise from the crowd, and it became clear that there is a huge portion of Panic fans who are also MARINA fans. It’s easy to see why, as they both share the flair for the dramatics.

Marina Diamandis (Vocalist), MARINA
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

While there are no pyrotechnics that back up vocalist Marina Diamandis, she truly does not need them. She came out wearing a pink dress, slinking onto and owning the stage, and she launched into “Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land.” Standing on a white platform, Diamandis commanded the attention of the audience, keeping them in awe for the entire performance. 

Marina Diamandis (Vocalist), MARINA
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

She greeted the crowd before “Man’s World,” saying “Phoenix! How are you feeling tonight? I’m so, so happy to be here, thank you for the warm welcome! I wasn’t expecting it.” Diamandis was extremely grateful for the love that the crowd showed her, thanking them between many of the songs, and also seemed a bit surprised at how well the crowd knew her music. Her mix of confidence and humbleness endeared herself to the crowd even more. It was hard to walk away from her set and feel anything but awe for her performance. 

Marina Diamandis (Vocalist), MARINA
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

When she started out, she had stated she was influenced by Britney Spears and The Distillers’ singer Brody Dalle. She is now an influence herself, and there are undoubtedly many musicians and vocalists who are inspired by her for good reason: Her voice is stunning, she has the stage presence of a superstar (making the most of a minimalist background), and her lyrics are sharp and pointed, even with the upbeat sounding music. In short, it is no wonder that so many knew her music, and no wonder that she was given such a warm welcome from the crowd. Over the course of a 12-song set, she moved between the platform, her piano, and walked the stage with a fierce confidence. She closed her portion of the show with more gratitude to the audience, followed by “Bubblegum Bitch,” which drew the biggest cheers of her set.

Marina Diamandis (Vocalist), MARINA
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

After MARINA’s set ended, the temperature in the arena started to plummet. Signs on the pillars on the way in warned that there would be flashing lights, smoke, and pyro effects. When you see a sign about pyro in an arena, and you feel the temperature dropping, it is a good sign that you’re about to get a lot warmer, and not just because you’re going to be dancing yourself into a frenzy. Panic! at the Disco is well known for their stage shows, which are always over-the-top and some of the most fun you can possibly have at a concert. 

There is also a build-up of anticipation before the show starts: on the sides of the stage, a clock counts down from 10 minutes, giving fans plenty of warning so they could return to their seats. During this countdown, various songs were playing, and as the last couple of minutes ticked by, the newly rediscovered masterpiece of a song “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” by Kate Bush. As the song ended, the lights cut out, and a simulated thunderstorm started.

Panic! At the Disco

Setlist

Lights flashed, thunder rumbled, smoke poured from the stage and the cheers started. And then seemingly out of nowhere – due to some fantastic misdirection – Urie stood on the outer edge of the stage with a huge grin and a microphone. As he began to sing “Say Amen (Saturday Night),” he also began to slowly make his way around the loop up to his ultimate destination of the main portion of the stage. 

Brendon Urie (Vocalist), Panic! at the Disco
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

For those who have not attended a Panic show, Urie is a showman to the core – a flashy entertainer who will make sure you’re having the time of your life. The first 6 songs of the set were quite familiar to the fans, ranging from “This is Gospel” to “Emperor’s New Clothes,” the song when the pyro really kicked in. As the skulls on the screen behind Urie and the band laughed, flames erupted across the stage. 30-foot flames produce massive amounts of heat, and with multiple fireballs erupting, it became very clear why the arena attempted to turn the massive room into an icebox. 

Brendon Urie (Vocalist), Panic! at the Disco
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Once the first portion of the show ended, Panic proceeded to play the entire new album, starting with the title track “Viva Las Vengeance.” Not all of the songs were overly impressive, but the presentation is what mattered most here. Joining Urie on stage was a guitarist, bassist, a small brass section, and stringed instruments. The three stringed instruments – two violins and a cello – were thrust into the spotlight during the openings for most of the new songs. The brass section would get their chance to shine during “Death Of A Bachelor” later in the show, as everyone – including the drummer – left the stage beyond the saxophonist, trumpeter, and the trombonist, who all joined Urie at the outer edge of the stage. 

Panic! at the Disco instrumentalists
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

The tracks off of Viva Las Vengeance range from the tragic in “Don’t Let The Light Go Out”, to the bouncy “Sad Clown” – which sounds as if it was pulled straight from a musical. There is even a song that might make some imagine that Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken are about to burst onto the stage: the cowbell content of “Sugar Soaker” is excessive perfection – which is perhaps a paradox – but unlike “Jumbo Shrimp,” this makes sense once one sees a live performance of the song. Many bands don’t showcase their entire album at once, so it was a bit unusual to have 12 songs sandwiched between classics that all Panic fans know and love. 

Brendon Urie (Vocalist), Panic! at the Disco
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

The new album also shows off the incredible, unearthly vocal range that Urie has. The 4-octave range is used throughout the previous albums, but to witness it in person is breathtaking. There seems to be very little that Urie cannot do, and he appears to relish each moment up on stage. The fans relished it as well, and the Shakespearean saying “parting is such sweet sorrow” would apply here. Fans in Phoenix will undoubtedly eagerly await the next show, which hopefully will not require another 4-year wait for Urie and his crew to give us a dazzling spectacle of lights, sounds, and imagination.

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Panic! at the Disco | MARINA | Jake Wesley Rogers

Panic! at the Disco, MARINA, Jake Wesley Rogers – Footprint Center 10-23-22

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REVIEW: Lamb of God Invites Arizona to See the Omens at Arizona Financial Theatre (10-14-22)

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PHOENIX – In support of their new album Omens, Lamb of God performed with Killswitch Engage at the recently renamed Arizona Financial Theatre. Nearing the end of the approximately 2-month long “Omens” tour, an impressive slate of east coast bands was completed with acts Fit for an Autopsy from New Jersey, and the Washington D.C. progressive metal band Animals As Leaders.

There are certain elements that are expected at every metal show: One is a circle pit, which – for the uninitiated – is what it sounds like: a moving circle of humanity, some slamming into others, and others just there to run around and avoid those hits. Most in those pits walk away with mutual respect for everyone else who partook, and it is a staple for most shows no matter the size. Another would be passing by religious protests outside of the venue. While the protesters are mostly there to yell at attendees, they also provide comic relief for the fans of a band that used to be named “Burn the Priest.” There is also an unwritten rule that a metal show should have fire of some sort, and to the delight of the pyros in the audience, this show delivered.f

Fit for an Autopsy

Joe Badolato (Vocalist), Fit for an Autopsy
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Smoke rose from the stage as the pit filled and fans trickled to their seats. Drummer Josean Orta, guitarist and backing vocalist Pat Sheridan, guitarist Tim Howley, and bassist Blue Spinazola of Fit for an Autopsy (FFFA) took to the stage, with the first note of “Sea of Tragic Beasts” shortly following. Lead vocalist Joe Badolato erupted onto the stage, yelling out “ARIZONA!” before singing the first lines of “Tragic Beasts.”

FFAA have previously stated that they get their inspiration from Lamb of God (LoG), and in fact, Badolato temporarily replaced LoG lead vocalist Randy Blythe when he contracted COVID-19 earlier this year. Fit for an Autopsy released a cover of “Walk With Me In Hell,” which Metal Hammer postulates is even heavier than the LoG original release. 

Tim Howley (Guitarist), Fit for an Autopsy
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Indeed, while it is possible to draw parallels between the two, FFAA is often heavier than their idols. Badolato stalks the stage, headbanging between lines, and implored the crowd to bring their energy levels up. For some, a 4-hour long metal concert means a slightly less than energetic reaction to the opener, no matter how heavy they are. Badolato did his best to bring up the energy in the venue, so at one point – right before “Pandora” – he told the crowd that the song “involves a very massive circle pit, the biggest one this room has ever seen.” The fans gladly placated him, quickly forming a circle pit for the duration of the song.

Joe Badolato (Vocalist), Fit for an Autopsy
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

As the set drew to a close, Badolato spoke about his time in the Phoenix area, mentioning he had lived there for a year during the pandemic, and noted his mother was currently at the concert. What Badolato didn’t mention was the fact he had owned a barbershop next to The Nile in downtown Mesa during his time in Arizona. He is a talented barber who regularly gives those on tour with him haircuts and beard trims.

Animals As Leaders

Matt Garstka (Drummer), Animals As Leaders
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

The next band to take the stage was Animals As Leaders (AAL) – a trio of exceptionally talented musicians: Guitarists Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes, and drummer Matt Garstka. There was but a single microphone on stage, set in front of Abasi, who used it sparingly. The music speaks for itself, with Garstka putting on an absolute clinic behind the kit. The ease at which he plays complex and technical beats are borderline unfair, and he is known as something of a prodigy. Currently just 33, he joined the band at 23 and has been blowing the minds of audiences ever since. Drum Magazine wrote an article – albeit nearly a decade ago – about the technical prowess of Garstka, and it seems the only thing that has changed is his skills have simply increased. 

Tosin Abasi (Guitarist), Animals As Leaders
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

AAL being a three-person band means that each member needs to be able to perform at the top of their game, night-in to night-out. Reyes and Abasi do just that, and what these two wizards do with their 8-string guitars is something that no one would want to miss. In fact, as soon as they left the stage, the many in the pit – and the audience in the seats – made a beeline for the restrooms and concession stands. In a genre where it is not surprising to see two or three guitar players and a bass player, watching these two execute some incredibly complex patterns with no margin for error, producing sounds that normally take full bands to accomplish, it is no wonder that the theater stood in rapt attention, watching and soaking up every single note that poured forth from the trio. 

Javier Reyes (Guitarist), Animals As Leaders
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Compared to the other three frontmen in the night’s lineup, Abasi was a soft spoken – yet firm – and calm voice between the 6 songs the band performed. The set opened with 2016’s “Arithmophobia” – a song first performed live at the now defunct Livewire in Scottsdale, Arizona – and then showcased 4 songs from their newest album, The Madness of Many, before the band circled back to “CAFO” from their 2009 self-titled debut album. Before CAFO started, Abasi asked the crowd to give the crowd a round of applause for each of the other bands before saying, “this is going to be our last one of the evening. We’ll catch you next time we’re in Phoenix, take care.”  

Killswitch Engage

Jesse Leach (Vocalist), Killswitch Engage
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Killswitch Engage seemingly has become a staple in the Phoenix music scene, even though they’re based far across the country. This was the third time in this past year that they had performed in the Phoenix area, but there was no sign of fatigue from fans. The repeated appearances could also be due to the tour manager having roots in the area; a bonus for the band since the manager has contacts with local businesses and can get some great local brews delivered. 

Justin Foley (Drummer), Killswitch Engage
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

As they took the stage, the difference between the size of the drum kit that AAL’s Garstka uses and that of Killswitch Engage’s drummer, Justin Foley, is notable. Foley prefers a smaller drum kit – a simple set-up compared to the monster that Garstka uses – but he is a master behind the kit. Literally; he has a masters degree from Hartt School of Music and has played with symphony orchestras in the past. It cannot be emphasized enough: Garstka and Foley are genius drummers, and to see the two back-to-back is a rare treat. 

Mike D’Antonio (Bassist), Killswitch Engage
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

The rest of Killswitch Engage is vocalist Jesse Leach, guitarists Joel Stroetzel and Adam Dutkiewicz, and bassist Mike D’Antonio. Leach, while an intense presence onstage, does not have the angry, caged-animal style Badolato and Blythe share. Instead, he moves around from side to side with something that could be considered grace if one were to compare him to his contemporaries.

Jesse Leach (Vocalist), Killswitch Engage
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

There is a mutual interaction – something unspoken if you will – between Leach and the fans. It is not to say the other bands cannot connect with the audience, it is instead that Leach focuses on connecting to the fans onstage, and his charisma shines through naturally. At one point, he stated that “At the end of the day, it’s all about unity man, it’s all about us coming together to have a good time.” He also made a point to ask how the people up in the nosebleeds were doing, and after asking if they have a bar up there, he said, “At least they’re taking care of you up there!” 

Adam Dutkiewicz (Guitarist), Killswitch Engage
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

As the night drew to a close, the band jumped into their cover of Dio’s “Holy Diver”, a song they released in 2007. After it finished, Leach acknowledged the fans who sang the entire song, and then paid tribute to Ronnie James Dio by saying, “You have to pay respect for the masters, the ones who have paved the road for us.” Leach closed the night out by dedicating “The Signal Fire” to their managers, saying they had taken care of them in their 20s, and now they’re “old pricks.” As that song wrapped, Leach told the fans, “We love you!” before leaving the stage. 

Lamb of God

Lamb of God
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

As the crews rushed out to set the stage for Lamb of God, a curtain was lowered, covering the stage and raising the anticipation for this upcoming spectacle. The song “Memento Mori” began to play as the lights fell – inciting cheers as a backlit, swaying silhouette of Blythe appeared. He sang the first few lines of the song in a surprisingly controlled, quiet – relatively speaking – manner. Then, a concussive pyrotechnical effect exploded, the curtain fell, and the night devolved into a maelstrom of noise, fireballs, and screaming guitars. 

Randy Blythe (Vocalist), Lamb of God
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

As mentioned, Blythe has the stage presence of a caged beast; one that prowls in open, plain view, looking for his next prey to pounce on. His audience is utterly captive, and responds to his commands with glee. Circle pits opened, grew, shrank, and bodies surfed to the front of the stage where security helped them down to safety. Those who made it up to the front would then run back around and join the pit, where the entire process would start all over again. 

John Campbell (Bassist), Lamb of God
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

There was a sense of euphoria in the air during this show, mixed with the overwhelming sonic boom that LoG produces. Blythe is joined onstage by guitarists Mark Morton and Willie Adler, drummer Art Cruz, and bassist John Campbell.

Art Cruz (Drummer), Lamb of God
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

It is hard, if not impossible, to overstate just how much talent crossed the stage on this night. There is a bit of duality with Blythe; the character you see on stage is diametrically opposed to the person who he is offstage. The angsty, stalking beast exists in the way he approaches the issues of social justice – directed at the oppressors – but he is also an example of integrity. His arrest in the Czech Republic in 2012 is an example of this, and he made brief mention of his arrest before the start of “512,” which was inspired by his experience. An excerpt from his book on this matter can be found in the Rolling Stone article, “Lamb of God Singer Reveals What He Remembers of Deadly 2010 Czech Show.” 

Randy Blythe (Vocalist), Lamb of God
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Once “512” ended, he announced – to the frenzied cheering of the crowd – that they would be playing “Grayscale,” the 8th song off of Omens, live for the very first time. In typical LoG fashion, the entire album is a ridiculously incredible display of lyrical mastery as well as the artistry that comes from the masters of guitar and drum, providing Blythe a wonderful tapestry to weave his vocals onto. The album is a must have for anyone who even remotely enjoys LoG, as it is another banger of an LP from the legendary band. 

Randy Blythe (Vocalist), Lamb of God
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Throughout the night, Blythe made mention of the first show that the band had played at this venue 16 years ago with Megadeath. In the 16 years since first playing at the venue, LoG has returned 7 times, and is currently one of the few – if not the only – bands to play under all four names the theater has had. The venue currently known as “Arizona Financial Theatre” has had the names Dodge, Comerica, and Arizona Federal over the 20 years since it opened in downtown Phoenix. It is a very popular spot for LoG, as they have played half of their Arizona gigs in the venue since 2006, for a total of 8 shows there in 16 years.

Randy Blythe (Vocalist) & Willie Adler (Guitarist), Lamb of God
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

The end comes even if no one is ready for it or really wants it to happen, and after thanking the crowd, jumping off the stage and singing with the front row of the mosh pit, and after the fiery stage show, it was time for Lamb of God to say goodbye.

Mark Morton (Guitarist), Lamb of God
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

The last song of the night was “Redneck,” off the 2006 album Sacrament, released shortly before the first show they played at this theater known by many names. As the song came to a close, another concussive blast shook the venue, and the night officially ended. With quite a large fanbase in the area, there is little doubt that Phoenix will again see these four bands that are exceptionally technically adept and soul-shaking.

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Photographer: Katherine Amy Vega

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Lamb of God | Killswitch Engage | Animals As Leaders | Fit for an Autopsy

Lamb of God, Killswitch Engage, Animals As Leaders, & Fit for an Autopsy – Arizona Financial Theatre 10-14-22

Photography © Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design
All Rights Reserved.

REVIEW: Less Than Jake & Bowling For Soup Attack the Marquee with Ska & Dad Jokes (8-5-22)

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Tempe, AZ – Co-headliners Less Than Jake and Bowling For Soup stopped at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe for the second to last show before a break in their “Back From The Attack” tour, which will resume on September 2nd in San Diego. This tour was a long time coming: Less Than Jake and Bowling For Soup had briefly toured together in 2019, and have appeared at multiple festivals together, but they had never jointly embarked on a major, cross-country tour. According to Bowling for Soup lead vocalist Jaret Reddick, there were discussions of a tour before the world shut down for COVID-19, but it did not solidify until after society began to open up again. Joining the two long-time, legendary punk bands on this stop were CLIFFDIVER, a Tulsa, Oklahoma band who have dubbed their own sub-genre: elevator emo pop. Rounding out the bill was Doll Skin, a punk-rock band from Phoenix, Arizona.

Bowling For Soup - Marquee Theatre

As the doors to the Marquee opened, relieving fans from the sweltering mid-summer heat, they were greeted by a table operated by staff from Punk Rock Saves Lives. Reddick is the chairman of the advisory committee, and is a major advocate of mental health. The group helps connect people who need mental health services to the right resources. They also help sign up potential bone marrow donors as well. Mental health was a bit of a theme throughout the night.

Doll Skin

Doll Skin took the stage at 7 p.m.  and opened with the chords of “Don’t Cross My Path,” from their 2019 album Love Is Dead and We Killed Her. If you heard the first few notes, you would be excused for thinking that this was a bit of a slow song, showcasing the smooth voice of lead vocalist Sydney Dolezal. The song, however, builds up and then explodes in the second verse, immediately electrifying the atmosphere and waking up even the sleepiest member of the audience. 

Doll Skin
| Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

During a break between songs – while drummer Scoot and guitarist Tori switched places, giving bassist Tay a bit of a break as well – Dolezal introduced themself to the crowd, saying that they had come to their first show at the Marquee when they were 12. After finishing a cover of Fugazi’s “Waiting Room,” Dolezal thanked the crowd for their participation, stating there would be more, but they wanted to say something before the show moved on:

“This state, my home state, has a fucking governor who’s a douche. *chuckles* Duceeyyyyy. I think my existence as a trans person, and a queer person, should not be inherently political and inherently divisive. I’m going to be fucking mad about it until I can exist, and the younger, queer people that are coming out to me and came before me can exist and live their lives.”

Sydney Dolezal (Vocalist), Doll Skin
| Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

They finished by expressing their love for the community and dedicated “Eat Shit” to the people who prevent others from living their lives. The set was short – only 7 songs – but every aspect was memorable, from the impassioned speech Dolezal gave, to Dolezal jumping off stage during “Control Freak” and joining the mosh pit, while singing the entire time. As the band left the stage, Dolezal led the enthusiastic crowd in chants of “Doll Skin!” before wishing everyone goodnight.

CLIFFDIVER

Joey Duffy (Vocalist), CLIFFDIVER
Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

This year has marked a lot of firsts for CLIFFDIVER. One is their debut album, Exercise Your Demons and another was experiencing the ridiculous heat that comes with an Arizona summer. Conversely, this is the first time that Arizona has been exposed to this lively emo band. The band is made up of co-lead vocalists Briana Wright and Joey Duffy, bassist Tyler Rogers, saxophonist Dony Nickles, guitarist/back-up vocalists Matt Ehler and Gilbert Erickson, and drummer Eliot Cooper. 

While their song titles may catch your attention first –  “Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost but Can Anyone Help Me Get Out of This IKEA?” seemed to be one of the crowd favorites – the sheer amount of talent these 7 possess should hold your focus. Wright and Duffy combined for a jaw dropping cover of Creed’s “Arms Wide Open” and “Higher” mid-set, much to the delight of those witnessing.

Briana Wright (Vocalist), CLIFFDIVER
Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

The music of CLIFFDIVER is a beautiful mix of open, honest, and devastating lyrics, set to music that makes you want to dance and yet make you think that you should call your therapist tomorrow morning. Between songs, the pair spoke about various topics, with Duffy discussing his bi-polar disorder and his sobriety, which recently reached 14 months. As the band and the crowd fed off each other’s energy, it was quite apparent that CLIFFDIVER was an experience, and that everyone involved would leave the Marquee just a bit better for having been there.

Marquee Theatre crowd stoked for Less Than Jake on Aug. 5, 2022
Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

Less than Jake

Less Than Jake started life as a band 30 years ago, and hasn’t slowed down since. Starting the show off with 1996’s “Automatic,” Less Than Jake made it very clear that they were in town to give everyone one hell of a show. Indefatigable frontman and guitarist Chris DeMakes is a fast-talking, fun-loving ska-punk legend who – along with the rest of the band – has a single-minded desire to make sure you leave the building feeling like you had one of the best nights of your life. The band is rounded out by co-lead vocalist and bassist Roger Lima, trombonist Buddy Schaub, saxophonist JR Wasilewski, and drummer Matt Yonker. 

Chris DeMakes (Vocalist, Guitarist), Less Than Jake
Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

There was a sort of controlled chaos that erupted from the stage, where DeMakes and Lima – with the rest of the band joining in at various points – interacted with the crowd between songs, bantering with the crowd and with each other. DeMakes gleefully reminded everyone who was over 35 that it would indeed hurt in the morning, an observation that resulted in knowing nods from those who have long since left that milestone behind, and cheers from those who were much closer to that age and likely did not realize what lay ahead for them. Less Than Jake made sure that there would be plenty of opportunities to feel it in the morning, mixing up the old with the new, even pulling an older, lesser played song out – 1996’s “Rock-N-Roll Pizzeria” from their album Losing Streak – and throwing it into the mix with “Lie To Me,” from their newest album Silver Linings. There was a bit of something for everyone, and for every age as well. 

Roger Lima (Vocalist, Bassist), Less Than Jake
Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

At one point, DeMakes pulled two younger kids onto the stage as well as one of the fans who was fanning herself, because as he said “you’re using more energy fanning yourself,” and asked Nick – their roadie – to fan her. Nick did so for the start of “History of a Boring Town,” which DeMakes dedicated to Flagstaff, which is a fair assessment of said town. Another new song was “The High Cost of Low Living,” a song DeMakes promised would be a banger. It is indeed, and it featured the return – albeit short lived – of their 90s mascot Skullman, who disappeared as quickly as he showed up. It’s never easy saying goodbye to a band like Less Than Jake, but there is no doubt they will return soon, as they expressed their love for Tempe and their fans.

Less Than Jake streams toilet paper onto fans at the Marquee
Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

Bowling For Soup

Bowling For Soup set is a bit unorthodox: They played 11 songs, and they spoke to the audience for about the same amount of time as they sang. Where Less Than Jake has mastered controlling the flow of energy in the building with their in between songs chats, Bowling For Soup has mastered the art of turning a set into equal parts comedy and music. Both methods work, and work well, but expecting Bowling For Soup to follow the stereotypical punk-rock structure would be to ignore most of their body of work. After all, Reddick is far more than just the lead vocalist; he is the voice of Chuck E Cheese, the chairman of the advisory committee for Punk Rock Saves Lives, and a country music artist. Is it not punk to defy expectations, even if those expectations are that the show – and the band – will be closer to what one considers traditional punk? 

Jaret Reddick (Vocalist, Guitarist), Bowling For Soup
| Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

Nothing about the band and the music they play – brilliantly – is within the conventional norms, and that makes their show all that much more fun. Reddick is joined onstage by guitarist Chris Burney, drummer Gary Wiseman, and Rob Felicetti on bass – all three performing back-up vocal duties as well. Favorites like “Punk Rock 101” and “1985” were played between a dad joke contest – won by Wiseman with “There were two windmills on a windmill farm, and on this particular day there was no wind. One windmill, trying to start a conversation, asked the other what kind of music they listened to. The second windmill replied ‘You know what? I’m a huge metal fan.’” – and a magic show where Reddick made a “bird” (read: his middle finger) appear from Burney’s kilt.

Chris Burney (Guitarist), Bowling For Soup
| Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

In addition, there was a rain of guitar picks from both Reddick and Burney, so much so that their roadie had to make multiple trips just to refill the microphone stand holding their picks. A few of those picks were even flicked at the photographers in the pit, who Reddick jokingly called the paparazzi. 

Jaret Reddick (Vocalist, Guitarist), Bowling For Soup
Jaret Reddick (Vocalist, Guitarist), Bowling For Soup
| Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

Bowling For Soup released a new album this year called Pop Drunk Snot Bread, which was reportedly first intended to be a recording session to make a few singles, but in the end the band decided to make it an album to spend even more time together. Unsurprisingly, the songs off this new album are fantastic, and the band treated the crowd to one: “I Wanna Be Brad Pitt,” a song about, and this may be a bit surprising, Brad Pitt. The music video is predictably hilarious, and watching it live is a treat unto itself. Reddick discussed mental health as well, sharing a bit about his own struggles over the years and what Punk Rock Saves Lives means to him and what it does for the community.

Bowling For Soup
| Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

Punk is often thought of as a music genre, when in reality it is, or has become, a culture and community with some really good music that comes along for the ride. The flier handed out at the table had a quote on it from Joe Strummer: “Punk Rock means exemplary manners to your fellow human beings.” This, without a doubt, is a statement that all four of the bands lived up to on this night, and during every show.

Fans raise their hands for Bowling For Soup at Marquee Theatre
Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

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Photography: Kara Blakemore

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Bowling For Soup* | Less Than Jake* | CLIFFDIVER | Doll Skin

*Includes a few additional photos

Bowling For Soup, Less Than Jake, CLIFFDIVER, & Doll Skin – Marquee Theatre 8-5-22

Photography © Electric Eye Photo AZ
All Rights Reserved

REVIEW: Failure Lands in the Desert for Crescent Ballroom Show (6-5-22)

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Phoenix, AZ — Failure returned to Crescent Ballroom for the third time since their reunion in late 2013, much to the delight of an eager and boisterous crowd. This was the first US tour in over 3 years, thanks to COVID, and was to support their newest album Wild Type Droid. This is their sixth studio album, and marks a major change for the band. Their previous albums have carried the band and their followers into outer space – one of the descriptors of the band is “space rock” – but this time the theme of the album will be a bit different. In a press release, guitarist and bassist Greg Edwards stated that “This feels like a good place and time to abandon the space iconography and theme once and for all. In a lot of ways, this album feels like a return to earth. All minds have been called back to their bodies. There’s a lot to attend to right in front of us.

Failure promo photo
Photography: Priscilla C. Scott

As Failure reached down to firmly grasp terra firma once more, their fans welcomed the news of the latest tour with open arms and thinly veiled excitement. They have been described as having “cult status” by Rolling Stone, and based on the buzz that was flowing through the venue as fans eagerly awaited their beloved band, it is a fitting moniker. Failure, formed in 1992, has embraced social media with a fierceness that is not often seen in bands that formed before the amalgamation of the internet and social media. In an era where word of mouth was currency, they built a following through tours with Tool, and a solid discography that has withstood the test of time. In fact, it could be argued that while formed in the 90s, Failure is anything but a 90s band. They were merely a band before their time.  

Failure completed the albums Comfort in 1992, Magnified in 1994, and Fantastic Planet in 1996. They stepped into a Lollapalooza slot in 1997 when Korn dropped out. Citing “personal differences”, they officially broke up on November 19, 1997, only to reunite in 2013. In the interim, former Failure rhythm guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen joined A Perfect Circle, who recorded a cover of Failure’s “The Nurse Who Loved Me” for their Thirteenth Step LP. 

Failure’s cosmic sound appears on 2015’s The Heart is a Monster album and 2018’s In The Future Your Body Will Be The Furthest Thing From Your Mind. Their tour for their recent release Wild Type Droid blends celestial sounds of previous albums with the “return to earth” sound they are making now. The band may have an on again, off again relationship, but their fans are here to stay. 

In a social media announcement on March 31st, 2022, Failure informed their fans that they could preview a 30-minute trailer for their upcoming eponymous documentary, which is slated to be released in 2023. A nearly 7-minute teaser of the documentary, a trailer of the trailer as it were, was played right before Failure took the stage. This announcement of the band’s upcoming film was met with unfettered excitement online, and this carried over into the night of the show.  

Those who have attended live music events at any point know that it is not unusual for fans to slowly trickle in, but on this night the vast majority of the crowd was in the venue when the lights were turned down at exactly 8:30 pm. The extended Failure documentary trailer brought raucous cheers from the eager crowd. It is a safe bet that much of the crowd had watched the teaser online, and there was an air of anticipation. Indeed, some in the crowd cheered at every new musician or actor who appeared on the screen to discuss Failure’s impact on them personally and their music careers. 

The preview had a parade of big music industry names: Hayley Williams (Paramore – who covered “Stuck On You” in their 2006 EP The Summer Tic), Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle, Puscifer), Butch Vig (Garbage), Troy Sanders (Mastodon), and commentary from actress and comedian Margaret Cho, among others. As the sneak peek wrapped up, the conversation turned to the drug use that led to the band break up in 1997. As of yet, no release date has been given for the Failure documentary.

Ken Andrews (Vocalist, Guitarist), Failure
| Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

Failure’s current members are frontman and lead guitarist Ken Andrews, multi-instrumentalist and backing vocalist Greg Edwards, and drummer Kellii Scott. The trio took the stage with a “What’s happening Phoenix?” shout out from Andrews. They launched into the hard-hitting song “Submarines” off Wild Type Droid. This was the first song the band wrote after the world shut down due to the pandemic. There is a certain risk in writing a song that relates to a world changing event such as the pandemic that upended nearly every smidgen of the day to day lives of all of us, as future generations likely will not fully understand the trauma and impact it left on all of us. That is where the beauty and timelessness of the band’s songwriting comes in: while this generation will immediately understand the deeper meaning of the song, it will resonate later on for a new generation of music lovers for a completely different reason.

Greg Edwards (Guitarist), Failure
| Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

The music video released for “Submarines” consists of the band staring into the camera – giving the viewer a sensation that perhaps the band is attempting to look deep into their souls – while also having their profile featured, glitching in and out. The intensity of this video carries on to their concerts, with a focused Andrews rarely speaking – though he did acknowledge the fans who called out between the songs. His abrupt (but not rude) style of communication while on stage is a drastic contrast of his voice, which is – in itself – a juxtaposition to the music. Andrews’ smooth vocals mixed with the crunch and crash that comes with the grunge-meets-space-rock sound that Failure is associated with has a familiar and comforting feel to it. Imagine a warm, well-worn blanket wrapped around you as you stare off into space imagining the possibilities of the unknown, and you have an idea of what a concert with Failure is like. 

Failure performing live at Crescent Ballroom
Failure
| Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

They pulled from each of their 6 albums during the show. Right before the band played “Counterfeit Sky” from The Heart Is a Monster, Andrews stated they were doing double shots from each album – at least two songs back-to-back from the same album. There was a single exception to this: “Salt Wound” was the sole song from Comfort, their very first album. Indeed, there was a near symmetry to the show, with 2 songs from Magnified, The Heart Is A Monster, and In the Future Your Body Will Be the Furthest Thing from Your Mind, as well as 6 songs from Fantastic Planet, and 6 from Wild Type Droid

As incredible as the evening was, it was not without some small flaws. The first was when the sound cut out suddenly during the opening moments of “Distorted Fields,” stopping everyone except Scott, who was so focused on his craft – and also had headphones on – that he continued to drum for a few more seconds. While the sound techs scrambled to get the show back on track, one fan called out “Acoustic version!” which was followed with a rimshot by Scott. The techs quickly fixed the issue, and the show got back on track. The second was a restart of fan-favorite “Stuck On You.” Neither mishap detracted from the overall magic of the show and had the paradoxical effect of enhancing it a bit with how quickly and gracefully they were handled.

Kellii Scott (Drummer), Failure
| Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

After finishing up “Half Moon,” from Wild Type Droid, during the encore, Andrews told the ecstatic audience “You may have noticed we haven’t played anything from our 3rd album.” This was rectified quickly, as the final 6 songs all came from Fantastic Planet, culminating with “Daylight,” which is also the final song on the album. 

The concert was a journey as the music videos playing behind the band throughout the night took the fans to another planet and then back to earth to get rather macro with various insects, such as a praying mantis named Iggy from their latest music video. After the finale, it felt like an extended goodbye with a long instrumental performance, and this journey came to an end with Andrews telling the fans, “Thank you Phoenix, we love you!” 

Failure performing live at Crescent Ballroom
Failure
| Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

Failure is a band that is absolutely worth going out of your way to see perform live. There are layers upon layers to their music. It would be easy to forget it’s a band of only 3 members. It is easy to see how the band continues to thrive by word of mouth, and why the fans are loyal to the point of near obsession. The praise they receive is well-founded and deserved.

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    Failure’s Phoenix Setlist

  1. Submarines
  2. Mercury Mouth
  3. Salt Wound
  4. Frogs
  5. Wonderful Life
  6. Atom City Queen
  7. Counterfeit Sky
  8. Distorted Fields
  9. Force Fed Rainbow
  10. Bring Back the Sound
  11. Headstand
  12. Bad Translation
  13. Half Moon
  14. Segue 3
  15. The Nurse Who Loved Me
  16. Another Space Song
  17. Stuck on You
  18. Heliotropic
  19. Daylight

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Photography: Kara Blakemore

Failure – Crescent Ballroom 6-5-22

Photography © Electric Eye Photo AZ
All Rights Reserved

REVIEW: Jimmy Eat World & Dashboard Confessional Take Rock Underground at The Caverns (3-12-22)

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Pelham, TN — If you were to ask any emo fan who spent their formative years in the early 2000s, “Which bands would make up the tour lineup of your dreams?”, you would get a plethora of answers with combinations that sound much like the When We Were Young Festival happening this fall. But, more than likely, two bands’ names would pop up in nearly every combination provided: Jimmy Eat World and Dashboard Confessional.

These bands, who have provided the soundtrack to the lives of countless individuals over their 20+ years of existence, have accomplished much over the years. However, there is one achievement they were missing until this year: hitting the road together on a tour. This “oversight” was rectified when these two powerhouse bands joined forces, and asked Sydney Sprague to open for them on the tour dubbed “Surviving the Truth,” which is a mash-up of Surviving, Jimmy Eat World’s 2019 album, and Dashboard Confessional’s newest album All The Truth I Can Tell, released on February 25th of this year.

Fortunately, they also added another new experience and scheduled two back-to-back nights of shows in The Caverns – a unique venue near an area known as TAG – a place where Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia all converge. Being about an hour away from every major city, a bit of travel is required to get to the venue – through a tiny town where the livestock that disinterestedly watch you drive by likely outnumber the human residents, down Charlie Roberts Road until you reach the end, and find yourself facing a black building with a massive painting of a Big Mouth Cave Salamander named Sally painted on the side of it. This is not the end of the journey, however, as you must now walk down a sloping path into the mouth of a cavern, and then step through enormous wooden doors where the words “Welcome to The Caverns where the Great Spirit brings all people together through music” are carved, using the Sequoyah script of the Cherokee. It is here your journey ends and the adventure begins…

Sydney Sprague

Sydney Sprague (Vocalist)
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Sydney Sprague – an Arizona based musician who first started writing and playing at 11 and performing at 14 – would be first onstage. Before the band kicked off the show with “i refuse to die” – the first track of 2021’s maybe i will see you at the end of the world – she gave the audience the first of many puns of the night: “If you haven’t heard of us, that’s ok. we’re pretty…underground.” As the crowd chuckled, she deadpanned: “it gets worse.

This could not have been further from the truth, as Sprague and her band – comprised of Chuck Morriss III (keyboard, bass), Larry Gast III (guitar), Sebastien Deramat (guitar), and Tom Fitzgibbon (drums) – are all exceptionally gifted musicians and artists who bring an enormous amount of energy that complements her laid back nature. Sprague has a quick, dry wit and the ability to capture the audience’s attention and form a bond that both her and the crowd feed off of as the set goes on. 

While some may compare her vocal timbre to Michelle Branch or Taylor Swift, and it should be noted these are fair and valid comparisons, it would be a mistake to attempt to shove Sprague’s sound into a box and slap a label on it. Her vocals and sound defy conventional expectations, she writes songs that are relatable, and her performances are simple and straightforward – leaving the audience wanting more in the future. Her 8-song set included most of the tracks on her debut album, which had the paradoxical effect of leaving the audience both wishing for a bit more, and yet satisfied with what we were able to witness from this budding star. 

Sydney Sprague
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Between sets, one of the quirks of the cavern became quite obvious: it had the audacity to form without giving a backstage for the bands and their crews to work with. There is no easy access to move the equipment on and off, nor to unload and then load everything back into the waiting vehicles outside. This unusual set-up meant the audience was able to watch the pre-show rituals of the bands and view what the hard-working (and often underappreciated or forgotten) crews do with the equipment they hastily move off and onto the stage. 

Dashboard Confessional

Dashboard Confessional
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Dashboard Confessional was up next, with Chris Carrabba singing “The Brilliant Dance” with an acoustic guitar while the rest of the band stood just off stage. As he finished, they joined him, and a jovial Carrabba asked the audience if anyone had been in attendance last night. There were surprisingly few affirmative replies. Carrabba then asked, “Is anyone here tonight?” and as the cheers faded, he exclaimed, “Me too!” as the first notes of “The Good Fight” started to play. At the end of the song, he asked the audience to give a round of applause for Sprague and her band, and then caught himself cussing when he spotted a kid at the front of the crowd. Asking the young fan if he had ever been to a show in The Caverns, he stated with a huge grin, “I’ve only been to one other show here, and it was last night!” 

Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional performing at The Caverns
Chris Carrabba (Vocalist, Guitarist), Dashboard Confessional
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Carrabba – joined onstage by Armon Jay (guitar), Scott Schoenbeck (bass), Abigail Kelly (back-up vocals), Chris Kamrada (drums), Dane Poppin (keyboard, guitar) – mixed the nostalgic hits like “Stolen” and “Vindicated” with “The Better Of Me,” the only song from All The Truth I Can Tell. Through it all, Carrabba radiated joy and excitement, possibly because he was playing inside of a cave, but also because, as he noted multiple times, it was just so good to be back together with everyone again. Carrabba is just under two years removed from a motorcycle accident that nearly ended his career, and to be back on stage after all he has endured during his recovery must feel like a miracle he celebrates nightly on this tour with 1,500 or so of his closest friends. His energy radiated out across the audience, many of whom sang along with him during the 17-song set. 

Chris Carrabba (Vocalist, Guitarist), Dashboard Confessional
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Jimmy Eat World

Jimmy Eat World took the stage during the opening notes of “Futures,” the title track from their 2004 album. It only takes a few verses of watching frontman Jim Adkins pour everything he has out in front of the enchanted audience while drummer Zach Lind, guitarist Tom Linton and bassist Rick Burch effortlessly provide the canvas on which each song is painted anew on each night.

Jimmy Eat World
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

This is the magic of Jimmy Eat World and perhaps the secret of their longevity: their ability to take the songs that helped emo kids grow into slightly less emo adults and make the nostalgic magic that you feel hearing “Sweetness” on the radio disappear during a live show, and make it feel like you’re hearing and experiencing the songs for the first time. Other favorites like “Pain,” “Hear You Me,” “23,” and “Lucky Denver Mint” were included in the set list as well. 

Jim Adkins (Vocalist, Guitarist), Jimmy Eat World
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Halfway through the show, Adkins switched over to an acoustic guitar to play “555” – a song that has not only inspired a comic book, but also a near-cult-like following among some fans, including a small Facebook group dedicated to posting solely about 555 found in daily lives. Adkins, like Sprague and Carrabba, expressed awe and disbelief that they were playing in a cave, and then threw in a joke about telling a distant relative that he was in an underground rock band. If there were any surprises from the night, it would be that the bands didn’t end up making more bad cave and rock puns.

The level of exertion that Jimmy Eat World puts into each show can evoke the image of a fighter who has gone 10 rounds with their opponent, leaving the ring glistening and triumphant. As Jimmy Eat World closed the show with their most well-known hit “The Middle,” towels awaited them just off-stage. The song generated the the perfect energy to end the incredible evening… the best way to end the adventure at the bucket-list worthy venue, and to send those lucky enough to bear witness a once-in-a-lifetime show on a journey through the improbably cold pre-spring night to wherever their roads may carry them. 

Fans in The Caverns as Jimmy Eat World closes their set
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

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Photographer: Katherine Amy Vega

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Jimmy Eat World, Dashboard Confessional, Sydney Sprague – The Caverns 3-12-22

Photography © Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design
All Rights Reserved.