PHOENIX — M83, an electronic group from France named after the galaxy Messier 83, performed at The Van Buren with experimental artist Rachika Nayar opening the show in a line-up consisting of only the two acts. The night of focus here is April 10, which was the original tour launch date scheduled in Phoenix and became the second night after it sold out, resulting in an add-on of April 9.
Opener Rachika Nayar, a composer and producer from Brooklyn, New York, set an ambiance that helped prime the audience for the vibes of M83. With the stillness of the crowd that portrayed an uncertainty of how to behave during this sensory electronic set, and a respectful patience, the performance came across almost like a pre-show DJ set.
Nayar has a muted stage presence, and she remained stationed at her equipment throughout the set, not speaking until the end when she expressed gratitude in an unassuming tone and wished a friend in the audience a happy birthday.
Touring in support of Fantasy,which was released last month, M83 opened with the deeply relaxing and ethereal “Water Deep,” continuing with the chill vibes emanated by Nayar, unlike many other acts that will typically burst onto a performance as they start their set.
Fronted by 43-year-old Anthony Gonzalez, M83 has existed for about 24 years. Gonzalez is not a glamorous showman, yet his prowess shines for him. More than just a singer, he is a renaissance man responsible for lead vox, guitar, synths, keys, bass, percussion, mixing, arranging, and producing.
M83 transitioned to a danceable energy with the upbeat title-track from Fantasy, which was the 8th song in a setlist of 20 (including the encore). “Fantasy” hearkens back to the primary energy of the Junk album — a personal favorite that I have kept on heavy rotation after being lucky enough to experience it live on their April 13, 2016 tour stop at Comerica Theatre (which, while I knew of M83 before that point, was what impacted me so much as to cement me as a fan).
It was during “Fantasy” that Joe Berry stepped away from the synthesizers and pleased the crowd with the EWI. The stage lights brightened and bathed the band in many more colors, and it was especially in that moment that the slow-roll of the night proved worth the wait. Though I may be biased as a sax player myself, I am confident in my opinion that anyone would be in agreement that the show really gets ripping once Berry starts wailing on the saxophone.
Kaela Sinclair commands attention as the siren of a soprano vocal that is a signature and integral part of M83’s sound. You can also catch her sultry, haunting, and powerful vocals outside of M83 as a solo artist.
The band’s show ebbs and flows from there, following “Fantasy” with “Laura”, which channels the 80s prom night air that much of M83’s music exudes. Afterward, they brought some of their highest energy with “Don’t Save Us From the Flames.” “Noise” from 2003 release Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts served as a segue to “Wait” from Hurry Up We’re Dreaming (2011). Delightfully, “Solitude” from Junk was next, and the bopping “Sunny Boy” from Fantasy after that.
The tracks that go heavier on the guitars for a dramatic electronic-meets-rock sound are absolutely soul igniting. The live band is rounded out with Julien Aoufi on drums, the skills of guitarist Théophile Antolinos, and bass rhythms from Clément Libes. These 3 musicians were shrouded in smoke and lights in the background as the front of the stage was filled with the synths and keyboards, along with Gozales, Sinclair, and Berry.
It comes as no surprise that the crowd’s energy climaxed during the encore as the group launched into the highly recognizable “Midnight City”, which has received heavy radio play since its release in 2011. If you are a regular listener of ALT AZ 93.3, you’ve heard it a lifetime’s worth. One can only long for more of M83’s superior tracks to hit the mainstream to give respite from the overabundance of formulaic, forgettable, and overplayed tracks of other artists that pervade popular music today.
This night of music was nourishing to the spirit with a perfect blend of chill time and outright fun, which was quite apparent by the invigorated energy that was effortlessly perceptible from the crowd leaving the venue following “Outro.”
See the full M83 setlist from April 10, 2023 at The Van Buren here:
Burning Hot Events highly recommends catching this tour. There is ample opportunity to do so, as it has just started, and the band has dates scheduled all across North America up through May 16th. Check out the tour dates here:
Glendale Swift City, AZ — In the five years since her last tour, Taylor Swift has released four albums and, according to her banter during the show, six re-recorded albums, with Red and Fearless already released and the remaining four presumably forthcoming. Her tour kick off at State Farm Stadium, with support from Paramore and Gayle, wasn’t just a concert but an immersive experience. Is there any other artist whose opening night would have Variety posting song-by-song tour updates on Twitter?
It is hard to put this in perspective, but think of the biggest artist you can and they arguably could not touch the massive scale and grandeur of this show. To put it more directly, Taylor Swift is the biggest artist in the world right now. No one can touch where she is at this point in her career. While it was a night celebrating the various eras of her career, Swift spent the night honoring her massive fan base, using wristbands given to everyone in attendance to not only light up every corner of the show, but to put a mini spotlight on every one of her fans.
Take a moment and remember where you were or consider where you’ll be at 18. If you’re Nashville-by-way-of-Plano, Texas singer Gayle, you are stepping out onto a massive stage, both literal and figurative, in front of 70,000 people on the opening night of the most highly anticipated tour in several years – perhaps decades – and performing with a confidence that artists a decade older only wish they could possess. She opened with the punk-beat driven “Everybody Hates Me,” and her set covered the various singles she’s released since 2020 and included a blistering cover of Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.” She closed her set with her latest single, the anthemic “abcdefu.” Mark it down now: Gayle is going to be huge some day. Her set was nothing but a preview of that because while she may have been opening the show last night, someday that stage will be hers.
To scan the dates on this tour, across the board, Swift has a murder’s row of openers, including Haim, Phoebe Bridgers, Beabadoobee, Muna, and Girl in Red. Glendale was blessed to get Paramore, making the evening an unofficial Nashville celebration between Gayle, Paramore, and Taylor Swift, as all three were born of Music City. They opened their set with “This is Why,” “Hard Times,” and “This is What You Get,” with singer Hayley Williams moving all around the massive stage and down the runway that extended well-past what would be the 50-yard line if the stadium was set up for a football game.
Stopping before the next song, Williams spoke about the honor of opening for Swift on this tour. “We’re here tonight to celebrate Taylor, but we’re also here to celebrate… Vampires?” With that, the band launched into their song “Decode” written for Twilight. Afterwards Williams told a story about meeting a woman in Nashville many years before who told her about her daughter who was getting into music; the daughter who turned out to be Taylor Swift. Williams had her number for years and finally reached out to her following the now-notorious MTV Video Music Awards incident in 2009.
During the band’s performance of “The Only Exception,” the audience used their cell phones to light up the stadium in a spontaneous and gorgeous moment. They followed it up with “Still Into You” and “Rose-Colored Boy.” Williams made her way down the catwalk once more, before stopping and turning to the band. “Let’s play that one song we said we’d never play again”, she instructed the band. “You know the one”, she added before they played “Misery Business.” With that, Williams thanked the audience and reminded everyone that we were all there together to celebrate Taylor Swift. They closed their set with “Ain’t It Fun.” As Paramore exited the stage, the massive screen switched to a tour graphic of a collage of Swift’s various eras.
While tours can start anywhere, it felt like Glendale had an honor bestowed upon them by Swift choosing it as the kick off for this tour: her first tour in nearly five years (her Reputation Stadium Tour ran from May to November in 2018) and her first live performance since she played the City of Lover album release concert in Paris on September 9, 2019. There was not one person out of the 70,000 people in attendance who took for granted how special these moments were. While many people took the break between Paramore and Swift to try to rush to the merch stand (which was practically decimated by the end of the show) to snag a tour shirt or the sweet tour poster that was exclusive to the opening night, when the graphic switched from the collage to a two-minute countdown, accompanied by a giant clock approaching midnight, everyone rushed back to their seats.
The cheers started with the countdown and grew louder and louder with each passing second. When the timer hit zero, the clock struck midnight, and the stage went briefly black, there was a roar that likely eclipsed any the stadium had heard before, even at the Super Bowl – which the stadium hosted just a little over a month ago. Individually appearing, various rooms hinting at the different eras of Taylor Swift’s career filled the screen. As each room materialized, the audience recognized it with a pop of excitement before it floated away, making way for the next one, providing a tantalizing glimpse into the evolution of her music.
Finally, a large door in the center of the stage rolled up, pouring out white light, and from it came a parade of Swift’s dancers covered by a large sails swooped over their bodies that they then each unfurled, one by one, into giant peacock-like tails. As they moved in cadence to the center of the massive catwalk, they encircled a portion of the stage, collapsing in the sails for a moment before pulling back to reveal Taylor on an ascending riser as she went into the first song of the tour: “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince” from Lover. This was her first live performance of the song – in fact, her set included 12 songs making their live debuts.
Though some might argue this point, Taylor Swift is the biggest artist in the world right now. She has moved into a rarified position of success that places here alongside luminaries such as Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, and Beyoncé; artists whose tours will sell out the moment tickets are available, and artists whose tours are more than just live performances of their catalogs but something more akin to a cultural event. “I just want to welcome everyone to the Eras Tour,” she greeted the crowd after her performance of “Cruel Summer” from the Lover era portion of the show. “We are going on an adventure, one era at a time, across the 17 years that I’ve been making music,” she told the crowd. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for making it here tonight,” she added, acknowledging the effort fans went to to get tickets to the show. Demand was so high that this night ended up being the opening night of the tour, after tonight’s show on March 18th sold out so fast that she added last night’s show.
Though it is difficult to process this, primarily because she seems so forever young, Taylor has been releasing albums for 17 years now, and the tour is called the “Eras Tour” because across those 17 years are distinct eras of her career. If you want to talk about the company she keeps, how many artists have had a career so long and so successful that it can be defined by distinct eras of the career? That would be Madonna, Bowie, and Prince, but beyond that, though, there are no others that immediately come to mind. “I’ll be your host this evening. My name’s Taylor.”
Even if she had simply built the tour around playing songs from each album, from each era, it would have been an incredible concert experience, but her stage show cannot be understated. It was the most singularly impressive stage show, perhaps ever. Every aspect of it was designed to add depth and nuance to the performance of each show. From the massive screen that projected visually stunning videos to accompany each song to the catwalk that was so long and so wide it felt like an airplane could have safely landed upon it. In fact, as she heaped praise on everyone involved with the production of the show, she regularly mentioned the crew, who deserved a moment to take a bow themselves, as the show featured multiple massive set pieces and some of the quickest costume changes any artist has pulled off without missing a beat in the show.
Of the many impressive set pieces, during the Evermore era, an exquisite grand piano, covered in moss rose up from the stage in front of a grandiose willow tree onscreen. As Swift took a seat at the piano to perform “Marjorie,” and even her microphone at the piano looked like it was a part of a tree branch, fashioned into a microphone. What other artists have that attention to detail? “We have so much to catch up on,” she said to the crowd after the song faded. In the five years since her last tour, Taylor has released four records, which in itself is an impressive feat to marvel, and three of the first four eras covered during the concert spotlighted some of those albums: Lover, Evermore, Reputation, and re-recorded versions of Red and Fearless, with many of the songs making their live debuts.
For “Tolerate It” a full dining room table was brought out the video behind it projecting an impossibly long dining room descending deep into a vanishing point of blackness, emphasizing the distance between Taylor and a lover in a quickly-fading relationship. She sang at one of her dancers, standing in for this disengaged boyfriend, as he looked everywhere but at her. She sang at him, crawling across the table in an aggressive plea to get his attention. Her show is made up of so many living music videos. Next up was the Reputation era, with electric performances of “…Ready for It?,” “Delicate,” “Don’t Blame Me,” and “Look What You Made Me Do,” before a brief stop in the Speak Now era for “Enchanted.”
Though there was no point of the show that lacked for even a second in vibrancy and emotion, the Red era was nonetheless a highlight of the show, with even Taylor acknowledging how special it was, “You might be able to tell by the aggressive color blocking, but we are now in the Red era,” she told the crowd after “I Knew You Were Trouble.” She also made light of her re-recording of it as a part of her “Taylor’s Version” series of albums, as she reclaims her early albums that in effect had been stolen for her. “I’d like to play one more song from it, if you have 10 minutes to spare.” The mention of “10 minutes” made clear what was coming, as she closed out this era with a gorgeous solo performance of the new 10-minute version of “All Too Well,” from the “Taylor’s Version” of Red. Though it would be hard to pinpoint exactly, it felt like a pinnacle emotional moment for Swift and every person in attendance.
Though this show was described by Hayley Williams as “a celebration of Taylor,” Swift used it in many ways to celebrate her fans who have loved and supported her across those 17 years. A recent Forbes article identified her fanbase as being “mostly” white female millennials, but to look around the 70,000 fans packed into State Farm last night, you realize truly what makes Taylor’s appeal so special: it isn’t just one thing. Just before her performance of “All Too Well,” she took a moment to greet the crowd, saying “Welcome all my guys and gals and non-binary pals,” which elicited a huge cheer from the crowd. Her shows have potentially the most-inclusive audience in music at the moment. Everyone felt equally represented and equally welcome at the Eras Tour. From those white, female millennials to every gender, race, nationality, orientation, and so on. Spotted in the crowd, at one point was a tattooed man with a sparkly, sequined shirt that said “This Hardcore Dad 💓Taylor Swift,” as he walked to his seat with his wife and children.
It was indeed a celebration of Taylor but most definitely a celebration of the fans. To understand the relationship she has with her fans, as one fan put it, “Taylor manages to communicate and really connect with her fanbase on such a personal level, making her one of the most relatable and inspirational artists of our generation.” These sentiments were felt and echoed from every corner of State Farm Stadium.
During the Folklore era, Taylor told the crowd about starting to write the album “about 2 seconds into the pandemic,” and treated the writing process like a living journal of her life and experiences during that time. My albums have been excruciatingly autobiographical, she added with a laugh, before the more serious acknowledgement that this often meant her work was “dissected like a live public autopsy,” being minded for details about her personal life.
Her Folklore era was performed on one of the night’s most impressive set pieces: a full cabin that she performed in, around, and on top of throughout the songs from that album. She performed “Invisible String” while sitting on the roof of the house, like a woman staring at the stars and contemplating life. After coming down to the second story of the cabin (yes, it had an up and downstairs), she told the crowd about how she’s spent her career trying to teach men how to apologize in one of the funnier but true moments of the show. “If they’d only listen, I have laid out for them in three minutes exactly how to do it,” before her performance of “Betty.”
The 1989 era had some of the biggest dance numbers of the night. Of the many people who deserve a mountain of credit, Taylor’s dancers brought an extra kick of life to each song throughout that era. It should be noted at this point that she had well past the two-hour mark of the evening and had played 30-plus songs of her catalog, ranging from the hits to some deep, deep cuts, with all gracefully appreciated by the crowd who sang along and cheered every number. In this stretch of the show, even the most-recently converted Swifties were singing and dancing along to “Shake It Off” and “Bad Blood,” which was accompanied by fire bursts from different points in the arena adding a shot of warmth felt by all.
Never one to stick to a particular style or tone, she followed the adrenaline kick of the upbeat 1989 bangers with two solo acoustic numbers. With the dancers off the stage, she pulled on her acoustic guitar and told the crowd that on each stop of the tour, she intended to play a different song during this portion of the show, so that each crowd got something special. The tour kick off Glendale crowd were treated to a beautiful take on “Mirrorball” from Folklore. She followed it up with her sole song from her 2006 self-titled debut “Tim McGraw.”
Afterwards, in one of the most impressive moments in an evening full of them, the sounds of incoming flood waters poured from the speakers around the stadium, growing louder and closer with each wave. Taylor, with a brief worried moment on her face, said, “Uh-oh,” and dove forward, disappearing on the stage. An aerial camera ran the length of the catwalk showing Taylor “swimming” beneath the incoming flood waters. On the big screen were images of tidal waves crashing down on the stage and signaling the final era of the evening: the Midnights era.
As this was the kick off of the tour, the seven songs making up this era were all making their live debuts. It also brought back her impressive array of dancers who went for it on every song with joy spread across their faces. As the show surpassed the three hour mark and passed 40 songs, Swift, the dancers, and her backing band showed no lack of energy and enthusiasm, as they ripped through “Lavender Haze,” “Anti-Hero,” “Midnight Rain,” “Vigilante Shit,” “Bejeweled,” and “Mastermind.” At 42 songs, she asked the crowd, “Do you have time for one more?” The cheers indicated that of course they all did, and honestly would have stayed all night if she just wanted to finish performing the rest of her discography that she hadn’t gotten to yet. She closed out the evening with “Karma” and took a final bow with the dancers before finally exiting the stage.
Taylor Swift has had a 17-year career and still somehow feels like she has not yet reached her apex mountain. Even some of the most successful artists had their time in the spotlight come and go in less than 17 years and have moved into the legacy point of their career, but not Taylor. She is firmly in the conversation for biggest artists of all time. She is truly, firmly in rare company in the history of pop music across all eras. This is her moment and yet it is still just the next era of her career. No doubt, she still has yet to peak and will for sure some day play another Eras Tour to celebrate the next 17 years. The crowd at State Farm Stadium will line up for those tickets too for sure. She might have to add a third night for it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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,” whichMetal Hammer postulates is even heavier than the LoG original release.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
PHOENIX — Apocalyptica finally brought their Cell-0 Tour to The Van Buren after being postponed for almost two years. Originally, they were scheduled, with the support from Lacuna Coil, for May 10th, 2020, but due to the pandemic it was pushed to April 2022. Having been released in 2020, this is the first time songs from the Cell-0 album were performed by them live in Phoenix. Most know The Van Buren as a standing-room only venue, but this show was seated to allow guests to close their eyes and lose themselves in the music.
Lacuna Coil kicked off their set with the song “Blood, Tears, Dust” from their 2016 album Delirium. Vocalist Cristina Scabbia addressed the crowd before the following song, saying, “Phoenix, are you out there?” and the crowd roared back.
They did not disappoint fans, playing a song from nearly every album, and five from their newest one released in 2019: Black Anima. Known as a gothic metal band, it’s clear they lean into that image with bassist Marco Coti Zelati, guitarist Diego “Didi” Cavalotti, and drummer Richard Meiz all wearing black and white face paint. Meanwhile, vocalists Scabbia and Andrea Ferro were dressed in all black with the band’s logo on top of their sleeves and fake blood painted on their hands.
“Phoenix, Arizona, how are you guys doing tonight? It’s been forever and it feels great to be back in this beautiful place with you guys celebrating this comeback after twenty-six fucking months. I’m telling you; it still feels very surreal to be back, but we have all the energy of the world to share with you guys tonight. Are you ready to party with us? I think it’s time to be reckless!” Scabbia shouted before they played “Reckless” from Black Anima.
“Are you having a good time so far?” Scabbia asked, pausing as the crowd cheers. “Good, because this is exactly what we’re here for. Well, I don’t know if each one of you is familiar with Lacuna Coil, but you might remember this next song, it’s called ‘Heaven’s A Lie’.” Many in the crowd stood to film and sing along with “Heaven’s A Lie”, a throwback from their 2002 album, Comalies.
“This goes out to all of us for surviving this damn pandemic! Just wanna save me!” Scabbia screamed as the intro to “Save Me” began. Later on, she said, “We came all the way from Italy to raise our truth!” as the band started the song, “Our Truth.”
Lacuna Coil concluded their ten-song set with “Nothing Stands in Our Way”. Most of the crowd stood for their entire set, singing and raising their horns in the air.
Over black, nature music swelled in the background before the sounds of strings drifted over the audience. Then, drums shook each person to their core as the lights went up, highlighting that Apocalyptica had now joined the stage. After opening with “Ashes of the Modern World”, cellist Eicca Toppinen paused to address the excited crowd, “Good evening, Phoenix. How are you guys doing tonight? It sounds like you’re already having a good time. Are you ready?” He paused to hear the audience’s fervent response, and with enthusiasm, he added, “Come on! Are you ready?” The crowd screamed back, ready for more.
Their first three songs were all instrumental as Toppinen, Paavo Lötjönen, and Perttu Kivilaakso shredded their cellos and Mikko Sirén rocked on the drums. “Thank you!” Toppinen replied to the roaring audience. He continued, “Do you guys happen to know any of our vocal tracks? Are you ready to sing with us? Let’s welcome to the stage, Franky Perez!” Perez ran on stage, mic in hand, and sang, “I’m Not Jesus” from their 2007 album, Worlds Collide.
Toppinen leaned on his cello as he addressed the audience again: “Hello, Arizona. Actually, just before this tour, January 2020, we released a new album called Cell-0. Anyone here heard of it?” He shielded his eyes, looking over the cheering hands in the air. “Good for you,” he jokes. “Just makes me wonder what the fuck is wrong with the others. But don’t worry, we will give you a dose now because we’re going to play a few of those instrumentals. Let’s start with the ballad, it’s a song about hope: ‘Rise’.”
“I actually have to say at this point, that how incredibly amazing it is to be here tonight. After waiting over two years and all you people coming still to have fun with us. It’s beautiful.” Toppinen then motioned to the side of the stage and said, “Let’s get the maestro himself back on stage, Franky Perez!” Toppinen and Perez then side hugged.
“As many of you might know we made a full album with Franky in 2015, the Shadowmaker, and toured for two to three years but after that, we went into this 20th anniversary Metallica thing so it’s really cool that Franky reached out to us. I thought this would be perfect for us to be together,” Toppinen concluded as their newest single “I’ll Get Through It” (released March 17, 2022) began.
The song whisked people away. Couples cuddled closer in their seats. In the front row, a man drummed the beat onto his wife’s back as her gaze was glued to the stage, and she mouthed along with the words. People all around were caught in the moment, truly feeling the music in their hearts, in their bones. Being in the middle of the audience you can understand why this Finnish symphonic metal band from Helsinki has been killing it since 1993.
Franky smiled, saying, “You guys are going to do this a bunch of times tonight but I want to join you, please join me in giving this amazing band a round of applause tonight.” A sea of clapping hands and cheers filled the venue. “So, my name is Franky Perez and I’m from Las Vegas, Nevada. When you think about people from Vegas and people from Arizona, we understand each other. We see each other on the street and we just know… it’s the dry heat.” It’s funny ‘cause it’s true. “This song is called ‘Shadowmaker’,” Franky finished, as the cellos and drums shifted into the song’s intro.
The crowd banged their heads along with Toppinen and Kivilaakso as their bows cut into their strings and their long hair flew. At times, they raise their cellos in the air. The energy was alive, the music was alive. Toppinen grabbed the mic, shouting, “Come on Arizona. Sing if you know it!” as they played a cover of Metallica’s “Seek & Destroy.”
After playing fifteen amazing songs, Toppinen asked, “What do you think, should we play one more song? Do you want to hear one more? Good. That’s very nice because I really think we should play you one more song. As you know from our background, we are classical bastards so I think it’s fair to play one classical for you tonight. During all the times Apocalyptica actually only recorded one so far but it makes sense to stay on our socials because you never know what’s going to happen next. But now, a classic from black metal.” They concluded the show by playing the Edvard Grieg song, “In the Hall of the Mountain King”.
As the music faded out, Apocalyptica was given a standing ovation. A cheerful Lötjönen handed two eager fans their paper setlists, and Toppinen addressed the audience one final time: “Thank you, Phoenix. Thank you so much. Thank you everybody for coming and taking your time to come tonight. I also want to thank our Italian friends, the great first band tonight. Let’s give a big hand for Lacuna Coil. Have a good evening. On your way out, pick up a new t-shirt because you smell like shit. I don’t know, maybe it’s us.” The crowd laughed, and Toppinen chuckled before getting serious, “Honestly, take care of yourselves, take care of each other. Love each other and love yourselves. See you guys all soon. Because Apocalyptica will be back and that’s for fucking sure!”
And with that promise, Apocalyptica exited stage right as their fans screamed. What an epic concert for metal fans! It was definitely an unforgettable show for everyone who was lucky enough to bear witness.
PHOENIX— Valley local and current lead singer for Warrant, Robert Mason, performed at Cactus Jack’s Bar and Grill Friday night in Ahwatukee. What is special about this show is the intimate setting and interaction with the artist that is so rare and delightful, you never forget it. Mason recruited metal cover band Drop D from Tucson, Arizona to share the stage both April 15th at Cactus Jack’s, and again April 16th at Encore in Tucson for a show benefiting Women Warriors, a non-profit group supporting female veterans.
Mason on keyboards and lead guitarist for Drop D,Thomas Bach, kicked off a brief set with an incredible duet of Bob Seger’s song “Turn the Page”. Mason proved quickly why he has no problem heading such bands as Warrant, Lynch Mob, Big Cock Band, and even vocal support for Ozzy Osbourne. His incredible vocal range with a touch of grit would be a great fit for any band. Next up was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man”. Mason wasn’t shy about using his phone as a teleprompter for the lyrics, saying, “Skynyrd used one at bike week too,” with a grin.
Mason played a solo guitar and vocal version of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Mama I’m Coming Home” after sharing a story about the call from Sharon Osbourne that led to him touring on Ozzy’s 1995-96 Ozmosis Tour. This led into Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home”, and ended the first set.
Drop D’sFacebook page cites the band as “Tucson’s hard and heavy cover band”. There is not much information online about the band, but they are a fun foursome with lots of energy and a nice variety of songs in their set. They are definitely worth a watch when they come back to the valley. Members include previously mentioned Thomas Bach on lead guitar, KJ Padilla on vocals and rhythm guitar, and Corey Candray on bass. Drummer Bob Allen could not make it, but in his stead Ando Miller literally “lit up” the stage with his color-change drum kit.
An audio clip of “We Are the Champions” by Queen was the intro for the band whose set began with The Outfield’s “Your Love”. Padilla quipped they would play some more “songs older than I am” before covering Cinderella’s “Somebody Save Me” and Queensryche’s “Empire”. The “sound man Tommy” for Cactus Jack’s was invited up on stage and given a set of drumsticks to help play cymbals on Candlebox’s “You”. Van Halen’s “Unchained”, Skid Row’s “Youth Gone Wild” and Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me” set the tone for the next set.
The final ten songs included both Drop D’s full band and Mason himself on vocals. A great set it was, considering the band claims to have had “no practice” prior to the pairing. Bach jokes that Mason was “just tolerating us”, but Mason chose this band to play these two shows with for a reason: talent, and lots of it. From Deep Purple’s “Highway Star” to Mötley Crüe’s “Kickstart My Heart”, Mason impressed again with his incredible talent behind the microphone. He then covered Dokken’s “It’s Not Love”, then stopped the show. His request? That the audience “engage in this moment” and put away cell phones, get out on the floor and dance.
Mason gave a toast to the audience in their honor, and thanked everyone for their support throughout his extensive career, then encouraged the crowd to sing along with Warrant’s beautiful ballad “Heaven”. He said he was grateful to be able to perform such amazing songs written by such amazing writers over the years. Wrapping up the set were the highly anticipated “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “Cherry Pie”, both big hits for his current band Warrant. Mason joined the crowd at the end of the show for photos and autographs, which thrilled the fans and Mason alike.
Robert Mason, 57, has had an extensive career as a vocalist. He joined glam-metal band Warrant in 2008 and remains their lead singer present day. George Lynch’s Lynch Mob Wikipedia page shows his years active as 1991-1994, 2003-2006, and 2018. Robert says he moved to Arizona at the behest of George Lynch back when Chandler and Gilbert were “pig farms” that were turned into housing developments. His local “sleaze” band, Big Cock, wasn’t mentioned out loud by name because the band name “upsets my mom”. He appeared on 3 of their albums as lead vocalist: 2005’s Year of the Cock, 2006’s Big Cock and 2008’s Motherloadalbums, according to Heavy Metal Wiki’s page on Mason.
With endless stories about rock-and-roll life, Mason’s show was full of witticisms and talent, mixing music and tales of the road and his extensive career. He even encouraged a heckler who shouted out “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” after every song, assuring him he would get to that in the last set. We learned about tour life, Budokan, his friends and not-so-friendly acquaintances in the music business. We learned what it was like being a “hired gun” in the industry too. It was like visiting an incredibly talented old friend to share stories and a night of timeless music.
PHOENIX — In 2020, System Of A Down announced a massive tour co-headlining with Faith No More and Korn, with support from Helmet and Russian Circles. As the pandemic progressed, the shows were postponed a total of three times, with the final postponement due to Serj Tankian (frontman of System of a Down) contracting COVID in October. Faith No More also announced that they would be canceling the concerts so Mike Patton could step back to handle mental health issues. Korn had dropped out, but once Faith No More canceled, Korn returned. To the delight of the metal faithful in Arizona, it was also announced that this line-up (excluding Faith No More and Helmet) would be playing a show at an arena in Phoenix now known by many names. This arena, built in 1992, is now known as Footprint Center and is now on it’s 6th name. The arena just completed a much needed remodel, which brings the once dated arena firmly into the 21st century.
The show started off with Russian Circles, a group that was founded by two childhood friends, Michael Sullivan and Dave Turncrantz, who play guitar and drums respectively. They are joined by Brian Cook, who is the bassist, baritone guitarist, and keyboardist for the instrumental band. Surprisingly, the set was only 18 minutes and 3 songs, but in that short timeframe the post-metal band impressed the audience with their highly technical prowess. If Russian Circles is billed as an opener, it is well worth your time to arrive early enough to catch this trio’s excellent mastery of crescendos and crashes of bass and drums.
With a “Here we go!” from lead singer Jonathan Davis, the first bars of Korn’s “Here to Stay” began, spotlights flashed from the stage, and strobing lightboxes backlit the band. Throughout the night, the unmistakable voice of Davis was replaced many times by the audience, as he solicited audience participation. When performing live, Korn has an underappreciated ability to echo the sound of their studio recordings, and it speaks to the vast talent of not just Davis, but guitarist Brian “Head” Welch, guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer, drummer Ray Luzier, and Ra Diaz (who is filling in for Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu while he takes time to “heal and reflect at home”).
Korn is well known for their staggeringly large discography, with 13 studio albums having been released, and a 14th out on February 4th named “Requiem”. The audience was treated to the live debut of the song “Start the Healing”. As part of the upcoming album release, Korn will be playing a “Requiem Mass” on the evening of February 3rd at Hollywood United Methodist Church, which will be live-streamed worldwide.
Three songs later, Davis came out on the stage with his bagpipe, playing the intro to “Shoots and Ladders,” the third single from their eponymous debut album. This, predictably, caused the crowd to erupt, much to the delight of Davis. There is a connection and love between Korn and the audience, which takes the shows to another level. Davis is 4 months removed from his battle with COVID, which saw him have to sit on a throne and use oxygen while performing during a show on August 27th. It is a relief to watch him move around with no noticeable side effects from his battle, which he said scared him shitless.
The crowd, at the urging of Davis, held up their middle fingers collectively during “Y’All Want a Single” – a song written in response to Sony asking for them to “write a radio hit.” This likely is not at all what the poor sap who made this request expected to get, but it has become a fan favorite. Other hits included “Freak on a Leash,” “Did My Time,” and “A.D.I.D.A.S.” As Korn wrapped up, Davis thanked the fans, and almost ominously said, “…we’ll come back and fuck this motherfucker up one more fucking time.”
As the opening notes of “X” played, System Of A Down was silhouetted against the curtain in the moments before it dropped. Serj Tankian – vocalist and keyboardist – was center stage, flanked by guitarist Daron Malakian to his right, bassist Shavo Odadjian to his left, and drummer John Dolmayan almost directly behind him. “Prison Song” was performed next with an arsenal of nearly blinding strobes that assaulted the audience. An extraordinarily intense light show, designed to match the intensity of their music, would persist through the night.
To watch System Of A Down play is like watching one of the great Renaissance masters paint. A great painter must carefully select their canvas, their paint, and then they must be able to combine these quality pieces in such a way that it withstands not only the test of time, but withstands the test of the taste of that particular moment. System Of A Down does this with an ease that defies the expectations of a band that has only released 2 new songs in the last 16 years. Tankian’s voice is the paint over the music that stands in for the canvas, and we in the audience are the viewers who do not necessarily realize what beauty we are witnessing in the moment.
Tankian has one of the greatest vocal ranges in all of metal at 4 octaves. This was on full display in “Chop Suey,” one of the songs that landed them squarely in the mainstream limelight, though the metal community was made aware of the band a few years before with the release of their first album and the success of “Sugar” and “Spiders.” While lavish praise should be heaped on Tankian for his immense vocal talent, the same praise should also be heaped onto Odadjian and Malakian, as they make highly technical and rather difficult riffs look absolutely effortless.
Imagine how incredible it would have been if Tankian and his would-be tour mate, Mike Patton of Faith No More (who boasts an unbelievable 6 octave range) accompanied each other for one song.
It is impossible to discuss System Of A Down and their impact without discussing their political contributions. Tankian in particular acts as a prominent voice for the downtrodden and the less fortunate, both in lyrics and in his personal capacity. The two new songs, “Genocidal Humanoidz” and “Protect the Land,” were released in response to the Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020. The two singles raised about $600,000 for the Armenians who were affected by the devastating war. Both songs were played separately during this concert, with Malakian first thanking the audience for the last year, and then starting to explain what the song “Protect the Land” was about, only to turn to Tankian to ask him to explain the song. Tankian turned to the audience and said, “This one goes out to all the indigenous people in the world that are fighting for their rights. For all of the people in the world protecting their families against evil and injustice. We are all united, and we are one.” As the band launched into the song, the lights behind the band lit up in the colors of the Armenian flag.
It could be argued that the mark of a great show is that it alters the perception of the passage of time. In this case, by the time the band played the opening notes of “Sugar,” their first hit that made the metal world take notice of the band with Dadaist lyrics, a distaste of the exploitation of the less fortunate, and a lyrically devastating take on war – both the wars between countries and the war on drugs – it felt like only moments had passed, when in reality it was an hour and a half set.
Earlier in the night, Davis had said, “It’s so good to be back up here, y’all. The world has been going through some crazy shit, and this is where I get to forget all about it. I want y’all to do me a favor tonight: I want you to just forget about everything. We got System Of A Down coming up, and I want you guys to do this for me: just forget and have a good fucking time!” This challenge was accepted by the enthusiastic crowd, who spent 4 hours losing themselves to the sounds of these masters of metal as they performed their greatest hits.
PHOENIX — Near the heart of an ever-evolving downtown Phoenix, set back a bit from the intersection of 2nd Ave and Van Buren, sits a music venue named Crescent Ballroom – constructed in 1917 and renovated from The F.L. Hart Garage. Since its 2011 opening, the brick exterior has changed some, with an expansion adding a second level of outdoor seating. It would be here that friends, family, and loyal fans of Stefan Pruett would gather to remember the radiant and deviant man who changed countless lives, leaving everyone whom he met a better version of themselves. (Read our June 2020 memorial article Remembering the Power of Peachcake – In Loving Memory of Stefan Pruett…)
This night’s celebration of a life so rich and well-lived was a fitting way to remember Pruett. For over a decade, he was the charismatic frontman of Peachcake – a band that had started out as an experimental electronic music duo with his childhood friend John O’Keefe, and blossomed into both a nationally and internationally known band.
Among the many incredible achievements that Peachcake and Pruett attained over the years included being made honorary members of the International Peace Bureau in 2009 for their efforts to promote tolerance, peace and love through music and live performance. The IPB, along with Demilitarize.org, later selected their song “Were We Ever Really Right?” in 2011 as the official song for a worldwide event to support demilitarization worldwide. The band dissolved 6 months after their Unbelievable Souls LP was released, and Pruett went on to continue in music solo, under the stage name The Guidance.
The front room of Crescent Ballroom serves as a lounge and restaurant, as well as an additional place for other acts to perform when a larger concert is going on. Straight back from the entrance to this room is a set of double doors that leads to a large room with a stage and a second bar within. Upon entering this music venue, all guests were handed two items: The first was a brochure / program with a vastly condensed story of Pruett’s incredible life, and the second was a packet with QR codes to stream albums that included unreleased music he had worked on. It also contained a card for a drink – one last round on Stefan, with which we could raise in his memory. There was also a guestbook so that everyone who loved him could stay in touch.
Merch sales were set up in the back to the left of the stage as usual, however all proceeds from this show would go toward benefitting Rosie’s House – a music academy for children – and HEAL International (Health | Empowerment | Aid | Light).
Nearly 9 years prior, Peachcake had played their final show on this very stage. On the stage sat a lit up cut-out letter sign that simply said “HAPPY” – the same sign featured in a publicity photo by AJ Colores.
To the left of the stage was also a fantastic homage, put together by Pruett’s loved ones, exhibiting items from his life and performances. Two of the outfits he had performed in were displayed on body forms – an impactful sight for those that witnessed those shows at which he donned them. The criminally underrated Unbelievable Souls record was mounted on a plaque, which was given as a gift to everyone who worked on the record as a celebration of its release. A poster for The Guidance’s headline show at the Brooklyn Fire Records showcase, on March 28 of 2019, inconspicuously hung on the wall behind the exhibit, and across the room from this was a commemorative display of prints related to that music project.
Beautiful artwork on the exhibit table paid tribute to the late singer – a painting by Chris Babicke, a large mixed media piece, a poster designed by Quokimbo, and the Peaches comic book by band member / artist Johnny McHone. A photo book titled The Magic Man featured a collection of press and social media sentiments following his passing. An article written by music journalist Ed Masley of the Arizona Republic had been laminated and laid out, along with another article from The Entertainer! Magazine by Christina Fuoco-Karasinki. Some of the photography in the articles and books was contributed by Katherine Amy Vega (Kataklizmic Design), Uriel Padilla, and Jeremiah Gratza (former manager of Peachcake, owner of The Thunderbird Lounge and President Gator Records). Scrapbooks documented Peachcake on tour, and Pruett’s personal life.
Peachcake member Mike McHale – who put enormous amounts of work into planning this beautiful night – started the evening off by thanking everyone for being there, and then introduced Forrest Kline, lead singer of the band hellogoodbye.
The show began with a somber performance that contrasted the normal upbeat and pulsing dance music that Peachcake and The Guidance produced, but it set the tone perfectly. Kline sat on a stool holding an acoustic guitar, and in between songs he talked about his memories of Pruett; one of which was a chance meeting on the streets of LA after Pruett moved there. He spoke of how much of an inspiration Pruett was, about the two of them texting back and forth about making new music, and then – in reference to making music with him – said, “I thought we had plenty of time, you know? You never know how much time you have.”
An acoustic cover of Peachcake’s “Stop Acting Like You Know More About The Internet Cafe Than Me” was recently released by Kline’s band.
Producer Jeremy Dawson, one of the founding members and keyboardist of Shiny Toy Guns, took the stage next to DJ the songs from Pruett’s solo career. In the middle of the set, a small crowd took to the floor in front of the stage to dance – the first of many moments that brought the joy back into focus. At long last, this is now, the album Pruett and Dawson completed shortly before his passing, dropped on January 14th – the day before this memorial event. How bittersweet it was to hear the culmination of all of their efforts – never able to tell him how incredible the album is.
“As a means to honor his life and all the work spent on the creation of this stunning album, together Dawson, Pruett’s family and Handwritten Records decided to continue with the release. This Is Now, is the first and last album from The Guidance.” – FindYourSounds
After Dawson wrapped up, and as the stage was being transformed for the final set of the night, a video played of McHale, A Clarie Slattery and others talking about the impact that Pruett and his music had on them. The consensus – both in the video and from everyone who spoke at the show – was that he made life fun. He reached into people and pulled out the person they didn’t realize they were, and he showed them that anything really is possible in life. There was also a short clip of Pruett talking about 4 heart surgeries he had, and his pacemaker, speaking on the congenital heart disease that would eventually claim his life – but he did not let that stop him from living life to the fullest.
“If you ever think you can’t do something, and I know everyone in this room has their obstacles and stuff they’ve gone through… don’t let that shit hold you back.” – Stefan Pruett
“He was living on borrowed time his entire life. He knew that from the time he was very, very young. He didn’t think he was going to make it out of being a teenager. Every minute of every day was bonus points. He knew it and he lived in such a way that he never made you forget it.” – The Entertainer! Magazine
There was also an anecdote from his brother’s memorial service, which was an experience described as profound. Pruett played the song “Someone Great” by LCD Soundsystem in memory of Alex Pruett, who passed away in 2007. With his “unique ability to bring people together”, he encouraged people of all walks of life to close their eyes and share “in this beautiful musical moment… creative moment with Stefan.” His aunt beautifully encapsulated who Stefan Pruett was, speaking of him as a honeybee – something his mother called him. He was, as she put it, “a builder of dreams,” in the same way a bee builds a hive.
Steven Pruett, the father of Alex and Stefan, spoke after the video ended; the pride he felt for his son and the pain of losing him evident in his voice. He spoke of the amazement he felt regarding his son becoming a singer, saying that Stefan did not even like singing in church. Calling Peachcake an iconic band, he reflected on the journey his son had taken, from MySpace, to a touring group, to an internationally known band.
It was a reunion of sorts for Peachcake. Guest singers performed in Pruett’s stead, with the first being Jessica Biaett, who was his girlfriend, singing “Hearts Can’t Lie.” Normally a peppy, yet wistful song, she gave it a hauntingly beautiful quality, making an incredible tribute to the man she lost.
McHale (vocals, guitar, keys, percussion) became frontman for a few songs, and just as Pruett wore a shirt that said “NOT A DJ” at this venue 9 years prior, he wore one that said “NOT A SINGER”. Other guest vocalists included: Chris Babicke, Damien Salamone, Mickey Pangburn (The Prowling Kind, MRCH), Jake Greider, and Jason Catlin.
The Omicron variant of COVID-19 had been blazing its way through friends and family prior to the show. As such, a balance had to be struck between the crowded nightclub-like environment of a typical Peachcake show, and social distancing. Throwing back to staples of Peachcake shows, the crowd was encouraged to crouch down and spring up during the climax of “Welcome To The Party To Save The World”, and later formed a circle for mirror dancing during “Souls Have No Drum Machine”.
Peachcake closed by accompanying a video of Stefan singing “We Never Pretended To Know Anything, Why Would We Now?” in at Modified Arts (Phoenix) in 2009. It was a moving, perfect way to end the night, allowing a man who touched so many lives to posthumously perform for us one last time. With that, Peachcake ended their set, and Jes Danz took to the stage to DJ some of the songs Pruett loved and was inspired by as the night faded out.
McHale later told Burning Hot Events, “Everything I did with putting together the memorial show for Stefan really helped me get through a lot of emotions that I had with hearing of Stefan‘s passing... Stefan‘s mom, Paula, had mentioned to me how much that show meant a lot to the people that had come to it and how much it helped her and her husband as well. To me, that was the most rewarding thing about doing this show for Stefan. I wanted to give some sense of closure and celebrate him properly when we were able to.“
It has been said that Stefan Pruett left this world on June 14th, 2020, but I would argue that Kline was correct when he said that “no one really goes anywhere. We keep them in our memories and in our hearts. He lives on through his art and the connections he made.” Pruett burned brightly and fiercely, a force for good to be reckoned with, in the best way possible. He made the most of every day of his 35 years on this planet, and those he met had their lives changed for the better.
To quote the band Sleeping At Last’s song “Saturn”: “You taught me the courage of stars before you left, how light carries on endlessly, even after death.”
PHOENIX — Imagine you’re in your teens during the early 2000’s, public school is the definition of a living hell, and one of the only things keeping you going day after day are the sweet sounds of whining pop punk vocalists leaking in through your earbuds. Sound familiar? This was a very real scenario for many people back in the days when Motion City Soundtrack were first gracing the music scene with their lyrically intelligent and synth-laden brand of pop punk. Many of those same people, among legions of others, were in attendance at their show in downtown Phoenix, supported by Doll Skin and Mom Jeans, and they were still as young at heart for their love of pop punk as they were back in the good old days.
Kicking off the night were the incomparably talented band, Doll Skin who got their start right here in Phoenix. What they lack in size they most certainly make up for in aggressively inviting energy and excitement that most bands could only dream of achieving on their own. The charisma pouring from each member on stage, especially lead vocalist Sydney Dolezal, is something that cannot be easily described without witnessing it for yourself first. Doll Skin is a band that knows how to kick off a party and with songs like “Love is Dead and We Killed Her” and the excellent Florence + The Machine cover of “Shake It Out”, it’s very easy to see why.
Given the unenviable task of having to follow Doll Skin, Berkeley, California band, Mom Jeans took the stage with an undeniable sense of pure joy erupting from their faces. This is a band that truly loves what they do and that love is very contagious to members of any audience lucky enough to catch them. It’s incredible watching a band with only two studio albums to their name pump up a crowd so much with instant classics like “Now This Is Podracing”, “Death Cup”, and obvious crowd favorite, “Shred Cruz”. The mood was set for an exciting night ahead but no one could’ve prepared themselves for what came next.
Motion City Soundtrack
By the time Motion City Soundtrack took the stage, one might assume that most people would’ve been easily exhausted from dancing to all the other great music preceding them. This was definitely not the case though considering the audience full of that many diehard fans crammed to capacity inside The Van Buren’s acoustically pristine walls. Motion City Soundtrack sounded more energetic and polished than ever by the time their turn to play came along. This is a band that has truly come into their own over the years and there’s no sign of them losing that momentum for the remainder of their reunion tour.
Lead vocalist Justin Pierre’s quirky and painfully honest lyrics still continue to ring true for the armies of screaming fans who have had them committed to memory for over a decade at this point. The loyalty of their fan base is certainly not to be underestimated; as with the help of Justin’s beautifully gifted voice, it’s highly likely that many of the audience members were able to train themselves to sing in key along to the band’s music over the years — a truly incredible feat that made the concert experience all the more enjoyable and fun.
The rest of the band had no shortage of energy either, and anybody who struggles with maintaining optimum energy levels during their 9-5 desk jobs would benefit greatly from learning their secrets. This was especially true for keyboard player, Jesse Johnson, who would regularly thrash around on stage at his own wild pace. At one point that daredevil even held a handstand on top of his instrument for no less than 5 seconds. The movements were as fluid, crazy, and natural as they’ve been since the inception of the band and it was a beautifully refreshing thing to behold.
Justin graciously thanked the audience for attending and supporting live music more than once throughout their set. This was another highlight of the show because he came off like an approachable, friendly person, which only confirms everything most people have already heard about him. Throughout the show he’d go back and forth with audience members shouting random things at him like “I named my dog after you!” which prompted him to ask, “Is your dog HERE? I’d like to meet him!” It was incredibly endearing and is something that other bands should definitely take notes on. After ripping into timeless classics like “Everything Is Alright”, and “L.G. FUAD”, the band continued tapping into people’s nostalgia with perfect renditions of “Hold Me Down”, “Make Out Kids”, and “This Is For Real”.
Capping off the night with an encore of “The Future Freaks Me Out”, this only solidified their legacy as an endlessly fun, receptive, and crowd-pleasing band.
Photographer: Andrea Stoica
Motion City Soundtrack, Mom Jeans., Doll Skin – The Van Buren 1-22-20
Tempe, AZ — Authority Zero has reached a milestone that all bands aspire to: a quarter of a century of putting out incredibly great music — in their case, punk rock. To celebrate 25 years, they threw a bit of a party, inviting their fans as well as four local bands to join them in celebration. Madd Dog Tannen, Skull Drug, Black Mountain Moonshine, and ZeeCeeKeely all preceded Authority Zero, playing to a rowdy and energetic crowd.
To the uninitiated — those who have never had the joy of attending a punk, ska, or reggae show — it would be easy to be a bit puzzled as to how all three are related. The first wave of ska formed in the 1950s, and reggae evolved from ska in the 1960s. Punk’s roots are also in the 60s, stemming from the garage band scene, and was focused mainly in England and New York, while ska and reggae got started in Jamaica. Ska punk, closely associated with third wave ska, blossomed in the 80s and 90s. The punk scene from the start was anti-establishment, and that carries into today. There is a sizable underground punk scene in Arizona, with smaller venues such as Yucca Tap Room, Pub Rock, Chopper John’s, Last Exit Live, Rebel Lounge, The Underground and others playing host to some loud and fun concerts on a weekly basis.
This underground scene does not get the recognition it deserves; there are many massively talented local bands and artists that play every week, but they rarely rise to the level of national stardom that some ought to. This show was a duality of a celebration of a band that rose to fame, and the introduction and showcase of local bands that are hidden gems.
There was a buzz around Marquee Theatre as the crowd started to trickle in with eager anticipation of the night ahead and the experience of Authority Zero. This is a band who has worked hard to get where they are and appreciate the fans and those that come behind them.
The first band was a reggae band from Tucson: ZeeCeeKeely. They were the perfect choice to start the night off. Their music is excellent, albeit a bit calm compared to what the rest of the night had in store. But they are still a loud, energetic, and fun reggae band to watch.
The short 7-song set included a very nice surprise: a reggae version of “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd. With great vocals from Zachery Keely and a group of talented musicians that will soon include horns, this band is one you should catch if you enjoy reggae. They will perform on February 23rd, 2020 at Rawhide during the Arizona Roots festival.
After a quick stage change, the second band, Black Mountain Moonshine, took the stage. Shortly after they started, a staple of a punk show formed: a mosh pit — a unique and nearly sacred place where total strangers can run into each other and pummel one another, and at the end of the night, hug each other and leave exhausted and elated.
The lead singer Ethan Minney plays an electric mandolin, a piece that is not often seen in a punk band, and plays it very well. Their sound is also unique: at points it sounded like they were about to launch into a country song, while at others, you would swear that Flogging Molly was on the stage. Currently, they have no shows showing as scheduled, so following them on social media is a must to find when and where you can catch this unique, talented band.
Skull Drug was up next, and it immediately became apparent that we were in for an incredible set. When asked before the show how to identify lead singer Evan Williams, the band manager described him as looking like he had murdered a muppet. This was accurate, as Williams had bright red hair, a green shirt and blue plaid pants.
The set unfortunately did not start smoothly, but this did not keep them down. While working through technical issues with Williams’ guitar, the guitarists Justin Waldrop and Roger St. John kept the crowd entertained and bantered with them until everything was worked out, including asking the crowd, “Are you ready to party?” Party they did, launching into the loudest and most entertaining set of all the openers.
All three are amazingly talented guitar players, backed by an incredible drummer in Wyatt Clark. They also have a stage presence and can get the crowd involved to work them into a frenzy. The set felt extremely short, even though it was over 30 minutes long. The style is loud, in- your-face, and impossible to not want to move to it in some way – either by bobbing your head, by running into your neighbor in the mosh pit, or by dancing. All three of those scenarios played out that night. Williams and Waldrop danced around the stage nonstop during this set, and kept the party going after their set ended. Waldrop was spotted crowd surfing during the Authority Zero set while Williams was in the crowd next to the mosh pit.
Together since 2010, it would not be a stretch of the imagination to see Skull Drug headlining their own tour at some point in the very near future. Their set, from their stage presence to the music, was every bit as memorable as Williams’ hair. You can catch them on January 4th at Yucca Tap Room. They also have an album coming out sometime next year called Your Government and God Won’t Save You.
Madd Dog Tannen took the stage next as the final opener. For those who think that the name sounds familiar, it should if you are a Back to the Future fan. All members were a bit of a contrast to the previous bands: well-dressed, looking more like they were about to close a business deal with you than melt your face off with some amazing punk music. As they did a quick sound check before their set, Brian Willey (lead singer) comically tried to lead the crowd in a rendition of “Deck the Halls”.
Willey and his band quickly jumped into a fantastic set, at times bringing out a younger guitar player as their fifth band member. They are veterans of the music scene, playing since 2006, and have opened for Authority Zero in the past. Willey is an imposing figure on the stage as he puts everything he has into the performance. He is entertaining to watch and produces great power with his voice. While mainly a punk band, there was some ska mixed into the music. As they wrapped up their set, they played a cover of “When I Come Around” by Green Day. They, too, are a band that should be followed on social media to hear about their next dates. You won’t regret tracking them down to see their shows.
As Madd Dog Tannen left the stage, the anticipation built for Authority Zero. The chant “We want Zero!” started right before the band took the stage, growing in volume until they got what they wanted.
To the delight of the band, the crowd exploded as they walked onto the stage. Lead singer Jason DeVore greeted the crowd with a grin and launched into “A Passage in Time,” from their first album. The opening bands had slowly cranked the intensity up to 10, then Authority Zero quickly cranked it up to 12 and never slowed down. DeVore seems to be utterly indefatigable, a force to be reckoned with after nearly a quarter of a century as the lead singer of Authority Zero. He delivers each line with fury and passion, and yet looks out at the crowd awestruck that he’s lucky enough to keep doing this.
While DeVore is keeping the crowd pumped up with his incredible delivery, drummer Chris Dalley is tasked with keeping the beats going in the unimaginatively fast songs that are the staple of Authority Zero’s catalog. He seems to do this effortlessly. Rounding out the band are guitarist Dan Aid and bassist Mike Spero, both of whom are incredibly talented and fun to watch.
As the set progressed, the mosh pit showed no signs of slowing down and the crowd surfing started. DeVore repeatedly reached out to the crowd surfers to help them as they were being set down, giving a couple of high fives, pointing to crowd members and acknowledging them throughout the night. He announced that they were going to use that night as a New Years Eve party, which hyped up the rambunctious fans. DeVore has apparent and enormous appreciation for the fans and the bands who opened for them.
It would be fair to say that this was not just an early New Years Eve party, not just a celebration of the 25 years of making music, influencing and inspiring the Arizona and national music scene — it was something more. It felt like a love letter to the fans, the people who have faithfully shown up even when the venues were tiny, when the sound wasn’t great, when the band was struggling. DeVore held the mic out to the crowd, asking them to sing lines in the song, gesturing for them to be a bit louder, and all in all, making sure that every single person walked away from that show happy. He also repeated “Thank you Arizona!” more than once, obviously meaning it from his heart every time.
As the night drew to a close and after returning to the stage for the encore, DeVore called out onto stage a young fan, one who is known for his incredible music talents. His name is Recker Eans, a name that I believe we will hear many more times over the years, and he played the drums for the song “Mesa Town”. It was a great way to end the night, almost the passing of the torch to the next generation, though I believe we will have many more great years to look forward to with Authority Zero.
The night was one for the ages. It is also a night that happens weekly around the valley, albeit on a much smaller scale than what was at the Marquee on Saturday. The punk scene is alive and thriving, and there are many, many great bands out there who deserve to have you stop by and listen to their music, to watch their shows. There are hidden gems playing in small venues, bands that love their craft and love their arts. The appreciation that these bands all have for each other is clear, and the love for Arizona and the punk scene that Authority Zero has was on full display on a magical night — a celebration of the upcoming new year, and the birthday celebration of an influential and great band.