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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Photographer: Katherine Amy Vega
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.