TUCSON — Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes, The Faint, and several other bands) brought an enthusiastic and appreciative performance to Rialto Theatre. His eighth solo studio album Salutations was released just a couple of months ago, on March 17. Oberst’s live band instrumentals not only included the usual live band setup of guitar, bass, and drums; but also violin, accordion, and harmonica.
Opening for Oberst was Phoebe Bridgers, who is signed to Ryan Adams’ record label. Bridgers has been featured in an iPhone commercial covering The Pixies, and a couple of TV shows.
PHOENIX —The No Doubt & AFI hybrid Dreamcar drove into Crescent Ballroom and put on a colorful show! This band was everything fans expected of the union of Davey Havok & the No Doubt instrumentalists, and more! With a new single named “Kill for Candy”, this band of legends is solid and refreshing new ear candy that fans would kill for!
PHOENIX — It’s around 7:30 PM on a Tuesday night and the streets are busy on 4th Ave and Washington. The throngs of people milling around are desperately searching for the end of the impossibly long line that will eventually lead them to the entrance they are only feet away from at the moment. The lights from the large electronic marquee reads “A Perfect Circle TONIGHT!” and casts a glow on the faces passing below. For many standing there on that night, this was a long anticipated show.
“Oh my god, she just left her fuckin boyfriend back there!”, I heard a woman blurt out as I sat on a bench next to the box office at Comerica Theater. With lines stretching around the corner for several blocks, people of all different backgrounds are shuffling slowly past me toward the entrance gates. There are goth teens, soccer moms, bikers and hipsters all standing together in line. They’re chatting excitedly, talking about the last time they had seen the band perform and even dancing to Sublime’s “Wrong Way” as the sky gets darker.
I prepared myself for what would be the second time I would see A Perfect Circle since Lollapalooza 2003–the year they released their second album Thirteenth Step. In the nearly 14 years since that show, they’ve come a long way. Although the lineup has changed slightly, lead vocalist Maynard James Keenan of Tool-fame and lead guitarist Billy Howerdel have remained the central force of the band since its inception. Current bassist Matt McJunkins, who joined in 2010, has played with the likes of Thirty Seconds to Mars, Maynard James Keenan side band Puscifer and The Beta Machine, a band he formed with current APC drummer Jeff Friedl. McJunkins was also the touring bassist for Eagles of Death Metal during the Le Bataclan attack in Paris, France on November 13th, 2015. The audience was attacked by terrorists wielding automatic rifles, grenades and suicide vests, killing 89 fans including the band’s merchandise vendor. Rounding out the group is former Smashing Pumpkins alumnus and founding member James Iha on rhythm guitar, a superstar in his own right.
As the line seemed to shorten to a visible end, I took my place to be screened by security. It was a relatively short process. I got through the entrance within maybe 5 minutes of entering the line and spotted another long line snaking up the stairs to the second floor balcony. A friend remarked, “That’s the line for merchandise.” After purchasing my respective Cola and water bottles, I finally found my assigned seat just moments before the house lights come down and the uprising of applause and whistles begin. Smoke begins to seep from across the foot of the stage and everyone in attendance knows that this rocket is about to blast off.
The first notes of “The Package” begin to trickle melodically from the speakers behind a hazy white cloth that encompasses the entirety of the stage. Hidden beyond the opaque white veil, the band members’ silhouettes can be seen in various distorted sizes dancing as the lights produce their shadows. With little silence to buffer, each of the beginning three pieces all vaguely kind of bleed into the other. This first medley, The Package, The Hollow, and The Noose perfectly set the tone for the remainder of the show.
It was then that Keenan finally addressed the crowd, explaining that this was their first show since their three show Vegas tour kickoff at the Palms Resort and Casino Pearl Concert Theater. “Normally we try to do this first so we don’t make a bunch of fuckin’ mistakes and then you guys judge us…”
“And now a song about anal sex!”
Keenan playfully muses into the mic as the band launches into “Weak and Powerless”, another track from Thirteenth Step, their 2003 sophomore masterpiece, followed by “Rose” from their debut album Mer De Noms. As the show goes on I feel as though I’m transported to a time when I first started listening to a group whose lead singer sounded like that guy from Tool. It would be months after first being introduced to this new band until I would find out who it was behind those vocals, and would ultimately turn me on to Tool after hearing A Perfect Circle, and not the other way around.
Keenan has been an eccentric figure in both his professional and personal life. Army veteran, musician, winemaker and entrepreneur; he is one of the most eclectic artists ever grace a stage. With a residence in Jerome, Arizona near his Merkin vineyard in Cornville, where he produces his Caduceus Cellars blends of wine; Keenan has single-handedly raised the profile of Arizona wine nationally and internationally to break it out of mediocrity and make it a truly respectable region in the wine world… But that’s another story. We’re here to talk about the music.
The fourth movement and majority of the body of the show begins with a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” from 2004’s eMOTIVe album, in a style that one could only expect from A Perfect Circle. It’s brooding and not without the quintessential melancholy that only APC can produce. Truly a beautiful cover. As I ruminated on that thought, I scanned the crowd behind me. Not a single sarcastic smirk. The audience seemed to think it was as beautiful as I did. The show continues with several more amazing tracks from previous albums and including their incredible cover of Depeche Mode’s “People are People”. Keenan prefaces this performance with a few words to the audience regarding forgiveness.
“It’s those moments that forgiveness is the only thing that’s gonna get you through it, so, forgive each other, forgive yourself. Move to the light.”
For some people it was an emotional experience. I saw a woman across the aisle from my section wiping tears from her eyes during that particular track. It was evident that it meant something to her that only she understood. This band holds a special power that allows them to tap into the listener’s psyche. The feeling and raw emotion they emote entrances these fans with melodious distortion and precision combined with Keenan’s articulately barbed lyrical style. A Perfect Circle masterfully ends the main body of the show with “Blue” and Keenan once again addresses the masses before introducing all the players to their venerate fans.
The final medley of the concert is comprised of two tracks from Thirteenth Step, and a new song they debuted in Las Vegas during the first dates of the tour. Keenan describes the first song, “The Outsider,” as song “sung from the perspective of an asshole who has no compassion, so think of the whole album as being parts in a play and this is the Rodney Dangerfield… Being a dick.”
“So anyway, look out for each other. Don’t be a dick”
At this point, James Iha is introduced and expresses his distaste with the desert.
“The sand, it permeates my clothes. I don’t like it.”
The monologue goes on a little longer and almost seems necessary to lift the crowd back up from getting too cathartic and deep. It’s certainly a fun interlude as the final trio of pieces signals the beginning of the end of the show. By the close of “Feathers”, the final song and A Perfect Circle’s newest unreleased track, everyone is on their feet and cheering as Keenan speaks one last “Thank you”, and the band gives their final humble bows amid the silken forest of pillars amongst them and walks off stage.
Iha throws several handfuls of guitar picks into the front rows and the band disappears, never to be seen again by those hoping for an encore. Those dreams were dashed when the house lights immediately hit like a blast of reality and signaled that it was indeed time to go. I sauntered out into the streets and walked down Jefferson toward Squid Ink to wait for my Uber, and savored the sights and sounds I had just beheld.
PHOENIX — As I finished my coffee outside Comerica Theater, I watched the ever expanding line of eager concert goers and couldn’t help but marvel at how much the demographic for Underoath and Bring Me The Horizon had changed over the years. Bands who once suffered mile after mile in cramped vans to play to maybe 200 people on a good night were now riding in full size tour buses and playing 5,000 capacity venues decked out in state of the art stage production. Rooms full of angsty scene kids were now joined by radio ticket winners and suburban families all venturing into downtown Phoenix for a Friday night of metalcore’s biggest contemporary acts.
As I made my way down to the venue floor, Beartooth was two or three songs into their opening set and were doing an admirable job of getting the crowd moving and engaged while many were still trickling down to their seats or waiting in the (literally) two story tall merch line. Despite having played multiple sold-out shows at The Nile, sets at KUPD’s Ufest, and enjoying regular radio airplay, the crowd was largely silent when asked “Who here has seen Beartooth before!?”. However, by the time their explosive set wound down to a close, there was no doubt that Beartooth had won over the majority of the crowd and left the stage to raucous applause and an exodus of new fans headed to their march table.
Now, before I get into the Underoath portion of the evening, I must admit that this band has always held a special place in my heart. My first show in 2001 featured Atreyu, Underoath (then touring behind the album The Changing Of The Times), XDeathstarX, God Forbid, and Scars of Tomorrow at the Mason Jar long before it became it became The Rebel Lounge. Throughout high school the memories piled on as I went to virtually every Underoath tour that passed through Arizona with all of my friends who obsessed over every line of They’re Only Chasing Safety and Define The Great Line. My inner 16-year-old was just as astounded when the band opened up with “Everyone Looks So Good From Here” and “In Regards To Myself”, directly into “It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door”, as when I first heard them blasting through the headphones of my yellow cd player back in 2004 and 2006 respectively.
The rest of the setlist was dominated largely by songs off these two albums, which makes sense given their recent reunion tour featuring both albums performed in full, but featured select songs from Disambiguation and Lost In The Sound Of Separation to add a bit of variety to the setlist for the diehard fans. Spencer Chamberlain and Aaron Gillespie sounded even more in sync than on the reunion tour and proved themselves to be absolute powerhouse vocalists who have more than earned their legendary status as truly influential members of the metalcore scene who have made a lasting impact on everyone from The Devil Wears Prada to headliners Bring Me The Horizon.
Disclaimer: The author (yours truly) watched the entirety of Bring Me The Horizon’s set and was absolutely astounded by how tight they sounded as well as the sheer magnitude of their lighting production. However, due to loss of material and a minor concussion from a recent vehicle accident I was unable to recover my review of their set. Look forward to it in a future Party Dispatch and thank you for the patience.
Tucson, Ariz. — The Paper Kites rolled into town from San Diego to perform at the intimate Club Congress inside of the historic Hotel Congress. The 7 year old band of an indie folk-rock genre hails from Melbourne, Australia. The band supported headliner Passenger for this North American tour, however Tucson received the special treat of a show headlined by The Paper Kites.
Opening the night was local songwriter Jess Matsen, who chilled his way through his mellow acoustic set while some in the crowd chattered directly in front of him. In between songs, Matsen spoke to the crowd, stating that he hadn’t anticipated such a large turnout. Despite the noise, there were some attendees that clearly appreciated his performance, and shouted up front to ask for his name. Matsen released The Killing of Our Kind Ofin November of last year, and has also performed with local groups Dream Sick & J.R.M.
The Paper Kites directly followed Matsen with a sound that one fan was overheard describing as “ethereal”, and they brought passersby into the venue with their notable sound. The band’s harmonies are entrancing, particularly their signature duets between lead vocalist Sam Bentley and keyboardist/guitarist Christina Lacy.
In between songs, Bentley took the opportunity to chat with the crowd, commenting that the intimate venue was like playing a house show… except not, because it’s much fancier. He also joked about wishing he could take one of the cacti home, that he saw during the drive to Tucson from California. After he broke out his harmonica, he mused that everyone always gets excited about the instrument.
The venue afforded him the opportunity to interact with the crowd in a way not possible on the other dates of the tour in which they performed grand theaters such as The Wiltern in Los Angeles and Fox Theater in Oakland, CA.
With the lighting that Club Congress offers, it was pleasant to be able to observe every band member clearly. The least visible being bassist/synthist Sam Rasmussen, who was tucked in the back right corner behind the other musicians and instruments.
With impressive mastery of their musicianship and sound, there was nary a difference in sound between hearing The Paper Kites live and listening to one of their albums.
Amidst their set, following the song “Too Late”, came the most intimate segment of all. Bentley asked that the lights be turned off, and the room was then lit only by the faint glow of the exit signs. The next two songs were a unique and meditative period of visual deprivation. The first song in the darkness was “A Silent Cause”, which was fitting considering how silent the crowd felt obligated to become with the lights out.
The second song in the darkness was “Bloom”, which instead had the audience united in a beautiful chorus. Usually while the unison sing-a-longs at concerts are touching, tone-deaf vocals shout-sang by fans are commonplace. (It doesn’t matter, because it’s about the experience and showing love to the artists.) But The Paper Kites’ fans in Tucson have surprisingly good singing voices, as they fell into a delightful harmony.
Before the encore, the band played “Electric Indigo”, followed by “Featherstone” to close the show. Afterward, the band was so kind as to meet fans, autograph merch, and take group photos outside. It was not just a small concert, but truly an experience to be in attendance at The Paper Kites’ gig in Tucson, with such a personal connection both during and after their performance. No doubt fans were grateful for the rare opportunity before the band heads back to Australia.
PHOENIX — Sundressed put on one hell of an LP release show Thursday night at The Rebel Lounge in Phoenix. I’d been anticipating the event since first hearing lead vocalist, Trevor Hedges during an unexpected acoustic performance at the Dashboard Confessional concert earlier this year. Many of you will remember the story of Chris Carrabba welcoming Hedges to the stage after Dashboard Confessional’s hit track “Stolen,” a display of vocal dexterity which was undoubtedly reminiscent of groups like Taking Back Sunday, The Starting Line, 30 Seconds to Mars, The Used and – you guessed it, Dashboard Confessional.
This was my first experience at The Rebel Lounge. I entered through a dark, narrow hallway plastered with peeling posters which wound around to the front of the merch tables where some pinback buttons featuring a colorful portrait of Sundressed guitarist, Forest Walldorf caught my eye. R&B singer-songwriter Trent (Trenton Clark) had just taken the stage and the room was filling fast. I settled in near the bar, notebook in-hand and listened closely as robust, velvety beats tingled beneath my feet.
The Rebel Lounge is an intimate venue, the kind of place that takes me back to the days of punk rock “thrash parties” in my friend’s garage. It’s a bit gritty, on the smaller side, and full of heart. Trent’s sultry, electrified beats caught me by surprise at first. I hadn’t expected to hear anything other than emo or alt-rock tonight. As Trent’s euphoric vocals melted in and out of the speakers I began to notice a slight resemblance to neo R&B duo Trak Joy, who were credited in recent years for stretching the boundaries of contemporary rhythm and blues with their “newly minted sound.” Trent’s was a quick set, but one charged with a unique, soulful intensity – lyrically focused on stories of love, sex and addiction.
After a quick changeover, alternative rock band Eclipses for Eyes took the stage with an instant authority that almost seemed to rival frontwoman Lexi Salazar’s petite stature. The moment Salazar’s voice met our ears, Lacey Sturm was at our lips.
“Look,” our photographer Katherine said holding out her arm, “I’ve got goosebumps!”
Besides displaying obvious audible similarities to alternative mega-powerhouse Flyleaf; Eclipses for Eyes is a group that commands the stage with an unstoppable energy, and one rooted in authenticity. In a 2014 interview with RiffYou.com the band was quoted saying,
“Our music and lyrics are honest and personal, which is something that we find is normally neglected in most modern music.”
The band’s stellar five-piece performance of “Left of You” from the upcoming Polaris EP affirmed that for us on Thursday, and it would seem for other Phoenix fans as well. With the crowd’s energy on overdrive, expectations were high. It was an appropriate transition for Phoenix-based emo rock trio, Way Under who kicked things off with some hardcore vocals and fast-paced guitar, playing through a series of tracks off their latest EP Alone and first solo release, The Way Under EP.
“This is going to be our last show for a long time,” vocalist, Aaron Villeda announced before kicking off their next song. Although some of the audience seemed eager for the main event of the evening, Way Under kept the pit jumping as anticipation continued to build.
The final opener of the night was indie rock group Saddles who boasts an unusual culmination of electronic beats, indie pop, experimental synth pop and classic emo rock. Their somewhat subdued vocals seemed to vibrate along the higher-pitched guitar notes giving the whole thing a Muse-like feel. As the set went on however, I found Saddles to be far more reminiscent live of Yellowcard or Dashboard Confessional with a variety of unique instrumentals beneath.
Between sets, fans flooded the bar to refill drinks or head to the patio for a smoke while others secured a spot close to the stage. About fifteen minutes passed before Sundressed’s vocalist Trevor Hedges finally stepped forward in a sea of fluorescent pink light to briefly thank everyone for coming out, almost immediately switching over to the opening lyrics for their latest single “A Little Less Put Together” off Sundressed’s most recent album under the same name. The crowd erupted, surrounding the stage from every angle while forming a sizable circle pit front and center. It was obvious Sundressed was what fans had been waiting for.
“Hey, we’re releasing a record,” Hedges said playfully, “let’s go fuckin’ nuts!”
I immediately recognized the next track from my Spotify playlist earlier that day. I always listen to bands while driving around on the day of a review to get pumped up, but today I’d been singing along – loudly. It was “Beck & Call” off their EP The Same Condition which according to the band, “touches on darker territory” involving heartbreak, depression, toxic relationships and “balancing intensely personal stories with universally relatable truths.”
The night’s energy was at its peak. I even saw a few people hanging from the rafters, which was precarious considering the risk of a foot-to-head collision with a crowd surfer below. (Katherine actually had a crowd surfer land head-first on her camera a few songs later! Thankfully, the camera survived.) It was the kind of free-spirited, no fucks given, rock show vibe fans live for and Phoenix was eating it up. Even the bartenders were jamming while mixing drinks, commenting on the quality of the music.
Next up was “Mill Ave and Broadway” off of their latest album which featured a fusion of ska-punk sound with a surprise trumpet breakdown. It was magic. The band continued to play through their latest album, leaving only a few songs to be discovered in order to make room for crowd favorites like “Ordinary Day” and “Good As You.” Although Sundressed’s set was packed with freshly released tracks it felt oddly familiar, as if we were rocking out to all our old favorites.
As the release party came to an end, Hedges said they had one more for us, a newly released track entitled “Something Good.” Hedges also said of it “this song means everything to me.” It was the perfect finale to a supercharged performance, but not without a surprise encore featuring a cover of Saves the Day’s “At Your Funeral” – during which Hedges was lowered into the crowd while the stage was swallowed by energetic fans singing along. It was an all-around phenomenal performance. And also a reminder of the impact that local music can and does continue to have on our community. We are certainly curious to see where this group is headed next, but one thing is for sure – this won’t be the last you’ve heard of Sundressed.
TEMPE, Ariz. — Eyeliner-tinged catharsis and angst were alive and well at the Marquee on Friday night when AFI made their Arizona stop on The Blood Tour with support from Nothing, and Souvenirs.
Souvenirs got the night started with a set heavy on tracks from their newest album Posture Of Apology. With stark emotional lyrics focused on understanding, loss, and forgiveness, Souvenirs struck the perfect balance between the 90’s Sub Pop records catalogue and The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me-era Brand New. Overall, while their set may not have astounded many of the ardent AFI fans in attendance, it served as the perfect transition to Nothing’s reverb-heavy set which followed after a speedy changeover.
Nothing proved to be an exceptionally polarizing band for the sold-out crowd. With awkward stage presence, dedications to the memory of George “The Animal” Steele, and rambling half-mumbled banter between songs, it would be easy to simply write off Nothing as a band trying to emit a false rockstar facade. However, as they worked their way through a reverb-drenched set of songs that called to mind My Bloody Valentine’s vocal delivery layered over instrumentals which would have felt right at home amongst the Smashing Pumpkins discography, or even Incubus’ Morning View, they revealed themselves to be truly adept performers and songwriters who deserved their spot supporting AFI on a large scale tour. Though Domenic Palerno’s airy, trance inducing vocals may have seemed out of place opening for the concussive ball of energy that is AFI, the fact that they were able to hold a largely unfamiliar crowds attention for a 45 minute set is testament to their well-deserved presence on the Relapse Records roster.
Following Nothing, the stage lights were tuned to an ominous purple while the hazers were ratcheted up to blanket the stage in heavy fog. Finally, the lights dimmed and AFI took the stage to a cacophonous roar from the packed Friday night crowd. Opening with a near-soulful rendition of “Strength Through Wounding” from legendary album Black Sails In The Sunset, Havok and company quickly ratcheted the energy up to a thousand by launching directly into “Miss Murder”, launching the crowd into a frenzy that never relented for the rest of the evening.
Most impressively, songs from the recently released Blood album received just as much of an explosive crowd response as tried-and-true Sing The Sorrow–era favorites. “Aurelia”, “Snow Cats”, and “So Beneath You” all found great strength in a live setting where Davey Havok’s powerful vocal flourishes combined with a wall of guitar tone, propelled them beyond an album sound which many felt was a bit too “clean” for a band which has consistently based their career on raw emotion.
The setlist also made a direct point to showcase how much pride the band takes in their material from each album by sandwiching Blood album lead single “Snow Cats” between The Art Of Drowning‘s legendary tracks “The Despair Factor” and “The Days Of The Phoenix”. Whether calculated, or simply a serendipitous surprise, this pacing showed that with age, AFI at their core is still focused on the same message of sorrow, regret, pain, and love.
Throughout the career-spanning set, Davey continually launched himself off of every available surface, while Jade Puget pirouetted effortlessly across the stage; making it clear that nothing about their performance or career would be slowing down at any point in the near future.
Highlights: Deep cuts from Sing The Sorrow, including “This Celluloid Dream” and “Paper Airplanes”, dedicated to anyone who had seen them at The Nile long ago.
Lowlights: An oddly-aged and very drunk crowd, who continued shouting for “Miss Murder” long after it had been played.
PHOENIX — Last night, locals Unagi Usagi performed at The Rhythm Room. They opened the gig with the high-energy “Holy Valkyrie”, which takes the audience by storm without a buildup, and shows them they’re in for something delightfully insane right off the bat.
From start to finish, Unagi Usagi brought constant power and animation from each band member. The vocalist, who goes by Ghostrick Alucard, brings oozing charisma and animation to the stage.
In the midst of their set, “It’s Your Fault I Have Issues… You Stupid Bitch” is a crowd favorite, as all stand together in solidarity for glorious bitterness. The breakdown during the song, which might be their hardest and heaviest instrumentals, unexpectedly blows first-timers away and brings sweet satisfaction to fans.
It’s Your Fault I Have Issues… You Stupid Bitch
Heart In The Graveyard
Unagi Usagi debuted a song called “You Suck”, which is distinguished from their other songs by an infusion of ska. It really rounds out their set list by offering an upbeat sound and comic relief, while retaining their signature angst.
“Heart In The Graveyard” was a fitting closing song, finishing things off with both Big Jake (bassist) and Austang (guitarist) down on the floor, wildly emoting… while, astonishingly, Dead Wesley (drummer) shows no sign of fatigue up to the end.
Every crowd becomes noticeably impressed and intrigued shortly after the band begins playing, and they are always enthusiastically applauding and cheering by the end of the set. Unagi Usagi just keeps getting better and they’re gaining traction in the Phoenix scene, so follow them on Facebook to see what comes next.