PHOENIX — Celebrity Theatre was a fitting venue for the return of Styx to the Valley for a two night engagement on January 11th and 12th. Located at 32nd Street and Fillmore, the legendary theatre in the round has hosted the cream of music royalty since it first opened as the Phoenix Star Theatre in 1964. The unique circular, rotating stage and intimate atmosphere have made the Celebrity a staple music hall in Phoenix for nearly six decades. Not one seat in the venue is more than 70 feet from the stage.
The show on January 11th started a little late, most likely a result of the parking delays. The line of cars snaking southbound down the right lane of 32nd street moved at a snail’s pace leading up to the entrance. Folks of all stripes were milling around the theater, ordering drinks and chatting excitedly under the catwalk above the stage. Others lingered outside, chain smoking or vaping, listening for a sign to run back inside for the start of the concert.
From their humble Chicago beginnings in the early 1970’s, to their outlandish high production theatrical arena shows of the 80’s, Styx has been a familiar voice on the radio for generations, with a career spanning over half a century. As the first band to have four triple platinum albums in a row, they are an integral part of the soundtrack of many people’s lives. Their importance to rock music as a whole has been unfairly marginalized for years, and in the words of Julian ‘Frankenstein’ McGrath from Big Daddy (1999), only catching “a bad rap because most critics are cynical assholes.”
The current lineup includes veteran Tommy Shaw on lead guitar, with founding members James “J.Y.” Young and Chuck Panozzo on guitar and bass respectively, with Chuck performing on a more limited basis. Chuck’s twin brother and co-founding member of Styx, John Panozzo, originally played drums, but sadly died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1996. Since then, Todd Sucherman has been the band’s drummer. Playing backing guitar, bass, and vocals is Ricky Phillips of Bad English and The Babys, who joined the band in 2003. Vocalist and keyboard virtuoso Lawrence Gowan is a high-energy showman, but you would have to be in order to replace estranged former frontman Dennis DeYoung, as he did in 1999. A band with a history as rich as Styx merits such a historic venue as Celebrity Theatre.
The house lights suddenly dimmed, eliciting hoots and cheers from the audience. As soon as the spotlights kicked on, the band flew right into “Gone Gone Gone”from their latest album The Mission, released in mid-2017. From the first frenzied notes played on the dueling guitars, the crowd was on their feet. Fans young and old danced in the aisles while others rushed to their seats, full beers in hand. The song does not sound at all unlike the old Styx — high-energy and fun.
Not a moment after the first tune ended, the iconic organ riff of “Blue Collar Man” sternly commanded the grateful crowd’s attention. Each band member’s precision assured the crowd that Styx had not lost a step from their golden age.
Next was their hit “The Grand Illusion”, the title track from their 1977 album. Every flawless note rang out true to the recording, and there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for that: Styx is a band that is perpetually on tour. According to the band themselves, they only take occasional breaks for short periods. Anybody touring that frequently is going to perform their catalogue masterfully.
After performing “Fooling Yourself,” Gowan spoke: “What a wonderful way to ring in the new year!” Standing at the foot of the stage, he remarked, “My, you’re all so close,” as he addressed the theater’s intimate layout.
The spotlight settled on him at the keyboard as and an iconic piano riff pierced the crowd, igniting their collective nostalgia. “Lady” is one of those songs that everyone imagines will be playing in the background when they lay their eyes on their soulmate for the first time. Again, it’s eerie how well Gowan embodies Dennis DeYoung, both vocally and instrumentally. It was not the first song the whole theater sang in unison, nor would it be the last.
When Shaw approached the mic, he explained the origins of their 16th album, The Mission, before introducing “Radio Silence” for the waiting ears of all in attendance. The opening synth has that instantly recognizable Styx DNA. That this was not a radio single is baffling. In fact, Shaw himself has expressed frustration with the neglect that great classic rock bands experience in the new age of the music industry. It is almost prophetic of the band that you cannot hear a song called “Radio Silence” on the radio. It is a fantastic track and deserves more attention.
The next tune was off of 1975’s Equinox. “Lorelei” seems like one of those songs that everyone knows but has no idea what it is called or who sings it, like an old friend you ate lunch with at work, but never learned their name. Young absolutely nails the lead vocals in place of DeYoung’s studio recording. Another striking revelation was that the bands harmonies were pristine. These are men in their early to late sixties, the oldest being founding member Panozzo at seventy years old.
Shortly after “Lorelei”, Shaw recalled a conversation he had with Young in 1975, and explained how he came to join the band. Taking Young up on his offer to come to Chicago, Shaw brought a song he had been working on. It was a great song, but “it wasn’t a Styx song” according to Young, who Shaw calls “The Godfather of Styx”. From that story, the audience learned how “Crystal Ball” was written, and Shaw was only too happy to demonstrate how beautiful his two-tone sunburst Fender 12-string acoustic sounds. With impeccable timing, a roadie hopped up onto the stage to hand over a Les Paul for the solo before swapping the Jumbo back for the outro.
As expected, the band played a couple more hits with “Light Up” and “Man in the Wilderness” before closing out the first half of the show with another anthem from the Paradise Theater album, “Rockin’ the Paradise.” It wasn’t long before the house lights came back up for a short intermission, when Young promised another hour of music after they returned.
The second half of the show kicked off with another Young-led hit from The Grand Illusion, “Miss America.” Styx is currently rehearsing for a special show in Las Vegas where they will play the entire The Mission album from start to finish. Fans attending this show were treated to a sampling of what is to come when they debuted six of those songs in order from the second half of the album. The suite of songs began with “Time May Bend” and continued through “The Outpost” and this night was the first time they had ever been performed live. They even welcomed the album’s producer and co-writer, Will Evankovich on stage to contribute to the instrumentation and vocals.
Eventually a roadie produced Shaw’s vintage Fender Electric XII and it’s a dead giveaway to the guitar-savvy fans that “Suite Madame Blue” was coming, and it was impeccably played from start to finish. Immediately after, the fans were finally treated to what many were waiting for… “Too Much Time On My Hands” (watch the Paul Rudd and Jimmy Fallon shot-for-shot remake) from 1981’s Paradise Theater. The maniacal keyboard part of the song is indicative of the genius that Dennis DeYoung endowed upon the group; however, this does not imply they are lacking anything from his departure. This band is so well-oiled that his absence is hardly noticeable.
As the applause died down, most of the band left the stage, but Gowan remained and took the spotlight to turn the venue into a “piano bar” with a pair of fantastic covers. The first was a phenomenally accurate rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” for the appreciative audience. The second cover was a beautiful recitation of the intricate operatic section of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and the entire crowd once again sang along to every word. They are truly a fortunate group to have stumbled across such a talented frontman. Gowan alone should be a major factor for anyone even considering going to a Styx show. He alone is absolutely worth the cost of admission.
Still alone on stage, Gowen started into the piano intro to possibly their most famous hit, “Come Sail Away”, which was also featured on The Grand Illusion. The band shuffled back out to bring it home and it seemed to be the perfect crescendo to end the show with, guitars blazing and fans jumping up and down. As the last note is struck from the guitars, and the last cymbal smashed, the band removed their straps and handed off their instruments to the roadies while they made their way off the stage before turning around amid the raucous applause and walking right back out for an encore.
To thunderous applause, they opened back up with “Mr. Roboto,” the drum fills echoing throughout the small space with noticeably fewer audience members, many of whom ran out to their vehicles when they believed the show was over. This is a big deal for one simple reason: They had never performed this song on stage with the full band before this tour. Previously, Dennis DeYoung had always sung a version of it with pre-recorded tracks. Once he left, the band abandoned it for the following decades. The fact that they are playing it as an encore now is kind of ironic.
The fitting final number of the evening was the signature rocker song “Renegade”, Shaw’s self-penned hit from 1979’s Pieces of Eight.
“Oh, mama, I’m in fear for my life from the long arm of the law…”
The acapella opening lines beckoned the crowd once more to accompany the band, offering a fitting and crowd-unifying conclusion to a consistently powerful and nostalgic evening with a gargantuan pillar of classic rock. As any great performers are wont to do, Styx left the Phoenix audience delighted and fulfilled, yet eager for more. Fans might have had their thirst satiated if they bought tickets to the show the following night at the same venue. And if the rock gods will it, perhaps Arizona will be graced with a future performance from the legendary American musical mainstay.
PHOENIX — Many of us have been invited to a pity party and more than likely, we have no desire to attend. When Puddles the sad clown hosts one, however, I recommend you RSVP and make it a priority on your calendar.
I was one such lucky attendee amidst several thousand others that packed the Ikeda Theater at Mesa Arts Center. Not knowing what to expect of the next 110 intermission-free minutes aside from a sweet serenade from the 6’8” baritone crooner in a clown costume, I kept my mind, ears, and eyes open.
Three minutes before the show was set to begin, the house lights were still up as people shuffled to their seats. There appeared to be commotion on the mezzanine level as several audience members looked up to see the unmistakable giant, cuddly clown making his way through the sea of people giving hugs, handshakes, and posing for photos. He effortlessly hurdled the chairs and made a concerted effort to greet as many of his party “guests” as he could, before making his way down to the ground level where he popped through the back doors and dashed to and fro, greeting attendees as he made his way up to the stage.
Puddles Pity Party is anything but predictable, and after enthusiastically giving high fives to some of the folks in the front rows, he hoisted himself up onto the stage and awkwardly rolled to his feet despite the fact that there was an accessibility staircase not 10 feet to his left. It was at this moment I realized that things were going to be shaken up into a concoction of splendor and entertainment that would take all of us on a wild adventure of fellowship and laughter.
The festivities began with Puddles amusingly popping a whopping amount of gum into his mouth and loudly chewing as he read an AARP magazine featuring Kevin Costner.
Much like other aspects of the show, these pieces may have seemed trivial at the time, but became integral parts of his act. Perpetually animated and childlike in his movement at times, Puddles — brought to life by Mike Geier — scoots about the stage on his stool and takes his sweet time getting to center stage to watch a montage of his trials and tribulations while appearing on America’s Got Talent. The sad clown with the golden voice sang his rendition of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”, only to be abruptly stopped by a loud buzzer and a giant red X like the one he received while performing for the show. Despite this, Puddles pressed on.
The irony was not lost in respect to a silent comic entertainer who uses only his vocal ability to belt out emotional tunes; however, the heartfelt depth of his singing left the partygoers absolutely stunned. Puddles performed “The Sound of Silence” to a video of ASL translator, Zoey Stormes, signing a moving performance. Though he is a sad clown who expresses tremendous variety of emotion, from melancholy, to gratitude, to wonderment, it’s virtually impossible to be sad while in his presence. Laughter and words of encouragement from the crowd consistently permeated the silence.
Puddles has several obsessions that attendees learn throughout their time with him, two of which are Kevin Costner and coffee. Never have I attended a party that entailed a coffee break, but there is a first time for everything. In fact, Puddles Pity Party contained many firsts, which takes the Vaudevillian style act from being a show to a full-fledged experience. I lost count of how many times Puddles left his wad of gum behind on his suitcase of goodies and plucked it back up to resume chewing. Additionally, I lost count of how many times he rolled himself off the stage to interact with the audience and bring a new friend up to be a part of the show. Attendees were swept away, transformed into an environment where excitement is found in the simple and absurd.
It was when I oddly caught “the feels” from hilarious snippets of robots falling over to the sound of Puddles’ emotional rendition of Coldplay’s “Fix You” that I realized the power and magnitude of this king-sized clown’s voice. No love song directed at a cup of coffee will ever feel so pure and heartfelt as it did in that theater.
Partygoers were just as much a part of the show, and were brought into Puddles’ world of make-believe. One woman transformed into a wolf that Puddles waltzed with. A gentleman enthusiastically sang the karaoke version of “All By Myself”. Another got to be a rocket scientist, and yet another got to stuff his face with cupcakes while being reminded that the word “stressed” spelled backwards is “desserts”. Puddles even had one of the party attendees summon Kevin Costner, albeit after a failed attempt that accidentally summoned Kevin Bacon.
Other celebrities were attending in spirit, as it was impossible to miss the homages to Axl Rose, Freddie Mercury, and the King himself, Elvis Presley. Puddles’ prowess as an accomplished musician was made apparent through performing on his cardboard guitar that asserts “Do Good Work”, to his various beats on both real and video game drum sets, to his unique song mashups.
Geier, affectionately known as “Big Mike”, who has run a burlesque performance troupe out of Atlanta and also performs with the Kingsized Jazz Trio, has the performer gene coursing through his veins. Traveling with Puddles Pity Party, he has made audiences giggle and laugh warmly all over the world while wearing his endearing heart on his ruffled sleeve.
All you would have to do is go on YouTube and search “Puddles” to encounter countless videos of the sad clown with the golden voice. One of his most captivating being his rendition of Sia’s “Chandelier”, which partnered with Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox and also performed on America’s Got Talent to agape jaws and an uproarious standing ovation.
The party on Friday was no exception and the crowd had their phones out to record video of his most notable serenade, as is encouraged. This did not stop Puddles from giving his adoring fans the up-close and personal show they were hoping for, as he grabbed one phone to sing to it and place it in the hand of another individual while picking up their phone and passing it on until there were multitudes of attendees who had incredible footage of Puddles and the cell phone of their fellow party-goer. The laughter that ensued afterward while people scrambled to find each rightful owner was memorable. If anyone can bring people closer together with their fellow man, it’s most definitely Puddles the sad clown.
If you have the opportunity to attend a pity party put on by Puddles, I highly encourage it. How a sad clown can make everyone in a room light up with laughter is a special kind of magic that can only be felt and seen by experiencing it firsthand.
Tempe, AZ — At face value, thinking about a period of seventeen years does seem like a long stretch of time. Contrarily, Minus the Bear frontman, Jake Snider, has a different take on the idea because about halfway through the set on their farewell tour at the Marquee Theatre last night, Snider gave the audience some insight into their seventeen year-long career as a band, “Seventeen years feels like almost no time has passed. We appreciate all of you for being here. We’ve got the best fans of anyone.”
This served as a beautiful footnote at the end of the influential band’s creative streak consisting of 6 studio albums and 12 EPs, as well as countless national and international tours. They’ve been highly influential in the math rock genre and are largely considered pioneers of the style, their beginnings predating many noteworthy math rock bands like This Town Needs Guns and Chon.
They clearly expressed their gratitude to the audience, and the feeling was undeniably mutual as the sounds of cheering and clapping rarely died down over the course of the evening. Every crowd has its black sheep though, demonstrated towards the end of the show as one inebriated concert-goer threw a full can of beer at bassist Cory Murchy. To the relief of many, the band didn’t hold the rudeness of one person against the rest of the audience as Snider calmy chimed in over the mic “Please don’t throw your f*ucking beer can at us. Thanks, we love you guys.”
The unforgettable night began with an excellent introduction of the complex music to come thanks to the opening act, Tera Melos. The Sacramento, California-based band pummelled the audience with a frenetic 40 minute set that never once let up in energy.
It all began when Nick Reinhart, the guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist of the band, gave the other members a quick, nearly imperceptible glance, and then they were off with their first song, “Don’t Say I Know”. The band continued their set without uttering a word or letting out a breath between songs while only occasionally looking at each other for brief acknowledgement of what was coming next. This was astounding because of the technicality and otherworldly sounds emanating from Reinhart’s guitar; it takes incredible musicianship to even follow what’s going on as a listener, let alone a Tera Melos band member.
Interspersed between songs were spastic, electronic guitar lines that could often be described as computer beeping in 5/4 time. Some of these sounded reminiscent of dubstep while others bordered more along EDM territory. It was surprising to many fans in attendance that it was coming from a guitar, as well as those more familiar with the band as you’d frequently hear someone new shouting “What?!” or “How?!” from around the room as Reinhart stomped on a new combination of guitar FX pedals.
Another highlight of their incredible set was “Slimed”, with Reinhart screaming “Something about my face, always makes me sick!” as the band followed along perfectly without missing a note. On these merits alone, Tera Melos is not, nor will they ever be, a band to be missed.
Minus the Bear
After fans had about 20 minutes to recover between sets from the mind blowing experience of Tera Melos, Minus the Bear picked up right where the opening act left off.
The band’s embrace of classics like “Pachuca Sunrise”, “The Fix”, and “The Game Needed Me” from their second album Menos Del Oso scattered throughout the set among more recent favorites, such as “Last Kiss” from their final 2017 release, VOIDS served as an anachronistic tribute to their incredible evolution as a band over time. It was a nice touch and always kept you guessing as what was to come next. The band’s sound was also finely tuned to the venue’s sound system, a huge relief considering anything less would have proven unacceptable for a band so musically polished themselves.
Guitarist Dave Knudson was a finger-tapping machine, only taking both his hands off the guitar neck to kneel down and adjust knobs on his plethora of FX pedals. If Knudson and Reinhart were to face off in a gladiator-esque guitar FX duel, it would be impossible to tell who would come out on top. Knudson and keyboardist Alex Rose were the icing on the cake of the intricately layered music, as bassist Murchy and touring drummer Joshua Sparks provided a solid backbone for the songs to breathe new life into the hearts of many listeners.
While farewell tours will always carry bittersweet connotations, this inspiring show served as a proper send-off for some of math rock’s founding fathers with the grateful support of an up-and-coming math rock band. It’s hard to picture it going any better than it did, and many fans stayed until the very end of the show, absorbing every beautiful moment. The legacy of Minus the Bear will live on through not only their own music, but in the hearts and minds of fans worldwide and other math rock bands reinventing the sound that was so new only seventeen short years ago.
Photographer: Mark Greenawalt
Minus The Bear & Tera Melos – Marquee Theatre 12-7-18
PHOENIX — Hailing from Perth, Australia, The Faim dropped into Crescent Ballroom on headliner Hands Like Houses’ “U.S. Tour 2018”. With a whopping 5-band line-up (including Arlington, The Faim, Devour the Day, Emarosa, and Hands Like Houses), Phoenix was treated to an explosive set of just 30 minutes, which left the crowd hungry for more! On the dimly-lit stage, the band brought an unanticipated level of energy and a performance undoubtably worthy of headlining at an even bigger venue.
With a big sound and big backing, it was entirely evident that The Faim will be going far, and doing it fast. At the time of our interview, it was still unknown when the band would grace Arizona with their presence. Since then, The Faim has released multiple songs and music videos, their Summer is a Curse EP (released September 7th), toured the states, and are embarking on a world tour in 2019. Current tour dates can be found on their website.
This honestly doesn’t seem real. Selling out/upgrading shows on the other side of the world is a fantasy we’ve never expected. This is a testament to all of the incredible support and dedication from our amazing supporters all over the world. This love is unforgettable x pic.twitter.com/Rxyxh5e6FG
PHOENIX — Justin Courtney Pierre returned to Arizona for an intimate underground show at the historic Valley Bar Friday night, revitalizing fans with a colloquial performance of his latest solo-album In The Drink. Since Motion City Soundtrack’s “So Long, Farewell Tour” in 2016, it had been unclear when and if Pierre would continue making music in the future.
“Post-MCS I just really wanted to focus on the art,” Pierre told Billboard during a recent interview, “so, I built a team of people around me that I can utilize for all the other stuff – the production, the business. What’s nice about this is I don’t have to ask anybody for permission or get four people to agree on whatever we’re doing. I can just do my ideas whether they’re stupid or not, for better or for worse. I thought, ‘OK, so if this is the only record I ever do, great. I’m just gonna do it exactly the way I want it.’“
Produced by Motion City Soundtrack bandmate Joshua Cain, In The Drink is heavily influenced by the sound of the 90’s, classic guitar and, as Pierre puts it, (in direct reference to noted inspirations Swervedriver, Polara, Guided By Voices, and Frank Black’s “Teenager of the Year”) “a lot of movement going on”.
During a coinciding interview with boutique pedal company ZVex, Pierre went on to explain the experimental nature of his work which he revealed, lead him to his newfound love affair with the ZVex Fuzz Factory 7, as well as the ZVex Effects Vertical Vexter ’59 Sound, which he utilized throughout Friday night’s performance. When it comes to guitar, this singer-songwriter prefers a more improvisonal approach – toying with different combinations until his fancy footwork yields a sound he likes.
Pierre’s tourmates for his latest solo album include old friend and master of effects – guitarist Thomas Rehbein, sensational vocalist and guitarist Lydia Liza, emotive bassist Shannon Burns, and relentless drummer David Jarnstrom.
“I’m listening to Flaming Lips in my headphones to drown out all this other bullshit”, Pierre joked before jamming out the opening notes to “I Don’t Know Why She Ran Away”, following opening tracks “Undone” and “Anchor”. “Just kidding!”, he laughed – noting that the night’s opener had been unable to make it due to an undisclosed transportation issue. As a result of that last minute change, the night became increasingly conversational. Fans shouted back and forth as Pierre responded between tracks from on-stage, speaking on everything from his struggles with alcohol, to new “dadhood”, and even his strong distaste for Burger King. Pierre casually guided the audience through an evening of impromptu storytelling between each new track from In The Drink, but not without some nostalgic surprises along the way.
Preceding the Farewell Continental portion of the evening, a tribute to Pierre and Rehbein’s passion project since 2008, “My Girl Margo” off a “special upcoming EP” got fans jumping for more. With the night’s energy at its peak, “Total Devastation” had diehard JCP fans weak in the knees.
Next up was a new Farewell Continental song that’s not yet been recorded. “It’s called ‘Tossing and Turning’”, Pierre told fans, “It’s a motif I’ve used before and I’m aware of that,” he laughed, “And I like to remind people, it’s supposed to sound like this.” Farewell Continentaltakes the undeniably esoteric undertones of In The Drink one step further, culminating a uniquely chaotic blend of power-pop-meets-classic-rock. The band finished out a lively performance of “Do You Wanna Tangle” also by Farewell Continental, before abruptly leaving the stage where only Pierre was left to tame the spotlight.
Without question, the moment we’d been waiting for since 2016 had finally arrived; it was time for a little Motion City Soundtrack. Pierre explained that since the band had chosen not to continue making music two years prior, he’d decided to play only MCS songs which he’d “brought to the party” so to speak. Members of the crowd shouted out track after track in hopes of hearing their longtime favorites. Pierre responded by teasing onlookers with a candid rendition of “Stand Too Close” before breaking for a quick story – “The Caffeine Story” he called it: “Listen, listen. I haven’t had a drink of alcohol in over nine years, and a few years after that I quit caffeine. And now I have nothing.”
As fans applauded, “Atonia” began rumbling out from the speakers. Fans sang along loudly as Pierre pieced together a nostalgic solo tribute session including “When You’re Around” and “LG FUAD”, to which the entire bar sang aloud. “Okay, now I am going to invite the band back to the stage,” Pierre announced before launching into a cover of Guided By Voices’ “Motor Away” which he credited as one of his favorite songs to date. “Some of these guys just heard it for the first time today,” he told fans as they hooted and hollered at Pierre to “do it again!”
The evening closed out with “Shoulder the Weight”, “In the Drink”, and “Goodnight Hiroyuki” – the last three tracks off of Pierre’s latest solo expressional, sending fans off with a phantasmal intermingling of sludgy, otherworldly tones. Rehbein could be seen sliding his guitar back and forth against everything from the guard rail to the speakers and even Liza’s guitar while her robust, angelic voice offered a sweet contrast to the whirlwind of instrumental experimentation unfolding on stage. “This is it. I love you all, except Kevin!”, Pierre exclaimed.
Following a staggering twenty track setlist, fans continued to swarm the stage in hopes of one more. Band members could be seen handing out copies of the setlist, and even notes from practice sessions to outstretched hands eager to claim their prize. Following the performance, Pierre stayed true to his reputation of being the down-to-earth artist we’ve all come to love and hung out to greet and take photos with anyone and everyone who chose to stick around. Although he was lacking in words (as he announced that he would not be speaking, in order to protect his voice), Pierre’s charismatic demeanor radiated off of him as fan after fan stepped up to meet the man of the hour.
After two years of wondering, Pierre took us back to the driving spirit and endearing authenticity behind what made Motion City Soundtrack great. It’s that permeating willingness – to care and connect with his fans, to tell the stories that need to be told, and if there’s one thing for sure, it’s that we absolutely cannot wait to see what this performer is up to next.
PHOENIX — A Perfect Circle ended “on a high note” for the last date on the third leg of their headlining North American tour, to the city that frontman Maynard James Keenan thanked for being the “marijuana-stinking cherry” on top. Dark electronic duo Night Club and trip hop artist Tricky supported the band starting from October 20th, leading up to this night at Comerica Theatre. A PerfeBetct Circle delivered a performance that repeatedly went from smoldering to bellowing, and took the transfixed audience on an escape of commiseration through hard rock.
This year, A Perfect Circle released Eat the Elephant, which is their first album release in fourteen years, and their fourth studio album. Today, A Perfect Circle released a limited-edition 7” vinyl single featuring the latest single, “So Long, And Thanks for All the Fish”. Included on the release is a B-side, a cover of AC/DC’s “Dog Eat Dog”. It is available exclusively from the Record Store Day Black Friday event at select brick-and-mortar record stores.
The tone of their performance in Phoenix was first set with a dark stage as they invisibly began the instrumentals of the title-track of their latest album, “Eat the Elephant”. Anyone who has previously experienced A Perfect Circle live may have come to expect a giant white sheet shrouding the stage front leading up to, and remaining through the entirety of, the first song, before dramatically dropping to the floor. However, the sheet was absent this time around. Each band member was gradually backlit by just a bit of light, one-by-one, until all appeared as nearly pure-black silhouettes.
Blue and white rays of light and rising smoke backed them, in front of a curtain displaying their logo, and they were surrounded by white panels that would feature visuals catered to each song throughout the night.
True to character, Keenan remained even less visible than his bandmates for the entire performance, on a platform in the back of the stage. Sometimes he blended in with the darkness and visuals so well that one might question whether he had left the platform, seeing that he remained stationed upon a second glance.
When A Perfect Circle performed at Comerica Theatre in April of 2017, Keenan offered a few encouraging words. This time around, he almost seemed to be out of supportive messages.
Perhaps referencing the “despicable false claim”, in his words, made against Keenan earlier this year, he said, “Crazy, crazy, crazy, insane times we’re living in, wouldn’t you say? Insanity… People all mad at each other over a fuckin’ internet thing. It’s stupid… I’ve heard it said love is the answer… but because of all of the marijuana, I can’t remember the question.”
However, substantial sentiments and motivational speeches may not be necessary every time, considering the volumes that the messages in their music speak, and how emotionally evoking the dynamics of the music are. As usual, A Perfect Circle performed with nearly album-quality sound. Often, elements of the songs that may go unheard when listening to recordings were clearly audible during this performance, bringing new life to the music and a deeper appreciation for the composition. Furthermore, hearing lyrics to new songs for the first time live, versus via studio recording, can cement a different impression of the song as the concert experience packs in the emotion emanating from the artist.
Eight of the songs performed this night were from Eat the Elephant. Lyrics that really strike a chord in relation to the status quo, religion, and the political climate are contained in their songs, such as the following from “The Doomed” from the new album:
What of the pious, the pure of heart, the peaceful? What of the meek, the mourning, and the merciful? What of the righteous? What of the charitable? What of the truthful, the dutiful, the decent?
Doomed are the poor Doomed are the peaceful Doomed are the meek Doomed are the merciful
For the word is now death And the word is now without light The new beatitude: “Fuck the doomed, you’re on your own”
The lighting and visuals on the screens became increasingly dramatic, matching the intensity of the music throughout the night. They designed a setlist that felt narrative, which crescendoed and climaxed. Along with that, the colors shifted from cool and neutral, to bold and loud red, white, and black. Behind the band, the all-seeing eye displayed where their logo once appeared. The audience was united in a cathartic experience, as they let go and got lost in A Perfect Circle’s trademark indignation and disdain.
One fan in the audience was overheard saying, “I forgot how hard these guys rock!” and with unrestrained, unabashed love and respect for the band, he yelled louder than all around him.
“We’re gonna end on a high note here in Arizona. Off to Europe for about 3 weeks. So thank you very much for being the cherry on top. A marijuana-stinking cherry.” — Maynard James Keenan
Before going into “Dog Eat Dog”, a tribute to the late Malcom Young of AC/DC, Keenan took a moment to introduce the band members. It was interesting to note the many other music projects all band members are a part of, emphasizing how much of a supergroup A Perfect Circle is.
“Our rhythm section: from Beta Machine, Ashes Divide, Eagles of Death Metal, and Puscifer — Mr. Matt McJunkins, Mr. Jeff Friedl.” McJunkins (Bassist) is also a former touring member of Thirty Seconds to Mars.
He continued, “Guitar & keyboards: from Autolux and Failure, Mr. Greg Edwards.” Edwards is filling in for James Iha, who is currently touring with Smashing Pumpkins. He was also a member of Lusk and Replicants in the past.
“My partner-in-crime: Mr. Billy Howerdel,” he concluded. Howerdel (Lead Guitarist, Keyboardist, and Backup Vocalist) is also frontman of Ashes Divide.
Of course Keenan is also a member of multiple bands on top of A Perfect Circle, including Tool and Puscifer.
Some find the media policies for A Perfect Circle’s shows to be pretentious or mistreating to fans. Like a performance in a symphony hall, the band sends the message that it is a faux pas to raise up a phone in the air during theirs. Others feel that it not only preserves an important atmosphere that keeps integrity to the music and sets their performances to a different level than other rock concerts, but also actually appreciates their fans because the band wants to connect with them like they did in the days before smartphones. There were some in the crowd that could be overheard during the show actually expressing appreciation for the absence of cell phones in the air throughout the concert. The impression was that most, if not all, in attendance left satisfied and delighted.
Following the climax of the performance with four ferocious songs, A Perfect Circle closed out the concert with “Delicious” from the new album. It had the fitting mood of the falling action of the storyline, lyrically segueing into a resolution of sorts:
How inconvenient and unexpected and harrowing for you, as consequences tend to be For the rest of us, so delicious to witness your dread. Poetic justice consummate.
During these times, it is interesting to see swathes of artists such as A Perfect Circle, Cake, Otep, Eminem, Taylor Swift, and many more, using their platforms to speak out against or oppose President Donald Trump and the Republican Party. While some feel that entertainers should “stay in their lane” in topics such as these, it is undeniable that they historically have significant ability to influence the public, for better or for worse. With the success of their world tour, and the large attendance of a concert on a Tuesday night, it is evident that there are a significant number of people that aren’t repelled by their political leanings. In the current political climate, A Perfect Circle’s brooding music serves as an outlet, a beacon of intellect and sanity, and a unifier for like-minded fans that are equally frustrated, angry, and despairing.
While it would be unlikely that Keenan and his band would skip playing his home-state, Arizonans were undoubtedly grateful that they had the opportunity to experience A Perfect Circle live after getting some fresh music from them. Keenan stated in a June 2018 interview that “there should be” more albums in the future. Though Eat the Elephant has proven worth the wait, hopefully it will not be another fourteen years before the next release. Hopefully fans can be treated to another tour in support of the next release, or at least more Arizona shows.
Considering the solid quality and atmosphere of their live performance, the sizable setlist, the supportive experience, and love of their intense music, any fan that may hesitate to make the investment in a concert ticket can rest assured this one is worth it. A Perfect Circle’s show in Phoenix was not a buzzkill.
Tempe, AZ — Underoath, touring in support of their latest release Erase Me, brought remarkable energy to Marquee Theatre. When asked about one of the opening bands, The Plot in You, local fan and concertgoer, Curtis said, “I’ve never seen a band play so hard,” which is an apt description for every band that took the stage on this night. In addition to The Plot in You, Underoath’s supporting acts on the “Erase Me Tour” include Dance Gavin Dance and Crown the Empire.
We love Tempe. We love that this tour is just getting started. We love that it’s not cold here. We’ve had lots of coffee so we’re in a great mood all around. See you tonight Tempe 🙌🏽🙌🏽 pic.twitter.com/mEZnptkmQ6
Dance Gavin Dance stunned the audience with one of the most polished, musically proficient, and engaging sets of the night. It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to say that they stole the show with their absolutely commanding presence on the Marquee stage. Lead clean-vocalist Tilian Pearson and unclean vocalist John Mess made an excellent team, trading off between Pearson’s angelic high notes and Mess’ primal, guttural screams. Their body language couldn’t be more different and yet it’s so complimentary to the other performer that it comes off as a natural contrast. Pearson dances across the stage with a snake-like charm, moving his body in fluid motions reminiscent of Michael Jackson while Mess stands firm like a monument, tightly focused on the crowd and his microphone and he delivers his powerful vocals.
Guitarist Will Swan was an indisputable highlight in a band full of unrelentingly talented musicians. His hands move so fast as to seemingly blur at times and aside from throwing his head back and forth in bobble-head like fashion to the music, he stands completely still. For a performer to remain almost entirely stationary while still bringing so much energy to the band’s sound is truly an incredible feat. His effortless transitions between finger tapping on “Chucky Vs. The Giant Tortoise” to speedy flurries of dissonant power-chords hint at a subtle mastery of his instrument.
Before leaving the stage, Pearson thanked the crowd for being so welcoming and quickly added “you guys are f*cking crazy!”. This was apparent being in the crowd and witnessing what some concert-goers were capable of without getting thrown out of the show, although this was nothing compared to what came next.
As stagehands went to work striking the other band’s props and equipment, people marveled at the visual spectacle coming to life before their eyes. The drums and keyboards sat atop a giant riser on stage-right and left respectively, which was illuminated by ubiquitous screens that covered most of the stage. Dozens of rotating lights mounted on stage trusses strongly indicated that the audience was about to witness epileptic-rainbows of flashing color fill the room.
As Underoath’s set begin, the lights went dark and shortly thereafter, the screens and lights came to life. The screens cast blindingly-delightful floods of color into the retina of adoring fans who screamed their hearts out. The electronic hum of Christopher Dudley’s keyboards set the foreboding tone of the hour as drummer and vocalist, Aaron Gillespie began the intro to “On My Teeth” at machine-gun speeds. The energy was increasingly palpable as lead vocalist, Spencer Chamberlain ran on stage so fast as to almost fly into the crowd upon entering.
The night continued with this level of energy until it suddenly increased at an unstoppable pace when the band broke into an old favorite, “In Regards To Myself”. People lost their minds and formed mosh pits that felt tumultuous yet far friendlier and safer than most. Eventually following this were other notable song highlights in “Desperate Times, Desperate Measures”, “Reinventing your Exit”, “Rapture”, and “It Has To Start Somewhere”.
Chamberlain commanded the crowd with the ease of a sorcerer manipulating matter as he moved his hands in a circle and instructed them to mosh. He also had an admirable way of engaging the audience on deeply, personal levels when he went into a beautiful speech about his own experiences with drug addiction and how he used music as one form of therapy and a creative outlet for his emotions. He credited Gillespie as the one he called first when he was at his lowest point in life and realized he needed to get help. After that he implored the audience to applaud as he expressed his heartfelt gratitude to his bandmate and close friend. It all felt really genuine and inspiring as he concluded his speech with “You’re not weak for seeking out help when you need it.”
Overall, Underoath and Dance Gavin Dance both proved beyond a shadow of doubt that they are musical forces to be reckoned with and can still draw enthusiasm from crowds after 10+ year careers doing what they obviously love to do. It will surely be exciting to see what the future holds and what comes next from each of these talented bands.
Roosevelt, AZ — As the pavement came to an abrupt halt on Apache Trail, it became apparent to me that my Mustang probably wasn’t the best choice of transportation for my journey to the Apache Lake Music Festival. This would be my first trip to the annual event celebrating it’s ninth anniversary in 2018. Every year, hundreds of attendees brave the treacherous cliffside dirt road winding through the mountains over single lane bridges to get to the Apache Lake Marina. The drive is excessively bumpy and requires near constant brake pressure during the 10 mile descent through the second half of the journey.
I arrived late Friday morning around 9:45 am. Pulling up to the venue was a relief, considering I was still physically shaking from fishtailing around a hairpin corner mere feet from an impossibly high loft on the mountain just minutes before my arrival. Being my first time, I wasn’t really sure where to go or what to expect.
After scouting the least densely populated area of the beach, I settled on a spot atop the boat ramp. In the parking lot, a house boat sat atop the pavement overlooking the beach. It didn’t appear as though it was placed there recently, making it seem almost perfectly normal. I couldn’t tell if it was a prop at first or if someone lived there full time. It was definitely occupied so I figured it was probably the safest place to park. I began the endless back-and-forth walk from my car to the site to set up my tent and fill it with my belongings. Blankets, pillows, snacks, pot, pillows, backpack, microphone, laptop, more pot, more pillows, chapstick, mandolin…
As I finished setting up my tent and dumping my gear into the unzipped opening, I heard the sound system up the hill come to life on the main stage. Cell service is almost completely devoid in the area due to its remote location, so I couldn’t pull up the schedule online to see who the first act was. I decided to drop what I was doing, to trek up the hill to try to find a program or flier with a lineup and check out the first act. This would become a theme throughout the weekend; the back-and-forth up and down the thigh-murdering hill, to and from the main stage.
Several groans later and I was back at the venue, heading down the short hallway from the entrance toward the sound system outside the rear doors. Haley Green was checking sound. The engineers were adjusting levels. All of the usual warm-ups were in play as more familiar faces began to appear.
Sara Robinson was on the patio of the cantina sitting across from Tempe music legend, a hatless Paul “PC” Cardone. She arrived early in the morning after heading out at 11:00 PM the night before, recounting a veritable Murphy’s Law of road trips along the way. After chatting a bit, Sara and I made plans to meet later before her performance to gift my plus one ticket to a friend of hers who couldn’t afford to come.
Sitting just a few feet away was the ever-present and always friendly Ryan Edmonds, longtime doorman at the legendary Sail Inn of Tempe and Cactus Jacks in Ahwatukee. After catching up a bit, the thirst was too much to bear. I badly needed a four-dollar gallon of water, and the convenience store was more than happy to oblige. I soon realized I forgot my phone at my campsite and headed back to drop off the water and grab some Fig Newtons.
Back at my campsite, I retrieved my cell phone and began rearranging my sleeping gear for maximum comfort. I figured this was the perfect time to smoke that J that had been burning a hole in my pocket, so I sat on the edge of the boat ramp and lit up. It was an absolutely serene day. Seventy-four degrees and not a cloud in the sky. The lake was stunning. After I finished medicating, I did the dumbest thing possible in that situation… I laid down. The temptation to sprawl on my bevy of pillows was simply too much to ignore.
As I lay on my back staring up at the silhouette of mesquite branches, I began to drift off to the sound of Haley’s docile tones with the sun kissing my cheeks and the breeze bouncing off the cool water of Apache lake, wafting through the mesh of my borrowed palace. There were drum circles in the distance, dogs barking and people laughing. I never quite lost consciousness, but I was in that in-between phase of sleep when something stirred me to my senses. The most beautiful voice started to fill my tent. I immediately bolted upright, put my shoes on and once again, trekked up the hill.
House of Stairs is a Jazz collective from Phoenix. Vocalist and looping artist Holly Pyle has the voice of an angel, reminiscent of the late Cranberries songbird Delores O’Riordan. The soulful vibe of their music is befitting of the environment. The keys danced through the criminally small crowd witnessing this performance, but drew even more attendees in from the parking lot. Soon, a handful of people were swaying in front of the stage. Call it the “medicine”, but I was absolutely transfixed. Before long, their set was over, and I’m convinced it was far too short. It also seemed too early on the first day of the festival to put a group of this calibre on stage as there wasn’t quite a large enough audience yet to appreciate their brilliance.
Soon after they left the stage, The Edisons were up next checking sound, and I abandoned any attempt at taking halfway decent photos with my iPhone. From my distant place at the lone picnic table, I spotted Joel Ekdahl of Manic Monkeys and Exploding Oranges at stage right taking photos. I was relieved to find shade in the VIP area backstage, but more importantly, FREE WATER. The Edisons performance was equally as impressive as House of Stairs. Indie Synth Rock becomes my flavor of the day.
I eventually went back at the tent, attempting to make spotty communication with my festival host, Banter lead vocalist Kim Capria. Ali A and The Agency were killing it in the background as I cursed Verizon because my service was worse in the building than it was on the beach. Kim left Tempe with lead guitarist (and one of Burning Hot Events’ music journalists) Brandon Biallas around 1:00 in the afternoon, and I was growing a bit concerned. This was when I learned there were two routes one could take to Apache Lake. The shorter treacherous route or the longer, safer route. They had chosen the latter. Once we had established that they would be arriving shortly, I thought it would probably be a good idea to be there to greet them when they arrived. So again, it was up that damn hill.
Seriously, how did Brandon Biallas get System of a Down for his first concert review?! Dude can write, so check him out.
At this point, it was close to 4:00 PM. Playing inside at the cantina was the perpetually shoeless Tommie Victor, sliding his socked toe across the synth board that compels his guitar toward the ethereal. I met Tommie at a Future Loves Past show at Yucca Tap Room years ago when I was in the midst of creating a cartoon with an animator friend of mine. I had a character I was developing at the time and I thought he would be the perfect voice for it. The cartoon fell flat, but I was glad I added Tommie on Facebook. He’s truly a talented artist, albeit a little eccentric. This is a guy that really does move in whatever the direction the wind is blowing. Tommie has also performed on my radio show “Gonz After Curfew” twice, and we’re anxious to get him back in the studio again for a third appearance. The Banter trio was scheduled to play at 4:30, and still no sign of Kim. At about ten after, I finally get a text, “Here!”
Kim and Brandon walked in at exactly 4:15, just 15 minutes shy of their performance. They were still awaiting drummer Spencer Ferrarin. We hugged our hellos and mutually bitched about the journey, and before I know it, Spencer materializes and is pretty much ready to go. Bassist Miles Tippet sat out the trio performance, but was milling about the grounds somewhere. The Banter’s set was fantastic. Kim was on point and the boys were in tune. “This is probably my favorite performance ever,” she tells the crowded bar. After they finish up, we made plans to go down to my tent and move it to their campsite. Luckily, it wasn’t that far at all.
I was relieved that the tent I borrowed basically folds up into a compact log, making it easier to carry down to the beach. I was a little disappointed though. The Sugar Thieves were on and I really wanted to see them, but it was getting dark and we didn’t have much daylight left. My late father was a fan of theirs before I was. He introduced me to their music at Blues Blast one year. Although he passed away a couple of years ago, I still try to make it to as many of their shows as I can. I could still hear Mikey’s growl echoing through our shanty town as we worked feverishly to unload trunks and inflate blow-up mattresses, so it wasn’t a total bummer. After a brief rest and quick change, we were back up the hill again for The Woodworks.
Lead shredder and belter Meghan “Solo” Lounsbury was in the VIP area getting ready to take the stage. I drank more free water and suddenly noticed a prop staring at me. It was a giant baby’s face with a traffic light for a torso, on a pair of mannequin legs. It’s perfect. The Woodworks are one of the more unique staples in the music scene, bringing only the crunchiest of grooves. Solo dressed Cleopatra-esque, complete with Egyptian headdress. To open the show, the band brought up Future Exes guitarist and solo artist in his own right, Page the Village Idiot, kicking things off with his own personal brand of weird. If you’ve never seen him, you’re definitely missing out. This was around the time that things got a little hazy.
“These uh mah shoes, and thissa mah hat…” – Page Davis
The day had been long, the hikes longer. I was exhausted. I stayed for the entire incredible performance but I don’t remember how or when I got back to camp. I vaguely remember an Adam climbing the walls of the indoor stage, but I don’t recall if it was during The Psychedelephants. What I do recall was that they played an amazing set in that hot room wearing long sleeves. Spencer beat the drums like they owed him money, and Miles left enough sweat on the stage to put out a fire. Danger Paul kept the rhythm, and Calin Gross shredded faces.
At some point, we were all just kind of “there” again, sitting in a circle on the beach. By that time, Miles had also materialized. He began plucking his acoustic bass as Brandon strummed away on my mandolin, and it progressed into a full on jam session with Kim singing the lyrics of a song I’ve never heard before. Throughout the night, there were conversations on topics ranging from individual band performances to our preferences of dying by falling off a cliff versus being eaten alive.
A random kayaker, who stumbled upon the festival and got too drunk to paddle back to where he launched, slept next to the fire that Scott and Max started with his help. The stars never looked brighter and campfire never smelled so good. Out on the lake, the swaying beacon of an anchored sailboat cast a singular blue glow as the inhabitants hooted and whistled to beachwalkers in the moonlight. Everything seemed perfect. This is exactly the spirit this festival seeks to inspire. The same laughter, chatter and spontaneous acoustic jam sessions from my nap earlier echoed through the night from the other campsites across the marina as we all sporadically fell asleep to the water lapping at the shores under the vast sky.
Day 2 — October 27
I slept in the next morning. I didn’t wake up until close to 10:00 AM. Anyone who knows me, knows that this is highly unusual. I’m a restless sleeper and an early riser. I felt so at peace out there that I kind of just let my surroundings awaken me. Kim made bratwursts for breakfast on a borrowed camping stove and served up cold brew coffee with almond milk for anyone who needed it. After two full cups, I made the two dollar sacrifice at the convenience store for a third cup of coffee with plenty of powdered creamer and sugar.
Back at camp there were more jokes, jams, philosophies on life and chocolate salty balls — as a journalist, I think it’s important to note that Brandon put them in his mouth. I was told they were delicious. Apparently they were made of oatmeal but I never got an opportunity to confirm. Spencer reemerged and declared that he still hadn’t gone to sleep. We laughed some more and basically spent an exorbitant amount of time just being lazy. One of my favorite things about these weekend-long events is how amazed everyone is to see one another the next morning.
“Dude, oh my god! You were soooo out of it last night, man…”
Once I had regained my motivation, I made a point to trek back up to see Future Exes. Something that isn’t immediately apparent to many festival attendees is that a lot of the staff is comprised of volunteers; some of those volunteers are actually band members. Roni Marie is the lead vocalist of Future Exes, and one of the lead event volunteers and organizers. Throughout the entire weekend Roni was omnipresent, sporting the yellow vest and walkie talkie. She’s one of the people making sure all of the gears are turning and everything runs smoothly.
Future Exes is always a great band to see. Page is an amazing guitarist, and Roni is one of the most sultry singers in the community. After the festival, she tells me, “There’s much more [work] behind the scenes before, during, and after the event that most people don’t see… We are all for sure proud of this year’s event and our music community as a whole. There’s so much love!” Their daylight performance on day two was as awesome as it always is. During one tune, Roni stepped off the stage into the arms of PC in one of the more memorable moments of the festival. These are all people that absolutely love and care for one another and it shows.
After finishing their set, the band welcomed Hyperbella up to the stage, and as ashamed as I am to admit it, this is yet another band that I have totally overlooked. Like House of Stairs, they’re soulful, funky, and sophisticated all rolled into one. Vocalist and guitarist Cassidy Bates strokes her Gibson Firebird like a feline extension of her arm. Her harmony with Carly Bates on the keyboard is heart-melting, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re both insanely beautiful women. All swooning aside, drummer Marcus Leatham and bassist Brenden McBride (also of Wyves) are no slouches either. As a whole, they’re tight and in sync with an almost Bobby Caldwell-like essence, and they absolutely left me wanting more. I spoke briefly with Cassidy after their performance and she couldn’t have been more humble. Don’t make the same mistake I did with this band. Do NOT sleep on them. They’re one hundred percent worth whatever the cover is at the door if you can catch them.
Back at the cantina, another performance from Tommie Victor with a fantastic cover of Megadeth’s “Symphony of Destruction” for an appreciative audience. Joel Ekdahl took a break from his camera to play an acoustic set shortly before the Banter’s second performance of the weekend. Kim wore her Kill Bill jumpsuit and several people remarked “She really does look like Uma Thurman!” With exhaustion once again creeping in and increasing pain crawling up my legs, I wandered back outside to the mainstage as the sun was disappearing on the horizon to catch the next act.
Wyves has just come off the release of their second studio album R U OK? Cory Gloden, guitarist for Dry River Yacht Club, is ever the frontman, pumping the tired and inebriated full of newfound energy. This is the point where I completely gave up moving for awhile, and take a seat backstage to watch them absolutely murder it. Not only do they sound amazing, but they have so much style. These guys are legit rock stars. Looking over to my right, I saw that Page had the same idea and was looking worn out in a seat of his own. I attempted to take a photo of him before he pointed to my lens and asked “Are you watching me melt?’ with a hearty laugh.
During one of their last songs, I suddenly realized just how full my bladder was and I slowly made my way indoors to the mensroom. Upon opening the door, another man rushed past me and I was hit with a wall of odor that stung my nostrils. Guys were covering their eyes at the urinals and making faces like children who had just bitten into a lemon for the first time. It literally smelled like piss and vinegar. I noped right around into the other direction and took my chances outside in the wild. The smell was so bad I had to pee in the bushes. When I returned, Wyves had sadly finished up and Banana Gun was now lugging their gear onstage. From a laughable distance I saw the familiar glow of an afro and I knew that Marc Norman had arrived.
Banana Gun is one of those bands that makes it impossible not to embarrass yourself because you can’t resist the urge to dance. Their most recent album Dance Monkey Down in Faux Town is phenomenal. It’s also available on vinyl. Seriously, go buy it. I had to pick one up in person at a sweltering show at Yucca Tap Room this summer to get mine. You can order it directly from their website, so you have no excuse. Kevin’s dreads hang ankle length and swing like whips across the stage at times. Kyle’s sax punctuates every song like an exclamation point. This band is seriously just too good. From the first notes of their set, the whole place is up and jumping once again but the soles of my feet are getting the better of me and I remain seated.
A few of us regrouped and decide to headed back down to camp. I knew in my heart that there was just no way I would be able to make it back up once we settled back down at the beach. I was so thoroughly sore. The moment I laid down on the army cot in the center of camp, I knew it was over and started to drift off, but something awoke me as I was on the cusp of my slumber. It was the sound of heaving. I had no idea where it was coming from until I decided to go investigate. Standing next to our campfire was the same kayaker who had crashed at our site the night before. He brought a friend who had apparently partaken in way too much of the festival.
When things settled down and I was sure our new stowaway was ok, I went back up the hill for the closing of the festival, because nobody wants to watch another guy puke up pot brownies. I just couldn’t bring myself to miss out on the closing acts. Xixa (pronounces “Tsitsa”, not “Sheesha”) from Tucson did an amazing job, but I feel bad that I was too exhausted to truly appreciate it. I went into the cantina to catch Marc’s show, only to find out that it didn’t last long and I had missed it. From there, I waited for Page to close out the bar, but he never showed. I went into the next room to the indoor stage to try to catch Japhy’s Decent, but it was so crowded and hot that I gave up and went back to my tent for good.
Or so I thought.
The one we called “Tiffany” half of the time woke us all up when she got back to camp, trying to get anyone she could to come to the hotel party with her. After pretending to be Brandon by throwing my voice in the dark for some time, I finally relented and accompanied her to the party. I’m glad I did. It was really an amazing thing to see such a group of artists sitting around, playing music with each other, talking about life and the creative process. Drum and guitar notes bounced off the canyon walls like a symphony, settling on the water. I was very lucky to be there, and to be welcomed by a truly loving collective of independent artists. I’m not sure how long I stayed, but it was long enough to smoke a joint with these beautiful souls and get back in bed shortly before 4:00 AM.
The very next morning I was stirred from my sleep once again, but this time by the most beautiful smell known to man. As I unzipped my tent and poked my head out, our camp mate Alisha asked if I wanted a piece of bacon. “Yeah, I need a piece of water too,” I replied. With her dreads in a tower atop her head, she peeled a couple of pieces of the sweet pork flesh off of her plate and handed them to me. I ate them with my bare hands. Soon, everyone began to exit their tents like Who people in Whoville on Christmas morning. Bacon had saved us all.
My initial plan was to pack it all up get on the road post haste, but once again, we were having such a great time talking and recounting the weekend that my sense of urgency to leave had faded, if it was ever there at all. I overheard someone say, “I feel like Marc Norman looks. My inner Norman is strong.” Calin played slide guitar on an old, painted acoustic that sat untouched for much of the weekend, Miles was at the shore teaching Tracy how to skip stones, and Spencer packed bowls and passed them around. My heart was impossibly full.
“No, but that was the right motion! You almost got it.” – Miles Tippet
As all good things, the Apache Lake Music festival had to come to an end, and as much as we lamented, it was time to leave. Something I neglected to think about is just how hard it is to get dirt out of a tent. It’s like trying to get a pick out of an acoustic guitar. After making one more sweep of our campsite for trash, we were in our cars and I was following Kim’s car out of the the marina. I decided to give the long route out a shot since the short way in was so nerve racking. For the most part it remained wide enough for two lanes, save for a bridge. After reaching the Roosevelt Dam and getting back on the main highway, we made a quick pit stop at an IGA grocery store to use the restroom and clean our windshield. Getting out of the car was physically painful. My thighs were on fire. Standing and walking have never been so difficult.
Shortly after our collective relief, were back on the road. Once we made the left turn onto highway 87 toward Mesa, I immediately burned out and left Kim and Brandon in my rearview mirror. My need for a shower was far too great to further soak in anymore scenery. From the Bush Highway to Usery Pass, I was soon back on the 202 southbound, heading toward my home in Gilbert, reliving the sights and the sounds I had consumed that only the Apache Lake Music Festival can deliver.
PHOENIX – Christina Aguilera brought her Liberation tour to Comerica Theatre on October 29, 2018. This is the first tour for Aguilera since her “Back to Basics” tour in 2007. The last time she had a show in Arizona was on February 28, 2007, at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale — now renamed Gila River Arena. There have been quite a few bumps for Aguilera on the Liberation tour; two dates were postponed due to illness, and one postponed due to production-related safety concerns at the venue.
Big Boi opened for Aguilera, also known as Antwan André Patton. Big Boi is an American rapper, songwriter, record producer, and actor. He’s best known for being a member of Outkast, an American hip hop duo, alongside André 3000. With Outkast, he produced six studio albums. In July 2010, Big Boi’s solo debut Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty was released. Hip-hop didn’t seem to be everyone’s go-to genre in the audience, but there were clusters of fans that got up to dance to the beat. Toward the end of their set Patton addressed the crowd, “Welcome to the Liberation tour. Where it gets louder after every song!”
It was rumored that Aguilera was to take the stage at 9:15 pm, but that time came and went. The crowd grew restless around 10:00 pm, and some randomly cheered in hopes of making Aguilera appear, while others did the wave to keep their energy alive. Fans were talking amongst each other, concerned that Aguilera wouldn’t show at all. Seventy-five minutes passed by and the crowd booed.
Finally, “5 minutes” popped up on the screen that hid the stage. It switched to a giant face of a clock, with the hands turning counter-clockwise as it counted down the minutes. The concert began with images of Aguilera holding various timepieces. Fans stood when a video played, showing Aguilera in a red dress and a flowered crown, and a little girl wearing the same, wandering through a house as if Aguilera was chasing her past self.
The screen went black, and the word “Liberation” appeared in bold white letters. A dancer came on stage, smelling flowers and then dropping them as she danced, before suddenly running off stage. Then, the word “Searching” displayed on the screen. As the lights brightened, Aguilera stood tall on an elevated stage. The screen and background were of clouds, making Aguilera seem like she was in the sky as she sang the opening lines of “Maria” from her 2018 studio album, Liberation.
Aguilera had a perfect mix of old and new songs in her setlist. The second song was “Genie in a Bottle” from her first studio album self-titled, Christina Aguilera. That lead track from the album was a trendy pop and R&B song in 1999. It peaked atop the Billboard Hot 100, and among other charts in twenty other countries. It has sold over seven million copies, making it one of the best-selling singles in the world. During the song, images of past albums appeared on the starry background as her dancers twirled red umbrellas around her. Aguilera wore a robe reminiscent of Disney’s Mulan, from which her debut single “Reflection” came.
Throughout the show, Aguilera would have videos play before she sang her well-known songs. During the song “Dirrty”, from her 2002 studio album Stripped, Aguilera wore a red and black leather outfit much like the assless chaps she wore in the “Dirrty” music video. On one sleeve was “2018” and on the other sleeve was “XTINA”. Her dancers wore black assless chaps as they backed her up during the song.
Aguilera finally addressed the crowd and explained why she was so late coming on stage.
“I’m here you guys. I climbed and scratched my way here. I had two planes both have mechanical failures and that’s freaking scary shit. I’m sorry. I was like ahhh, what! I was so freaking scared. So the third plane (third time is the charm), the third one came through and I was able to get here on time to be here with you guys, but I made it, I made it to the stage tonight, but it took a little longer. Lord in Heaven. That played some scary stuff on my nerves, and you know, I get some bad anxiety sometimes. That was not fun today. You know, I’m going to unleash some of that on stage tonight. Get it out of my system.”
She laughed and continued, “But it feels so good to be back here after so long and getting to be in some beautiful theaters, oh I’ve never done that before. It’s just so beautiful, so intimate, so wonderful to see you all up close, and personal. It’s just so amazing after all this time. It means so much my loyal, amazing fighters.”
She patted herself on the chest, adding, “I’m not going to cry tonight, but you guys have brought me to tears before. This love has meant so much to me. It really has, you guys. Allowed me to raise my family and be there for my kids because being a hands-on mom is important to me. But also being on this stage, because you know this has been in my life since I was seven. We got some old stuff, older stuff you might remember and we have some new stuff. So let’s see if you guys remember this one.” Aguilera then started to sing lines to “What a Girl Wants” from her self-titled album.
Aguilera sang songs from her past in order, explaining her career. After “What a Girl Wants” she moved to sing some of “Come On Over Baby (All I Want is You)” and addressed the crowd again. Aguilera said, “It’s the show I have right before Halloween too. That’s extra fun. We actually have a Halloween treat for you later. I love Halloween. It’s kinda like Christmas, so it’s insane. And I see some costumes tonight, that’s really cool. Yes. So after, umm, after ‘What a Girl Wants’ and after ‘Come On Over’ I was tired of playing by everybody else’s, you know, the label and suits’ rules, and I had things I wanted to say. It came a time when, you know, my sophomore album I wrote a record called Stripped. — Which just had its sixteenth birthday and it was a very special record for me because, you know, it was the first time I got to tell my stories, talk about some of my pain and struggles and that’s really important, you know, I think that makes the best people and sometimes builds the best character. And I thank you guys for sharing your stories with me; it really inspires me as well and there’s no shame in coming from hard places at all. It means you’re a strong person.
This next song I wrote for the album, there’s quite a few of them, but you know, about standing your ground and in face of adversity or someone says you can’t do something. This song was never a single, but sometimes those are the best ones to me. And I still get a lot of requests for this. This one, you know, no matter what people say, no matter what people tell you what you can’t do. You gotta keep doing you. This one is called ‘Keep On Singin’ My Song,’ sing along if you know it.”
During the songs “Deserve” and “Accelerate”, both from the Liberation album, Aguilera and her dancers wore S&M-styled outfits and mimed an occult-like ritual at a long table with candles that they danced on. One male dancer had on a spiked mask, and the other a pig’s head. The female dancers had different masks covering their faces. Aguilera wore a bondage headpiece that went from the top of her head and down her nose with a bejeweled black top, fishnets, and a thin black skirt. After “Deserve” a quote appeared on the back screen. It read: “‘If you’re going through hell, keep going…’ –X’cess”. During the song “Accelerate”, Aguilera introduced her dancers, who each had their own moment to showcase their skill on the table in the center of the stage.
For “Lady Marmalade” (a LaBelle song famously covered by Aguilera, P!nk, Mya, and Lil’ Kim for the Moulin Rouge! soundtrack) Aguilera wore a white coat, and her dancers matched as they circled around her with ivory fans in their hands. A video of a close-up of Aguilera in red played on the backdrop.
Aguilera’s next songs were “Ain’t No Other Man” from her 2006 Back to Basics album, “Say Something” by Great Big World, “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” a James Brown cover, and “Fighter” from her Stripped album. Following each video, Aguilera would change her outfit to fit the mood of the song.
After “Fighter”, the videos stopped working. Aguilera came out with a mic in hand. “Sorry,” she told the crowd. She looked behind her to her band. “Are you ready for me?” She laughed, “Sorry. I know. I’m ready for you and you’re ready for me.” The crowd cheered for her. “Thank you very much,” she said, with a big smile. “I told them to cut to a certain video and it’s not playing right now and I’m upset about it. So I’m sorry. Oh well. The show goes on and I’m here. It’s been an insane day.”
A fan in the crowd yelled “I love you” and she replied, “I love you too. That’s why I’m here, but not without some anxiety. I’m kind of a nervous flier, but it’s Halloween so it’s a special time. Thank you guys for coming out tonight. And your patience for the last ten freaking years. Thank you so much. But my soul was suffering, my soul was hurting and it sometimes takes us a while to figure it out, and I was scared of having children. ‘How am I going to juggle this?’ And also for them not to feel like they are living in my shadow and stuff like that.
Honestly, it’s been such a great experience, and to feel your love and give this to my children as an experience as well. Show them what mama does for a living and what I do for the love. It brought them into this world. Thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to get back on the stage. This is for all of you guys. For all my fighters. It’s a weird night, but whatever. So this song is appropriate.” Aguilera than started singing “Beautiful”, and fans sang along waving their hands or phones in the air.
Aguilera ended the show by bringing a fan onto the stage to share her story. The woman talked about how Aguilera inspired her to be herself and how Aguilera’s music helped when life was dark after addiction and coming out as gay. She has since found a woman who is like a mother to her and is eleven years sober. She told Aguilera that, due to the addiction, she couldn’t remember Aguilera’s concert she last attended back in 2007, and she always thanks Aguilera or adds a song lyric in her grad papers. Aguilera was clearly touched and hugged the ladies, saying, “Thank you” and “I hope you remember this concert.” The last song of the night was “Let There Be Love”. The back screens turned over and became rainbow lights, while everyone on stage danced like it was a celebration.
The concert ended just a little past midnight, with delighted but tired fans pouring out of the venue. Despite the delay, video problems, and the bass being too loud to the point of sometimes cringing in pain, most fans left happy to see Aguilera on stage after all these years. She’s a fighter and she’s a pop music legacy not to be missed.
Featured Photo (top) by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation
PHOENIX — For a band as dynamic as System of a Down, one would expect their live performances to be equally, if not more engaging, than their studio releases. Gaining popularity from classic songs like Chop Suey for example, which features a quickly strummed acoustic guitar intro leading directly into a frenetic musical meltdown. This is arguably one of the defining attributes of the band and last night’s show at Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix was certainly no exception.
El Paso rock band, At The Drive In, set the tone of the night with energetic grooves and polished musicianship; a nice preview of what was to come later on. Their set wasn’t without its technical hiccups however, as lead vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala wildly gyrated his arms in an upward motion towards stage left during the first song. This was a clear indication that his vocals weren’t loud enough in the mix and he most likely couldn’t hear himself. The band didn’t miss a beat and continued on into the next few songs, but not without Bixler-Zavala interrupting himself mid-lyric to say “turn up the vocals!” He was obviously frustrated with the technical side of things, but this didn’t take away from their overall performance. With Bixler-Zavala and the rest of the band continuously powered through and made sure the people got what they came to see. Roaring reception from the crowd and an ever turbulent ocean of bodies in the open floor area indicated they were delivering on that promise for many fans.
Following Cedric’s politically charged closing announcement after the final song, that the band was “going backstage to hang out. Don’t call ICE on us,” there was a quick tear-down period as various stage hands took their gear away and made room for the main attraction. Soon after, the lights darkened and System of a Down broke into “Innervision”, a song I didn’t expect as an opening number but a great decision nonetheless. This song has a slow-burning intensity that served as an excellent preamble for what was about to hit the audience next.
Immediately after “Innervision”, lead guitarist, Daron Malakian hit the immensely-heavy opening power chord to “Prison Song”. As if this song alone wasn’t enough of a reason to get the crowd filled with excitement, the band faked everyone out by hitting the opening chord a few more times than expected which stirred up the suspense and generated added fervor.
It’s worth noting that by the time System of a Down took the stage, the sound was immediately dialed in and they sounded absolutely perfect. Every single instrument was balanced well with one another, and both Serj Tankianand Malakian’s vocals had achieved just the right volume levels to allow their harmonious vocals to soar and blend in beautiful ways.
From this point on, each song flowed smoothly into the next with virtually no time in between, allowing them to pack as many songs into the night as possible. The third song played was “I-E-A-I-A-I-O”, which was followed by yet another acronymic song “B.Y.O.B.” Behind the band was a giant jumbotron displaying many visually arresting images including bombs exploding, girls dancing in chorus lines, and inflamed cars driving down the highway at light speeds.
Bassist Shavo Odadjian and drummer John Dolmayanheld down the rhythm section with machine-like musical precision while still remaining animated on stage and engaging with the crowd when necessary. Odadjian particularly stole the show at many points during the set with his excellent bass tone cutting through the mix and his charismatic dance moves.
Odadjian was not the only one who visibly enjoyed himself on stage either. Both Tankian and Malakian employed their own dance routines of hopping around on one foot and spinning around in circles. This struck me as particularly impressive when you consider how fast and technical each of their roles in most of the songs are. Malakian also had me laughing at multiple points during the show when he chose to introduce the song “Psycho #13” by singing his own rendition of “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John.He had a lot of excellent banter with the audience during other songs too, like chanting the words “everybody spin around” to the tune of the outro guitar riff in “Toxicity”. This gave way to a maelstrom of people swirling around in one of the biggest mosh pits I’ve ever witnessed. The power that the band and their songs have over their fans is undeniable and an incredible thing to witness in person.
Other notable highlights of the night were “Aerials”, “Question!”, “Deer Dance”, and especially the closing song “Sugar”; an excellent choice to cap off the night and a highly memorable setlist. System of a Down have proved once again that despite a 24-year music career, their enthusiasm has yet to wane. Over 10 years after the band’s last double album release Mezmerize/Hypnotize, they have teased new music with various contradictory information coming from different band members over time. However, one thing I certainly take comfort in is that regardless of whether or not we ever get to experience new music from the band, they’ve left a lasting musical legacy that has left an indelible impression on me, as well as many other fans from around the world.
News & Reviews from the Fiery Mosh Pits of Arizona