In his list of “1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die,” Tom Moon wrote that in the process of compiling such a list, “it seemed impossible to get to the essence of something as vast and elusive as music.” And it’s true. Discussing the songs, the lyrics and the songwriters who have reached the core of your soul and pulled at the chords of your heart is as easy as it is tough. It’s easy because as music lovers we can’t help want to share the moment when we fell in love with a band at an incredible venue for the very first time. But it’s incredibly difficult because the list is an ever-growing one.
For this “Best of” ASU issue, ASU’s TUF (The Underground Foundation) vice president and history sophomore Jonathan Novak was eagerly up to the challenge of discussing the “TUF” topic of listing the best of venues in the Phoenix and Tempe area, and also discussing the local bands that mean the most to him and are must-see musicians. TUF’s chief of media and liberal arts and sciences student India Loiselle adds her two cents as well.
Describe the Tempe and Phoenix music scene and why the local music scene is important:
With the Tempe music scene, the whole ethic and center of it is D.I.Y. It’s really just to be able to do things without needing support from higher organizations: record labels, investors or whatever you want to call it. It’s kind of – I don’t want to say, “It’s power to the people,” because it’s kind of cheesy, but anybody can get involved if they want to. I think it’s important because it gives an outlet for the little guys. It shows that people can do whatever they want to do and how they want to do it and that there is a support system for artists. It’s a lot of community building, and a lot of supporting each other and growing a scene that wasn’t here five or six years ago.
In Tempe, the [music] scene depends on house shows. The best venue is your friend’s living room. There’s a number of secret venues that aren’t really legit because they don’t have the permit or anything so it’s really, not really guerrilla shows, but it’s a bunch of kids going for a show that’s not supposed to be used for a show. [When] there is one, the address isn’t given out until the week of the event. And it’s not publicized as a venue.
If you want to go to a show in Tempe, what’s the best way to find out about a show happening?
The two top organizations are TUF and Rubber Brother Records, which is a a huge deal, and they’re [Rubber Brother Records] only six months old, but they’re doings things that have never happened here before. Their headquarters for the label is also a venue. And that’s one of the unofficial ones. If you’re connected with those organizations through Facebook or you see us tabling, then that’s how you kind of get in with it because there’s a lot of interworking and interconnection. If you’re in with those two organizations then you find everything else that’s going on because those are the two main central hubs and everything else kind of radiates off from there.
I think Crescent Ballroom is probably the best for the whole area if you’re booking a bigger show and you expect it to draw people. Crescent seems to be the best place for it because they have a really good number of all-ages shows there, prices aren’t that bad and they’ve been know to have local nights. You were there at that show, at The Wooden Indian, Petty Things show [which] was 100 percent local and that was sold out. They’re really receptive to having local bands there. It’s an intimate setting and security is good, and that’s pretty important, too. They kind of do everything right at Crescent.
That one is probably the most important thing to happen in the last five or 10 years. Probably the most important thing since the Trunk Show. And the fact that it’s tied to the label is a pretty big deal, too. It’s a place to record for all these bands that can’t really afford studio time, and that don’t often have any label interest at all. It’s just an extremely unifying factor and that’s probably the best one in Tempe. If it was a legitimate venue then I would say it was the best venue in the Phoenix area, but it’s not, so I don’t know if I could really say that.
*Additional House Shows locations: The Icebox, The Kachina Room
Trunk Space is definitely number two because they’ve been doing the all-ages thing for a lot longer, and the local thing as well. The capacity and the set up is a little bit – I don’t want to say less – but a little bit less desirable than, personally, the Crescent Ballroom set up. I think [Crescent Ballroom] does a better job of elevating and having a good stage set up for performers, but besides that, at Trunk Space every show is an all-ages. They don’t really have security so you don’t have to deal with being hassled. Their shows are moderately priced and they book tons of really good touring bands and really good local bands, too.
It’s pretty new. They’ve only had four shows there, I think. 51 West is probably more promising than it is “best” because they are open to doing all-ages show. We haven’t booked with them yet, so I don’t know what their booking procedures are but they’re kind of filling in for a placed called The Spot that used to be over there that was all-ages and closed down. It’s right in the row with the Yucca Tap Room. That’s pretty prominent but they don’t always do all-ages shows. So it’s a really close all-ages venue. That’s like my number one thing. That’s most people’s number one thing, if it does all-ages shows. Because the huge amount of support that comes for the local music scene is freshmen in college, sophomores in college and even high school kids. The kids on their way out of school can go and drink and see a cool show, but if you’re not 21, alcohol sales kind of take over for music and that becomes a problem. If a venue shares itself with all ages then that’s basically all it needs to succeed, so I think 51 West is really promising. I think that can be – can do a lot of big things for Tempe.
Must-see local bands
They’re the epitome of what a local show is and what a local band is: community involvement of the crowd. Their shows can get kind of crazy but they don’t get too violent. It could be your first show and you get an idea of what it’s like and how to have a good time at a house show. And also musically, I think they’re great.
Musically, they’re an extremely talented band. They’ve got a lot of complex melodies. And they’re really solid. All their recorded material has been fantastic. And they’ve been recording on a budget – like most other bands have to do. They’re kind of like the brother band for Playboy because it’s just two members that get moved around. They’re almost the same. But they’re completely different musical styles. Those two bands are some of the first two bands I ever saw at shows. They got me to keep going to shows because they do it right.
The Thin Bloods
The Thin Bloods used to be All My Friends, and All My friends was a mainstay in the local scene, and then they disbanded and rearranged and became The Thin Bloods and changed their sound. The Thin Bloods are a really good mix of the lo-fi D.I.Y. sound that a lot of bands have, but also some of the songs sound really poppy.
“They’re garage rock. And they’re so fun at house shows. They’re so musically talented it’s insane. They’ve had some member changes in the last year. But they have a really solid lineup right now. They have a girl [guitarist] which is really cool, which isn’t really something you see in a lot of local bands or bands in general: a girl being the front woman or even being in a band. So that’s also like an added bonus. Their shows are also really fun. Everyone goes crazy and crowd surfs and is sweaty and disgusting. I think that’s important.” – India Loiselle, Liberal Arts and Sciences student and chief of media for TUF
“It’s so moving and powerful. It’s emotional. I think they’re really important because I feel like Playboy and Instructions and Red Tank – that’s all very mosh, crowd-surfing music…their song lyrics are – and not that the other ones don’t have power and meaning behind them – but it’s just, just like how the crowds sing the songs with them and everything.” -Loiselle
There’s this one band. I’ve only seen them one time… and I fell in love. It’s just – I don’t know. I don’t even know how to describe them. But it’s one of the best bands I’ve seen, and I’ve been going to shows for the past two years or so. They’re going to be playing our yearend show at Parliament on May 2. They’re – they’re, I don’t even know. Extremely solid songwriting. Really great musicianship. A lot of chemistry between all of them.
SPM music blogger Isabelle Novak wrote in one of her February posts that you know a band has imprinted on your soul when you remember the exact moment you first heard them. The following are those musicians whose music and talent I feel fortunate enough to have lent an ear to. Listen. Just listen.
American Long Spurs (Alternative Country)
Bears of Manitou (Folk, Rock)
Dylan Pratt (Singer-songwriter, Folk, Indie)
Kachina (Singer-songwriter, Indie)
The Senators (Indie, Folk)
Wooden Indian (Self-described as Aquatic Afro-beat Symphony)