A short guide to some of Phoenix and Tempe's best local music venues

The potency of Arizona music is often debated. To some, it’s dwindling and in desperate need of repair. To others it’s as loud and prolific as ever.

While Arizona’s musical state of affairs is certainly controversial, one aspect of it is almost undeniably first-rate – the music venues.

Tempe and Phoenix have dozens of sites hosting concerts for both the unheard of and the internationally famous. From stadiums filled with 10,000 screaming fans to dive bars lined with overly drunk regulars, there’s plenty of options for anyone looking to see a live show.

Many of these venues are local gems and practically synonymous with telling your friends about the “mind-blowing” concert you saw last night.

Below is a short list of some of best in the Phoenix Metro area. It is by no means a definitive list or ordered in anyway. Your personal favorite venue may be excluded from the list, too. If that’s the case, please leave your personal suggestions below in the comments. 

The Marquee Theatre

The Marquee Theatre is often accused of being overpriced, homogenized and overall just a strict place. Although much of its criticism is deserved, there’s still plenty of positives that merit praise. Personally, over the past decade I’ve seen countless memorable shows that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

The Marquee has cornered the market on booking all the best mid-tier bands. These are typically internationally touring acts that can’t quite fill US Airways Center, but still manage to sell hundreds or thousands of tickets.

Its vast overhaul the past few years dredged the infamous layers of grime and drug-abuse that once infected the venue. The owners mostly succeeded by revamping the lobby, bars and adding a balcony area, slapping thick veneers of newness everywhere in sight.

Unfortunately, the sound system is still a second-tier effort that makes louder bands sound like a dozen oncoming freight trains rather than well-tuned musicians, although this might have something to do more with an act's sound guy than the actual venue.  

But audio issues aside, this really is the only place that consistently books bands you’ve almost definitely heard of and want to see. The calendar is diverse too, sporting a genre-hopping list that promises to please everyone.

The short walk from the light rail means you can drink and skip taxis, walking or worse — a feature that can’t be highlighted enough.

Crescent Ballroom

Long considered the gold standard of Arizona local venues, Crescent Ballroom is a top-choice for seeing a show. Between the impeccable sound system, immaculate floor space and great restaurant, Crescent is hardly eligible for criticism.

The crowd can be a tad arrogant, but what do you expect from the hippest venue around? Also seeing a sea of flannels “moshing” to a synth-pop band makes Crescent an unexpectedly comedic venue too.

Make sure to check out the occasional outdoor events. Ranging from beer and food truck festivals to local act showcases, Crescent loves to take advantage of Arizona’s sporadically dreamy weather. And if being outside is your thing, the lively patio is a great place to mingle and be seen.

Chances are, you won’t know the majority of the bands rolling through here, but the consistently low ticket prices encourage risk taking. Leave your comfort zone, head to Crescent and have yourself a great night of musical discoveries.

The Rebel Lounge (formerly The Mason Jar)

This brand-new reworking of the legendary Mason Jar is a surprising addition to Phoenix’s cast of venues. The small stage and standing area will probably deter most well-known bands from ever stopping by, but when tickets rarely rise above $10 it’s worth it to experiment and see bands you’ve never heard of.

The sound quality is superb at The Rebel Lounge and a quick-service bar means you can inebriate yourself at free will. Unfortunately, ASU students may find it tougher to get there and back as its location is by no means prime or nearby any of the campuses.

Regardless, you should definitely stop by and give it a chance, especially if you have an interest in supporting Arizona bands. The buzz around The Rebel Lounge is steadily growing, meaning it could become the next local hotspot.

Yucca Tap Room

Broke college students craving live music should flock to the Yucca Tap Room, a rowdy rock and roll bar specializing in hosting free shows.

Although many shows have touring bands, plenty focus on spotlighting Arizona’s budding artists – an endearing quality of Yucca that more and more venues seem to be mimicking.

Yucca’s free shows means the venue thrives on your bar tab. Enjoy the music, but make sure you indulge in a drink or two so Tempe doesn’t lose another local legend. Also, tip your bartenders please. These people work hard.

Nile Theater 

Famous for its punk and hardcore shows, the Nile Theater is little more than a grand open space kept empty for the thrashing mosh pits heavier music requires. The barebones approach is fitting of the no-frill concerts hosted here and their recent acquisition of a liquor license means you can now exert your aggression with a bit of alcoholic aid.

Look a little deeper, literally, and you’ll find another hardcore haven fitted beneath the Nile’s main building. The Underground might be nothing more than a snug basement with a stage, but the low hanging ceilings and intrusive pillars imbue a rare sense of claustrophobia into every show. Moshing in here is a dangerous endeavor, but those with thick skin will appreciate the adrenaline rush. 

Related Links:

The Maine to bring new music, fresh energy to the Marquee in April

'The Tempe Sound' exhibit captures the once-vibrant Tempe music scene


Contact the reporter at nlatona@asu.edu or follow @Bigtonemeaty on Twitter.

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