By Spike Brendle
October has been quite a month so far for shows here in Phoenix, and we haven’t even made it halfway through! Sunday night brings us New York trio Made Violent, as well as visitors from the United Kingdom, Drenge and Wolf Alice. A sold out show in Phoenix means one of two things. You have leveled up in the game of Phoenix venues, or Phoenix is starting to care more and more about live music. I am advocating for both cases.
When I first walked into Valley Bar, Made Violent was already on stage. I did take a listen to them prior to review, and feel like they took The Strokes’ “Someday” in an upbeat punk direction with mild to moderate screaming. The song I walked in on, however, sounded like I was listening to a way better version of Nirvana. Cramped in a line between the crowd and Wolf Alice’s gear, the three of them were having no trouble moving around and engaging with each other. For a three piece, they had a huge sound and the mix was great tonight.
Once the lights came up, I was surprised to see that most of the crowd was a little older. I will accept this as one aspect of Phoenix becoming more acceptable to actually leaving the house and going to a live show, on a Sunday even! Maybe the bands just have a lot of older friends here? Who really knows, I should have taken a survey.
“‘Foe-En-Ix’ it’s great to be back!” Drenge said as they took the stage. They jumped right into their first song with so much energy the drummer almost kicked his drum set off the front of the stage, as they were just as cramped as Made Violent. Once again, they have a huge sound as a three piece. I think if Destruction Unit was actually a Brit-punk band, this would be pretty close to hitting that nail on that head. I do hear a few other influences: Morrissey, Arctic Monkeys, and even The Cult. Add all this with super solid three part harmonies (yes, even the drummer) you have yourself a group of good, entertaining musicians. I just wish I had brought my ear plugs! There were a few times where the light glowed red while the band was jamming in a cloud of distortion and it really caught the life and attitude of their music. During the last song, the bassist trust fell into the audience and disappeared in the Valley Bar-sized sea of people. After listening to their music, then seeing them live, all the pieces fit together and Drenge has proven to be acceptable music to blast while driving fast and not giving a “Fuckabout”, as well as a great act to see live.
The last time Wolf Alice played in Phoenix, it was a free show at Crescent Ballroom. While still well attended, there is nothing like “officially selling out”, which they have done a few times so far on this tour. Since their visit to Phoenix, they have since released their full length album, opened for huge artists, and made multiple festival appearances. Their opening song “Your Loves Whore” is a bass and crunchy distortion heavy jam with start and stop verses, which they executed perfectly. During the chorus of “The Wonderwhy”, a genuine smile struck singer Ellie Rowsell’s face as the music died down and the crowd was singing along to every word. Drummer Joel Amey is a consistent absolute powerhouse behind the band. At the beginning of “Swallowtail”, he takes vocal duty over a sweet strumming guitar, and turns into a wide open dreamy reverb adventure, until the vocals end, and out of nowhere CRASH! They jump into a “hyperdrive” outro and lead us down a wormhole of noise. After returning to the stage for an encore, they performed their hit song “Moaning Lisa Smile,” in which the opening riff starts and the crowd screams immediately, and continues to dance and sing throughout the whole song. They thanked us Phoenix folk once again and left the stage even though the crowd wanted more.
On a personal note, I was super upset they didn’t play my two favorite songs, “Blush” and “Turn to Dust,” which I later found out were on the set list to be included in the encore. But regardless of that, this was still one of the best live shows I have seen in a while. The vocals and the tones of their instruments mixed together make them sound like nothing that’s ever come before. The closest thing I can get to a comparison is maybe post-wave grunge like (I didn’t want to have to use this comparison) Garbage, or even Republica (anyone else remember Republica?) What they are doing works way better than either of those, and they are only getting better.