It used to be hard to find good local music in Phoenix.
Things have changed.
Now, Crescent Ballroom can roll out one great band after another and keep people on their feet, drink in one hand, recording device in the other, for hours on end. Last Saturday night, they did just that for the 4th annual “Los Dias de la Crescent” event, which featured two stages (one inside, one outside on 2nd Ave), home-rolled burritos, drinks aplenty, a merch stand, and all the musical range you could hope to find. If you’ve been looking for a new favorite band, the event was a showcase of 10 potential candidates, each wildly different than the last.
A few of the highlights:
- Starting at 7 p.m., Flamenco por la Vida, who makes frequent appearances at the venue, kicked things off on the 2nd Ave stage with a festive showing of Spanish dance backed by a spectacularly dexterous guitarist, a cajon, a shaker or two, and a gaggle of gorgeous voices. During one particular percussive break, the dance started out slow, developed into a crescendoing frenzy that drew spontaneous applause from the building crowd, and culminated with roses thrown into the audience. Built largely around foot-stomping, hand-clapping, and a flurry of guitar notes, this music was the perfect warm-up to a full night.
- Fifteen minutes later, the crowd got its first alt-rock contribution in the form of WLF PCK, who has been steadily building its reputation and credentials through two albums and even a mention on Huffington Post. These boys look and sound 100% ready for alt-pop album sales. With their energetic stage presence, tight musicianship, and catchy tunes, it’s easy to imagine them hopping onstage as an opening act for a national tour any second now.
- The night’s third act kicked off the indoor stage with quite a bang. Donning ridiculous tights and hats and other psycho-garb, Jerusafunk broke out its horns and hand drums and myriad singers to lay down what has to be Phoenix’s best funk, played by all those looney and awesome marching band geeks you knew in high school. The room filled up with arm-waving, screaming super-fans and the band tore through a set of high-energy hilarity filled with jokes, dancing, and one of the best clarinet players I’ve heard in a good while. It’s hard to imagine how this beast of costumed madness came together and escalated to the level it has, but I’m so glad it did.
- By the time Chicha Dust played their first notes on 2nd Ave, several hundred more people had taken their places in front of stages, at standing tables, and in line at the bar, and Los Dias had turned into the party it was meant to be. Chicha Dust seized the moment with taut, outlaw South American rock, complete with synchronized guitar riffs and cumbia-themed costumes, red hankerchiefs and all. Ladies.
- My personal favorite of the night was the Sugar Thieves, yet another jarring musical contrast to the rest of the lineup. This four-piece and its luxurious Delta blues sound features standup bass and two of the best singers in all of Phoenix, one female and in complete control of her swamp-driven growls, the other male and bringing out his best Louis Armstrong (while playing guitar), a fact which got the crowd screaming for more. Of all the night’s acts I’m likely to seek out later, Sugar Thieves is the one I want to see most. If you have even a hint of blues in you, make this band a priority.
- One more major mention. Back out on 2nd Ave, Playboy Manbaby stole the show with its frenetic and charismatic songs and stage presence, both of which were enough to throw the audience into a swirling mob. Despite having the crappiest gear and the least splashy stage setup (the drums weren’t even on the riser), these four crazy gents earned every second of their audience’s devotion. I only caught the last few minutes, but it was a tremendous few minutes as the singer stepped into the crowd and riffed on how important it was to forget about your 401k for a few minutes and dance your face off. Within moments, the crowd had turned into a mess of blurred action and flash-photography. Basically, Playboy Manbaby took over.
After that came Snake! Snake! Snakes! with its post-punk crooning and full-on display of offerings from its soon-to-be-released new album. And there was Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra, whose monstrous stack of musicians would be difficult to fit on any stage smaller than an 18-wheeler and who kept the now-full crowd dancing and singing along through its entire set. If ever you want to dance a Saturday night away, this group will get you there. Special props to the group’s singer, whose tireless dancing inspired several hundred people to burn off all the energy they had left.
So what has Los Dias de la Crescent taught us?
Phoenix has always been a city of transplants, and our music now reflects that. We’ve pulled funk from one place, Columbian from another, alt-rock from several more. You name it, we’ve got it. And that, by all evidence, is the musical identity Phoenix has long been looking for: one of diversity and surprise. Now that Crescent Ballroom has come along to show off that range, we can finally see it in all its glory.
Viva la Phoenix music.
Photos by Robert Hoekman, Jr.