It's Friday, June 1st at the famous Rebel Lounge in Phoenix, Arizona, the venue doors were open and cars were already wrapped around the block. Fortunately, there was no line outside the venue because the friendly staff is incredibly efficient. The air was abuzz with excitement. At first glance, a majority of the patrons were in the back, drinking at the bar, chatting at the high-tops. There was a nice mix of both young and old in the crowd tonight.
First up, Instructions, kicking off the show with a bang. Their mellow songs beautifully juxtaposed with the high energy they brought to the stage that night. The false finishes on some of the songs brought the crowd more and more into their set. Instructions featured melodic, harmonized vocals coupled with a talented keyboardist and a slapping bassist. “The song writing and musicianship of everyone in the band just blows me away,” commented Michael Brooker, a new listener to Instructions. “Their music’s fun and energetic. It makes me want to keep coming back and listening to it.” In addition to Michael, there were many new fans of Instructions. They are not easily forgotten among the other players tonight. “They’re fucking cool!” exclaimed Andrew Robinson. “They have the heaviness of Led Zeppelin and the awesome song structure of the Beatles. It was fucking sick!” A perfect opener, indeed! You can find the latest Instructions album F.B.K. on bandcamp.
Next on the bill was California-based Crooked Teeth. As they set up their equipment, you can tell the camaraderie from within the band. Setup was light and fun with jokes during soundcheck and laughing among one another. “I’m in a store, and I’m singing!” sang the guitarist, quoting Elf. The crowd loved them already. Just as they got quiet again, the crowd hushed, and the frontman started, “This song’s about dropping out of high school.” Catchy riffs, simple melodies, and impactful lyrics and choruses readily held the audience’s attention. They were loving it. Off of their new record Pastel coming out this fall, Crooked Teeth played one of their newer songs, "Crawl." They let the audience know that the new EP will be free. The drummer was incredibly high energy, their guitarist was shredding. Crooked Teeth ended their set on a slower song. Tyson, their frontman commented after the show that so far for the tour, “Shows have been awesome. We are really excited to share our new music!” Some of the criticisms that night, murmurs among the crowd, were if they would stand out among the rest of the large line up, or would they simply fade and be forgotten? Crooked Teeth holds their own live, which is impressive considering the major line up we had that night.
There was already a lot of buzz about this third set, and Tiny Stills did not disappoint! They were the only band on the lineup fronted by a woman, Kailynn West, and this immediately set their band ahead of the pack. It wasn’t because of her gender, no. Rather, her songs focused on more pressing issues that have become more and more prevalent in our contemporary culture. West sang songs about sexual harassment, anxiety, and not taking advice. The latter is represented in their song titled “La La.” Melissa Robbins, a new fan, had a great perspective on the band, “I thought they were great! I liked the song that comments on sexual assault because, as a woman, it’s important to talk about. Great avenue for social justice.” Tiny Stills has a hipster, alt-rock air about them that really vibed with the audience. Lyrically, however, they are “safe” and radio-friendly. “This is exactly how long it takes to get over a relationship, which is '15-17 Months,' which is also the title of the next song!” announced the singer. West was admittedly a quiet singer, something that was heard over sound-check. From the audience, however, Cathleen Phillips noted, “I think they’re tenacious, but I think they need to bring the mic up on the singer. I couldn't really hear her well.” Granted, Cathleen was side stage for the set, and the rest of the crowd didn’t seem phased by the vocal issues. As their set wrapped up, and they motioned towards the merch tables, noting that they’d be there chatting with anyone who’d like to take them up on the offer. I caught up with both the singer and the guitarist and asked them about the tour so far. “This is our first time on tour as a band. We’re exited to be playing with our friends. Tour was only a week [for us], so it was perfect for our first one. We’re excited for out new record, and it’s the first one we’ve pressed on vinyl!” The art was stunning, perfect for vinyl!
Be sure to check out the latest Tiny Stills album Laughing into the Void.
Second to last, but probably the most anticipated band on the whole bill, Playboy Manbaby. Quickly noted, the guitarist and drummer for Instructions are also part of this band. Playboy Manbaby is local, so there were family members, friends, and local fans alike crowding the stage. Immediately, the band hit the stage boasting high energy and the crowd broke into a full-on mosh pit, which quickly prompted security into action for the tiny venue. Throughout the set, the frontman Robbie Pfeffer's quick wit enamored the crowd, “So, we have vinyl. Vinyl: a way to prove to your friend that you’re better than them,” he laughed. The frontman also reminisced about the past stating that it was like the dark ages where “the sound guys all sucked,” but that today, Rebel has become one of the most distinguished venues in the valley. Playboy Manbaby also championed Rebel Lounge's owner, Steve, for doing something as simple and humane as providing water for the minors. The band featured such unique instruments to rock as a saxophone (Austin Rickert) and a trumpet (David Cosme) which also became the butt of one of their jokes noting that they were not really like a swing band. “Their sax player is in my band. I was deeply offended and also turned on,” joked Marcus Jaramillo. Towards the end of their set, the band stopped mid-song, got quiet, and made the entire audience lower, and everyone took off in a giant leap of energy. The entire set was filled with audience interactivity and jokes. Their drummer, Chad B. Dennis also took note about all the family at the show that night, “I have a lot of family here. Phoenix is like a family, which is nice when you have your own family a part of that too. That’s what this show felt like. It was reassuring.” The two noted that they had a show with Sundressed and Playboy Manbaby the following day in Mexico. “It was really a diverse crowd,” Kristen Cross observed, “Something to dance to.” Playboy Manbaby easily makes you forget that Sundressed was the headliner of the show.
Watch their latest video for "You Can Be a Fascist Too" below!
Luckily, after Playboy Manbaby, the entire venue didn’t clear out, much to the pleasure of the Sundressed guys. They seemed to be just as well-known throughout the community as well, hugging crowd members and chatting it up prior to their set. They also kept the playfulness alive during soundcheck, keeping the audience entertained. As the singer is about to start their set, he approached the mic and thanked the audience for sticking around, admitting that it was probably not the best idea to go on after Playboy Manbaby. Fortunately, because of their local roots, as soon as they started the set, everyone in the crowd was vehemently singing every single lyric and moving to every beat. There was even a mosh pit at one point, albeit lighter than the previous. Their singer, Trevor, noted that his parents were also in the audience that night. He talked about how it was not only their 34th anniversary, but he might not have his music career without them, that they were the ones that kept him off of drugs. He noted that the next song on the list tonight was about not having it altogether. Once Sundressed played "Teenage Dirtbag," president of Outerloop Records, Shan Dan Horan, reminisced, “This song really brings me back.” As they wrapped up their set, they noted that their 7” vinyl was also available for the first time ever at today’s show. After their set, I caught up with Instructions frontman and Playboy Manbaby’s guitarist, TJ Friga, to talk about the show, “We’ve known Sundressed for five years. For both of us to be at this pointe and making bigger and better records, it’s amazing.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
As the band cleared the stage, everyone started coming together and chatting about the show, friends and family alike. One of the best things about Rebel Lounge is that they don’t kick patrons out immediately following a set, which allowed the crowd to enjoy one another’s company, catch up, and enjoy the DJ. The local scene in Phoenix is alive and well, and every show is much like a very extended family reunion filled with cool aunts, crazy uncles, and second cousins twice removed. Very much looking forward to seeing any of these bands again in the not too distant future.