We only come out at night: Summer guide to local live music venues
Tucson is, over all, a great place to live. Sure, salaries are paltry and we don't have some of the shinier amenities of bigger cities like our asphalt and concrete neighbor to the north, but rents are still relatively cheap, the locals are pretty laid back and every third person you meet is in a band.
But June and July can be a challenge, even for those of us who love the place. Triple-digit temperatures are the rule, everyone's cars are overheating and the service-industry staples that are the snowbirds and students we all love to hate have vacated our scorching streets for the season, so funds are lean for a lot of folks. These trying times are kind of the karmic payback for our otherwise mild weather and year round glorious sunsets and absolutely snowless winters. They also come with a silver lining.
With Downtown streets deserted by the college crowd and streets free of major traffic, we have our city to ourselves. Not much consolation in the blazing heat of day, but at night...it's kind of a wonderful thing. If you're the sort that doesn't get out much — or the sort that's been biding your time till the crowds clear, now's your chance to see what you've been missing. And your trusty neighborhood music columnist is here to give you a guide to some live music venues worth splurging your slim summer paychecks at.
According to a regular reader of this column "Che's shows are the coolest shows" with some of the most talented folks in town regularly gracing the tiny front window "stage" on Saturday nights (where once seated you won't be able to move much...but you won't want to) and lazy Sunday afternoon sunset patio shows. Most nights, gourmet taco truck Geronimo's Revenge can be found parked around the corner, so you can start the night early without having to grab a bite elsewhere first.
In the past year or so, Sky Bar has blossomed from just another downtown regular haunt to one of the busiest and most reliable spots to cacth a great multi band lineup, especially on a Friday or Saturday night. As a fringe benefit, you can grab a cheap slice of pizza from next door's Brooklyn Pizza well into the wee hours — or order a whole pie from inside the venue for maximum slack.
Probably the most world-famous venue in Tucson, and still a great place to see your favorite band. Since the closure of Plush/Flycatcher, this venue may in fact possess the best sound system in town. Also one of the better venues in town for chatting up a touring band on the patio in between sets.
Saint Charles Tavern
Since it opened four years ago, Saint Charles has become a pretty beloved local watering hole for both the downtown service industry crowd and its South Tucson neighborhood regulars. It also has more than its share of rock and roll street cred with bartenders including Shit Knife's Neil Kight and Miss Olivia herself. Most weekend nights there is a live band or two on the patio, and almost every night you are sure to run into a ton of local musicians. Bonus points for having one of the best jukeboxes in town.
Dusty Monk Pub
The site of Tucson's first gas station is now a cool little pub in Old Town Artisans, adjacent to La Cocina. Dusty Monk host regular live music nights including a residency by Tucson legend and Naked Prey founder which has to date featured an enviable roster of notable guest musicians from local music past. It's also the home of some fun themed nights, such as For Love of Absinthe's recurring Black Sabbath tribute.
The open air courtyard of beloved Tucson restaurant La Cocina hosts regular sets by such homegrown talents as Hank Topless, Natalie Pohanic, Louise Le Hir and Miss Lana Rebel accented with cocktails, fine southwestern cuisine, fairy lights, and turtle ponds. Not to mention (reportedly) at least a half dozen resident ghosts.
Royal Sun Lounge
The humble hotel lounge of the Best Western at Stone and Speedway doubles as a regular host for some of the most prolific working musicians in town, many with recurring monthly residencies. It's also one of the best places to check out a karaoke night without the requisite drunk bridesmaids singing Journey.
Tap and Bottle
The original Downtown location of this local purveyor of gourmet brews is also the location of some of the coolest live sets by local bands these days, and something about the lighting in the joint makes it an especially great place to take live video footage or performance pics to save the experience for posterity. Its next-door neighbor Exo Roast often hosts low key shows earlier in the evening, so some nights so you can catch two acts in a night without ever leaving the quiet confines of Sixth Avenue for busier parts of downtown.
Just off of Grant and Stone, this LGBT-welcoming neighborhood dive bar becomes a punk and rock venue once a month with the recurring Sonidos de la Lunos concert series hosted on Brodie's Back Pocket Patio. See some great new and old bands on a summer night and watch the fun as the crusty old rockers mix with the fabulous regulars inside the bar. It's always a great time.
Iren's Holy Donuts
One of the newer live music spots on Fourth Avenue, Irene's back room aka "the Donut Hole" makes good use of the stage left behind by former tenants of the space, the late Cans Deli by hosting regular performance nights with a small bar and fresh gourmet donuts. Note to local bands: the sound system is not the one that Cans was using and has some limitations, so bring your own sound gear before you get all sugared up and hit the stage.
House of Bards
With the closure of rock and bar band favorite the Loudhouse last year, House of Bards is a regular haunt for "bar bands," old school hard rock and metal bands as well as some more mellow stuff and has live music multiple nights a week on two stages. It's also one of a very few live music venues in Midtown and not a bad place to schedule a multi-band gig on those occasions when you need a place to play and find that the usual Downtown suspects are booked to capacity. It's also a relatively hipster free joint to catch a beer and a decent cheap burger!
This former memorial home turned Downtown bar is a hauntingly magical place to see live bands, though live gigs are hosted without any regular schedule, so keep your eyes peeled for events as they pop up. It's also a really fun place to dress up in crushed velvet and dance to wake the dead, so stay alert for the more and more frequent DJ nights being hosted at the venue.
Surly Wench Pub
Downtown's favorite "pirate pub" used to host a lot more live music once upon a time, but these days the Fourth Avenue staple seems to favor quality over quantity, featuring a couple of showcases a month with local rock and punk bands and occasional touring bands. With that said, it's also one of the better spots for live DJ sets, with chill, goth friendly darkwave and synth music, professional go-go dancers and nostalgic nods to venues long gone with monthly Club Sanctuary and Fineline Revisted nights.
Just like you, your favorite local musicians have bills to pay and some of them have to sing for their suppers sometimes. That's where casual, laid back wine bars and breweries save the day, and Sand-Reckoner is one of the more reliable spots in town for this phenomenon. With regular weekend early evening shows, you can start your live music adventure by checking out some of your favorite local songwriters as they work out new material or lovingly strum a couple of their greatest hits while you get to sample the merchandise of this gem of a downtown winery.
Thunder Canyon Brewstillery
The newly revamped Thunder Canyon is quickly building a reputation as a stellar site for live gigs and its new in-bar eatery Shifty's Pizza is reportedly pretty awesome in its own right. Right now, live gig schedules are pretty inconsistent, so definitely stay tuned each week to hear about them.
The Screening Room
Back from the dead yet again, downtown indie theater and performance venue the Screening Room doesn't always host live music, but it is the home for a couple of cool recurring events including Seanloui's Level Up open mic nights and the newly launched "Tucson Duels" series in which Tucson rock and punk bands battle to the death. Okay, maybe not to the death. But definitely to "the pain" as only Princess Bride fans would understand.
The sister site to Rialto Theatre, 191 Toole is a cool spot to see beloved indie bands and occasional big name acts, as well as being the site of a growing number of local showcases and small festivals. Since it's a bit of a hike from 191 to the rest of downtown and Fourth Avenue, it's better to plan to stay put once you check into a show at this spot as opposed to the venue hopping one can do at Fourth Avenue joints.
This historic Tucson venue just keeps getting better with age and is where you'll see some of the biggest touring acts to hit town, though typical the only locals you'll see are the opening bands. With plans for a new hotel Downtown put on hold, the venue is no longer subject to a planned temporary closure, which is good news for local music fans.
House Shows and DIY Venues
Some of the best "venues" in town aren't official venues, including recurring show hosts like tattoo parlor Spark Project Collective, art gallery the Ervice, the slowly reemerging from its hibernation Solar Culture Gallery and various DIY and house show spots with names like the Roach Ranch, Ward 6 and Blacklidge Community Collective. The shows at these spots tend to be all ages and are often invite only, but they're the best place to see new talent unfold in this town. Contact bands for invites and details and stay tuned to Instagram where a lot of the younger bands post flyers for upcoming show lineups.
Bandcamp and Chill
Even with all this cool stuff to do, some nights it's just too hot and you're just too poor. We get it. But you can still get your primo local music fix by checking out some of the fantastic local music releases this year, most of which can be found in digital form via Bandcamp, iTunes and the like.
Some of the better albums released in recent months include releases by Anchorbaby, the Resonars, Stripes,Tongs, Moontrax, Taco Sauce, Freezing Hands, Little Cloud, Golden Boots, the Minds, the Gem Show, and Barely Bipedal, as well as a best of compilation by Bisbee's finest, the Exbats. Will there be more new music this summer? Hell, yes, there will be. Stay tuned to this column to find out.
Randy Clamons, frontman of countless bands, including Grateful Dead tribute band Top Dead Center, was a mentor to many, bandmate to many more and a friend to pretty much everyone he ever met. Now, as Tucson mourns his passing, a number of the folks played with him over the years are giving back a little bit of the love and brotherhood he showed them in his decades as a fixture of Tucson's music community. This Saturday at the Hut on Fourth Avenue, friends and felllow musicians gather to celebrate Clamon's legacy.
A Celebration of Life for Randy Clamons features performances by Top Dead Center, Cadillac Mountain, Jamar International, Papa Ranger, and a Grateful Dead jam led by Legions of Mario. Show begins Saturday June 15 at 2 p.m. at the Hut.
Check your local listings...
Friday, June 14
- Gila Byte, JJCnV - 10 p.m. Surly Wench Pub
- Origami Angel, Stars Hollow, Celebration Guns, Heartbreak Etc. - 9 p.m. Passe
- Pedro y Los Lîricos - 8 p.m. Exo
- The Demons - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
- Gnrl Tchefary, Santa Pachita, Rilen’ Out - 7 p.m. 191 Toole
- Avatar - 7 p.m. Rialto Theatre
- Tucson Duels: Lenguas Largas VS Thee Pork Torta - 10 p.m. The Screening Room
- Libertine Grand Opening w/ Emilie Marchand - 7 p.m. The Libertine (formerly The Coronet)
Saturday, June 15
- The Rifle - 10 p.m. Che’s Lounge
- Metalachi w/ Armando Moreno - 7 p.m. Hotel Congress Plaza
- M. Crane, DJ Paul Bearer - 8 p.m. Sky Bar
- Club Sanctuary - 10 p.m. Surly Wench Pub
- Two Door Hatchback - 8 p.m. Exo
- Felice Brothers, Jonathan Rice - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
- Deconstructing the Beatles - 8 p.m. Rialto Theatre
- Closet Goth, Benny, Nitrah Neon, Kenji Bandz, Puddled, NewPanicKillTheBeat - 7:30 Blacklidge Community Collective (DIY Venue)
Sunday, June 16
- Mik and the Funky Brunch - 12 p.m. La Cocina
- Sunday Sessions with Kevin Pakulis - 2 p.m. Borderlands
- Autumn Dominguez Quartet, Indigo Kidd- 7 p.m. Passe
- Tucson Sanctuary Sunday - 4 p.m. Che’s Lounge
- Trophy Eyes - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
Monday, June 17
- Comedy at the Wench - 7 p.m. Surly Wench Pub
Tuesday, June 18
- Catch Pritchard, Wanda Junes - 8 p.m. Club Congress
- Sub-Radio - 7 p.m. Passe
Wednesday, June 19
- Carson McHone, Adara Rae and the Homewreckers - 8 p.m. Club Congress
- Chromeo - 8 p.m. Rialto Theatre
- Strange Vacation Trio - 7 p.m. Iron Johns
Thursday, June 20
- Bob Log III - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
Each week this column compiles a choice selection of live gigs in and around Tucson with the help of good venue and band event announcements and other resources. If you've got a gig coming up and you'd like your event listed in this space (or if your local band has a major announcement or a new release) drop me a line at email@example.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the guitarist who performed with Weekend Lover