Last Saturday, 25 local musicians met at Crescent Ballroom to become five randomly selected bands, each tasked with creating three new songs and tackling a cover by the time the evening's show began. For the third year in a row, the Phoenix Rock Lottery was another rousing success, with pretty stunning results and a packed house. It seemed like something of a testament to the sheer talent that we have in the Valley that this event is even possible and that it could come off sounding so damn good. The five bands got to spend the day meeting each other, set about writing the originals, as well as figuring out what song to cover, practicing for the show, and finally unleashing it all. While the idea isn't his, promoter "Psyko" Stephen Chilton has to get credit for bringing it to this scene.
The first band to take the stage was PAINcake, which consisted of Greg Muller (Slow Moses) on drums, Brennan Smiley (The Technicolors) on guitar/vocals, TJ Friga (Playboy Manbaby/Instructions) on guitar/vocals, Lonna Kelley (Cherie Cherie) on guitar/backing vocals, and Jeff Taylor (Dent) on bass. More surprising than how good PAINcake sounded was how they looked with Smiley in glam-era makeup and Friga dressed in full drag. It was even more of a surprise when they invited producer Bob Hoag on stage to shake the tambourine, and he took his place looking as though he had just gotten out of rehearsal for a role as Frankenfurter in Rocky Horror Picture Show. It wasn't all glam, glitz and drag for this band, though. Their music kicked off the evening and set the bar high. Their first song was "Breakfast For Dinner," which was Brit-charged indie pop with a glam sheen. The audience was pretty stunned as Smiley and Friga delivered perfect vocal leads. Their second song was just as impressive with a seductive dream pop number that featured harmonies between Smiley and Kelley. They finished their originals with a spunky, punky number, with Smiley giving a bit of Dylan-esque treatment to his vocals amidst the angular guitar sound. The icing on the cake was their fantastic cover of Elton John's 1974 hit "Bennie and the Jets" which seriously showcased Friga's vocal talent and made good use of their glam outfitting. All kidding aside, I'd pay to see PAINcake again just for those four songs.
Moïst! was up next! This particular supergroup consisted of Matt Maloy (Captain Squeegee) on drums, Matt Keller (Lydia/WLF PCK) on guitar/vocals, Brandon Decker (decker.) on guitar/vocals, Evan Bisbee (Good Friends Great Enemies) on keys, and Zach Vogt (Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra/Yojimbo Billions) on bass. The first song in the set was clearly Brandon Decker's baby, mainly because it sounded like what would happen if Brian Setzer of The Stray Cats produced the next decker. album. It must be mentioned that on this song and nearly all their songs to follow, the funky groove between Bisbee, Vogt and Maloy was simply outstanding. They joked about their second original being picked up for a Natural Light advertisement, and the song that should be titled "(I Won't Be) Drinking Alone" was a serious party anthem that largely extolled the virtues of day drinking. Keller's vocals also made it seem that this song was specifically written for Bob Seger' voice. The final original "Don't Leave Me Outside" featured Decker and Keller harmonizing, and it was probably the best song in the set, and for a moment it even went into "Fame" by the recently departed David Bowie. They finished with what had to be the most unexpected cover of the night, Dr. Dre and Eminem's "Forgot About Dre."
Soon it was time for band number three. Teen Challenge was comprised of Chad Martin (Lost In The Sun/FauxFX), Michael Krassner (Lowlands / Boxhead Ensemble / Califone), Ben Gallaty (Andrew Jackson Jihad), Charles Barth (Saddles) and Kristina Moore (Foreign Language). One of the notable things about Teen Challenge was that they had the luxury of being able to switch up instruments with no issue; for instance, depending on the song, Krassner played bass, guitar or keys. "It's All In Good Time" was their first song, which featured Moore on lead vocals and keys. It was atmospheric, goth-tinged rock that got me going and I hope that one of the bands involved gets to take it home and record it for themselves, like Wet Lab from last year's event. They followed this with a dream pop number that reminded me of the bands that the Too Pure label used to collect on their roster in the ’90s. Moore switched to ukulele for this number, while Krassner's keys were the key to the song's success. Moore said that "The hardest part of the day was picking the cover," but what a cover as Barth took lead vocals for their version of Weezer's "Say It Ain't So," which was a genuine crowd pleaser. They finished with their last original, which was, oddly a slow doo-wop number that made you feel like you were at a prom in the 1950s.
The Great Or Good gets my vote for the most clever band name of the entire event. Go ahead, read it out loud if you don't get it; most of us had to, before grinning over it. They also had the most unusual instrument setup and had to be damned creative to work within that. The Great Or Good was Lorne Mills (Hollowbodies) on drums, Grace Rolland (Run Boy Run/Rising Sun Daughter) on cello, Rick Burch (Jimmy Eat World) on bass, Jared Kolesar (Jared And The Mill) on guitar/vocals, and Kristilyn Woods (Dry River Yacht Club) on bassoon. They were also brave enough to open with their cover, which was Bush's 1994 hit "Come Down." It was a stunner, I actually missed the first minute or so of it, because I thought from the lounge that they were actually playing Bush before the band took the stage. The first original was "Ralph," named after Burch's dog, who was apparently present during the day's practice session and featured some stunning harmonies between Kolesar and Rolland. It also proved that you could take Kolesar out of the Americana band, but you can't take the Americana out of Kolesar. The second song was hauntingly beautiful and something of a sad ballad. Their finale was "Part B."
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It was time for the final supergroup of the evening. They called themselves Crescent FALLroom, though they are considering just shortening it to FALLroom. This band seemed pretty loaded with Nick Ramirez (Harper And The Moths) on drums, Sam Wiley (The Wiley Ones) on guitar/vocals, Jackie Cruz (Man Hands/Jade Helm) on guitar/vocals, Adam Bruce (Mergence) on bass/vocals, and Matthew Thornton (Vinyl Station) on guitar/vocals. The band was uniquely challenged in that they had four lead singers in their band, so to deal with that each one got a song. Wiley kicked it off with one of the heavier songs of the night called "Last Goodbye." I have to say it was damn refreshing to hear Wiley backed by some pure rock 'n' roll for a change of pace. It came across as a little trippy. "Tonight" was Cruz' song, which was an upbeat, punky number that had Wiley on keys and Ramirez pounding the hell out of the skins. It came across with a bit of a surf vibe and it was one of my favorite songs of the evening, the one I happened to wake up with in my head Sunday morning. Bruce and Thornton teamed up on vocals for "Keep Me Worn," and it was all out road weary desert rock in the spirit of BRMC and indeed another fave of the evening. To be fair, it was just great to see Bruce back on stage and rocking out once more. FALLroom finished their set and the entire evening with their cover of "In The Pines," which featured everyone singing while Cruz and Bruce handled the leads on verses. It was a fantastic end to the night that gave me chills.
As with every year, you just hope there was enough audio and video captured or that maybe some of these songs will surface again, for instance Wet Lab from last year's Lottery played a one-off show a couple weeks ago. Or maybe one of these years, one of these random bands will head to the studio to lay the songs down. I suppose, though, the impermanence of the music and the evening itself is part of the charm. At some point during the evening I was congratulating Psyko Steve on another fantastic Rock Lottery, and he smiled and said simply, "This is my favorite night of the year." It's not difficult to see why, the entire show and all the energy that went into it was pure magic.