There might not be a better event to showcase local Phoenix talent than Crescent Ballroom’s annual Rock Lottery, presented by “Psyko” Steve. Every January, a motley crew of regional musicians is shuffled up, given just a few hours to form a band, learn three original songs and master one cover. The proceeds benefit Rosie’s House, a nonprofit that offers free music lessons to underprivileged youth. Nice.
The last few years, this event has sold out, making it perhaps the only local concert that attracts such a large audience when no one has heard the music. When I arrived, 15 minutes before show time, it was already nearly a full house. The bleachers and both levels outside were packed, and David Moroney was spinning vinyl — Pro Teens and Bogan Via and Radiohead. Oh, that’s why it sounded good in here.
I bumped into Alex Benson, who was having trouble remembering his band’s name. “Oh, yeah, it’s the Wet Delicates,” he said, explaining it was a name rejected by Iggy Pop before he settled on the Stooges. Although he lived here not long ago, Benson flew down from Seattle for the Lottery, so maybe it’s fair to say this is a national event. And like years past, the Phoenix Rock Lottery showcased some serious creative expertise while kicking some serious ass. Here are your winning Power Ballad numbers.
Snack Time opened the night with their cover: Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy.” It’s an instantly recognizable tune, which is great for the sing-along aspect, but they didn’t add much flair to make it sound very different from the original. You could tell they’d practiced their other songs more. “Pocket Food” was a four-on-the-floor hand-clapper, highlighted by scratchy, torn, almost post-grunge vocals complimented at the end by a psychedelic garage rock feel. The song’s chorus made me smile — not sure if it was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek or not — but their next two tunes affected me the most.
The first began with soft, starry guitar plucking — almost math-rock atmospherics. I dug that they traded vocalists for almost every song, and even if it sounded too much like Foo Fighters, the spacey, Appleseed Cast-like approach shone through, and you could tell there was some real emotion there.
It was even more packed at this point, and I only noted one girl on her phone, which made me realize that it’s really the audience that’s the coolest thing about the Rock Lottery. It’s not often you can get
This is encouraging. You know, I don’t like it when people say Phoenix has a shitty music scene (false) or everything is too spaced out (true). It just needs more reasons to come together.
Sunman, who seemed to be parroting Flogging Molly
This band disappointed me the most, just because I know how impossible it will be for them to become a real band, sort of like Wet Lab did. In all seriousness, the Wet Delicates were the goofiest and most fun group to grace the stage that night. Almost every member wore sunglasses and polychromatic garb, but it was their tunes that were the most psychedelic.
Before I arrived, I predicted there would be at least a few anti-Trump anthems. I wasn’t disappointed. This isn’t the first Rock Lottery to feature some shred of political zeitgeist: the very first Rock Lottery included Sochi Olympics tributes to the anti-gay rhetoric pouring from Russia at the time. Delicates’ protest song almost sounded like a MIDI Rage Against the Machine cover, but Pyle’s vocals are eerily like Beth Gibbons, and with Rickert’s sax licks, it was aggressive, but not mean. Their next song, more Kathleen Hanna-style punkish, saw Benson kicking around the stage like Charlie Brown.
The guitarist switched to doing a kinda Alt-J violin, but with more of an angry Mars Volta freak-out quality from the rest of the band. He alternated between driving a drunken kinda-Decemberists dirge and back to quiet plucking.
Their cover song was Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” which was hardly recognizable. It’s great how sometimes you can strip off all the garbage corporate music smears all over a pop song and underneath it’s something fun and enjoyable. Someone in the crowd said the Delicates were B-52’s meets Oingo Boingo. I told him I agreed heartily.