Here's Why Everyone Loves The Phoenix Rock Lottery

The Phoenix Rock Lottery left a lot of people happy.EXPAND
The Phoenix Rock Lottery left a lot of people happy.
Michelle Sasonov
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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 TimeEXPAND
Snack Time
Michelle Sasonov

Snack Time featuring Austen Mack (Captain Squeegee), David Marquez (Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra), Jake Arrington (Underground Cities), Jared Geyer (Weslynn), and Corey Gloden (Wyves).

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 many people — or anyone — to show up for a concert from beginning to end. You get the sense that locals really care about their musician neighbors. This event really speaks volumes about Phoenix’s music scene, in addition to Jim Adkins proving fame doesn’t always turn you into a prick.

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.

Yank WilliamsEXPAND
Yank Williams
Michelle Sasonov

Yank Williams featuring Marty Welker (El West), Amber Johnson (decker.), Mark Sunman (Haymarket Squares), Zach Zimmerman (American Longspurs), and Jon Rauhouse (Neko Case).

Yank Williams definitely lived up to their name. These guys were probably channeling Celtic folk Americana or something, but as far as most people in this audience seemed concerned, it was just country. It took a song or two, but eventually the audience got into it. (I had a spot by the door and the trash can, giving me a good view of most folks’ faces and a clear shot of the stage.)

Sunman, who seemed to be parroting Flogging Molly frontman Dave King, switched between a ukulele and a banjo. Nice touch — no one else I noticed used those instruments that night. Their lyrics were difficult to follow, but I could tell they were dark and complex, some kind of winding storyline. I thought the chorus to one tune was “follow me to Arabia,” but it was actually “follow me to oblivion.” Okay.

Yank Williams’ cover? None other than Katy Perry’s “Firework.” Their version definitely improved on the original, and from audience reaction, seemed to be the highlight of their set.

The Wet DelicatesEXPAND
The Wet Delicates
Michelle Sasonov

The Wet Delicates featuring Pat McCarthy (The Stiletto Formal), Alex Benson (Okilly Dokilly), Holly Pyle (House Of Stairs), Austin Rickert (Jerusafunk), Joshua Hill (The Hill In Mind).

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.

Nasty WomenEXPAND
Nasty Women
Michelle Sasonov

Nasty Women featuring Jef Wright (Treasure Mammal), Cassidy Hilgers (Sister Lip), Caleb Dailey (Bear State), Taylor Upsahl, and Jacob Lauxman (of Twin Ponies).

See what I mean about Trump reactions? It was a good choice for these folks, however. They dressed kind of like the Kills — dark tees, jeans — the drummer was wearing a shirt that looked like a Joy Division shirt but it wasn’t. Nasty Women used lots of catchy synth, but kept indie rock drums with a lot of reverb in the vocals. It was dreamy, gaspy, ah-ah-ahh-y. And I danced. A lot.

There was some shoegaze, but not quite. It was slow, drifty, gorgeous. The minute they started the first few notes of their cover, “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac, the crowd began to scream like agitated One Direction fans. They ended their set with a song they called “Not My President,” which encouraged at least one audience member to chant “Dump Trump!” Others did not join in. They were more appropriately wrapped up in these heady bass lines, those cutting piano riffs. And people went ballistic, the most enthusiasm of the entire night so far. I hope Nasty Women at least considers recording an EP after this.

Massive Flame And The Mega LemonsEXPAND
Massive Flame And The Mega Lemons
Michelle Sasonov

Massive Flame and the Mega Lemons featuring Ryan McPhatter (Black Bottom Lighters), Chelsey Louise Richard (Fairy Bones), Aldy Montufar (Fatigo), Thomas Knight (Bear Ghost), and Cori Rios (The Hourglass Cats).

Since their first production, the Rock Lottery seems to have phased out the wild cards and other gimmicks — once, it was adding a duck call to one of the songs. Now, the unpredictability comes only from the musicians themselves, and Massive Flame and the Mega Lemons is the band from whom I knew the least what to expect.

They began with typical rock beat, but then the horn cut in, stalked by a mix of Latin and reggae beats. Louise has incredible range in her vocals. Their second tune was seemingly serpentine and Arabic with a bass-heavy synth backbone actively keeping pace with the trumpet. With lyrics like “All my pain will take you down / All my rage will take you down,” I wasn’t sure if their third rendition was another anti-Trump song.

Massive Flame closed with their version of “MMMBop” by Hanson. I guess ironic insipid pop songs were a theme tonight. But people sang along happily, one of the happiest crowds I’ve seen in this town in a long time.

Troy Farah is on Twitter (please help him quit) and has a website with stuff on it, like words and stuff.

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