What happens when you take 20 well-known (to varying degrees) local musicians, shuffle them around, and give them only 10 hours to start a band? Crescent Ballroom decided to find out, hosting the Phoenix Rock Lottery on Sunday night. Not only was this a pretty damn cool idea, it benefited Rosie's House, an educational nonprofit that helps kiddies learn piano. D'awwww . . .
Beginning at 9 a.m. Sunday, the musicians involved were assembled into randomly selected pools and given the rest of the day to write three originals and practice them, as well as learn one cover. But what came out of this experiment was more than just four weird musical juxtapositions with bizarre names -- it was a testament to the hard work of this here music scene, and given the short turnaround, also proves these singers, guitarists, drummers, bassists, keyboardists, and what have you are some incredibly talented individuals.
Not a single musician that took the stage Sunday night escaped unscathed from exhaustion. With red eyes circled by bags, hair tussled, and makeup smeared, it looked like less like a concert and more like the hangover. Yet, as tough as it must have been, it was one helluva powerful gig. Let's break it down.
AUTO-TUNE-WORKOUT -- Featuring Henri Benard (Dry River Yacht Club), Danny Torgersen (Captain Squeegee), Tobie Milford (The Whisperlights), and Robin Vining (Sweetbleeders, Jimmy Eat World)
Auto-Tune Workout drew the "phone a friend" wild card, given the option to invite whoever they wanted to join them onstage. While rumor has it they called Jack White (he politely declined), they were able to get Aaron Burke of Minibosses, who took the stage with a towel over his head before the big reveal.
A-TW announced that it's first song was dedicated to Andy, the Ballroom's noted sound dude, which quickly led to the volume being cut. Not sure if this was a flub or a prank, but once everything was working again, Auto-Tune Workout began tinkling with some silly keys, followed by some light trumpet. It gave every indication of being some ironic lovefest, the Richard Cheese or "Weird" Al breed of satire -- but it was a little more bizarre than that and skillful to boot.
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Self-referential lyrics ("Here comes the bridge!" and "We only know one melody!") abounded. Their second song, a tribute to the Sochi Olympics and the anti-gay rhetoric pouring from Russia, was highlighted by tinges of anthem rock typical of Muse or Queen. Gotta love Henri Benard's delighted attack on the drums (he always makes me smile, as lame as that sounds) and Burke's progressive metal stylings adding Cursive-like riffs to Robin Vining's Zombies-like keyboards.
These guys totally cheated and did three covers instead of one (tsk, tsk), starting with an excellent, nearly carbon copy of Cake's "Never There," some song by Smashmouth I don't care to look up (but it wasn't terrible somehow with Danny singing), and finished with flying colors, doing a version of Radiohead's "Everything In Its Right Place." The last song proved that while Auto-Tune Workout can poke fun at themselves with flair, they can also get their hands dirty.
DKSPLT -- Featuring Aaron Wendt (Source Victoria), Mariah Deraet (Avery), Illya Riske (There Is Danger), Sean Silverman (This Century), and Jamie Woolford (The Stereo)
No dicks were split in the making of this band. But for D(ic)K SPL(i)T, all the humor was in the name -- it was evident from their first chord they were far more serious about their baby. That's a good thing, because they sounded like a real band. Their songs were slow, tinged with shoegaze licks and powerful crescendos.
These tunes, aching for truth and real, solid love, were the type you wanted to get to know a little better. Sexy, soulful and complex, they were fascinating because of the speed with which the different layers were put together. And, yes, to the lady who interrupted the show because no one was dancing, I agree that Crescent crowds can be kind of stiff. My heart totally goes out to you. However, DKSPLT then cut into another slow song, so you can't really blame everyone this time. I didn't recognize their cover, but I guess those who were singing along did (not anyone I asked, though) and I'm just ignorant.
Mariah agreed with everyone that the day had been nothing short of insane, but when I caught Illya in the parking lot on my way to burn some trees, I asked him if they'd ever get together for DKSPLT again. He unfortunately said no. Sadly, I think this is a sentiment shared by all the bands who were created just for this night. Or, maybe that's preferable. Some things, like lotus blossoms or something, should only exist for a short period because that's what makes them beautiful. I don't know. Fuck it. I want my MTV.
BEEF BARBACOA AND THE BALLROOM BURROS -- Featuring of David Cooper (Snake! Snake! Snakes!), Michael B. Alexander (Emby Alexander), Rob Kroehler (Lady Like, Fun.), and Maria Sais de Sicilia (Bears of Manitou).
These guys, with their mouthful of a name, gave obvious tribute to the great food at Crescent, and I can't blame them because it's fucking good. They also drew a wild card, meaning they had to somehow implement duck calls from that one TV show about racist bigots who live in a swamp somewhere (I refuse to name it). The duck calls were barely noticed, which might be a good thing. As Maria noted, they sounded like farts.
BB&BB's intro, aptly titled "Piano Song," was melodic and sweet, followed by "Burrito Song," which was somewhere along Belle & Sebastian by way of The Strokes. Their so-called "Funk Song" didn't have quite the qualifications for something Funkadelic for this picky critic, but damn, that bass was delicious, somewhat similar to Fastball's "The Way." And, yes, that is a good thing.
Their cover began as "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" by Aretha Franklin but quickly dissolved into a Jimmy Eat World tribute of "The Middle." Because of Jim Adkins' much-hyped presence, it's possible a JEW nod was inevitable, but BB&BB did it with the right amount of pizzazz and made it apparent how tight this band became in such a short window.
BITCH CHOIR -- Featuring Jason Roedl (Mergence), Matthew Noakes (Black Carl), Jim Adkins (Jimmy Eat World), David Moroney (Wooden Indian), and Lindsay Cates (Pick and Holler).
First, let's address all this Jim Adkins buzz. It's not an overstatement that this guy was the most talked about musician all night (I overheard at least two women say they planned to do something sexual to him) and given his fame with JEW, it's not surprising. All the attention may have been distracting -- and even a little obnoxious -- but it all served to remind folks that Jimmy was just like everyone else once. He worked hard with his band, put in the hours, and got some kind of reward for it. Given that he's still approachable and somewhat humble, I think aiming for success while not becoming a dirtbag about it is admirable.
The Bitch Choir (their name wins, in my not-so-humble opinion) set began melancholy, pulling you in with heavy brooding speckled with enthusiastic breakdowns. Song two was ephemeral and moody, while song three dialed it back through a surf punk agent, with Moroney's synths adding layers of texture.
Theirs was a display of power, but like with DKSPLT, I wanted to spend more time with these tunes. Slow, ruminating tunes aren't easily digestible, but they're worth it, and what I prefer more often than not.
However, in this context, most bands might have wanted to take a cue from Auto-Tune Workout, who crafted far more memorable compositions. I'm not saying either was better than the other, but I assume I'll never see this lineup or hear these songs again and one sticks in my mind a lot stronger than the other. Again, I didn't recognize their cover, which I thought was kind of the point?
Conclusion: Personally, I've never heard of a gig quite like this -- only Rubber Brother Records' Round Robins come to mind. The night demanded an emcee, someone to introduce each band, each member (and their role elsewhere in the scene) and someone to maybe tally votes, see who did the best job. I thought it was going to be a competition, so when it was over, I was left thinking, "All right, so that happened. Now what?" I don't think awards, even trivial thrift store accolades, would have taken away from what happened. The goal of this show was to showcase talent, so why not reward it as well?
On the other hand, one thing I like about Phoenix's music scene is the amiability. You go to L.A. or New York (maybe even Portland), and people there are ready to shit all over you if it means they get ahead. There are people like that in the Valley, but fuck them! They suck! Yeah, music is a job, the goal is to be better than your rivals, but at least most people here are self-aware enough to realize slinging mud doesn't help. If anything, the Rock Lottery proved how well people can get along, even if their bands are radically different or people secretly hate each other. Healthy competition and constructive criticism are key to self-improvement, however, so I'd like to see more of that.
I really hope something like this happens again. The show of creative force was spectacular, but that really isn't hyperbole. I came to this thinking it would be goofy, sloppy, and fun. And it was all those things, but it was also powerful, insightful, and accomplished. Most of all, each of these four bands were able to stand on their own and could easily begin a new side project or two from this trial run. I am more than excited to see what comes out of this and what comes next. Also, please don't ever host this on a Sunday night again. I still have a headache at work.
Last Night: Twenty-odd local musicians make four brand-new bands at Crescent Ballroom.
The Crowd: Plenty of familiar hipster faces and people you know actually give a fuck about local music. Why else would so many people show up on a Sunday night? My only question, just like that confused lady who took the stage, is why won't you fuckers dance?
Overheard: Hey, there's girls in all these bands! That's like, pro-feminist or something!
Personal bias: Not my bias, but my sentiments were shared with local musician and DJ Shane Kennedy, who grabbed his forehead with astonishment and gasped, "How is this even possible?" And that is meant with some severe sincerity. If y'all had sucked, I would not have hesitated to say so. The fact is, I was deeply impressed and when people talk about a "scene" (or lack of) here in The Valley, this is what I will use as an example from now on.
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Troy Farah gambles heavily at troyfarah.com