Nicole Laurenne of The Darts fronted the final act of the night called Roach Tank.EXPAND
Nicole Laurenne of The Darts fronted the final act of the night called Roach Tank.
Jim Louvau

Everyone Had Something to Show Off at the 2018 Phoenix Rock Lottery

On Saturday morning, 25 Phoenix-based musicians picked straws to determine who would make up the five supergroups at this year's Phoenix Rock Lottery. They met at Crescent Ballroom, split into randomly selected groups, and then had to write three original songs and find a cover. Then, at 8:30 p.m., each of the groups shared their "one-night-only" creations.

All five bands turned in high-quality projects that highlighted the strengths of each member — whether that meant delivering a rock opera or spotlighting a clarinetist. The downtown Phoenix venue was filled to the gills, and the sold-out show was interactive, thanks to an audience who was excited to be a part of the fleeting showcase of Phoenix's talent and versatility.

The first band of the night was Greg's Not Here, which comprised James Pope (Gentlemen of Leisure, Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra), Jessie Demaree (Jerusafunk, Sunn Trio), Eamon Ford (Pro Teens), and Kal Benion (The Color 8).

They certainly had their work cut out for them, considering the bizarre instrumentation they had to accommodate. Demaree plays the clarinet, which is traditionally a hard instrument to incorporate in any ensemble, not to mention an ensemble that blends together groovy sounds with electronica.

But Demaree became the group's secret weapon. Her solos on the clarinet and bass clarinet were some of the high points of the night. She combined virtuosity with improvisation that added depth and texture to the group. And the set blended from one song to the next, while toeing a genre line that created a chameleon-like, fresh sound.

Tequila Armwrestle — made up of Dominic Armstrong (Jon Rauhouse Orchestra / The Sunpunchers), Chuck Morriss III (Jared and The Mill), Paul McAfee (The Stakes), Seth Smades (Luxxe), and last-minute replacement Chuckie Duff (Victims in Ecstacy, The Bambinos, Dear and The Headlights) — brought the most singular project.

In a day, the band had written a three-part rock opera that kicked off with a funky, upbeat opener and sick bass playing from Morriss. The second track was a power ballad with a touch of spoken-word comedy at the end. The band played their music really straight, but they were in on the joke, as Smade ended the rock opera repeating, "I believe in love after life," before jumping into Cher's "Believe," which the crowd ate up.

Scott Hessel (Gin Blossoms), Michael V. Cornelius (Father Figures, JFA), Amelia Kestner (Amelia), Raquel Willand (Panic Baby), and Jessica Tindal (TINDAL MUZIC) combined to form the punk-ish Something About Love. Kestner, Willand, and Tindal opened their set singing the band name a capella, in harmony — all three traded vocals and added musical layers throughout the set. Something About Love was clearly having fun with the experience, which was made obvious by their silly, but melancholy, second song about a robot with an ankle tattoo. Impressive bass lines, courtesy of Tindal, cut through the punk-like vocals and brought an element of funk to the set. The group performed "Tainted Love" as their cover, which fit the theme of their music on fitting in and love well.

The show was packed full of people.EXPAND
The show was packed full of people.
Jim Louvau

Lil' Hack delivered the most distinct sound of the night, with Brian Champ (Coyote Tango, Greeley Estates), Mark Glick (AJJ), Anna C. (Willetta), Brenden McBride (Wyves, Hyperbella), and Tru Vonne, whose stage name is styled as T R U VO N N E.

Vonne fronted the group, and her soulful vocals inspired the bluesy sound of the band. Vonne's almost guttural, almost screaming singing was accompanied by great musicianship, especially from McBride, who shredded a guitar solo in one of the band's original songs. Lil' Hack performed "Pony" by Ginuwine as their cover. While they played the song pretty traditionally, there was something subversive and interesting about Vonne singing the nasty song, which is typically performed by a man. Vulnerability drove the last song, and Vonne clearly was giving a lot as she was repeating, pleading "Baby come home," to finish out the set.

The final band came with the most star power.

Roach Tank consisted of Jordan Tompkins (Twin Ponies, OO, Dent), Tom Linton (Jimmy Eat World), Nicole Laurenne (The Darts, The Love Me Nots), Gabo (Fayuca), and Jack Vanderpol (Sunday At Noon). Considering Linton's success — being a member of, arguably, Phoenix's most established band that's still together — Roach Tank could've brought him front and center. However, Linton's presence was egoless, and he often took backup to Vanderpol's impressive lead guitar playing.

One of the most exciting parts of the night was when the two dueled with brief solos in one of the group's original songs. Laurenne fronted the group and did most of the singing with a lot of energy, but she mostly floated on top of really strong, full instrumentals. Roach Tank didn't take themselves too seriously as they composed songs about envelope glue ("I'll stick to you like envelope glue") and covered the Reading Rainbow theme song in the style of The Doors.

Overall, the 2018 Phoenix Rock Lottery made for an impressive night, showcasing the talents of individuals in the local scene. None of the musicians have performed in the Rock Lottery before, but everyone appeared to be having a blast. And that was apparent through the performances and music. What each group pulled together was impressive, and all five bands had memorable moments that you had to be there to truly appreciate.

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