Rock Lottery, that venerable live music experiment that has been raising money for good causes in cities like Denton, TX, New York City and Seattle has finally made its debut in Los Angeles. After 800 musicians and over 150 unique one-and-done bands, the program has finally been brought the city that everyone in the audience, after being egged on by hosts Kevin Barnett, Josh Rabinowitz and Ed Larson, agreed was “the best.” Proceeds from the event went to benefit Inner-City Arts, a organization based in Downtown LA’s Warehouse District that offers students a safe creative space to explore their talents.
For those in the know, Rock Lottery is a pretty special event, showcasing the sheer musical talent of the participants. At 10 AM on Saturday, February 10, 25 musicians drew names from a hat, creating five bands. Because every band needs a drummer, the drummers were assigned the designation “team captain,” ensuring there was no more, no less than one drummer per band. The groups that would be formed from this serendipitous arrangement on the 10th would go on to be called Salem Sluts, Paradise, The Smoking Nurses, Gene’s Jacket and Red Nephew. On the 11th, they would be known as the former Salem Sluts, former Paradise, former The Smoking Nurses, former Gene’s Jacket and former Red Nephew – with the exception of that final band, who played until the early minutes of the 11th.
It was a long show, with each band playing between 3-4 songs per set, and a good 20 minutes in between sets. By the time Red Nephew finished up their first and last set ever, the audience had witnessed a cavalcade of styles, from outlaw country to post-hardcore, radio-ready pop-rock to avante-garde. Artists provided inspiration in ways unexpected and though it was obvious by the laughs and smiles of the musicians, some of the performances weren’t exactly as rehearsed, the audience was none the wiser. Plus, as was mentioned on stage, if the songs were great, they’ll never be played again and if they suck, they’ll never be played again.
First up was the Salem Sluts, who with lead singer Tiffany Preston may have had the most “cool” factor of the bands performing on Saturday night. She offered up an Karen O-esque vocal treatment while Chelsea Davis of 30 Seconds to Mars and Alex Estrada of Silver Snakes pounded away a post-hardcore churn a la Drive Like Jehu. The band’s first song was a bit of a slow jam, something a listener may expect the house band at the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks. The band, which also included Evan Weiss of Sparks and Junk and Ryan Wilson of Division Day, closed out their four song set with a clever cover of Patti Smith’s only real big commercial breakthrough (and subsequently re-capitalized upon by Adult Contemporary radio after 10,000 Maniacs covered it for MTV Unplugged), “Because The Night.” Salem Sluts took Smith’s original song and made it even more experimental, with a bit of an aggressive flourish from the band’s guitarist and drummer.
Next was the simply-monikered Paradise. Despite their relatively bland band name, they offered one of the most explosive on-stage sets of the night. This band consisted of marquee performers like Mikal Cronin, who is known for his own solo career as well as being an integral part of Ty Segall’s band. Co-MVP (Most Valuable Performer) of the night undoubtedly went to Andrew Martin of Moon Honey, who offered up the passion and sexy slink of a young Keith Richards. Also playing a major role in the band’s sound was a pink-haired Matthew Stolarz of The Active Set and Ammo of Brass Box – the two offered up a dynamic male/female vocal delivery that brought home their rough-sounding power pop. Cronin spent considerable time on the saxaphone, giving a great performance that unfortunately would be outshined by the sax superstar that would be a part of the most experimental band of the night, The Smoking Nurses.
Much of the audience was there to witness someone who was already well-regarded in the jam and improvisational music scene, none other than the legendary Mike Watt of Minutemen fame. After the tragic demise of his original band, which were well on their way to becoming one of the most important bands in underground rock history, he’s spent considerable time with his own bands as well as one-off experiments, plus an appearance in bands like the Stooges and his most recent group Big Walnuts Yonder with members of Wilco, Tera Melos and Deerhoof. His band, The Smoking Nurses, turned much of their sound towards highlighting other members of the band like Jared Tankel of The Budos Band, Patty Schemel of Hole and Upset, Kelcey Ayer of Local Natives and Charlie Overbey of The Broken Arrows, Deadbolt and Custom Made Scars.
They began their set with a bit of a theme song for the night and though it had no name that we’ll ever know of, it may as well have been called “Rock Lottery.” Again, we have no idea who influenced what in terms of writing these songs but this one seemed to have Watts fingerprints all over it, with a steady bass groove and the one-liner lyrics, repeating “Rock Lottery” over and over. The band’s next song put the limelight on Ayer – the song was driven by his keyboard playing, with a tone that matched a traditional piano and light vocals that gave the band an avante-garde pop sound. It’s hard to talk about any of the songs that The Smoking Nurses played without mentioning Tankel’s performance on the saxophone. The length and power of his notes brought this never-gonna-happen supergroup’s sound to another level. Coloring this entire performance is Overbey, whose acoustic guitar and obvious outlaw-country leanings gave the band’s sound a spaghetti-Western feel. A group that features so many outstanding talents had to conclude the set the way The Smoking Nurses did. The bizarro jazz-western group gave each member a chance to perform a lengthy solo, with Watt’s concluding with such power that it knocked his glasses off (of course he caught them and didn’t miss a note).
For music fans seeking a group from Rock Lottery that could legitimately make popular music, look no further than band number four, Gene’s Jacket. The band featured Brian Kelsey of Joseph, Roger Brogan of Spectrum (UK) and Luna, Leslie Stevens, Christian Owens and the star of their set, Jake Courtois of Patients and Courtois. Despite his rough-around-the-edges aesthetic with a shaved head and face tattoos, Courtois guided Gene’s Jacket to the most pop-oriented set of the night. The band opened with a fun, short song which introduced each of the members and what instrument they’d be performing on stage. There was plenty of complexity to the band’s music, which had a power-pop feel aided by Courtois trading off vocals with his female counterpart Leslie Stevens. Remember how Andrew Martin of Moon Honey was co-MVP of the night? He shared those honors with Mr. Courtois, who is definitely an artist to keep an eye out for.
Closing out the evening was Red Nephew – a reference to one of the band member’s Republican-leaning family member – which featured David Clifford of Red Sparowes, Joe McGary of Pop Noir, Max Berstein (who has performed with Kesha and Demi Lovato), Kaitlin Wolfberg (who as performed with Moby and Jackson Browne) and frontman David Pacheco of Thee Commons. They band concocted a Latin-influenced guitar-pop sound, unsurprising considering the influence of Pacheco’s band Thee Commons. Unlike some of the other bands who actually named their songs, Pacheco admitted they only called their repertoire “Song #1,” “Song #2,” “Song #3” and “Song #4.” Well, that much wasn’t quite accurate since the final song of the night was a cover of Joy Division’s classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Ironic, considering a love of music was actually what brought all of these lucky music fans and high-caliber musicians together to raise money for Inner-City Arts.