Friday, December 11, 2009

Gig: Rock Lottery

The Third Annual Toronto Rock Lottery

Sneaky Dee's. Saturday, November 28, 2009.

A local tradition now in its third year, the Toronto Rock Lottery does about exactly what its name implies. In the morning, twenty five local musicians gather and put their names in a hat, drawing out five brand-new bands with five members each. These bands have all day to come up with a twenty minute set of new material — and maybe one cover. Depending on the range of participants assembled, the resulting insta-bands could be almost anything — or several things all at once. Organized by the community-mined Jane Duncan, the event is a fund-raiser for the Regent Park School of Music, providing music lessons for kids who can't afford them — and hopefully training a future crop of lottery participants.

Now, fortunately, the definitive article on this event has already been written by Melody Lau of The Singing Lamb, so all I need is to throw up some audio samples and a few annotations. Such as to note that the night had a surprise celebrity compère, Edmonton's poet laureate Cadence Weapon, who came off like Krusty at a random beauty pageant, grabbing the drink tickets first and then asking, en route to the stage, what he was there for. He did a nice job, filled with goofy fabricated factoids as he introduced each band.

It's pretty amazing to think that this event has featured a different cast of players every year, attesting to the depth of the talent pool that there is to draw from. And on this night, there were even a handful of competing gigs, drawing from the same set of musicians that might have been taking part. That might also have accounted for a slightly smaller crowd this time out, with plenty of open space at the back of the room while the bands were on stage.

Just a quick note: with twenty-five musicians pitching in, there's no way I could keep up and give nearly as much individual credit where due for individual flourishes, so my apologies for not being more specific more often on the who-did-what score. As for trying to figure out who everybody involved was, I did some quick googling around, and some helpful stilleposters pitched in to the lists below. But feel free to comment on any mistakes or omissions. Also, I was standing just close enough to the stage that I could usually fit about four people on stage into my pictures so sorry to those that got cut off.

First up were Seductron1, who started off fusion-prog-disco, made a side-trip into cod-reggae, and ended with a the funk-metal breakdown of "Relax, It's Just Sex". Setting a high standard of musicianship for the following bands, the five were impressively tight. I'd commented before that the litmus test of a Rock Lottery band is this: are they as good as a random opening act that you wander in on at any other gig that you go to? These guys definitely had the chops, and carried themselves like they'd been tasked with serious work — but like they could pull this off any night. After their first song, someone beside me turned to their neighbour and asked, "is your band this good?" which is a pretty good indication. A solid start to the night.

Listen to a track from this set here.

The plaidest of them all, The Beta Males2 came out of the gate playing some well-formed songs, even having some impressively credible lyrics — always the hardest thing to throw down at short notice. A particularly multi-polar beast, they actually had the vibe down of a band that hadn't quite decided on one sound yet, and sounded a bit like a different band on every song, from jangly to alt-countryish, to a shouty, spazzy new-wave one (that included a banjo breakdown in the middle) to a moody one. Their five-song set included some pretty fleshed-out songs, a couple of which would surely be a credit to the setlists of these guys' regular bands.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Presenting like an almost-too-precious art rock band, Zecond Two Nuns3 ended up being enormous fun. The evening's champion banterers, they focused their work on three songs, but still pretty much filled out their set, starting off with a Gameboy-powered instrumental featuring sax and clarinet, which turned out to be better conceptualized and executed than a few actual bands I've seen this year doing the same sort of thing. The introspective "Life Fucking Sucks" was sardonically introduced with an "all right, this song is for the kids of Regent Park". Turning to the world around them for lyrical inspiration, they ended their set with a song about those low, low introductory finance rates on furniture that turn out not to be such a deal in the long run on the epic "You Really Give Me Those Low Prices (Mama Help Me)". Zany but effective stuff.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Heroine Spoon & The Hot Knives4 had the strongest female representation on the night, as well as the strongest flute presence. Containing the contrasting vocal styles of Daniel Lee's smooth croon and Dee Prescott's throaty howl on the first couple songs, the band then upped the ante, reaching out a real-life incident for inspiration with a poignant song about stepping in poo. That was followed by one that would have been a credible little roots rocker, were it not for the barbed title "It Ain't So Hard Being Blue Rodeo". The set ended with the group gathered at the front of the stage for a rousing a capella cover of James' "Laid", to screaming acclaim.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Last up were Girly Drink Drunk5, whose name, I profoundly hope, was inspired by this. Burdened with the longest gap between coming up with their songs and performing them, they still managed a well-constructed layered sound, leading off with the proggiest song I've ever seen Mantler sing. Playing last suited their late-night sound — you could easily imagine hitting a bar just before last call and hearing these guys playing to a room full of melancholic drunks on their "lounge sexytime number". And then a lurch through a slightly haphazard powerpop rock anthem and it was all done.

Listen to a track from this set here.

All told, a very well-executed event. On stage, the changeovers were relatively quick, and I was pleased that it all wrapped up at one a.m. on the nose. Kudos, too, for there being very good sound throughout — no easy task with a series of un-soundchecked bands taking the stage. Hopefully the tradition will only gather strength and keep rolling next year — and maybe even get more audacious in mixing in a few more musicians from outside the indie-rock bubble.

1 Seductron:

Ashley Beattie (Provincial Parks, Sunday Night Live house band at Comedy Bar)

Evan Davies (Now Magazine, ex-Republic of Safety, ex-Death And The Deadly Dying Dead)

Paul Weadick (Danger Bay, ex-Entire Cities, ex-Forest City Lovers)

John Zaniol (session guitarist, ex-Parade?)

Lane Halley (Fullspeed Velocipede)

2 The Beta Males:

Kurtis Marcoux (???)

Adam White (The Reason)

Kevin Sasaki (ex-Gravity Wave)

Eric Woolston (Friendlyness and the Human Rights, All Day Breakfast, Maylee Todd and Pegwee Power, Hooded Fang)

JM McNab (Key Witness, solo artist)

3 Zecond Two Nuns:

April Aliermo (Hooded Fang)

David Dineen-Porter (PDF Format)

Joseph Shabason (Everything All The Time)

David Stein (Key Witness, Boys Who Say No)

Ben Standage (Birds of Wales)

4 Heroine Spoon & The Hot Knives:

Dee Prescott (I Hate Sally)

Lauren Schreiber (No Shame concert series, ex-Gravity Wave)

Liz Schieck (???)

Shawn Jurek (The Primordials, solo artist, freelance Mastering Engineer)

Daniel Lee (Hooded Fang)

5 Girly Drink Drunk:

Stefan Banjevic (The Wilderness of Manitoba, Key Witness)

Chris Cummings (Mantler, Hank)

Steve Kwok (Radius and Helena)

Brendan Howlett (Danger Bay, ex-Henri Faberge & the Adorables, ex-Entire Cities, ex-Gravity Wave, ex-Bloodhöser)

Brojck Edwards (It It, Almonds, Cohen, Colourbook)