Let's see: typically lousy February-in-Pittsburgh weather; regular concert-goers struggling with months of accumulated seasonal affective disorder; an annual dry spell for touring acts coming through town. Smells like battle-of-the-bands season, that part of the year in which area promoters and venues keep the lights on by having local acts coax their friends and family out onto the slushy streets and into the clubs.
The venerable Graffiti Rock Challenge called it quits in 2006, and the Rex Theatre's similar event, which debuted that year, is also no more. But there are still venues for local acts to compete for career-bolstering prizes and hometown fame.
Sure, with competing bands urged to hustle tickets to the shows, there's the always-troublesome pay-to-play aspect. But for many unknown bands, it can still be a worthwhile venture onto the city's larger stages -- if only for the learning experience of being sent packing.
Last month, Joker Productions concluded the band battle at Diesel with the finals on Jan. 12; the qualifying rounds had taken place in December. I judged a qualifying round and the finals because, I dunno, it seemed like a civic duty. While some of the finalists were simply baffling (closing a set with a Pearl Jam/Sublime mashup, Audios?), others were fun, and even good -- especially neo-lounge group The Metropolitans, my favorite to win. Yet in the end, ultra-earnest Christian piano-rockers Recession seemingly won the other judges' votes -- and the contest -- by being able to play their instruments and having floppy hair.
WXDX's Winter Rock Showcase just got under way this past Wednesday at the Hard Rock Café, where newbies and vets alike will clash for a grand prize of $1,000, studio time from Treelady Studios, an opening slot at the Station Square Summer Street Jam and some other goodies. For this contest, bands aren't required to sell a set number of tickets, yet the audience's vote counts for 40 percent of the total outcome, so having your fanbase out in force is nearly essential to win.
On Feb. 13, catch Lovebettie, Shattered, Margin Art and Zero Return; on Feb. 20, Recession takes another crack at it, going up against Burning Earth, glam-rock fixtures The Cosmosonics, and '80s-style rock balladeer Anthony Rankin (whose song "Smoke and Mirrors" sounds suspiciously like Bon Jovi). On Feb. 27, The Metropolitans take another crack at rock-challenge gold, with Soul Harmonic, Derek White & The Monophobics and The Hood Gang. The finals are March 7.