Battle of the bands events usually suck, but Zombo's is the Worst | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Battle of the bands events usually suck, but Zombo's is the Worst

If you've ever attended or played in a battle of the bands, you're probably well acquainted with both the earnest striving and bitter resentment they often foster. Theoretically, bands who play these are trying to be the best, the most popular, the greatest in the land. With the First Annual Battle of the Worst Bands in Pittsburgh, taking place Sat., July 11 at the 31st Street Pub, that idea gets turned on its head.

"I keep hearing 'the best,' 'the best,'" says Zombo, the DJ, jack-of-all-trades and owner of Zombo Gallery in Lawrenceville. "Well gee, everybody likes bad, too: karaoke, watching the beginning of American Idol."

Zombo kicked around the idea for years, and while "some people just come up with really good bad ideas and never pursue them," acting on his has "been the story of my life," he jokes. "Whenever you get into any kind of entertainment ... one person's garbage is another person's delight," he adds. (When he first posted a craigslist ad soliciting competitors, it was flagged as a fake.)

Competing for bragging rights and a trophy in the shape of "a golden turd" are eight groups, each playing a 20-minute set. There's The Hillbilly Varmints, reuniting after 10 years, which Zombo describes as "goofy comedy white-trash stuff"; on the other end of the spectrum, The Bloated Sluts was thrown together just for the battle. There are also The Jim Dandies, The Nifty Two, one-man band D.J. Gauche, The Wakening ("a surf-rock zombie band") and The Botched. And no event like this could be complete without musical prankster Tommy Amoeba.

In the master of ceremonies role will be Jay Thurber, a WRCT radio host, doing his best "huckster, snake-oil, used-car salesman," says Zombo. And instead of using judges, winners -- if such a term really applies here -- are determined by audience ballots, thrown at the bands at the end of each set. Sound capricious? It's supposed to be.

Whether it's a band-battle, a beauty pageant or a juried art show, says Zombo, "There's always an element of unfairness" or subjectivity. At this battle, "The unfairness is right in the audience's hands, which I think it great. The element of unfairness is, [the audience] can buy more votes -- just like a democracy!"

While the goal is ostensibly to identify the "worst" band in Pittsburgh, it seems more about embracing a kind of trashy, comic aesthetic. "If something is really awful, you're going to hate it so much you're not going to vote for it," Zombo notes.

"This is kinda Andy Kaufman bad, rather than Gong Show bad."

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