Let’s agree – or agree to disagree – that popular music, as we know it today, began with the birth of rock n’ roll in the 1950’s. In fact, why don’t we go one step further, and say that the father of modern music is Elvis Presley. (And yes, I know that isn’t necessarily true. Bear with me here, I’m trying to develop a theme.) Aside from Elvis’ notorious swiveling hips, what was he known for back in the day? Well, young Elvis was a bit of a rebel. He had slicked-back hair, weird dance moves, and was widely accused of turning youngsters into anarchistic rock n’ rollers. Ever since then, the notion of one who performs popular music has been that of someone who’s a little bit bad. A little bit dirty. One who swims against the tide. A rebel, in short. And oh, there’s plenty of rebelliousness brewing in the bands this week. If you think it comes off as pouting, self-delusional denial – well, maybe it does, but remember - that bad attitude has its roots in the very beginnings of pop music.
As host Dominic Bowden didn’t see fit to tell us last week how the voting thing was going to work, here’s the deal: all 12 bands are waiting anxiously in the green room, and all have presumably chosen an original song, and spent the last week practicing their cover song by the week’s featured artist. This week, the bands will be travelling down the yellow brick road so famously paved by Elton John and his longtime songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin. According to the voting results from last Friday, only 10 of these 12 bands will perform tonight. Dominic will announce the 10 bands one by one, and when a band is called, they will perform their two songs. This means that the two bands going home will have to wait until the end of the show to learn their fate. If you think that’s harsh, keep in mind it’s no worse than your local club’s Battle of the Bands, of which many, if not most, of these acts are veterans.
Dominic duly gives the judges’ intro. John Rzeznik’s hair is pure tousled perfection tonight, and he shows his own little rebel streak as he bitches about the boos he received from the studio audience last week, then smirks that “everyone is entitled to their wrong opinion”. Sheila E channels her American Idol counterpart, giving a verbal seal clap to the bands and mouthing some meaningless words of encouragement to those that will be leaving tonight. Ian “Dicko” Dickson shrugs off Dominic’s “who will be going home”? query, refusing to hazard a guess. Way to stick your neck out there, Dicko. Where’s Simon when you need him?
After a reminder from Dominic that the order the bands are called out to perform doesn’t reflect the number of votes they actually received, he makes himself look like a big fat liar by calling out Sixwire first. The producers have decided on the same idiotic question for all the bands tonight in the pre-recorded video intro, which is, “How did you decide on your band’s name?”. Personally, I would have preferred, “What is your quest?” If you answer, “
To seek The GrailTo change the face of pop culture with our totally unique brand of music”, The BridgekeeperDominic lets you pass. If you answer, “Girls and free hallucinogens!” you get thrown off the Bridge of Death. Ah, but I don’t get to ask the questions now, do I? So for those of you that actually care – Sixwire was supposed to be named The Remnants, but for some reason there were too many bands with that name, so they decided to call themselves after their nickname for a guitar.
Whew. Took a long time to get there, didn’t it? On to the music. Sixwire’s original song is called “Gotta Get Away”, and as is to be expected, it’s more nouveau country, this time paying homage to early Eagles, particularly in the vocal harmonizing. And like the Eagles, it’s not particularly brilliant stuff, but extremely well-executed. These guys are future money in the bank for 19 Entertainment. Their Elton John/Bernie Taupin cover is that old Idol standby, “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”. Listen, I know Sixwire is country, and that they’re bound to countrify every cover they have to do. This particular song could have been Southern-fried and not butchered, but the sad truth is, Sixwire’s version is sludgy and uninspired. It’s disappointing, but the judges are still on the Sixwire train – John claims they’re dominating everything, Sheila likes their consistency and likens them to “a warm blanket – I love the way you cuddle me”. Rrrooowr. Looks like Sixwire is not only the yummy mummies’ choice, but the cougars’ pick as well. Dicko, perhaps tiring of the unending tongue bath the boys have been receiving, tries for a little constructive criticism, advising frontman Andy to be more of, well, a frontman, rather than blending in so much. Andy nods and tells Dicko that the band takes all comments from the judges to heart. Easy to do when they’re all positive.
Très Bien!’s first band name was Touring Main, making their current name sound positively inspired in comparison. Their original song is “How I Feel”, and though the band’s playing is a little weak, the song has a fabulous feel and energy. The boys are definitely on the right track – about 2,367 more hours of rehearsal and they’re all set. The John/Taupin cover is “Love Lies Bleeding”, a horrid song choice (and there is NO excuse for poor choices tonight, what with the massive songbook the bands had to choose from). The musicianship is even more lacking, and the arrangement sounds ragged. John loves the original, calling it “’60’s garage-punk” – I wonder how many nights he stayed awake this week to come up with that? – and prefers the frontman without his guitar. Translation: we don’t need another crappy guitarist in the mix, please just sing and leap about the stage to distract us from the overall weak playing. Sheila agrees with John, while Dicko tells the band not to steal from the Yardbirds so much. Whaaaaat? Dicko, the Yardbirds included such guitar luminaries as Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page. You should not mention the Yardbirds in the same sentence as Très Bien! I feel queasy doing it myself.
Wrong answer. Off the bridge with you!
The actual Franklin Bridge is the bridge that connects Philadelphia and New Jersey. The band Franklin Bridge “bridges” the musical forms of R&B and rock. This band is definitely ready for stardom – they’ve already got their canned responses to insipid questions down pat. FB’s original is “Love’s Fool”, featuring splendid dueling guitars, and some interesting vocal arrangements. It also seems to cut off abruptly – I know there’s a time limit, but please, guys, you had a week to practice finishing off the song seamlessly. Their cover choice is “Philadelphia Freedom” (groan) but it’s not bad – the boys make it their own by adding some funky riffs, and the audience eats it up. John attempts to tell FB that he wanted to hear all of their original song, but the studio crowd misunderstands and catcalls him violently. John, who’s already shown his own thin skin for criticism, snaps at the audience “Don’t boo my ass!” (well, consider that hearing teen girls boo must be a whole new experience for John), and goes on to explain to FB that he wanted to hear the whole song because he liked it. Sheila is still on the Franklin Bridge love train, but gently reminds them that “less is more”. Dicko refuses to pussyfoot around, though, and bluntly tells the band that they must stop over-arranging their songs. Frontman Kurt smirks and drawls, “I dunno, man…I think the ladies love it”. Ecstatic screams from the audience ensue, and Dicko shrugs and smiles. But you know he’s tossing them off the edge of the Bridge of Death in his imagination.
A good time in the country
The next – and arguably most deserving – band to be called is The Clark Brothers, who considered calling themselves Sassafras or Shotgun Wedding. I had to google “sassafras”, and discovered it’s a type of tree. But it’s kind of a cool word, I suppose. Fortunately, the boys settled on the more obvious “Clark Brothers” (less is more, remember). Their original is “Country Time”, but don’t let the title fool you – this isn’t the country-pop pap you hear from the Toby Keiths and Faith Hills, nor is it the nasally twang and tears-in-my-beer stuff of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. The Clark Brothers’ music is hard to define, but it may be that they’re on their way to creating their very own genre. And it’s very, very, very good. The John/Taupin song they’ve chosen is “Country Comfort”, and it’s by far the best cover of the evening. Austin – or is it Ashley? – does a fabulous job of capturing Elton John’s evocative vocal style, yet manages to not actually copy it. The judges give thumbs-up across the board – John loves the original and claims the cover gave him goosebumps, Sheila also thinks the cover is great and likes that they showed some versatility, and Dicko echoes their comments. A pleasure as usual, boys.
This ain’t no Hannah Montana show
So from whose brainchild came the name of “Light of Doom”? The youngsters have no clue. Seriously. When asked, they stare vacantly at the interviewer off camera and mutter, “uh…I dunno.” Let’s just say it sounded cool and heavy metal-ish and leave it at that. I hadn’t even stopped tittering over that when the boys announced their original song is also called “Light of Doom”. Is the song utter silliness and full of egomaniacal guitar riffing? Of course it is, but for heaven’s sake, they’re twelve. They have nowhere to go but up. And in their favor is the obvious fact that they’ve been practicing hard – it’s startling how accomplished their playing is. Could it be that these tweeners can actually compete on an even field with the grown-ups? Apparently so, even though frontman Erik stumbles over Bernie Taupin’s name. The boys are going with Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”, another inspired song choice. You can’t not have a good time playing this song, and the kids put their heart into it and do a respectable job of the classic. John is blown away by LOD once again, telling them they get better each week, and “peeled the paint” off the cover song. Sheila cheers and tells the boys they rocked, but Dicko proves to be the voice of doom, saying that LOD still feels like a gimmick. He’s rightly booed for his remarks – if nothing else, this hardworking bunch of kids deserves some constructive criticism – and Sheila points out that LOD took his advice from last week and put on shirts. To the relief of mothers everywhere.
A quieter, gentler Adam
Adam, as it’s impossible to forget, is the omnipotent presence that is Dot Dot Dot. He cops to swiping the band’s name (one of the better ones in the competition) from a former student of his, albeit with the student’s permission. DDD’s original song is “Stay”, and it’s about five hundred times better than last week’s debacle. It has a definite ‘80’s emo sound, and though Adam has toned down his stage presence, he still steals the stage from his bandmates. He then turns in a surprisingly good vocal performance on “Your Song”, treating the classic with utmost respect, yet still managing to put his own spin on it. Am I referring to DDD as “Adam”? Well, yes I am, because let’s be honest – this band is ALL about Adam. Is it a bad thing? Seeing as this is a band competition, yes. It’s not the reason they won’t win – they’re outclassed by several of the other groups – but if this band ever does succeed, it will only do so because of Adam. John is pleased with the stepped-up effort this week, but Sheila wants Adam to calm down onstage even more, as she feels his vocals suffer when he’s too physical. Dicko is displeased with what he refers to as Adam’s “affectation” of putting his hand behind his back, and Adam shamefacedly admits he doesn’t know what to do with his hands when they’re not applying makeup.
Or, it’s a mule that drinks whiskey
Cliff Wagner and The Old No. 7 have the best band name ever, because they have the best story behind it. They named it after Jack Daniels whiskey, but in the event that might offend someone, the “real” story is that they named the band after Grizzly Adams’ mule. Cliff tells it a lot better though, trust me. The original is “Little White Chapel” - dedicated to Britney Spears! – and it’s more of that fine traditional bluegrass with some nifty banjo-picking courtesy of Cliff. The lyrics are a hoot, too. The guys hit a home run with the cover choice of “Honky Cat”, a song that lends itself perfectly to Cliff and co.’s style. If I hadn’t been taking notes, I would have got up, grabbed a beer, and started to dance. John enthuses that Cliff and the boys are the “funnest” band in the whole competition, and compliments Cliff on his storytelling skills. Sheila says they’re “as smooth as moonshine”, and Dicko reverses his position from last week and chuckles that the original song was as much fun as a classic Benny Hill sketch – then gives the boys a little icing on their cake, saying that their cover version would certainly put a smile on Sir Elton’s face.
Shut up and learn your lesson, mug
The backstory behind The Muggs’ name is so dull I can’t be bothered to recount it in detail – suffice to say that “mug” is a term of endearment/derision/camaraderie between the band members. Their original, dedicated to Howlin’ Wolf, no less, is “Should’ve Learned My Lesson”. If you like The Muggs’ brand of hard-driving guitar rock, then you’ll like this song. I’ve been trying to think of who The Muggs sound like, and it finally came to me – Budgie. Never heard of them? No worries - only a true metalhead has heard of Budgie, a slightly-known ’70’s blues-metal band from Wales, and I invoke their name for the simple fact that their singer sounds exactly like Muggs’ frontman Dan. Now you have a better idea of why Budgie remained “slightly-known”. Still, the original song is great guitar-hero fodder, and there’s no reason to start disliking The Muggs if you’ve been a fan thus far. So much for the good news. The cover song is “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”, and sure enough, Dan’s vocals manage to induce a severe case of said blues. They’re actually shockingly bad – I know this isn’t AI, but none of the top 10 TNGAB vocalists should sound like a “worst-of” Idol audition clip montage. John loves the original song, claiming it sounds like Led Zeppelin and Motorhead smashed together (a rather backhanded compliment, if you’ve ever heard Lemmy Kilmister), but kindly calls the cover a “poor choice”. Sheila remarks that while they’re an amazing rock band instrumentally, she strongly advises Dan to change the key to suit his voice. Dan, in a stunning display of dimwitted bravado, jeers at Sheila and tells her that while she may not ever like his singing, she’ll get used to it. Dicko, possibly resenting Dan’s rebellious attitude, calls the performance “tuneless rubbish”, and tells them to seriously consider adding a singer and becoming a four-piece. Because no one really wants to “get used” to Dan’s vocal style.
The reason blonde jokes are so popular
Rocket manages to squeeze into the top 10 just under the wire, and how did they come up with their oh-so-original band name? Why, it just popped out of the bubbly blonde head of lead singer Lauren. Another thing that has possibly come out of the head of Lauren is the band’s original, “Future Ex-Boyfriend”. Yes, it’s a little obvious with its cutesy lyrics, but the band’s solid playing and the anthem-like nature of the song are in its favor. The only glaring weakness is Lauren’s vocals, which weren’t great last week, but are bordering on awful this time out. Again with the obvious – the girls are going with “Rocket Man”, one of Elton & Bernie’s finest efforts, and not surprisingly, they’ve put a punk edge on it. It’s a clever arrangement, as it keeps the melody recognizable yet puts a firm grrrl band stamp on it – in fact, it might have been great, except for Lauren’s singing. The first few bars send her vocals into not just awful, but gawd-awful territory, and I can’t understand why she would attempt a song that’s so out of her reach vocally. John praises the original but slams Lauren’s vocals, explaining that while she doesn’t need to be perfectly in key, she needs to find the conviction in her singing. Sheila is also impressed with the girls’ songwriting ability, but call the vocals outright horrific. Lauren takes huge offence at the criticism, and I truly hope this girl doesn’t honestly think her singing was actually good. Worse, I don’t think she understands what John means by “conviction”. Dicko sharply tells Lauren that as frontman, much of the responsibility lies on her shoulders, and she should stop whining about the judges’ critiques and get some vocal coaching. If that isn’t enough to convince her, the fact that Fifi Larue is holding up a Rocket banner in the audience should.
Who’s still standing
Only three bands remain in the green room – The Likes of You, The Hatch, and Denver and The Mile High Orchestra. Each judge has differing opinions of who’s going on, and it turns out Sheila has the crystal ball tonight, as her pick, Denver and TMHO, are the final band to be called up. Dominic gives TLOY and The Hatch a quick chance to bid the fans adieu, and The Hatch’s Sean bitterly remarks that he “would say that America has spoken, but it’s more like 300 people in Nebraska have spoken”. Yeah, and they thought you sucked too, buddy. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, and sorry all that money you spent on Crest Whitestrips turned out to be a waste. TLOY are more gracious in defeat, saying they will remain a band and continue to fight the good fight. I’m just grateful we didn’t have to sit through TLOY’s singer unleashing his falsetto on “Tiny Dancer”. Come on, you know he was going to.
Well, no further time for losers, so on to Denver and TMHO. The name, Denver says, is the best they could come up with – aw, it’s not so bad, guys. Also not so bad is their original, “All Night”, which is a little bit funk, a little bit Latin, a little bit big-band, and a lot ‘70’s AM radio-sounding. They opt to cover “I’m Still Standing”, and although they’re very, very tight musically, their cover version sounds like something that’s playing in a Vegas nightclub. John thinks they’re amazing, and Sheila lauds the horn arrangements. Dicko warns them of going “offbeat” too soon, but doesn’t press the issue - frankly, the judges all sound like they’ve had enough tonight and just want to hit the hotel bar.
In fact, the carton of wine in my fridge is looking pretty good at this point. Next week, get into your New York state of mind, because the featured artist is Billy Joel. I’m thinking this is going to be the challenge of Light of Doom’s young lives. Don’t worry, lads – we like you just the way you are.
Anyone got an old record player? I need to dust off my copy of 52nd Street. PM me.