I heard something amazing on tonight’s The Next Great American Band. It wasn’t from one of the top 8 bands – though there were some fine moments, which we’re going to re-live in the recap to follow – instead, it was from host Dominic Bowden, America’s newest favorite New Zealander. After announcing that Billy Joel is the evening’s featured artist, Dominic tells us that Billy set attendance records last year at Madison Square Garden, selling out 20,000 seats…12 nights in a row. That’s 240,000 tickets, folks. The guy sold nearly a quarter of a million tickets in less than two weeks, at the same venue. So love his music or hate it – those kinds of numbers deserve some respect.
Something else that’s kind of amazing – not everyone turns in the best cover performance tonight, but none of them are bad enough to make even the great Piano Man cringe. Much.
Big shots, big egos
It’s pretty much the same deal as last week with the performances – there’s 10 bands in the green room, and only 8 will have the opportunity to perform tonight. The show has been pared down to an hour, so the top 8 bands will only perform their Billy Joel cover tune. Dominic intros the judges – floppy-haired Goo Goo Doll John Rzeznik, drummer and house cougar Sheila E., and the portly and perpetually jet-lagged Aussie Ian “Dicko” Dickson. John seems mellower tonight, apparently resigning himself to possible audience catcalls, while Sheila swishes her tail and displays a generous amount of sparkly black-clad cleavage. Keep averting your eyes, Dicko – that’s for the rugged young men of Sixwire, not a grumpy old fart with bad shirts.
Dominic again reminds us the bands are called up in no particular order, and once again makes himself look like a liar by announcing that the first band to perform is Franklin Bridge. Tonight, the bands discuss the crappy nine-to-five jobs that sustain them while they attempt to eke out some small amount of fame and fortune as wanna-be pop stars. FB loftily admits that while menial work like dishwashing was part of their past, they can now support themselves by playing music. Then why turn to reality TV, boys? Unless FB has been jonesing to cover mainstream pop artists who had most of their big hits when the members of Franklin Bridge were in pre-kindergarten.
FB’s cover of choice is “Big Shot”. It starts out with the guitarist channeling a little Montrose, which sounds cool except that it’s totally out of place. However, it quickly morphs into a nice, clean arrangement – a welcome change from their tendency to mash as many sounds together in as short a time as possible – with lead singer Curt putting a neat little R&B spin on his vocals. The boys stick with their heavy guitar sound, but keep it from overwhelming the original song. John enthuses that they nailed it, and made Billy Joel rock. Sheila, surprisingly, is stingy with her praise, and warns FB not to get cocky. Dicko, however, is delighted that the band took his advice and didn’t over-arrange the song, and praises their musicianship. One big ego apparently loves another.
Not right, just wrong
Next to be called up is Cliff Wagner and the Old No. 7, a bunch of old guys with kids that are still stuck working lousy jobs to keep putting food in the mouths of the young ‘uns. They’re still hopeful that they may one day make a living out of playing music, and hey, they seem like nice guys. I hope they succeed, too. Although their cover of “You May Be Right” seems to put that goal just a little further out of reach – they still put a smile on everyone’s face, but their version sucks all the energy and lifeforce out of the Joel original. It’s less like their signature bluegrass sound and more like they’re the house band for Hee-Haw, and for those of you too young to remember Hee-Haw – it’s not a good thing. John claims to love it, but looks disappointed as he says he expected them to “pound it up a bit”. Sheila waffles and then cops out by telling them they did a fantastic job, but Dicko is having none of it. After rudely comparing Cliff to Boss Hogg (pot, meet kettle), he calls the performance “dreary” and sleep-inducing, but the half of the audience that didn’t fall asleep boos him vociferously.
Appearing at your next office Christmas party
It’s a bittersweet victory for Denver and The Mile High Orchestra tonight, as frontman Denver was forced to leave his wife and 2-day-old baby to pursue the band’s dream of
15 minutes of reality TV fameplaying music for a living. I’m inclined to forgive Denver and the boys for their mediocre cabaret cover of “Tell Her About It” – it’s boring, flat, and I suspect chosen solely because the original includes horns – just because they obviously had their rehearsal time cut short due of the birth of Denver’s child. The judges are still on Denver’s train, though John challenges the band to break the boundaries of their (big band) genre. Sheila bubbles that it was fantastic, and while Dicko congratulates Denver on his “newest release”, he delivers a backhanded compliment, telling the guys they could be a “killer corporate act”, doing live shows. Presumably because everyone’s drunk at corporate parties.
Preoccupied with 1985
Dot Dot Dot, not surprisingly, are still slogging away as white-collar slaves by day and only get to wield their guitars and eyeliner by night. They’ve opted to cover “Pressure”, Billy Joel’s 1982 hit. Dot Dot Dot’s 1980’s sound is nowhere near Joel’s ‘80’s AM radio pop, however. The band remains mired in ‘80’s new wave – hell, they even use synthesizers – but turn in a very interesting and listenable arrangement of the song. Frontman Adam is rooted to his spot onstage, but delivers a nice, even vocal. John is pleased, saying it’s a solid interpretation and gives props to the guitarist and bassist. Sheila is delighted that they took the judges’ advice from last week, and Dicko is even more proudly paternal, calling them “terrific” and “very good”, and compliments Adam on his stronger, more energetic vocal performance. Seems Dot Dot Dot’s stock just went up, up, up.
Misogyny is such an ugly word
It’s only fair to make Sixwire wait at least a little while before being called up, after all. Sixwire has also been fortunate enough to be able to earn a living from playing music, but not quite fortunate enough to land their own record deal without having to sell their souls to 19 Entertainment. The country lads are going with “She’s Always A Woman”, and deliver the strongest cover of the night thus far. It’s beautifully done, managing to stay true to the original, but incorporating Sixwire’s lovely Eagles-style vocal harmonies. John gives an unqualified thumbs-up, calling it “awesome” and solid, and Sheila is carried away enough to propose to lead singer Andy. Well, better to snag him before the fame goes to his head. Dicko again sneeringly refers to the “housewives’ choice”, and asks the band why they would choose to cover such a misogynist song. To which I say – only a misogynist would consider Joel’s lyrics to be misogynist. Andy’s response is more tactful, telling Dicko that the band sees the song as “celebrating women’s differences”. Good save, Andy. How can such a nice guy be single? Unless Sheila’s already bought him a ring.
Hope you flip burgers better than you play guitar
They’re young, they’re cute, they’re so nerdy they’re hip, so why be surprised that Très Bien! has garnered enough votes to land a spot in the top 8? Much to the relief of their parents, who’ve likely been burning up the phones lines voting for their progeny, who blew off college and are still living at home while scrounging minimum wage from their restaurant jobs. And how appropriate is it that their cover song is “Movin’ Out”? The young men of Très Bien! have only tweaked the original arrangement, and good on them, as the song’s simple melody is well-suited to their style and sense of fun. If you’re already a fan of this band, this performance won’t change your mind, and if you’re not, then this performance won’t change your mind either. John claims the band is one of his favorites, and though he felt the performance “lacked urgency”, it was still a cool version. Sheila likes them, but pans the guitarist’s solo attempt. Dicko calls the performance “sloppy” and blows them a raspberry while giving them two thumbs down. You don’t need a college education to understand how Dicko feels about them, anyway.
1-866- U Have to love these guys
The Clark Brothers, as discussed in previous shows ad nauseum, were part of an entire family of musicians that had an atypical childhood due to their travelling evangelist dad. The boys rather mournfully recount their growing up, recalling that they “lived on a bus longer than in a house”, but are now grateful for their unusual upbringing. There’s no doubt that their preacher papa turned them into mighty fine musicians – the brothers’ cover of “She’s Got A Way” shows off Ashley’s heartfelt vocals, and features more of their splendid signature work on the doble and fiddle. The performance also shows yet more of the boys’ versatility, as it veers away from the traditional into a more contemporary sound. The judges again have no harsh words for the Clarks – John tells them they “owned” it, Sheila tells them they were outstanding, and even Dicko, usually stingy with praise, calls it “just fantastic” and singles out Ashley as the singer in the competition who is best at putting emotional conviction in his lyrics. Amen, Dicko, amen.
A total stranger to the original
What? We’re there already? Down to the last three bands? Time flies when you cut the show’s running time in half, doesn’t it? For those not paying attention, the 3 remaining bands are The Muggs, Rocket, and Light of Doom. And as it turns out, the viewing audience, in Nebraska and everywhere else, doesn’t care for the sassy backtalk heard from The Muggs and Rocket last week. That, or LOD has as many fans as the shrieks in the studio audience would seem to indicate, because the junior high metalheads are advancing to the next round. Dicko pooh-poohs Dominic’s suggestion that the snarky exchange between frontmen and judges had anything to do with the voting, however, saying that The Muggs and Rocket suffered “death by lead singer”. Their death = music to our ears.
Now don’t worry, the kids of Light of Doom don’t hold down jobs. A couple of them did, however, have to forgo Little League so they could play in the band. Now that’s sacrifice for you – shame on those sissy Clark Brothers for complaining about living in buses and revival tents. LOD is attempting to do the seemingly impossible, by metal-izing Billy Joel’s “The Stranger”. I see someone was rummaging through their grandma’s LP collection again this week. If you’re at all familiar with this song, you will see little to no similarity between the original and LOD’s version. But it’s again time for one of those amazing moments tonight, because although LOD’s cover bears no resemblance to Joel’s classic, it’s not bad at all. In fact, there’s an added bonus tonight – singer Erik, usually the band’s weak link, turns in a very good vocal performance. The kids may not have paying jobs, but their work ethic is obvious, as they continue to improve each week. John chuckles like a proud papa and praises Erik’s vocals, and tells them it was their best performance yet. Sheila is also beaming, pleased that the boys have listened to the judges and that they’re working so hard. Dicko finally caves in a bit, and says that while Erik’s voice isn’t quite there yet due to his age, the older singers could learn a thing from the lad, as he knows what it means commit 100% to the song. Erik grins happily while his bandmates cheer, and LOD closes the show on a high note.
Next week, there’s only one elimination as we find out who made the top 7 – and the competition gets stiffer, as the bands are faced with the new challenge of performing some R&B classics. And here I thought Billy Joel week would be Light of Doom’s biggest challenge.
So where do you go to find a tent revival, exactly? PM me.