So why, on this post-Thanksgiving evening in November – when most of America is slumped on their couches in exhaustion, over-satiated with turkey and Black Friday bargains – does the host of The Next Great American Band, Dominic Bowden, look so animated? Because, my friends, it’s a night of triumph for the ratings-starved show, and not just because the writers are on strike and there’s probably more people than usual watching Friday-night fare. Though those factors likely don’t hurt, the excitement is due to the producers’ ability to score the catalogue of two of the greatest songwriters of our time, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Yes, it’s Rolling Stones night on a reality talent show. Next week – hell freezes over.
Hey! You! Très Bien!
Six bands will be taking the stage tonight, leaving one of the final seven behind. After a brief All Hail to the Stones video (though there’s really no way to properly credit the band’s legacy with a 60-second montage), the bands are shown tackling their choices from the vast Stones songbook. Sixties’ popsters Très Bien! claim that Jagger & Richards “wrote the perfect song for our band”. And so, with a segue so obvious it can’t be ignored, Très Bien! is the first band to be called up this evening. In tonight’s crop of video intros, we get to learn mostly boring stuff about the bands that we didn’t know before. Example: bassist Cody has a titanium jaw. Yeah, that’ll make the girls go wild. Hopefully the band will inspire some wild audience reaction with their version of “Get Off Of My Cloud”. Actually, the boys do deliver a really interesting interpretation of the 1965 hit – it lacks the edge of the original, but Très Bien!’s poppier treatment does no dishonor to Mick & Keith’s vision. Also impressive is lead vocalist Mikey, who doesn’t attempt to copy Jagger in voice or stage style, but is convincing nonetheless. The band has great energy as usual, and the judges are pleased with the evening’s opener – Goo Goo Doll John Rzeznik likes the song choice, but nixes the “Satisfaction” riff snuck in by guitarist Mike C., calling it “too Broadway”. Percussionist Sheila E. (looking particularly stunning tonight in a plunging purple gown and cascading curly hair) enjoyed it, but admonishes Mike C. to ensure his guitar is in tune before performing. Dicko Dickson, music exec extraordinaire, praises Mikey as a “natural and gifted frontman”, and calls the performance “fun and sassy”.
Criticism, it’s a bitch
Who knew big bands had such a loyal following? Denver and The Mile High Orchestra have survived to fight yet another week among their edgier competitors. But if the music thing doesn’t work out, Denver has his celebrity impressions skill to fall back on. It’s not everyone who can do a decent Donald Duck. It’s also not everyone that can do a decent Stones cover, so don’t hate Denver for a Vegas-style rendition of “I’m Free” that would make Wayne Newton proud. If you didn’t catch the performance, imagine that Mick Jagger was a guest on David Letterman, and then imagine what Paul Schaffer’s band’s intro song for Mick would sound like. John thinks the horn arrangement was great, but complains that it sounded “too squeaky clean” and demands to know why Denver didn’t opt to cover “Bitch” (a song with a predominant horn section). Sheila freaks out at John’s use of the word “bitch” – good thing he didn’t suggest that Denver cover “Starf*****” – and Denver goes on the defensive, claiming that their fans like the way they do things. Hmmm…I seem to remember The Muggs, Rocket, and Franklin Bridge making similar comments. I’m sure that was all just a coincidence, though. Sheila leaps to TMHO’s defense, saying she loved the performance, but Dicko derides the effort as a “B-side”, and is critical of the song choice, saying that there’s tons of “blues stuff” in the Stones catalogue that would have suited them better.
This won’t be the last time
Never mind Sixwire’s status as darlings of the 40-something set – they have their dirty little secrets. Drummer Chuck, for instance, toiled as a member of Engelbert Humperdinck’s band. Don’t know who he is? Ask your grandma. There’s also a Trekkie in the bunch, and frontman Andy is an aspiring impressionist as well – apparently he likes cartoon characters too, as he treats us to his Bill Clinton imitation.
Sixwire’s Stones cover is “The Last Time”, and you know that nouveau country band that the housewives have grown to know and love? They’re taking a break this evening, and have been replaced with a hard-rocking unit that shows more animation and energy than we’ve seen in the past three weeks. Sixwire’s version is surprisingly faithful to the Jagger/Richards original, and even includes an indulgent guitar solo that Keith could be proud of. The judges are thrilled that the band has broken out of their doldrums – John exclaims that tonight’s cover was “exactly what I wanted to hear from you guys”, and Sheila is so stoked she wants to hear it again. Dicko applauds and comments that “at last, some masculinity” – in other words? Up till now, the kids of Light of Doom have shown they have bigger balls than you guys.
In fact, they’re a gas
Speaking of! The aspiring metal gods, Light of Doom, are the fourth band to crack the top six, and if they don’t have the best cover tonight, they definitely have the best video intro. Diminutive drummer Mitchell wants to be a SWAT team member if the band thing doesn’t work out. He even practices his sniper moves (firing what I really, really hope is not a real gun) from his treehouse, which actually has a sign on it that says, “No Girls Allowed”. I’m thinking that if the band thing doesn’t work out, this bunch should have their own reality show. Because you just can’t make up stuff this good. Singer Erik plays the saxophone, chosen because “the flute seemed kinda feminine”. Another LOD member is a “freestyle walker”. Yeah, they could definitely fill up an hour every week. But we’re all about the music right now, and LOD has opted to cover “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, a hard-rocking Stones classic with lyrics that a 12-year-old can sing without sounding creepy. Though I don’t know how much Erik’s mom cared for “I was raised by a toothless bearded hag”. The kiddos do their thang once again, and it’s solid musically as per usual, though not my favorite of their performances. Erik seems to lose his way halfway through the song, but the band easily picks up any slack on the vocal front. John chuckles paternally and jokes that “you punks are killing me!”, and suggests that if there’s any more vocal talent among the band members, they should consider adding some harmonies. Sheila agrees, and encourages Erik to bring up the key of the song to suit his voice. Dicko likes that it was more melodic than usual, saying that LOD normally sounds like they’re “fixing to invade Poland”. He also suggests the kids study the Stones as potential role models. That’s musical role models, boys – emulating Keith Richards won’t keep you out of jail or rehab.
The Clarks’ fire is sweepin’
The Clark Brothers, bless their hearts, actually look worried as they sit in the TNGAB green room. Their secrets really aren’t that dirty – Ashley perpetuates his family’s love for alliterative names as he introduces his baby son Asher, and Austin confesses that he moonlights as a real estate agent. Which is, admittedly, a little weird. The Clarks are tackling “Gimme Shelter” (which as it happens is my favorite Stones song). Be warned, Stones purists, because the Clarks’ version bears little relation to the Jagger/Richards recording. Instead, the Clarks take the song to a new level, with unbelievably intense playing that leaves my mouth hanging open in awe. They should be at an extreme disadvantage with no rhythm or percussion section, but somehow the three brothers’ sound fills the stage, and Ashley again turns in a vocal performance that embodies the “commitment” that the judges have espoused since audition day. How commanding was their performance? I say without exaggeration that I had both chills and tears of emotion in my eyes, and for the first time ever I rewound my VCR tape and watched it again for the pure enjoyment of it. Over-the-top reaction? Maybe, but the Clarks also had all three judges on their feet for the first-ever TNGAB standing ovation. John calls them “brilliant” and says “you guys are monsters up there”, and Sheila tells them they’re now the band to beat. Dicko – the first judge to rise to applaud – says that though he’s not particularly religious, he prays to see them onstage each week. To which we can only say – a-men!
Rose, she’s a rainbow
Two bands are left wringing their hands in the green room , the unlikely pairing of Dot Dot Dot and Cliff Wagner and The Old No. 7. Apparently there’s more children of the ‘80’s voting than there are bluegrass fans, and Dot Dot Dot captures the evening’s final top 6 spot. Cliff and the boys are given a hero’s farewell, however – they receive kind words from all three judges and have the opportunity to bid their fans adieu and thank them for their support. Dicko questions Cliff about the band’s future, and Cliff says the experience of having to cover many different musical genres and step out of their comfort zone has broadened the group’s horizons, and they’re excited at the prospect of expanding their sound. A band of gentlemen, if not scholars, and we wish Cliff and the Old No. 7’s the best. Though I won’t miss typing out their very long band name every week.
Much easier to type out is Dot Dot Dot (or better yet, DDD). Once you get past the complicated hairstyles and heavy eye makeup, DDD is a surprisingly dull lot, distinguished mainly by the fact that one member has a rubber duck fetish. And no, it’s not Adam. DDD is going with “Let’s Spend The Night Together”, and though it’s full of energy, it’s also somewhat of a departure from their usual sound, and the band again strongly adheres to the original version. Adam allows himself to posture and pose a little more than in recent weeks, and he now reminds me less of Lucas Rossi than he does of Hedley’s Jacob Hoggard (though Jacob could teach him a thing or two about stage presence). It’s okay but not great, until guitarist Rose rides in to save the day once again with a blazing solo. John likes that DDD is getting “better and better”, and again singles out Rose for her guitar work. Sheila likes it, though complains that Adam is “in and out vocally”, and calls Rose the band’s “secret weapon”. Dicko hems and haws a bit before he awards a grade of B-minus to the performance, disappointed at the keyboardist’s failure to showcase the song’s piano riff, and advises Adam to “command attention – don’t beg for it”.
Next week, the bands are pared down from six to five, and the songs of reality talent-show circuit regular Rod Stewart will be featured. Now there’s a man who still knows how to set housewives’ hearts aflutter – people, get ready for Rod the Mod!
Did Stones week get you some satisfaction? Or did you wish for wild horses to drag you away? PM me.