Way back, before MTV
ruinedchanged the face of popular music forever, I used to watch an odd little half-hour TV program that featured music videos. The show was hosted by Britt Eklund, a one-time Bond girl and ex-love interest of Rod Stewart – who happens to be the featured artist this week on The Next Great American Band. The weirdest thing about this show (besides the fact that a Canadian network coughed up to air it, albeit on Saturday afternoons), was that Britt featured videos made by – you guessed it – Rod Stewart. Now, this was in 1979 or so, but Rod was a man ahead of the times, because he actually did make videos for “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” and “Hot Legs”. The videos were mostly Rod in spandex leopard-print tights cavorting with leggy blonde models…astonishing when you consider that pretty much describes his current TV appearances, nearly 30 years later. Yep, Rod & I go way back – in fact, it’s been so many years, I’ve gone from Baby Jane to Maggie May. The morning sun when it hits my face – yikes.
And they wear that eyeliner well
This week, the remaining six bands are pared down to the final five that will perform tonight, so you know what that means – filler. Mmmm, delicious, creamy filler – except when it’s like a latté made with skim milk. Then it’s all just whipped-up foam, so insubstantial that it flattens quickly. I mean, we all know FOX hasn’t exactly made their best effort with this show. We know the writers are on strike. And in spite of host Dominic Bowden’s sunny disposition, he can’t banter to save his life. It makes me yearn for Seacrest trading gay jokes with Simon Cowell, really it does. After a desultory introduction of the judging panel, a dull recap of last week’s performances, and a dutiful tribute to Rod The Mod, the bands are shown struggling with their song choices. Struggle? Has Rod Stewart not provided 30-plus years of entries into the Great American Songbook? Apparently his contributions are proving to be a bit too, shall we say, titillating, for Denver and The Mile High Orchestra. One of the TMHO members piously declares that Rod’s lyrics “don’t jive with our beliefs”. If they’re worried about the lyrics of an old fart like Rod, they better hope the producers don’t talk a more current artist into sharing their songbook. *Fingers crossed for a Fergie week.*
The first top five band is Dot Dot Dot, and tonight, we find out what each band’s musical influences are. Darn, and I was so hoping that we’d learn what everyone’s favorite color is. Maybe next week, if the writers’ strike ends. DDD’s influences aren’t what you’d expect – the band members name Genesis and The Beatles, with Adam confessing that Motley Crue’s “Shout At The Devil” album cover influenced his look. (Hey, mine too! From about 1983 to 1987, anyway.) DDD has chosen to cover “Young Turks”, one of Stewart’s early ‘80’s hits. Adam’s opted to play guitar, which has an apparent negative effect on his vocals – they’re disappointingly weak on the song, and Adam sounds almost out of breath at times. Musically, the band is strong, but it’s not one of their better efforts. Rocker judge John Rzeznik, however, lauds the performance as the band’s best yet, saying that the song choice was perfect. Drummer goddess Sheila E. is pleased with DDD’s presentation and energy, but urges Adam to concentrate on his vocals more. Then, having apparently sipped from counterpart Paula Abdul’s Coke glass, she gabbles on about “pockets of energy”, and how they’re bad. Or maybe how they’re good. It’s hard to tell. The audience, a glass half-full sort of crowd, decides it must be bad and boos lustily. Dicko Dickson patiently explains to DDD that “Young Turks” is a song that tells a story, and though the band had great energy, they failed to tell the story. Dicko also dislikes the dual-keyboard setup – which, admittedly, looks as dumb today as when A Flock Of Seagulls did it in 1980-something.
Too sexy for their matching shirts and ties
Denver and The Mile High Orchestra must have as many friends as Light of Doom has family members, because they have once again managed to secure a place in the next stage of the competition. The band counts their parents – among them an orchestra conductor and a piano teacher – as influences. Oh, and Denver claims to be influenced by Huey Lewis. Apparently singing about wanting a new drug isn’t as offensive as hot legs. Go figure. Denver and co. are taking on “Baby Jane” – at least, that’s what they tell us, because their version is (unsurprisingly) unrecognizable from the original. OK, OK, enough Denver bashing. It’s not like they’re the Sanjaya of this competition or anything, right? Listen, the band really is great musically – their sound is crisp, perfectly in tune, and they’re consistent pros. John is pleased that TMHO sounds less “wedding band-ish” this week, and Sheila – unabashedly a TMHO fan – proclaims her love for the group, and then asks them if they find it difficult to find songs that aren’t lyrically at odds with their faith. To which I say – if they’re that devout, why the hell did they agree to be on a show that airs on the FOX network? Dicko claims to have loved the performance – to a point, as it had the right tone and energy level. He doesn’t like that they took the bridge out of the song, however, and smirks that if they have a problem with Rod Stewart, they’re not going to enjoy the Pussycat Dolls theme next week.
Blonde cowboys have more fun
Sixwire’s influences are pretty much what you’d expect, with a couple of oddities thrown in – Glen Campbell, The Beatles, The Moody Blues, Chicago, and the Eagles. And just when I’m thinking that these guys are comfortingly predictable – they tell us they’re going to cover “Hot Legs”. And why shouldn’t they, after all? Sixwire has always featured great guitar playing, and the song does have an awesome riff. Sure enough, the guitarists ham it up accordingly, and Andy looks to be having the most fun of all, singing Stewart’s lyrics with a big grin on his face – he doesn’t have Rod’s sexy dancers wriggling around him, but Sheila E., clad in gold lamé, is shaking it at the judges’ table. It’s another winning performance from the country band – which apparently isn’t really a country band, after all, and indeed, John calls them a “great rock ‘n’ roll band”. He’s displeased with the bass solo, though, which admittedly sounded a bit weird when plonked in the middle of an already stripped-down song. Sheila thinks it was a great arrangement, and defends the bassist, saying that a solo is fine when the boy can actually play. Dicko is pleased with the performance, saying that Sixwire is much better when “you let your hair down”, but admonishes them to never, never do a bass solo again. Judging from the look on the bassist’s face, he never will.
In our hearts, in our souls
The Clark Brothers count bluegrass and gospel music as influences, which is no big surprise for a bunch of kids raised in a revival tent. The Clarks are taking on “You’re In My Heart”, and I curse inwardly, because this is one of the few (OK, one of the many) songs that in its original form, reduces me to a pile of sniveling mush.
I’m not sure what it is, exactly, about the Clarks that make them so compelling. They are extraordinary musicians, true. Perhaps their early experiences have helped to lend a spiritual element to their performances. Or, it’s the utter sincerity that shines through in their playing and Ashley’s vocals. Heck, maybe it’s just their ability to never sound like a band that’s covering another artist’s song. Tonight, the Clarks pare down their already bare-bones acoustic sound, and opt to showcase Ashley’s vocals, which are more evocative and haunting than usual - he even appears to break down slightly at the end of the performance. John is “really moved”, and Sheila, eyes brimming with tears, is unable to speak for a minute. She settles down to tell the boys that “it’s overwhelming what you guys bring here”, and “this is what I’m about”. Dicko says they’ve “brought something magical” to the stage, but asks Ashley why he didn’t play the fiddle (Ashley says he did rehearse with his fiddle, but opted to discard it.) Dicko also suggests that they add more “Clark brothers” to the band, to enhance their sound. The brothers shrug and appear to consider it – if three are this good, then I guess four might be even better.
The real young turks
The two youngest bands, Très Bien! and Light of Doom, remain in the green room, and if the crowd – who are loudly chanting “Light of Doom!” – are any indication, the metal meisters will be the final top five band this evening. And sure enough, Très Bien! is headed home, in the wake of some kind words from the judges – Dicko assures them they’ll go on to get a record deal, John encourages them to hit the road and “go play crappy clubs”, and Sheila verbally pats them on the head, calling them “inspiring and fun”, and reiterates her wish to see them on TV. Maybe they could back up Hannah Montana or something. Très Bien! takes their ouster well, and vows to step up and become a better band.
If you were paying attention at all these past few weeks, you’ll know that Light of Doom counts Iron Maiden as a big influence on their music. They also like The Who, Alice in Chains (yeah!), and drummer Mitchell claims to emulate Tommy Lee – hopefully he’ll stick to the drumming and leave off the wife-beating, drug-abusing, and hepatitis-carrying. Just saying. The youngsters are covering “Infatuation”, and again, can these kids pick songs or what? Vocalist Erik is noticeably more confident this week, and evens enters the crowd to slap a few palms. The boys have also taken the judges’ advice and added Lucas as a backing vocalist – as usual, they do a splendid job musically, and turn in a very listenable version. John beams like a proud papa, and lauds Erik for his improved vocal performance. Sheila congratulates both Erik and Lucas on the vocals, and Dicko, besides being really pleased by their song choice, remarks that Erik’s singing lessons are starting to kick in, and that he’s definitely “beginning to get there”.
Next week, the featured artist will be Brit supergroup Queen, and with only four bands left to perform, one of them could probably get all the way through “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Tune in to see who’ll be the killer queen, and on which band the hammer will fall.
Who wore it well tonight? PM me.