Hollywood is a tough town, but how tough is it for a gaggle of puberty-stricken teenagers, a band of brass-playing Bible thumpers, and a posse of down-home boys who pine for their pickup trucks? Homesickness is running rampant among The Next Great American Band competitors tonight. Sad for them, but even worse for us, because it turns out that missing home also means missing notes, missing vocal ability, missing songwriting skills…did it have to happen on Queen night, guys?
The reluctant rock star
Ah, if only Dominic Bowden could borrow some of Ryan Seacrest’s snark, and not just his tight, shiny suits. Our squeaky-clean host ushers us via video to the newly-annotated “Garnier green room” (for those who don’t have to buy hair-care products in the drugstore, it’s the brand whose past celebrity schills include Sarah Jessica Parker, Katie Holmes, and Heather Graham), where the final five sit, soon to become the final four. Tonight, the bands will be attempting to do justice to The Greatest Male Singer of The Century, and his legendary band, Queen. As we’re down to four bands, each group will do one Queen cover and one original, though the performances will be split American Idol-style, with all four performing the covers in the first half, and originals in the second. The Clark Brothers have taken the judges’ advice and added a bassist and a drummer – though they’re not Clark brothers, alas, only friends from Nashville – and Dot Dot Dot’s Adam admits he hopes to channel Freddie Mercury while performing tonight. He’s even wearing Freddie-ish tight white jeans, and though Adam has a tendency to androgyny, he can’t quite pull them off with the same panache Mercury did. Though in fairness, Freddie Mercury pretty much defined the word “panache”.
The first band up are The Clark Brothers, who mourn their country homes while adrift in the wilds of Los Angeles. At home it’s all trucks and good ol’ boys, they say – and for some reason, they miss that. Ah, well, these are the days of our lives, eh boys? And “These Are The Days Of Our Lives” happens to be their Queen song of choice. Except for some superb fiddle playing from Ashley, the performance is bland country radio until the last 30 seconds or so, when the boys kick out the jams and play like they mean it. The judges, though, are drooling all over it, unanimously delighted that the Clarks added some more band members – John Rzeznik calls it “so amazing”, and Sheila E. deems the performance “fantastic”. Dicko Dickson christens Ashley Clark “the best frontperson in the competition”, and chides him for being a “reluctant rock star”.
Gonna be big men…someday
Light of Doom thinks LA is pretty cool. Turns out that thinking about it is all they can do, because they don’t get to see much of Sin City – their moms have them buckling down to their homework in their spare time. Drummer (and future Disney child star) Mitchell pledges to keep it real, even if the band gets “bigger” – I’m sure he means more popular, though the LOD lads are bound to have a growth spurt or two in the next few years. While hitting the books, the boys have also taken some time out to learn how to hit the drums – the tympani drums, that is, as the four non-drummers in the band pound out the opening notes of “We Will Rock You”. Unfortunately, the effect is spoiled by the accompanying vocals, which are pitifully weak. For the first time, LOD sounds like…a bunch of kids. And it goes downhill from there – their cover is disjointed, suffering from poor arrangement. John is disappointed, telling the kids that the vocals were “really lacking”, and the interpretation was not well thought-out. Sheila says they didn’t come together as a unit, and Dicko comments that although the band has been slowly improving, tonight was just “not cool”. And how much must it hurt to have a guy old enough to be their dad tell them they’re not cool?
My nominee for the next Bachelor
Sixwire’s frontman Andy sets the hearts of countless thirty- and forty-something women even more aflutter than usual, as he admits that he’s divorced, AND a devoted dad who misses his kids. The other guys sadly recount how they miss their wives and kids, but who’s listening after the good-looking one just told us that he’s single? Hopefully the ladies in the audience have settled down enough to listen to Sixwire’s cover of “Fat Bottomed Girls”, though, because it’s two minutes of cheeky (no pun intended) fun from the boys. The combination of Queen’s goofy lyrics and the band’s countrified sound harkens back to early Steve Miller, which may not win you Grammys but should easily sell a few hundred thousand CDs at least. And if the boys aren’t exactly feeling the song, they’re having a fine old time performing it. John loves it, saying that “a lot of awesome things come together” when this group performs, and Sheila is newly enamoured of Andy, fluttering her eyes and purring her approval. Dicko chuckles that the band that was a “bit boring” at the outset of the competition have now found their “inner naughty boys”. Lots of women out there who’d love to punish those naughty, naughty, boys…except they’ll have to step over Sheila to get there.
Christians among the lions
And so, the last band of the final four is – Denver and The Mile High Orchestra, meaning emo popsters Dot Dot Dot are headed home. The studio audience barely manages a round of polite applause, and doesn’t even get the satisfaction of a fare-thee-well from DDD (who wave dejectedly at the camera – poor Adam even appears to be on the point of tears). Speaking of not cool – producers, it’s not cool to punt a top-five finalist from the competition without even giving them a chance to thank their fans. Instead, we hear from TMHO, who also miss their families while grousing that as Christians, they don’t fit in with the godless heathens that populate Hollywood. These guys talk about their religion more than Mitt Romney, don’t they? Well, those on the religious right are no strangers to power voting, after all. If you don’t think that TMHO can win this competition, remember who the current U.S. president is, and think about when you thought there was no way he could win, either. But enough of my left-wing musings, and on to the music of Queen, in the form of a cover of “Sleeping on the Sidewalk”. First the good news – the horn section sounds absolutely wonderful. Now the bad news – Queen should never, ever be covered by a big band. I could be more descriptive, I suppose, but is there any point to saying this sounds like any other song they’ve done from the past couple of weeks? John, however, thinks it’s a really great version, and is pleased with Denver’s improved vocals. Sheila agrees, but suggests that the band spend more time on their presentation. Dicko likes the song, calling it a “good, sassy interpretation” but bemoans Denver’s wardrobe, saying he’s the worst-dressed among his bandmates. Denver yelps in protest, saying that his shirt, emblazoned with the name “London” in pink script, is for his newborn daughter. Dicko waves him off and suggests that in spite of his fatherly pride, he should “step it up for primetime”.
Something about the hood, the woods, and fried chicken
Time for the original songs, and the Clarks are kicking off the second half with their song “Homestead”. Ah, now this is a bit more like it – the Clarks break back out their kickass playing, and Ashley is again singing like he means it. The performance is marred only by some very silly song lyrics – though I’d like to believe they were tongue-in-cheek, really I would. John approves of the Clarks’ songwriting, though, saying “everything” about the band is strong. Sheila lauds the brothers’ “passion and conviction”, while Dicko says that although it was a solid performance, the song is “crap”. He derides the lyrics as “Country 101”, and urges the boys to push themselves more in their songwriting.
How to rite a hevy metul sawng
Look, heavy metal doesn’t really have the reputation of being the musical choice of deep-thinking types. It’s expected that for the most part, it will be loud and mindless. And at it’s best, goofy fun (Ozzy Osborne, anyone?) – but at it’s worst, noisy and obnoxious. Heck, you can even turn obnoxious into an art form, like Lemmy of Motorhead. The best heavy metal bands don’t take themselves too seriously, an attitude that the young Light of Doom hasn’t quite learned yet, and is painfully obvious in their original song, “A Matter of Time”. The term “original” is used loosely here, because this tune could have easily come off any random Iron Maiden CD. Frankly, it’s unworthy of the kids’ collective musical talent, and John shakes his head at the lack of songwriting ability. Sheila kindly tells the boys that they’re just beginning to find out who they are, but John interjects to say that he’s “hearing all your influences, but none of you”. Dicko suggests that LOD try to write their songs on an acoustic guitar first, in order to improve song structure. The boys have long faces after their critique – hey, guys, it’ll get better. Just a matter of time.
Sixwire is a lot more fun when they’re naughty, but there’s nothing naughty about their song “Go On” – it’s back to their radio-friendly vanilla-flavored country harmonies. Oh, I suppose it’s well-executed, and syrupy enough to put those oft-mentioned housewives’ panties in a collective bunch – but I yearn for the ballsy guitars and devilish glint in Andy’s eyes. John delivers the backhanded compliment of the evening, saying it’s “as good as anything on the radio”, but Sheila, apparently sincere, calls it “amazing” and wants to run out and buy it. The marketing exec in Dicko sneaks out, as he calls the song “brilliantly done” and “perfect for your market”. Those few hundred thousand CDs are looking more and more like a sure thing.
Big white band
Denver and TMHO are wrapping up the show tonight with their original “Big White House”, and unexpectedly, score with a song that’s a lot more funk and a lot less Vegas. Denver’s vocals are a little flat at times, but overall the performance is – dare I say? – almost, well, sexy. Eat your heart out, Sexywire. John is pleased, saying the song is pretty cool, and likes that it “has some grease on it”. Sheila thinks the performance was powerful and energetic, but was disappointed that the song had no hook. Dicko dismisses it as a “good album track”, but tells Denver and co. that next time, “sing me a hit”.
Next week, the top three bands vie for the top prize – who wants it all? And wants it now? Make sure to tune in to find out…besides, you know you don’t want to fight the holiday shopping crowds on Friday night, and anyway, if you’ve stuck it out this long, how can you miss the last couple of shows?
Who wants to start the lineup to be one of Andy’s bachelorettes? PM me.