Back in the 1970’s, the month of December (when advertisers and retailers actually waited until December to exploit the holiday and peddle their wares) was chock-a-block with Christmas television specials. And not just the cute stop-motion animation of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Year Without A Santa Claus, either – variety shows were rampant, from Sonny & Cher and Donny & Marie, to Dean Martin and Bing Crosby. (Who could forget Dino weaving around the piano with a highball glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other, crooning “Let It Snow!”?) Group sings were also de rigeur, and who doesn’t have fond memories of Carol Burnett with her arms around Vicki Lawrence, Julie Andrews, and a Muppet, swaying to holiday tunes? Good times, good times. If you miss the warm fuzzy feeling those old programs gave you, guess what? Holiday cheer is available in the unlikely form of the finale of The Next Great American Band. If the winners don’t leave you with a smile on your face, the Christmas medley will. Oh yes, there’s a group-sing medley – so stick around, pour yourself a Bailey’s (hey, it’s Christmas), and relive a decade past – minus the bell-bottoms and disco.
Gone but not forgotten
Host Dominic Bowden promises us a night replete with great performances and “special guests”. I don’t want to spoil, but the camera immediately pans to Goo Goo Doll John Rzeznik, who waves and smiles wanly. Dominic introduces the other 2 judges, the lovely Sheila E. (crammed into a gold dress with a bodice that looks like body armor), and Dicko Dickson, who beams cheerily through Dom’s fat jokes. Dicko slips in a plug for 19 Entertainment, reminding us that although they did their level best to ruin Kelly Clarkson’s career, they also catapulted Daughtry and Carrie Underwood to fame, so it most certainly is a big deal to win TNGAB. Of course there were a few million more people who watched Carrie & Chris Daughtry on That Other Musical Talent Reality Show, but I’m sure their subsequent success was completely due to 19E’s representation.
I’m sorry. Sarcasm doesn’t really befit the holiday season, does it? I’ll be nicer, starting right after the first performance, courtesy of early ousters The Likes Of You. I’m mystified as to why this particular band has been given the opportunity of a solo performance on the finale, unless of course 19E has signed them. Or, it could be their appropriately sappy song, “When I Fall From Grace”, accompanied by a video clip montage of the highlights and lowlights of the season (which includes of couple of heartbreaking scenes of two young Light of Doom members sobbing at their elimination last week).
Dicko reminds us that there were plenty of eliminated musicians who are still worthy of mention – apparently the most worthy of the rejects is Northmount vocalist Ward, whose backing group just wasn’t good enough to make the final cut even after a last-chance second-chance given by the judges on audition day. Ward has been given a TNGAB all-star backup band including The Mile High Orchestra’s fabulous horn section, Sixwire’s rhythm section, and the extraordinary slide guitar talents of The Clark Brothers’ Austin Clark. The ensemble is performing “Smooth”, an early Christmas gift for Ward, who has a strong lower register much like the song’s original singer Rob Thomas. Ward actually starts out a bit flat, but improves rapidly and really does prove himself worthy of a third chance. Austin’s guitar is the quiet star of the song, but hey, don’t forget the original was Santana with Rob Thomas along for the ride. Will Ward’s career eventually rise above the mediocrity that was/is Northmount? Only
19Etime will tell.
Still the same, and don’t ever change
All three of the finalists will be performing tonight, and The Clark Brothers are kicking it off with yet another video journey of their television experience – listen, if you’ve stuck it out these past couple of months, you’ve already seen it, and if you haven’t, you’re not watching the show anyway, right? The Clarks are performing “You Are Still The Same”, and have returned to their original three-piece unit. The brothers are all seated on stools onstage, and vocalist Ashley, though always passionate, seems almost overcome with emotion tonight. His eyes are suspiciously shiny throughout the performance, perhaps because of the lovely, heartfelt song lyrics, or perhaps due to the presence of his wife in the audience. Whatever the reason, the Clarks are exquisite in their simplicity, and their sincerity and passion for their music shines through as always.
Not just a pretty face
Time for the first “special guest” performance of the evening, courtesy of judge Sheila E., who hits the stage with her all-female backup band to “The Glamorous Life”. Sheila is handling both percussion and lead vocals, and proves she’s still got the chops as she rips into a fiery drum solo (let’s see Paula Abdul do that). It’s fun, it’s cool, and if you didn’t love Sheila E. before this performance, you do now.
The next great man band
Sixwire’s video journey is more reruns, but does include a previously-unheard Andy quote – “We used to be a boy band, now we’re a man band”. You can almost feel the disappointment of Andy’s probable legion of female fans, who would be more than happy to have turned Andy from boy to man. Sixwire, oddly, has chosen to reprise their Rolling Stones’ cover of “The Last Time” tonight – though maybe it has something to do with their boyz-to-men comment, keeping in mind this was the song performance that Dicko praised for having some balls. Fortunately, it still does, even though the guys seem more relaxed onstage than usual tonight. Everyone is smiling broadly, and there’s a party atmosphere among the band members, which translates into a fun, rollicking performance. Like John Rzeznik commented previously, this is a great rock band – keep it a little bit country if you must, Sixwire, but to quote Eric Clapton, you’ve got a rock’n’roll heart.
Not just a pretty face, Part II
It’s special guest time again – so soon! – and as not-so-subtly hinted at, John has brought the rest of the Goo Goo Dolls along tonight to perform “Broadway”. No, the song (if you’ve heard it, and I’ll assume anyone with a car radio has) isn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff. Is it commercial pop-rock? You bet. Is it commercial pop-rock done well? Well, let’s give Rzeznik his due – he does that stuff very well, and also proves you really don’t have to be a great technical singer to lead a band and enjoy massive success. Of course, being cute and having great hair doesn’t hurt, either.
Driving that vehicle home
The final finalist is Denver and The Mile High Orchestra, voted Band Most Likely To Never See The Finals. Damn good thing I didn’t bet money on this competition. Denver and the boys are performing Ides of March’s “Vehicle” for their finale swan song, and they’re also seeming particularly relaxed tonight. The band is always tight, but Denver in particular shines, putting some real feeling in his vocals – in fact, he’s never sounded better. Oh, the irony, because in the most ham-fisted segue ever seen on reality TV, Dominic charges onstage after their performance, declares that it’s time for some results, and with zero dramatic effect announces that Denver and TMHO are the first casualties of the evening. TMHO looks appropriately startled, but Denver recovers quickly and graciously thanks the band’s fans. Your corporate party career beckons, boys. Straighten those neckties.
Rockin’ around the Christmas tree
You wanted a group sing? I’ll give you group sing. And how. It’s time to lay the competition aside and rise to the occasion of the upcoming Christmas holiday, and what better way to do it than to have the last few finalists perform a medley of festive songs? And this isn’t just a song medley – it’s a medley of the bands themselves. Kicking off the merriment is Light of Doom, accompanied by Austin Clark (who’s certainly getting a workout tonight), and Sixwire’s Andy. Up next is Dot Dot Dot, looking collectively natty in black black black outfits, bopping along to “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” with Très Bien! vocalist Mikey, and Erik of LOD. Sixwire picks it up with “Perfect Christmas”, featuring Ashley Clark on fiddle and everyone’s favorite banjo player, Cliff Wagner. Très Bien! chimes in with “Wonderful Christmastime”, and speaking of chiming – LOD’s diminutive (and appropriately elf-like) drummer Mitchell, armed with Santa hat and bells, clowns with TB for the camera, much to the delight of the judges. The Clarks keep the cheer going with “Last Christmas”, and are joined by Dot Dot Dot’s Rose on guitar. Cliff Wagner and the Old #7 proceed to steal the show with “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” (a song you’ll never hear the kiddies sing at the school concert), and Denver & TMHO, clearly in their element, wrap things up with “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” (with an assist from an LOD guitarist) and “Another Rock’n’Roll Christmas”, with all the bands piling onstage. Lead vocals are shared by Denver, Sixwire’s Andy, and Ashley Clark. Très Bien’s Mikey and Dot Dot Dot’s Adam also lend their voices, and Adam even shares a semi-tender hug with judge Dicko, who joins the bands onstage. Maybe I’m just in the Christmas spirit, or suffused with nostalgia for those long-ago TV variety specials -–hell, maybe it’s just the Bailey’s – but this was the most fun I’ve seen on the box all week. Or at least since Stephen Colbert’s writers went on strike.
Can I get an “Amen”?
Thought you & I were the only ones watching this show? According to Dominic, there’s been 14 million votes over the course of the season. (So THAT’S what striking writers do on Friday nights. Who knew?) The two final bands, for those not paying attention, are The Clark Brothers and Sixwire. Dominic, again displaying a stunning lack of flair for the dramatic, pronounces The Clark Brothers as the winners. The Clarks, humble boys that they are, look stunned and literally collapse facedown on the stage. The judges are unabashedly jubilant, and Sheila E. is all happy tears. The two bands hug, and that’s the last we see of Sixwire, who are denied the opportunity to thank their fans. Unfortunate, but Sixwire has proved themselves a class act time and time again, and it’s safe to assume that they would have loved to have been able to say a public thank-you. Instead, the judges weigh in on the result - Dicko beams as he says he’s “absolutely thrilled to bits” at the Clarks’ win, and praises the “magic” that the band brings week after week. Sheila claims to have “prayed for this moment”, and gives props to the Clarks for “not (being) fake or pretentious”. John chuckles that he “knew it all along”, and commends the band for their “heart, soul, ability, and passion”. Ashley speaks for the band and profusely thanks their fans, also saying that it’s an honor to have competed with their fellow bands. And the spirit of camaraderie among the competitors is once again apparent, with all the bands joining the winners onstage as the Clarks sing it out with “Billy The Kid”.
I’m not a victim of FOX’s timeslot constraints, so I do get the opportunity to thank those of you who’ve stuck out the past 10 weeks with me. I’d also like to thank all the amazing bands of TNGAB for providing us with some great music, and showing us that there’s some outstanding talent out there. Quite simply put – you guys all rock. Have a merry Christmas, happy Hanukah, good Kwaanza, festive Festivus, whatever gets your groove on at this time of year. I’m heading off to reserve a copy of the Clarks’ debut CD.
If you know how I can book Denver for the corporate Christmas party next year, PM me.