Friday, June 30, 2006

The Devil Deals the Cards

Greetings and salutations.

Yes, I’m late. Dock my pay. But nearly all the water is out of my basement, and since it looks like I might get an hour or two without rain, I thought I’d take this column outdoors. It only took a whopping ten minutes for me to miss my air conditioner, though, so we’re safely back inside, packing for my 4th of July vacation. I fully intend to violate as many fireworks safety rules as possible, so careful preparation is required. And even though my time of relaxation looms on the horizon, I’m still sitting here at the keyboard. Still writing, just for you. Well, not necessarily for YOU per se, but for a reader that I actually like. Of course, I could point out that I don’t really like anyone, but then I might have an identity crisis, and no one wants that. Not yet, anyway…

While I might need to make some “me” time to get my motivations in order, I have quite a bit of mail regarding last week’s Battle of the Bands (no, not mine; the one hosted by The Venus Transit) that I want to get to. Following 6 weeks of preliminary voting controversy and 3 nights of judged performances, the finale of the Transit’s supposed good deed did plenty to get people talking. What sort of Phantom would I be if I didn’t listen?

“ what was the point to the whole thing? One band walked away with the money and the only people who really got the spotlight were the hosting band.”

Not true. The publicity was valuable to everyone. This was more than just getting your name on a flyer. It was about crossing some genre barriers and getting exposure to fans who might legitimately hear someone new and latch on. There were more people at the shows than I’ve ever seen come out for some of these bands, so for a lot of guys, it was a good way to get heard, and a great opportunity to make some local connections (if one were so inclined). I can safely predict that many of these acts will be teaming up at gigs for like-minded mayhem very soon. It was also a good vehicle to whore band merch, complete with sales table and professional display.

“Man, f*** the judges! What do those a**h**** know? Only f***in people whose opinion mattered was the crowd. They shoulda been the judge”

Quite a few people wrote in to share a similar sentiment, but I just opted to print the one with the best profanity. I can see where a lot of these people are coming from, but the only time that crowd-based judging works in smaller numbers is at a wet t-shirt contest (FLASH: free show gimmick idea to anyone who wants to make good on it). If the audience were responsible for choosing a winner, the contest then becomes about who can get more of their people in the door, and who’s fat mother can yell the loudest. [*shudders*]

“Speak of the Devil should’ve won. Why do you think they didn’t?”

“K1 deserved to win. They were a better band with a different sound.”

Shoulda. Coulda. Woulda. Both Steeltame and Speak of the Devil played pretty intense sets on the final night, and having reviewed both bands in the past, I saw both take their games to a new level. The people who cheered for them aren’t going anywhere, so loss is a subjective term. If they maintain that intensity when a cash prize isn’t on the line, they’ve made a huge leap forward.

But people want to talk about the voting. They always do. The losers want to know why they lost, and the winners feel eager to explain. As for why they didn’t win, I’ve heard a lot of explanations in the days since about how the voting was decided, but as I understand the official evaluation, K-1 Royal’s win was based on their ability to engage and excite a crowd they had no prior relationship with. Being from out of town, they were able to blindly win people over, as opposed to someone performing for their pre-established fan base.

It certainly sounds rational – almost too rational. Something that rational sounds….rationalized. You be the judge, so we can move on. In the future, though, I recommend The Venus Transit take an active PR role in ensuring their own members don’t undermine them. Thanking K-1 Royal in a public forum for “not playing heavy metal” looks worse than having a Limp Bizkit cover as your most requested song. It’s sharp, but I trust you get my point.

Vacation is calling, but you’ve been waiting for it – so here it is. The results of this week’s most triumphant Band vs. Band grudge matches.

Madrone vs. Half Moon: The normally laid-back cats in Half Moon had a score to settle, breaking out the brass and surprising Madrone as they slept, unleashing a trumpet blast designed to bring the building down. But only the bassist was asleep in his bed; the rest were out at an after-party, arriving as Half Moon sifted through the rubble. Laying down on the gas with intent to finally put the ROV van to good use, Madrone tore in. Speeding recklessly into the fray, they mowed down hipsters until a well-placed Molotov cocktail got through the passenger window, frying the guitarist and leaving the drummer to gravity’s cruel kiss as JD made a last-second dive from the driver’s seat. Finding himself alone against the jam band survivors, he channeled his radio power to call to his aid the fury of a dozen, cute summer interns. Underpaid and underdressed, they arrived on the scene to assist their mighty mentor, until Half Moon’s singer pulled a stunt of his own. Turning on the irresistible cool, he became the slickest dude within a quarter mile, flocking the interns to him as though he were Elvis. But charm, it seems, can be a two-edged sword, and he realized it with his last breath as the mob crushed in about him. Trying to pull their suave leader from the clutches of hormonal groupies, they never saw the stampede of metalheads running their way until one of them looked down and noticed the Metallica tickets JD had just thrown at their feet. Madrone wins.

Burning Bridges vs. Drivn: No surprise encounters. No sneak attacks. This was old school, in the middle of downtown at high noon. Every man armed to his own preference, the singer from BB fired the first shot. Loading up his bow, he quickly put an arrow in the eye of Drivn’s mace-wielding, second guitarist, getting two-for-one as the dead man’s arms flailed dangerously in the air as he fell. As he fumbled the medieval weapon into the skull of the bassist, what once was five was suddenly three. Squaring off on each other, the drummers prepared to unleash hell, but the master of the digital kit couldn’t hold up against the real hardware that Drivn broke out, as a sharp cymbal painfully obligated him to a future in a Def Leppard tribute band. Holding their advantage, Bridges charged, but just as they prepared to overwhelm their enemy, an unexpected shot rang out. From across the way, the surviving keyboardist from the Worx planted a vengeful sniper shot in the temple of BB’s burly bassman. Stopping suddenly at the sound, Isaiah paid the price as Drivn’s guitarist put a trident through his chest. Picking up Kenny’s power drill, Bridges’ singer lunged for his cymbal-tossing enemy, burying the bit into his heart and giving it a spin for good measure. Unarmed but not out of ideas, Kenny attacked his string-bending counterpart in retaliation for Isaiah’s untimely demise, taking off his own shoe to deliver a personal hammer-on. Running to his bandmate’s side, however, the voice of Burning Bridges took a tumble and landed on 4 steel inches of his own irony. Now one on one with Drivn’s singer, Kenny stood and took aim. His shoe rocketed through the air towards Trampus’ face, but then…that look. Blinded by the beauty of “Magnum!”, Kenny AND his shoe froze at how ridiculously good-looking the frontman was. He could only stare in amazement as Drivn’s vocalist sang him his swan song with a microphone stand to the head. Drivn wins.

Won’t know if there will be a column next week until I get an idea of how much liquor I’m going to consume over the weekend. Once I sober up, we'll break out brackets for the last 8 bands in our battle. Keep those emails coming, and have a safe holiday. Until next we meet…

- The Phantom

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Just Push Until It Breaks

Greetings and salutations.

The hits just keep on coming, loyal readers. Despite lacking any significant venom, this week’s batch of mail set a new record for the most number of deliberate insults I’ve recieved to date. Here are just a few of my favorites:

“entirely too arrogant to be considered entertaining…”
“…conceited…and dull.”
“bitterly condescending…”
“just useless” (short, but pointed)
“a jackass know-it-all”
“…probably a racist bigot” (WTF?)
“worst thing to happen to Roanoke’s musicians…” (since…what, exactly?)
“one gutless m*therf***er”

Inspiring. I’m waiting for that fateful day when someone calls me a “stupidhead” so I can print and frame the letter, retire, and enjoy the rest of my life in self-assured comfort. But until then, I remain your faithful Phantom. And as such, I took my ghostly self on a trip to see the much-hyped The Venus Transit Presents: Battle of the Bands. The 4-day event has been heavily promoted over the last 6 weeks, making waves back in May with controversy over it’s preliminary voting sessions.

It seems Transit’s penchant for “technical difficulties” once again reared it’s head when fans began circulating rumors that the online poll on their website could be tricked, effectively allowing someone to vote repeatedly. Total counts for specific bands began escalating in suspiciously short bursts, and many odds-on favorites never made it past the first round. While quite a few folks cried foul, Venus Transit denied any doctoring, maintaining their intentions to provide the contest in support of the local scene and reminding everything that their part in the show was exhibition only (i.e. not for votes). With the 12 finalists selected, the nights were divided up as follows:

Battle Night 1:

Something About Sarai, The Trashbag Ponchos, Steeltame, F.L.I.P.T (formerly False Evolution)

Battle Night 2:

Leviathan, Speak of the Devil, Aggressor State, Red Light Syndrome

Battle Night 3:

Broken Symbol, Kaottick, Savior Bullets, K-1 Royal

Before I get to the winners, I have to wonder aloud why I was not asked to be a judge. Every band was graded on various aspects of their performance, and given feedback sheets from each judge with comments intended to give perspective on their live shows. What a novel concept. Maybe next time I’ll host my own battle of the bands…

Several of the finalists you should recognize if you’re a regular reader, but that didn’t stop me from cramming all 12 bands into my ears just to see what competition did to everyone. With prize money (and pride) on the line, it sparked some new fire in the acts I’d seen and helped make strong impressions of the ones I hadn’t.

An assorted mix of every major genre of angry young people’s music (i.e. screamo, punk, hardcore, emo, thrash, etc.), every bill was well divided and organized. I’ve commented in the past about how difficult it is to coordinate multi-band events and keep things running smoothly, but there were no enemies (except maybe in the pit…) and it helps that several of these young bands are starting to come into their own as mature gigging musicians, accumulating the necessary experience to build lucrative careers out of their hobbies.

When evaluating these bands, it is important to keep something in mind. As elementary as it sounds, peer pressure plays a much larger role in affecting the performance of high school/college-age groups than it does in older musicians, mostly because of what people tend to expect. Despite having a busier schedule and better paycheck, adult bands have generally lower standards set on them by their crowds. The simple truth is that for your average bar patron, a band’s performance tends to be part of the overall setting rather than the main attraction. But to these kids who are socializing within their limited circles and are under the age to drink, guess who gets put front and center? Having to act out and entertain is hard enough, but doing it in front of people sober enough to recall the details the following day? Scary.

Of course, I’ll stop short of saying something stupid like “they’re all winners,” because I don’t make a habit of lying in my column. You can’t have winners unless you have losers, and after eliminating 9 bands, the lineup for the final night is:

Speak of the Devil
K-1 Royal

Venus Transit (exhibition, aka “we paid for the damn thing, we ought to be able to play”)

Whoever wins, every act has already benefited from the publicity and cross-genre exposure, and we have the hilarious thoughts of what some of these guys might’ve looked like when they cried after losing. Aside from the somewhat questionable entry process, events like this are definite positives and something I’d like to see more of. To the club owners out there, I encourage you to host your own battle. And the prize? Maybe one of those coveted Friday or Saturday spots in your illustrious establishment...

But let’s not forget the real battle. This week’s results are in, and our bloody street fight has claimed the lives of two more local acts:

The Pop Rivets vs. Chinese Fire Drill: Caught off guard by the renegades in CFD, the Rivets were forced to defend themselves with their bare hands. A savage struggle, Fire Drill’s surprise attack give them the upper hand as they killed the Rivets’ keyboardist with a vicious chainsaw blow to the neck. The Rivets’ drummer attacked CFD’s singer, but the fight took them into traffic, and both were defeated by an SUV. Brian from the Rivets attacked Isaiah from CFD, and managed to strangle him with a bass string before being knifed by Brian from CFD, who could then only look on as the two Jason’s battled it out. Pleading for help, both men claimed to be Brian’s ally, forcing him to deduce his real friend. Finally convinced he had the right man, he attacked and killed the Jason from the Pop Rivets. Except [twist!] it was the wrong Jason, who’s hug of celebration turned deadly. The Pop Rivets win.

Cobalt Media vs. The Cheap Seats: The Cheap Seats took a swing at mastering cheap shots when they dropped Media’s singer with a merciless golf club shot that helped him finally hit those high notes. Immune to such attacks however, the girl guitarist from Cobalt Media let fly a fingernail assault that drove the Seats back across the stage and into the waiting flames of 1989 stage pyro. Jumping for his life, but unskilled at stage diving, the singer for the Cheap Seats fell victim to his own fashion when he caught his tie in an industrial paper shredder. We don’t know why it was there, either. With no where to go but out of the frying pan and into the fire, the Seats resorted to a mellow 3-part harmony to try and lull their enemies to sleep. It narrowly worked, as one-by-one the members of Media fell under the spell of their dulcet tones – all except the drummer, who was apparently a super-secret ninja warrior and couldn’t be hypnotized. He killed them all with a pair of car keys he took out of his singer’s pocket. Cobalt Media wins.

Blood, guts, battles, bands, and bad jokes. Nowhere else but here. As I said last week, update me if your band is releasing a cd soon. If it’s something I can get a listen to, I want to talk about it. And about you. Behind your back. To your mother. Still trying to determine who’ll be the next band I interview, so if you are interested, let me know. You’re not afraid I’ll be mean, are you?

Also, make sure to vote for next week’s fights:
Madrone vs. Half Moon
Burning Bridges vs. Drivn

That about does it for me this week. You keep writing and I’ll keep complaining. Until next we meet…

- The Phantom

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Sign On the Road Ahead

Greetings and salutations.

“I find it extremely unlikely that you’ve ever been a part of a Square Society event. It’s unfortunate that you would make those sort of comments without having the first clue what you are talking about. [skip ahead, what would I know about taste, blah, blah] Members are culturally interested, active professionals who support the Center through fundraising and volunteer activities.”

Last week’s column ruffled some feathers. I knew I would upset more than a few bar owners, and I was right. I knew I would irritate the ABC board. Mission accomplished there. But a scolding message about my Square Society comments, and it’s not even from the guy in the Chiquita Banana Girl costume? Total shock. I might even have apologized to that guy if he’d written me, but instead I get this, from the desk of the eternally inane. Some upstanding young professional took the time to drop me a line and give me a good, stern talking-to…and boy, did it hurt. My sides are still aching from laughing so hard. By now, I’m accustomed to all kinds of nasty messages. Threats, snide comments, challenges on my manhood, etc. – all part of the job, and sometimes my favorite part.

You see, if I write something unflattering about a band or one of their shows, I might occasionally get a comment from one of the members, or maybe even a note from the drummer’s mom (I’m being serious). Or if I pick on a band with a fan base that stretches beyond the immediate family, I could get yelled at by a loyal follower. But in all those cases, no matter how obtuse the attack, I can usually understand their connection to the situation and figure out where they’re coming from (before I publish their idiocy to the world and ridicule them for it). Which is why, the more I read this letter, the harder I laugh.

When read carefully, I’m convinced this message isn’t from an actual member of the Square Society. Not that I’m assuming anything of their qualifications, but the last line is an exact quote lifted right from the verbiage on their website. Astounding! Someone took the time to tell me what an uncouth piece of a social crap I am for making an offhand comment about a group they aren’t a member of, and then chose to drive their point home by quoting - the mission statement? It’s the unoriginality I find the most offensive. I could probably go and sissy-smack the Tom Cruise look-alike that fronts The Venus Transit, and he’d tell me to "f*-off" with more imagination than this. But that’s not even all of it. Right behind that letter, we have this:

“Since when did a blog on band activities in the Valley become an arena for your personal opinions? I intend to write a letter to your editor, thanking them for allowing you to dismiss the irresponsibility of musicians and their fans as only having a good time and to make light of a very serious issue [drunk driving].”

Since when did a blog on band activities in the Valley become an arena for my personal opinions? Well, this is just a conservative estimate, but probably right around the time I started writing it. A lot of people seem to miss that point – I write and say what I want because I have the space to do so. I’m not really clear when this became “a blog on band activities,” since that sounds suspiciously like I talk about trumpets and band camp, but we’ll overlook that. What I can’t figure out is where in my last column I made light of drunk driving. It’s no secret that a lot of musicians drink, and bands on the bar circuit tend to encourage it because when they increase a bar’s revenue, they get paid more (and get invited back), but I reread last week’s piece and don’t recall dismissing anything. I suggested a more realistic approach to understanding that drinking can get out of hand in every situation, and think it’s unfair to point fingers at a band because of some supposed recklessness that they and/or their music create. The difference is that bands do less to disguise their motives and that is likely why they are singled out. Unfortunately, reading the Letters to the Editor section always makes me sleepy, so I don’t know if this person is really going to write in or not (note: someone let me know if they come across anything) but it will never cease to amaze me how the best causes always seem to get the stupidest spokespeople.

Moving on, you may have noticed that I’ve started adding upcoming show dates of bands I’ve reviewed on the calendar of my MySpace account. I’ll do what I can to keep it as accurate and up-to-date as possible, but I encourage bands to keep me informed of what they’ve got going on so that I can tell the good townspeople what they’re missing and call them names for not supporting you. And then I can call you names if no one likes you. Or because I feel like it.

And lastly, we have the winners of this week’s Band Battle, or as I started calling it on Tuesday, “Last Band Standing.” In case you’re thickheaded and haven’t read my previous statements on this, let me just remind everyone again. This is NOT a contest of musical talent, creativity, originality, or entertainment prowess. It’s to answer the question of who would win if 16 of the area’s most popular local acts fought each other, to the death, in no-holds-barred street fights.

Dark Ruin vs. Crobar Cane:
Once again the numbers game just didn’t play out. The good ole’ boys of Crobar Cane showed up armed and strong, but Southern Comfort wasn’t enough against spirits from beyond the grave. After Cane put a few rounds in the bellies of the metal heads, it looked to be all over. But the most evil band in the tournament harnessed the power of netherworld to revive themselves. Unable to defend against the forces of darkness, Crobar Cane became country-fried zombie food. Dark Ruin wins.

Illbotz vs. Aggressor State: Roanoke’s tricked-out MC’s didn’t need two turntables and microphone to take a freestyle battle against the speed metal kids in Aggressor State. I thought it would be funny if I tried to make this battle rhyme, but I ran out of time and me trying to rap is nothing short of a crime. The Botz took the advantage by dropping Aggressor State’s drummer the night before the fight, and distracted their second guitarist with the illest pair of 1989 Air Jordans he’s seen since Ebay. Popped two caps and it was over. Fool. The Illbotz win.

Make sure to write in and vote for the winners of next week’s fights:
The Pop Rivets vs. Chinese Fire Drill
Cobalt Media vs. The Cheap Seats

Will dig myself out from under the mountain of reader mail to do another show review AND I need to start deciding what band I’ll be interviewing next. I’m also interested in talking about bands who have cd’s coming out, so drop me a line and do something other than complain. That’s my job. Until next we meet…

- The Phantom

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Someone Send A Message Out to Justice

Greetings and salutations.

The plan was to do a show review this week. Really. I had a few relaxing days over the holiday weekend, caught a couple of shows, and came back to the keyboard armed and ready. But my readers had something else in mind. You see, in the time since I’ve transformed myself into this ghostly entity, my willingness to spew anonymous venom toward the music scene has earned me an unofficial title. So unofficial, in fact, that I can’t even begin to give it a proper name. But I get mail each week from people who look to me as some kind of spokesperson, and I always find it fascinating. Seemingly free to say what I please, I get requests to comment on all kinds of issues, big and small. Rather than sacrifice my journalistic integrity and climb up on a soapbox, I’m content to let most of these petty things flow by, reserving my opinionated snipes for the musically inept. This time, though…

One of the most talked about and hotly contested pieces of drama to hit our little scene, the ABC’s actions against Smith Mountain Lake’s popular venue Mango’s have drawn fire since they were made public shortly before Memorial Day. Raiding the bar and arresting intoxicated patrons, the ABC’s undercover-yet-overeager mouthpiece went on to blame local band the Worx as the cause for the havoc. Many, including the erstwhile Band Girl, have openly criticized the board’s decision and subsequent media action, considering it further evidence of our out-of-touch bureaucracy hard at work. Whether or not such an establishment exists is irrelevant at the moment – that these types of actions have a lasting impact on every gigging band in the region is, however. And you wondered what this had to do with you…

The truth is that this is the sort of thing that shapes our musical landscape, and I point to it in direct response to every message I’ve gotten that has asked me how Roanoke got in the shape it is in. Musicians complain to me because there aren’t enough venues in town. Shooters took a major hit when they got busted and lost their license. Fortunately new ownership kept the venue alive, but the witch hunts are an erosion. Let me say what everyone is thinking. The board’s rules are broken on a weekly basis in just about each and every licensed bar in the city. Go look in Cornerstone. Or the Village Grille. Or Awful Arthur’s. Or Schooners. You will find someone who’s had too much to drink, and depending on the night, you can usually find quite a few. Do you really expect us to believe that you’re serious about enforcement? Or is it just political grandstanding for the community, and an opportunity outside of taxation to soak extra money out of local businesses? The board’s actions are the direct result of economics, not real problem-solving. Think about the disarray you would create if you fined every downtown bar until they went out of business. On the other hand, I’m sure the tax and commercial revenue from the complaining residents on the lake more than offset the loss of Mango’s. Get the picture?

Take the Worx out of the equation. Allowing an agent to make public statements drawing such a correlation demonstrates a complete lack of understanding about the nature and causes of the problem(s) their rulings are intended to address. No more or less offensive than any other run-of-the-mill bar band that works the circuit around here, the observations were unnecessary, unfounded, and more reflective of a personal bias than anything based in fact – something the agent’s wife tried to backpedal out of during the K92 broadcast. Obviously the band is willing to string itself up for the chance to gain exposure through martyrdom, but the board was clearly looking for someone to make an example of, and they were fortunate enough to fit the stereotype.

In contrast to their raucous party atmosphere, events perceived as “cultured” (like a Wine Festival, for example) persist as acceptable ways for adults to drink and socialize. And yet when the Square Society holds an event, despite the pretense of being upscale, it could be likened to a frat party in that the same fundamental things are going on. Granted, I’ve yet to see a black tie keg stand or the Editor of CITY magazine jumping out a window, but be honest. The objectives of single males (i.e. looking to leave with something they didn’t have when they got there) are a constant. The objectives of working adults looking to forget about their daily pressures are a constant. We all gather in different ways, but we do it for the same reason: hoping that we’ll get juiced up enough to make some bad decisions. Cheers!

So before my mouth starts earning me enemies, I’ve one more piece of business to address before I go: Band Fight! There’s been some confusion since my initial announcement, but let me clear it up. This is NOT a battle based on musical talent, creativity, originality, or entertainment prowess. It’s about determining who would win if these bands fought each other, to the death, in no-holds-barred street fights.

The Discordian Society vs. The Worx: Despite having more members and meaner guys, the Worx suffered a first round elimination after the resourceful TDS converted a “recreational water-powered smoke cooling device” into an explosive, cutting down everyone but the keyboardist, who’s been surviving similar attacks since the 60’s. Outnumbered and outgunned, he made a hasty retreat before he could be finished off. The Discordian Society wins.

Fire at Will vs. Savior Bullets: Equally matched, this encounter quickly degenerated into a gun battle. Unfortunately for Fire at Will, they lived up to their namesake, running out of ammo 30 seconds into the fight. Charging over the trash cans with foam forming at his mouth, Savior Bullets’ lead singer fired 4 shots and the battle was over. Savior Bullets wins.

Make sure to write in and vote for the winners of next week’s battles:
Illbotz vs. Aggressor State
Dark Ruin vs. Crobar Cane

Biting social commentary, impolite putdowns, and gratuitous band-on-band violence. Make sure they spell my name right on the Pulitzer. Until next we meet…

- The Phantom