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