Thursday, July 20, 2006

My Face From the World

Greetings and salutations.

At last! My week of much suffering has finally come to an end, though there are few who even know what a hellacious week this has been - the downside to a solitary ghostly existence. Seems behind-the-scenes work is something that only those behind the scenes can ever truly appreciate. That said, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank me for all my hard work. Without me to help me, this wouldn’t have been possible. I must remember to give myself a raise.

But enough of my grandstanding. Let me save you some of you the trouble – if you’re skimming this for the winners of the Band Battle, scroll down for the bold yellow text. There. Now read it and go. What delighted me most about this final fight is that I got almost as many votes asking for certain bands to lose as I did demanding that they win. The thought of a band who’s musical contributions can inspire people to insist they be decapitated and sodomized (in that order) is enough to warm even my cold heart. Furthermore, there were enough suggestions for creative deaths that I may need to release a “director’s cut” version of this fight where I start killing off musicians in other bands who happened to get too close to the melee. That I am not the only person who finds humor in putting blowfish poison on the neck of someone’s bass or luring a fat drummer into a blast furnace with Pop Tarts says that my contributions in the form of the Phantom have not been in vain.

Last week, I promised that I would be taking off my mask today, and I intend to keep that promise. But after guarding my identity so closely for this long (spies, lies, holograms, and stunt doubles), unmasking myself without a clear purpose would essentially be nothing less than a publicity stunt and such things (did I mention I was on the radio?!) are beneath me. If you ignore the fact I brutally murdered over a dozen of my colleagues for comic relief, you’ll see that my goal has always been to call attention to Roanoke’s musical talents and to give everyone a resource for listening and looking at themselves through a critical eye. Most of you have gotten that. Some of you haven’t, and I doubt you ever will, but I’ve made peace with that. You think I’m obnoxious and I think you’re dense. You’ll tell yourself that I’m just jealous of the people I insult, and I’ll console myself with the knowledge that I can play 64ths.

The first purpose in taking my mask off is so that I may assume a new role – starting in the Aug. 3rd issue, your Phantom will become the Roanoke Times’ new local music guru. As such, I’ll be writing the Top Tickets and Q&A sections of the Times’ printed and online versions of the InsideOut, working harder than I already do to put the focus on our scene. That means a new weekly look at all the best shows in the area, more exposure and face-time for the bands, and every ounce of the endearing charm you’ve come to expect from me. And as if that wasn’t cool enough, consider my new website initiative:

Designed as the first Roanoke-specific local band website, it’s a project I’ve been thinking about doing since before I ever put the mask on. But this is more than just a glorified collection of a few names – I plan on giving you everything from comprehensive show listings to cd reviews and album highlights, to all the latest gossip and news from around the scene. We’ll feature an Artist of the Month (more on that later), plan and finance special live events, and continue my tried-and-true method of celebrating the truth and how much it hurts. The site you see today is just the initial offering, with more features already planned. The part I think you’ll be most interested in is that it is absolutely free. It doesn’t require any money or effort on the part of the bands to get listed. It’s all part of my vision for putting as much emphasis on the efforts of local talent as my time and personal resources will allow. Perhaps it’s a good deed designed to compensate for my otherwise complete lack of humanity. We may never know. And don’t worry about updates. If you want to stay in touch to keep me up to date on what you’re doing, that’s fine, but I’ll find you the same way I’ve always found you – by being right there, in the thick of it, the entire time.

About this fight. As I’m unable (and unwilling) to hand out a cash prize to the winner, I’ve tried to come up with something else as a decent prize, and the best idea I’ve had is to let the winner be our very first Artist of the Month. It lets me have something of small value to award the warriors who’ve survived, and helps me avoid the “hey, you’re showing favoritism!” argument that some stupid person would make when I had to pick someone out of a group at random. Being the Artist of the Month means there’ll be interviews, in-depth coverage of your shows, photos, maybe videos (do I feel like giving you video?), some audio opportunities, and whatever other shameless promotion vehicles come to my mind. After this first month, you’ll vote just as you did for the battle, telling me who you think should be included. That’s as much of this speech as I’ve rehearsed. Enjoy the site.


The Pop Rivets vs. Savior Bullets vs. The Discordian Society vs. Madrone

Having been the only band thus far to avoid losing any members, Savior Bullets was the most significant threat. Both Madrone and the Pop Rivets had been whittled to a single man each, and the Discordian Society was barely at half-strength. Not only had Bullets managed to live this long, but they’d stolen technology from the Illbotz in Round 2 and created robot versions of themselves to fight in their stead. But along the way, JD had successfully obtained a copy of the Book of the Dead from the Mystic Master of Weather, Robin Reed. Thanks to a helpful internet how-to, he’d found a rite that would let him raise the dead, and after mastering the chants, brought back the rest of Madrone.

With zombie versions of his own band mates under his control, he formed an alliance with the members of the Discordian Society to construct a trap to let them defeat Bullets’ bots. As the robo-band marched over the horizon, the zombies in Madrone charged in, persisting to fight despite being hacked at by lasers and forcing the machines back into Discordian’s clever trap - a pit of wet cement. As Bullets rushed to try and free their toys from sinking fast, they discovered Rivet Jason’s secret plan of attack in the form of landmines, placed strategically near their side of the field. The first unfortunate victim was Savior’s singer, who stepped squarely on a mine and was promptly blown to angry pieces. That blast triggered a second explosion, injuring their bassist who broke his neck in the roll back down the hill.

Fearing that JD’s zombies would eventually be turned on them, Discordian pulled a play of their own, jumping the dj with his back turned and wrestling the book away from him. Now in control of the undead members of Madrone, they gave them a new target – JD himself! Diving for his life from his former friends, he piled into Bullets as they were trying to free their robots, knocking Savior’s guitarist headfirst into the cement and tumbling with their drummer back down into the dangerous mine field. While they both managed to avoid the triggers, the reckless zombies weren’t so fortunate, aimlessly blowing themselves to pieces in pursuit of their target. Coming to their feet, JD struck a bargain with the last survivor of Savior, promising to raise his fallen band mates in exchange for helping him get his book back. Hearing of the opportunity to get his own band back, Jason emerged from the invisibility cloak he’d sent away for some years back as part of a cereal box giveaway. The three of them would get the drop on Discordian, get back the book and settle this, band-to-band-to-band, in a fair fight.

From out of nowhere they emerged, putting knives into the backs of both members of the Discordian Society and reclaiming the Book of the Dead. True to his word, JD began the rite, first raising Bullets’ singer. But Jason wasn’t looking for a fair fight, and produced a gun, shooting the drummer and immediately turning the weapon on JD. Demanding that his band be brought back, Jason held him at gunpoint. As the spirit of Brian from the Pop Rivets began to materialize, Hill signed JD off the air permanently with one to the face. But it seems JD had one last trick up his sleeve, giving Jason a taste of his own medicine. He’d actually revived Brian from Chinese Fire Drill, who’s zombie form tackled Jason over the hill and down into the land mines where they were both blown away.

Surveying the damage, the singer from Savior Bullets looked around. He’d died and still managed to get the win for his band by being the last man standing. And yet, without his band mates, such a victory seemed hollow. Waiting until he heard the ref announce Savior Bullets’ victory, he chose not to condemn himself to an eternity of loneliness. Picking up a mine and holding it to his chest, he squeezed the trigger. Savior Bullets won.

Until next we meet…

- The Phantom

Thursday, July 13, 2006

You Keep Doing What

Greetings and salutations.

Take a seat, boys and girls. It’s time for us to talk. I’ve been your faithful Phantom for months now, making the trek each week to catch as much as I could of Roanoke’s local music acts and writing to you about all that I see and hear. And rather I was kind to a band (was I ever kind to a band?) or not, people, it seemed, stayed interested. For the folks in bands, even those I hadn’t reviewed, it meant something to have someone barge in and shine a bit of light on their world. And for the people who didn’t play music (we call those people “spectators”), it was a chance to glimpse life on the other side of the stage.

The last few weeks have been very interesting for me, as the Phantom is getting the opportunity to take some long-standing ideas about ways to support local music and make them real. In assessing how I can best serve the musicians and fans who’ve come to support me as I support them, I’ve made a very important decision:

Next week, the Phantom is going to take off his mask.

You read that right. In next week’s column, I am going to unmask myself, revealing my true identity to the world. Some of you may be very disappointed when you find out I’m not nearly as cool of a person as you’ve no doubt imagined I must be. Some of you may be shocked. Some of you may have guessed who I was months ago (in which case, I will just pretend you were still completely amazed at the revelation). Some of you may want to take your revenge. Alright, MOST of you probably want to take your revenge. It’s to be expected.

But getting to see my face isn’t really the exciting news. Not even close. There’s plenty of new stuff on the horizon that I’m looking forward to bringing you, as I intend to do more without the mask than I ever did with it. This is including, but not limited to, a new web project that I’ve had in the works for several months. Despite my overwhelming enthusiasm, I am going to keep the details under wraps until next week’s unveiling, but I can tell you that I’m planning it to be a huge asset to local music. I’ll explain it all a bit more next week, but in the meantime, I’ll be making a brief stop by the WROV studios during this week’s Homegrown Show (Sunday night, 9-10pm on 96.3) and may drop a little more information…but you’ll have to wait and see.

But before I go to shave off my beard for next week’s close-up, we’ve a band battle to address. A record number of votes this week, and a continued outpouring of criticism from people who keep thinking this is a talent competition. I got a lot of well-written insight on several of these bands, and I did enjoy the perspective. Yet I really thought most people would’ve figured out what the goal was by now, especially once folks started pulling out tridents and blowing each other up. I suppose bands rising from the dead or getting impaled by power tools is more common than I thought. And here I’d hoped to be original…

The Pop Rivets vs. Drivn: Both bands advanced to the next round, but not without sustaining heavy losses. Now these two solo acts meet face-to-chiseled face. Agreeing to a gentleman’s contest of dueling pistols, the two met to shake hands, but Jason hadn’t abandoned the trickery that’s brought him this far. Behind the pleasantries, his well-meaning handshake concealed a lethal surprise. Armed only with a electric joy buzzer that he’d somehow wired to the transformer outside, the Pop Rivets’ last man melted the skin right off the lead singer’s perfect bone structure. The Pop Rivets win.

Savior Bullets vs. Illbotz: Deciding to leverage their street cred against the boys in Bullets, the Illbotz came prepared, arriving with an entourage packing more firepower than P. Diddy’s road crew. Outnumbering their rock band adversaries twenty to four, the hip-hoppers lined up to take their place in the next round. But it seems while they were sipping Courvoisier, Savior were busy making a plan to save their skin. Whilst everyone else was getting jiggy with it, they’d breached the Illbotz lab, stolen technical diagrams, and created their OWN botz – robotic hip-hop versions of themselves! As the Illbotz posse attempted to gun them down, the real Bullets led their mechanized counterparts on a rampage, cutting the MC’s and their homies to pieces with friggin’ lasers that Chris suggested they install in the eyes. Savior Bullets wins.

The Discordian Society vs. Cobalt Media: Raising some quick cash from their loyal fanbase, Discordian Society hired mercenaries in the form of Chris Shepard, Corey Hunley, and Charlie Hamill. This band of rogues would attack Media head-on, drawing the full fury of the assault, allowing the Discordian Society the opportunity to catch their foes off guard. But it seems mercenaries aren’t so reliable as you might hope, and when the hour came, the Society was without their aid. Having no choice but to take up arms for themselves, they lost their guitarist immediately as Media’s ninja warrior stepped in, rammed his thumb into his eye, twisted his head off his shoulders, and used it as a bowling ball to knock down two others. Hoping to take the risk his band would need to win, Society’s frontman broke out his ACME Rocket Skates. Donning bat wings and picking up a lance, he fired up the skates and blasted into deadly range. Running his enemy through, he managed to deliver the fatal blow, but not before suffering one of his own, as the warrior used his final breath to punch out his killer’s heart. Even without their ninja, Cobalt Media still held the numbers advantage. Better late than never, however, Society’s hired help finally arrived on the scene and made short work on what was left of Cobalt Media. The Discordian Society wins.

Dark Ruin vs. Madrone: Risen from the dead and seemingly invincible, Dark Ruin looked to put away the last survivor of Madrone and go on the final round. As the sun went down, the undead headbangers waited outside the radio station to feast on their helpless opponent. But they got something they didn’t expect. Collecting his guitars, cars, baseball cards, concert tickets, comic books, antiques, stock certificates, and every last dollar he had, JD had struck a bargain with the one man able to help him: the legendary Robin Reed. Able to barter for Reed’s copy of the Book of the Dead, the dj sent the souls of Dark Ruin back to the underworld, rendering them mortal. As a mob of angry Cave Spring citizens chased them into the hills with torches and pitchforks, the ref raised JD’s arm in victory. Madrone wins.

Next week’s fight will be the final battle, with all four of the remaining bands slugging it out for supremacy. You tell me, who wins in a fight between:

The Pop Rivets vs. Savior Bullets vs. The Discordian Society vs. Madrone

What more can I say? Will see you all next week for the biggest announcement of my career. What an interesting week this is going to be. Until next we meet…

- The Phantom

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Beautiful for Patriot Dream

Greetings and salutations.

I am, as expected, on vacation, but will be returning next week with a BIG announcement.

Remember to cast your votes in the Band Battle:

The Pop Rivets vs. Drivn
Savior Bullets vs. Illbotz
The Discordian Society vs. Cobalt Media
Dark Ruin vs. Madrone

Bottle rockets and boats really don't mix. Should have enough bail money raised to make it out in time for a show. Major news coming next week, so don't miss out. Until next we meet...

- The Phantom