Beggar's Banquet

Cheesy Mick Jagger impersonation contest parallels current state of the Stones

Thirty years ago, no male in the Western world could have been blamed for wanting to be like Mick. Living the life of Jagger at that time meant you had fame, wealth, looks, great drugs and glamour. It meant you were the toast of swingin' Carnaby Street and you had a nubile Marianne Faithfull waiting in bed for you every night.

But who would really want to be like Mick now? The bones are creaking, the fame is fading, you're stuck in a band you're sick of with a partner you've known almost 50 years, and you're tied down by family commitments. And even when the masses come out to worship you--as at Friday's Sun Devil Stadium show--they just want to hear those old songs you've sung five million times.

Be that as it may, last Thursday The Bash on Ash teamed up with the Eagle 96.9 FM and Budweiser for an "I Wanna Be Like Mick" contest on the eve of the Stones' first Valley show in 16 years. Contestants were expected to lip-synch and dance to a preselected Stones backing track, with the best Stone clone to win a grand-prize road trip to see Mick and the geezers play in South Beach, Miami, December 5 to December 8. Second and third prizes were tickets to the November 7 Tempe show.

Of course, anyone with a lick of sense could anticipate that this event would contain an extremely high cheese factor. But who knew that Fox 10 Arizona Morning sidekick Skippy would tart up the whole thing with his witless attention-grabbing antics, and use the night as an excuse for self-promotion? Forget, for a moment, the absurdity of a middle-aged man going by the name of Skippy. From the beginning of the contest, the roly-poly clown desperately tried to hijack the night from the contestants.

Dressed in red warm-up pants and a white sweatshirt with a baseball cap, he kicked off the show by strapping on an accordion and began mugging into a camera as he performed criminally awful versions of "Satisfaction" and "Start Me Up." It was all meant to be cute and clever, but it just made me long for Weird Al Yankovic. Skippy proceeded to traipse through the club, always followed by the camera, and ineptly try to "work" the crowd. Every exaggerated move was aimed for the lens, and when he had his quota of buffoonery on videotape, he was thankfully outta there. But even the most placid members of the audience must have wished that the contest's first prize would be a chance to make Skippy your personal pinata for a night.

The contest began with Tom, a big, balding, Peter Boyle look-alike who showed no willingness, or ability, to move a muscle or lip-synch in time to "Sympathy for the Devil." In fact, he hardly opened his mouth throughout his "performance." A couple of scattered boos emanated from the back of the club, but I thought Tom's effort was a conceptual masterstroke. He was reminding us that being like Mick in 1997 means being distracted, bored, incoherent and disdainful of your audience. Someday Tom's genius will be understood.

Next up was the clear favorite, Scott Reabe. Unlike almost every other contestant, Reabe bothered to try to look a bit like Mick. He was tall, thin, with perfectly Jaggerish hair, a Stones tee shirt (with big-lips logo) and a long trench coat. Reabe, like the first contestant, chose to do "Sympathy for the Devil." Yet the opportunity to hear the song once before he hit the stage apparently did nothing to jog his memory bank. His mouth was so out of synch with Mick's recorded vocals that the whole thing began to feel like a badly dubbed Japanese monster flick.

From that point on, the contest--much like a Stones show--began to get a bit more professional. Mike Tully, an Arizona State University senior and a fan of both the Stones and Led Zep, got the first excited female whoops of the night. Looking more like Vinnie Barbarino than Mick Jagger, Tully nonetheless brought some heated grinding to "Start Me Up." He also broke precedent by actually knowing the words to his chosen song.

In an effort to stretch out a thin premise, the contest was interrupted by a set from the Groove Merchants, a cover band that looked like a bunch of local dentists who'd decided they wanted to rock out on weekends. When they launched into a horn-driven "Mustang Sally" (when did that become a Stones song?), I didn't know whether to dance or ask for help with my abscessed molar.

The only surprise remaining was the appearance of a female Mick. The contestant, Kristy Grotel, did an adequate imitation of Mick's rooster strut on "Start Me Up," and offered some reminder of the androgynous appeal that made Jagger interesting to begin with. Nonetheless, her victory over Tully in an audience-judged final seemed more the voice of sentiment than reason.

In any case, immediately after winning, Grotel had to give up her prize, because her sister, Jennifer Larson, works at the Eagle.

In the end, the contest was a spectacle perfectly in tune with the sad state of the present-day Stones. Despite the hundreds of Jagger-Richards songs to pick from, no one could think of anything but the same three or four of the most overplayed songs in the band's canon. Though Jagger is one of the most talked-about and written-about people of our lifetime, when it came time to emulate him, no one could think of anything distinctive to do. Fact is, moving like Mick in '97 just means flailing around onstage with no sense of grace or style and involuntarily puckering your lips from time to time.

If the night recalled the Stones' glory era of the '60s, it was most inadvertently. As a friend said to me at one point, "This is rougher than Vietnam." Maybe that's what made it such a baby-boomer love fest.

Three-Hour Cruise: The Grievous Angels are known for their funky Halloween-costume themes. During the years, they've dressed as the Village People, as a group of Unabombers and even as a '70s edition of the Philadelphia 76ers. But even by the honky-tonk twangsters' standards, this Halloween was inspired. For their October 31 show at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe, all five band members donned the outfits of characters from Gilligan's Island. Lead singer Russell Sepulveda played Gilligan, while steel-guitar master Jon Rauhouse dressed as the Skipper ("'cause he's the fattest," according to Sepulveda). Perhaps the most impressive sacrifice in the name of art was made by drummer Jess Navarro, who shaved his legs so he could be an authentic Mary Ann.

Imperial Pop: The power-pop heroes of Autumn Teen Sound have decided to change their name, with the thought of increasing their viability to notoriously skittish labels. The band debuted its new name, Sugar High, and some new material at Hollywood Alley in Mesa on November 7. The members are currently shopping a sharp four-song tape.

Who's in town: Punk and trash-rock fans have an embarrassment of riches to look forward to with Nita's Hideaway's "Desert Trash Blast" on November 14 and 15. Of special local interest is Jeff Dahl, an Arizonan with an incredibly extensive rock resume. Punk fans will best remember him as the lead singer of the L.A. hard-core band Angry Samoans, although many know him from a more recent spate of solo releases on Triple X Records. All in all, nine bands will take the stage during the weekend, including the hard-rocking, perfectly named Lazy Cowgirls.

Also, indie-rock fans shouldn't miss Modest Mouse on Friday, November 14, at Boston's in Tempe, with Carissa's Weird, and the Les Payne Product.

--Gilbert Garcia

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