Open War

Former friends host closed-mikes at opposite ends of town, but their pasts keep crossing

Bionic's a psychotic mix of backwoods idiosyncrasy and schoolyard innocence, like a curious kid studying ants through a magnifying glass and wondering why they're all burning up. Tonight he's performing without the clothesline hanging across the stage. Optimist joins him on the high harmonies of a song called "Tidal Wave." A few months back, on the very last Songwriters' Ball Bionic played, Optimist provided the harmonies for this song from the audience.

"Optimist often puts in an appearance at the Emerald, usually to talk to someone briefly and hand out fliers for one of his shows," chuckles Lockwood, "but he stayed for over an hour that night and looked like he was having fun."

Optimist's opinion of the night out? "Mostly Andrew invites people who are his friends or people he knows on the scene. I don't see him seeking out new talent. He has veterans of bands who've been around for six years or longer. A lot of things he does, including that night, just strike me as being an ass kiss. I think he joins bands, lets people join his bands and puts together these nights with that as a big factor, like 'who can I ingratiate myself to?' And in a lot of ways, it's working out."

Shayne "Optimist" Caraway is a songwriter/talent scout whose home base is Hollywood Alley.
Kevin Scanlon
Shayne "Optimist" Caraway is a songwriter/talent scout whose home base is Hollywood Alley.

March 17, Optimist's Open-Mike: What once was working out, but is now backfiring, is Optimist's use of the closed-mike as a reward system for people who do good on the open-mike. "When people ask point blank, 'Can we play at the closed-mike?', I try to be as diplomatic and honest as possible. But I tell them you have to be one of the five or six best acts at open-mike. And you've got a ways to go." Optimist laughs and looks away for a moment. "It hurts their egos and they say, 'Fuck Optimist.' Well, I'm trying to do something with integrity or good entertainment value. I try not to be brutal unless they're close to me and they want that. Not a lot of people want that. But I want that."

From the stage, Optimist voices disappointment that some people who've played Acoustic Alley now think they're too good to play the Sunday nights. The exceptions tonight are Mike Montoya from Fatigo; Until August, a pop band playing acoustic versions of songs they'll play electric at the next Acoustic Alley; and Lonna, an attractive long-haired lass with glasses who gets the usual Lisa Loeb comparisons from barflies, except her songs are generally better and less self-consciously precious. She opens with an arresting song called "Dead Dog" and follows it with the faux gospel of "Jesus Has His Eye on You" and "Satan Song," a joke song that everyone calls out for, much to her annoyance. (Sample lyric: "I have rejected Satan from my life/Some girls get so anxious and look for dangerous love, hiking up their skirts and kissing with their tongue.")

Tonight's lax time restraints mean a selection of intense songs from Optimist himself. He has what they used to call in the biz a "legit" voice, in that he enunciates in a clear manner that is more befitting of a Broadway musical than a rock song, but that's okay, since Optimist never rocks. His repertoire consists of sensitive keyboard ballads with the word "fuck" casually interjected somewhere. Tonight he performs a new original called "Pigs."

One wonders what happens when people who come expecting a benevolent, smiley faced host get this grimly severe guy singing "clean me up, market me brains and feet" and bemoaning the "diamond in the rough" that breaks this little piggy's heart of glass. Bluntly, a song like "(I Will Make You) Black and Blue" doesn't sound very "optimistic."

"Well," says Optimist, laughing, "people who take songs like 'Black and Blue' literally shouldn't be allowed near metaphors." You may have seen Caraway's industrial band called Figurehead (which Lockwood once played in for five years) or his portrayal of Decepto, the archvillain of Les Payne Product -- the first time the presence of a villain improved a live show since Kiss Meet the Phantom of the Park. In comparison to Decepto and Figurehead, Optimist seems like a guy who sat through a hot summer of anger-management courses.

"The general consensus when you meet me is that I'm a villain anyway," he says, nodding. "People are predisposed to think I'm an ass. You're either won over by my sincerity and my professionalism or you're not." When asked the main difference between the two closed-mikes, Jonny Bionic notes, "Shayne always wears a suit jacket."

March 27, Acoustic Alley: Major drama ensues tonight. As if a closed-mike performer asking Optimist "how much do we get paid" isn't bad enough, Lonna's ex-boyfriend and current music collaborator Mike is in the audience heckling Optimist. "This guy has hated me for four years," Optimist stresses. "I discovered this diamond out from under him and he never took Lonna's music seriously before that. When I did a show at the Mason Jar last week, he was making pretend monitor feedback noises while I was trying to get levels for Lonna. But, hey, I even put him on Lonna's guest list tonight. Then he yells shit out while I'm trying to introduce her like, 'You suck. Jewel is better than you are.'" Caraway waits until Lonna's set is over before slamming his hands down on their table and telling Mike he's banned from future Optimist Presents shows. Lonna calls Optimist "a fucking asshole" in the parking lot and he responds by telling her she's no longer welcome, either.

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