I've got a campaign slogan for next year's New Times Music Showcase. Ready? Here it goes: A Volkswagen in every garage, and a chicken in every Dumpster.
Okay, it kinda sucks, but you try coming up with a pithy description of a seven-hour, 13-venue, 52-band showcase without straining your gray matter. At least this phrase is short, and it's actually based in a bit of fact. Volkswagen, of course, was a showcase sponsor, and its display near Hayden Square was a nonmusical highlight. As for the chicken part, more on that later.
In any event, in my extremely biased opinion, the showcase was a great event, and I'm sure most of the roughly 10,000 attendees would agree. But since the prospect of catching all 52 bands is impossible for even the swiftest runner, I caught only a fraction of what happened. With that in mind, here's a run-down of some of the highlights:
Vic Masters again proved that his pop-culture weather vane is unerring, by turning his McDuffy's showcase into a Jerry Springer parody on the same day that Springer was answering NBC's questions about his show's legitimacy. Masters bravely competed with the Bulls-Nets game and ESPN hockey highlights on TV screens that flanked the sports-bar stage. Between karaoke renditions of Masters standards like "Valley Idiot" and "Beauty Sleep," Masters moderated a panel of freaks who like fisticuffs, including a flamboyantly gay dancer named Candy ("Candy's sweet when it's wrapped in a sweater," Masters assured Candy's reticent lover) and a segment producer in a Mike Tyson mask.
At the Bash on Ash, Tony Gutierrez's Pan-American Band took advantage of the gargantuan stage to unleash its mammoth lineup on an array of horn-driven, percussive salsa. The sheer logistical achievement of getting 14 people locked into the same groove was highly impressive.
At Beeloe's, Yolanda Bejarano graciously missed part of her brother's wedding to front Mariachi Colonial for one song before letting this wonderfully authentic group assume the spotlight. Even with such a brief performance, the former Slugger singer proved that her voice lends itself amazingly well to traditional Mexican ballads.
The Jennys kept a packed Owl's Nest enthralled with highlights from last year's album, Dandelion, sounding better than ever with their expanded four-piece lineup.
Reuben's Accomplice and Les Payne Product had simultaneous sets at Trails and the Valley Art Theatre outside stage, respectively, and they made the most of it with a somewhat dubious high-tech hookup. After communicating by walkie-talkies at the beginning of their sets, both bands launched into their sets, occasionally showing "live" footage of the other band that looked suspiciously like videotape. Near the end of Reuben's Accomplice's sterling set, guitarist Jeff Bufano raced over to Trails to join Les Payne, while Les Payne's James Karnes reciprocated for Reuben's. A simulation of the whole thing was broadcast on a hilariously cheesy video, but when a sweaty Karnes finally made it to Reuben's stage, he kept up all pretenses. "This live, via-satellite shit is for the birds," he said.
Kongo Shock ruled Hayden Square at the 8 p.m. time slot just as it had last year, playing to a huge crowd of ska maniacs, many of whom stayed for a post-showcase gig by The Pistoleros.
Of course, no event this size could happen without some strangeness. First and foremost was the behavior of industrial nominee BLESSEDBETHYNAME. Reliable accounts say band members huddled around a Dumpster by the Valley Art Theatre and killed a few chickens before their showcase. Reportedly, when questioned about this strange pre-show sacrament, a band member replied, "Farmers do it, too." Who knew that Beelzebub was the fourth member of this trio?
A lesser dose of controversy came from the DJ set at Club 411, where the ever loquacious Emile devoted a chunk of his set to making the valid point that DJs of different sensibilities should not be grouped under one category. Doing so, he said, was like taking all the live acts and placing them under the generic category of "Bands."
Mad At 'Em was also the victim of a snafu at the Trails parking lot (a late substitute for Ziggy's when that bar shut down) when band members were mistakenly required to pay for wristbands although they flashed security their band credentials.
All in all, though, the showcase ran surprisingly smoothly and offered a strong sampler of the diversity of the local scene. Ballots for the showcase will be tabulated this week and the music awards will be presented on May 6 at Gibson's, from 6 to 8 p.m.
Auto Zone: Fans of Jesus Chrysler Supercar undoubtedly noticed that the raucous rockers did not perform at the Music Showcase, although they had been nominated in the "Modern Rock" category. The band regretfully pulled out a week before the showcase (replaced by Seven Storey Mountain) because of a promising record-label commitment that suddenly came up. The band has been in Sherman Oaks, California, recording a demo for Sony/Columbia with famed rock producer Ed Stasium (Ramones, Motsrhead, Reverend Horton Heat).
Singer Mitch Steele says the band has been dealing with the label for a year and a half. During that time, it's sent several tapes to Sony reps, but this time the label is ponying up $12,000 for a session, surely a strong indication of serious intent. The session has less to do with securing a deal for the band, which would already seem to be a strong possibility, than with convincing Sony that Jesus Chrysler deserves a high priority amongst the boatload of R&B and hip-hop the label cranks out.
Steele knows that getting the low-priority treatment at a major label can be a one-way ticket to oblivion, and he sees the demo as "a way of showing them what can be done at a small budget."
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A label deal would seem to be particularly crucial for this band, since it's been in a prolonged state of limbo with drummer Matt Collins living in Milwaukee. The logistical problem of Collins having to fly to the Valley for gigs would be eased by label money and tour support.
Jonesing for Carvin: Carvin Jones isn't just a tireless worker, he's a diligent archivist. Since getting his band together seven years ago, the flashy blues-rock guitarist has kept a precise record of every gig he's played. This week--according to his own records--he plays his 2,500th show. Simple math says that's almost exactly seven nights a week, 52 weeks a year, for seven years. Jones attributes his estimable stamina to being a nondrinker and nonsmoker, although even his health consciousness hasn't spared him tired vocal cords, resulting in throat operations in 1994 and 1997. True to form, both times he was back onstage the following night, with one of his other band members handling vocal duties. Jones celebrates his 2,500th show on Saturday, May 2, at Groggy's.
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