Young, aspiring rock ‘n’ roll dudes learn many harsh lessons in their fruitless quest for superstardom, but none as vital as this: Avoid, at all costs, “Battles of the Bands.” Regard them as you would “electroclash,” “heroin,” “Ovation acoustic,” or “Blake’s on Telegraph.” Do not play one under any circumstances.
Why? You pay more cash than you’ll make at your first twenty gigs combined for the privilege of stumbling through two or three songs for an indifferent audience comprised entirely of the other bands you’re battling, eager to see you fail and/or get electrocuted. Often you must sell tickets in advance yourself, forcing you to annoy friends, parents, and potential lovers. And inevitably, you lose to some Maroon 5 ripoff that paid off its fans and the judges. Even if you don’t, you score a lousy Sam Ash gift certificate, or the chance to drive to some other city, do the same goddamn thing, and lose there.
As a mere spectator and lover of human suffering, however, Battle of the Bands hoedowns are fantastic, as you have a 100 percent chance of seeing a few hilariously awful bands, a 50 percent chance of seeing a few actually decent bands, and a tantalizing 5 percent chance of seeing some doofus fall off the stage.
Thus, we journey to SF club 12 Galaxies for a qualifying round in the Global Battle of the Bands (www.gbob.com), which evidently terrorizes young Strat-slingers in 23 countries, all culminating in a London Hootenanny in November, whereupon the winner scores a world tour and (!!) $100,000. Adam, the hip young chap running this circus, acknowledges the stigma involved even as he admits that a) every member of every band paid $25 to do this, and b) he’ll probably make them presell tickets next year.
Twelve to fourteen mostly Bay Area bands tonight, two songs each, winner goes to Los Angeles for the American finals. Second and third prize get … Sam Ash gift certificates. I’m one of the judges, and nobody has paid me off for shit. Let’s roll.
Young dudes often start rock bands solely to retaliate against unfaithful lovers. With that in mind, meet our first contestant: Said the Gun to the Girl. Subtle. As his bandmates tune and noodle nervously, the diminutive lead singer kneels onstage, demurely sipping from a water bottle. It is evident that once the music starts, bro is gonna scream his damn head off, and that he does, leaping about spastically as his buddies Bring the Hardcore. As the second tune progresses, he grows more unhinged and violent, crashing into amps, mic stands, his bandmates …
Could he possibly …
Yes, just a little closer …
Boom. He falls offstage, taking a monitor with him for good measure. Fantastic. That’s twenty points out of twenty in my America.
Afterward, our official emcee, Oakland rapper Knoc-Out, politely requests that we respect the equipment. Sadly, all subsequent bands acquiesce. Next comes Scissors for Lefty, a dance-punking, Bloc Party-aping outfit — pleasant enough, but blown off the stage by Gooser, a party-hearty Rock ‘n’ Roll machine led by a manic lead guitarist who repeatedly spanks himself between riffs. He’s wearing a Def Leppard T-shirt, while his bandmates are sporting, respectively, Mickey Mouse and the slogan “Drug Free.” Two-thirds of these shirts are ironic — you pick which ones.
Gooser is thoroughly righteous. It could kill at Berkeley teen hangout iMusicast tomorrow. Thus, via Battle of the Bands logic, it has no chance in hell of winning. Nor does Detest, a harsh-tatties melodic hardcore outfit that brings the most enthusiastic fans thus far — they whip up a feeble two-man mosh pit and shout “Fuck everybody else!” as the band wraps up its triumphant two-song set.
But one doesn’t patronize Battle of the Bands events for quality. Which brings us to Woodthrush, the evening’s only true fifty-car pileup, albeit a forgivable one, as the band is all way underage — the drummer, so help me god, looks about eight. He’s thirteen, actually. And both guitarists look like Hedwig and the Angry Inch extras dressed as mariachis. They plow through some George Thorogood-style, no-bullshit (no discernible beat, either) barroom rock, soloing whenever the urge strikes.
The lead singer’s father is camped out in the 12 Galaxies balcony, videotaping the proceedings and nodding along. “That’s my son!” he declares. “These kids, they were so excited. They’ve never done anything like this before. They were all jacked up.”
(Additional criticism deleted for decorum’s sake.)
That and the stage-diving guy are the evening’s highlights. There are some subsequently lovely moments, though: The Company, a buncha dapper dudes in suits, do the flailing-arms hip-hop thing (lyrics prominently featuring shaken asses and baby mamas), while sit-on-a-stool-and-croon-like-Ani belter Heather Lauren elicits the most sincere — i.e., not from ringers she hectored into showing up — applause.
Again, though: no chance. After the votes are tallied, Heather and the Company tie for third, Scissors for Lefty takes second, and the winner? End to Pass, an okay alt-rock band that played last. (That’s the other thing: The winner always plays last.)
Break a leg in LA, boys. Preferably by falling off the stage.