Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Next Great American Band: "Auditions"

Illustration for article titled iThe Next Great American Band/i: Auditions
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Illustration for article titled iThe Next Great American Band/i: Auditions

So here we go. A two-hour audition show, as a prelude to the 12-way battle of the bands that will be playing out on quasi-live TV starting next week. And I know what some of you are thinking: Who gives a shit?

Myself, as soon as I heard the announcement for The Next Great American Band, my first thought was: What took so long? I know I've gone over this too many times, in countless blog posts and Crosstalks, but the whole American Idol/Rock Star/etc. talent show format isn't played-out for me yet, for two reasons:

1. It's still fascinating to watch unsigned musicians, music industry reps, and American TV watchers try to come to meeting of the minds about what sounds good (and what might sell) in the early 21st century.

2. On any given night, someone might give a performance at once unexpected and truly electrifying–the kind of thing that scripted TV can't really provide. (Although don't get me wrong: Great scripted TV still clobbers even the best reality TV just about anytime.)

This first NGAB audition episode didn't offer anything electrifying, or even all that unexpected, but it offered a lot to ponder. The biggest worry about the show from the moment it was announced that it would inevitably become The Next Great American Wedding Band, with one barroom grinder after another running through whatever cover songs the producers were willing to pay for. But instead, this audition featured mostly original material, performed by bands who by and large looked like they either missed (or squandered) a break about five or ten years ago.

For some reason I thought there'd be more audition shows than this one, but while the one-and-done approach costs us an unending string of joke bands with no chance to make the cut, tonight we did get a reasonably high level of competence, which allowed the home viewer to judge the bands more on their material and stage presence than on their ability to keep time and play in the right key. Which means we also got to judge the judges, and get a sense of what NGAB is looking to find.

Now, about those judges. Our token surly accented judge: Ian "Dicko" Dickson, an Australian Idol veteran who at first glance seems to be less quippy and more thoughtful than Simon Cowell. Our sweet-natured ex-pop-star: Shelia E., as generally praiseworthy as her role requires, but unafraid to say no even to acts she likes. And our working industry vet: Johnny Rzeznik of Goo Goo Dolls, eternally conflicted by his admiration for these bands' musicianship and his first-hand understanding that few of them are going to shift a lot of units.

Overall, it's a much nicer and fairer crew than the dreary, jaded AI judges, and yet….

Look, I'll give the judges (and producers, I'm sure) credit for picking twelve fairly diverse acts for the big show, starting next week. We've got some funk, some punk, some country, some metal, some emo, some power-pop, and some bands that mix these genres around. But in a way, the diversity feels a little forced. I'll have more to say about the individual bands next week when the performance round begins (at which point I'll have a better sense of who they really are) but I found it significant that so many of these acts seemed generic even within their genre. Yes, Light Of Doom is a teenage metal band, but their music is pretty much a straightforward copy of other people's; the bands only "originality" is their age. Ditto The Zombie Bazooka Patrol, an alt-country band in pasty horror movie make-up whose original song wouldn't turn the heads of the No Depression editors. (And unless I'm mistaken, they didn't make the final cut.)

Still, a lot of rock and pop is about personality, not originality, and more than a few of these finalists offered a reason to keep tuning in, to see what they'll do. I'm especially intrigued by Rocket, a quintet of pop-punk chicks who performed a Go-Gos-y version of "Blitzkrieg Bop" that wasn't exactly world-beating, but showed a lot of potential for molding and shaping by the judges. As the show moves into the theme weeks, Rocket's got a good chance to shine, because I get the feeling that their commitment to "punk" is pretty tentative. From a "watching needy young musicians sell their souls" point-of-view, the rise and fall of Rocket should be fascinating.

And the fact that they all live together in a house in Hollywood is kind of adorable. If they wash out on NGAB, they should get their own reality show. Or at least their own webcam.

Grade: B

Stray observations

-Why do I get the feeling that most of these bands are hated by the other bands in their local scene?

-In a nice sop to HDTV owners, the auditions were held in the beautiful outdoors, by a Las Vegas lake. The only problem? It was apparently hot as the dickens, which the producers, judges and host Dominic Bowden felt they needed to remind us about after every commercial break.

-Has anyone else noticed the red dots popping up on Fox shows this season? Tonight I caught a commercial for the midseason series The Sarah Connor Chronicles with those same red dots. So now we know the deal.

-What my former-musician wife wants to know: How long did it take these acts to set up? And what did the judges do while they were waiting?

SO Update: I meant to write some about the saga of Northmont (referred to in the comments below), but I wrapped this up too quickly last night. So 16 hours late, here's my favorite part of the Northmont story: The way the brooding lead singer kept emphasizing how he convinced his New Zealand guitarist to leave his daughter behind and move to the states for the sake of the band, and how, whenever the brooding lead singer's spirits were down, they kept showing him cuddling up with his daughter, as if to say, "Hey, this band's going in the tank, but at least I have my daughter!"

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