Thursday, November 1, 2007

Don't Judge, Lest Thou Be Judged: KFOX's LAST BAND STANDING IS AWESOME

I'm having a great time judging bands at KUFX-FM's Last Band Standing contest....but I'm gaining a lot of sympathy for Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson.

It's not easy, or always fair, judging artistic merit. And sometimes, with parents who act like Little League fanatics, it can get downright ugly.

I'm judging along with musician Robert Berry and concert promoter Read Zaro.

You can see videos of the bands at (Pics: L-R: Joe; It's All About; Subway Tokens)

I would love some input from some of you.

The first two days we scored cover bands, two each day, as they gave live radio performances on two songs. Based on our votes, and internet votes from fans, the bands can win some great prizes. Judges were brought in this year, after three previous versions, to make it more a contest of talent than of mailing lists.

But even that hasn't always worked.

The first day saw the East Bay's MamaLuke! battle the CoverGrrlz. The first band standing, MamaLuke caught a big break by going first to a panel of new judges.

Their versions of Tom Petty's "Listen to her Heart" and Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way," were true to the originals, but lacking in much inspiration. The band's singer was a solid showman, but his vocals were ordinary on tunes that didn't require great singing.

There was an out of tune guitar in the first song, but we judges didn't know if we were hearing what would be the best band of the week, or the worst. The fact that they were enthusiastic and played the songs recognizably earned a lot of charity.

Too much, it turned out.

The band got 7s and 8s from the judges. But then the Covergrrlz, who played better and with more panache, got a similar score, meaning that the one with the most fans votes would win.

MamaLuke moved on, and the judges decided we had to be tougher to make a difference.

Which isn't to say that Mamaluke, or any of these bands was bad. If anything, this contest has made me appreciate how much talent is out there at all ages.

So far, the under 18 bands are even better than the adults, maybe because they have less to lose and are more willing to take chances with the material. Or they just hear it through fresh ears.

The second day saw the Megatones slip by the Caloric Ultra Rays.

Frankly, it was a tossup for the judges. Both bands played well, hit the notes and seemed confident and entertaining.

Then came the junior category, and our toughest day.

The South Bay band Joe was the best band I've seen so far, covering Neil Young's "Ohio" and brilliantly taking on John Lennon's "Come Together." It was the latter song that sent chills up my spine.

Jordan, the 17-year-old female singer, sounded like she'd been in the business for a lifetime, her voice a throwback to crooners like Nancy Sinatra. The guitarist, Jeff, threw in a Voice Box solo, on the effect he'd only bought two days before the show.

That was the kind of inspired chance none of the established bands had taken on, and they got my highest score, a 9.5, and high scores from Read and Robert.

All of which irked the parents of the kids in competitor Crimes of Passion.

That band was OK, on "Rebel Yell" and "You Really Got Me," but the singing was flat, the drumming sludgy, despite the highly touted Eddie Van Halen pyrotechnics of 16 year old guitarist Juliana.

They sound much better on their website and demos, particularly when compared with the other bands, who seemed looser and more fun.

We wanted to grade the younger bands on a curve, but it was hardly necessary. They all had as much talent and grit as the adults, and I think a couple of them could beat the adults in a playoff.

I gave Crimes an 8; the other two scored them lower, and the difference helped clinch it for Joe. Listening back to the tapes, we were right, although the band's fans and parents were upset.

The parents of this band were roadies, cheerleaders, coaches and had stage-parent-itus, unlike the others, who mostly stood back and let the kids shine. I'd advise these parents to step back and let these kids breathe the fire of rock on their own, and play because they love it, not because you want to make them stars.

Maybe the most amazing thing is that these high school and junior high kids are huge fans of classic rock and have the talent to improvise on it.

Thursday's duo was the best all around, at least as entertainment.

A San Jose trio The Subway Tokens smeared "You Really Got Me," with the "Eruption" intro. They nailed every note and had fun doing it. They made it look easy and with a brother and sister guitarist and bassist, I could really see them taking off on originals.

(Behind every cover band is a great songwriter wanting to break out.)

Then came the Little Rascals of Rock, Morgan Hill's It's All About, a bunch of eighth graders who restored my faith in the future of rock.

These kids were so at ease, and so funny, you couldn't hate them, even when they had to stop "Hells Bells" to tune up.

Their singer advised us to grade them on a curve, because unlike the other bands, they couldn't even grow facial hair. The little blonde bassist, who headbanged so hard it looked like his head would fly off, called Greg Kihn "bro," with complete cool.

I thought Kihn should hire them on the show as his house band...Imagine the joy they'd bring to parents and kids driving to school together. They were naturals, and played well. They scored just a shade lower than the Tokens.

The winner will be announced tomorrow at 10 a.m., and next week will be Tribute Bands and the finals in the other categories. Check it out from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on 98.5 FM.

In these days when radio plays so little local music, and does so little to support it, this annual contest is a huge event for the South Bay. The station and the bands should be congratulated for putting it all together.

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