by Seamus Gallivan
I make a lot of noise about Buffalo having a great original music
scene, and I'm far from alone in this belief. So when word came
around that our musical metropolis had been picked as one of five
cities representing the U.S. in Emergenza, an international battle
of the bands with thousands of participants and major rewards on
the line, I was pretty pumped about the impression we could make
on the world's stage.
But after serving as a judge for the third and final round last
Saturday at the Sphere, I speak for the entire panel in saying that
the whole thing is a sham - a dollar-driven popularity contest that
rewards bands not for their onstage abilities, but their own self-promotion,
as the combination of band-commissioned ticket sales and audience
voting threw all credibility down the drain. The resulting rag-tag
cast of a dozen finalists was a laughable representation of what
this town has to offer. The best bands in Buffalo? Give me a break.
Most of them couldn't place at the Boonville County Fair talent
show unless their moms were handing out the ribbons. We sent experimental
groovesters Total Protonic Reversal to Boston to represent the City
of Good Neighbors in the national finals, at the same time agreeing
that while they are definitely a talented band who deserved the
title in their company, Buffalo's best band they are not.
"There wasn't anybody that night with a shred of originality,"
said judge and former Mohawk Place booking agent Marty Boratin,
who admitted with a bit of guilt that he "set this big horrible
ball in motion" when the festival contacted him last year.
That may be a bit harsh, but I think what's coming through there
is a basic desire to have his five hours back. "That was far
from the best in Buffalo," he lamented.
"The whole thing was not a place for originality," added
judge Peter Williams of Twin Village Music in Lancaster and guitarist/singer
for Am I Lost. "It seemed to cater to bands that are looking
for something commercial."
Not one band moved any of the judges with a compelling sound that
demanded attention. "I wanted to hear something unique and
innovative, and I just didn't hear it," complained judge and
Righteous Babe Records' head of sales and marketing Susan Tanner.
"Do something different, excite me!"
The cavalcade of banality began with cry-baby prog-rockers Baron
Zamedi, whose painful Morrissey wannabe lead singer overshadowed
a solid rhythm section. Although their drummer earned points in
the individual awards vote (quality prizes were given in seven other
categories), he could not overshadow his fetid frontman, who had
me not only looking for a gong, but wondering what I'd gotten myself
Hesperus was a tough call for many reasons. They scored points from
the start simply by relieving Baron Zamedi, and I saw some of my
old school Kenmore pals cheering them on, signaling a potential
hometown connection. But while they too had a vote-getting rhythm
section, the guitarist was a bit stiff, and at times I wondered
if they knew that a world of music exists outside of the Doors,
particularly in their vocals.
Next up on the virtual cover band revue was the Roadhouse Gypsies,
who gave the Stones/Crowes party rock a decent go. They had everything
you need in a standard bar band - a crowd-workin' lead singer, two
solid guitarists, a crappy keyboard player, and a general slovenly
appearance. Good times, but I only had a couple beers in me, and
you can see this act in any town.
I figured out the next band pretty quickly - the first definition
is talent; second is creativity; third is stage presence; and the
Fourth Definition is a Linkin Park rip-off who inspired me only
to look at my watch. Who the hell wants to sound like Linkin Park
anyway? Here's a loose interpretation of the lyrics from the Fourth
Definition's "Euphoria" - "Why have I buried myself
in a maze of betrayal and doubt, only to see you question my desire
to..." ah, shut up and get over it! What's wrong with these
people that they end up in a panicked state of depression when some
girl tells them to get bent? Do they have any idea what euphoria
is? Well, at least the drummer does, as he went home with the Best
Drummer award and a smokin' girlfriend.
Alright, these next guys I'm not sure quite what to say, as judging
by the many shirts in the crowd, metalheads Sardonic Grin have a
pretty formidable "army." They had two vocalists - one
earned points for best singer with a strong voice capable of operating
above the distorted power chords, and the other, well, I thought
he was great, but I met a dude at Mohawk Place a couple nights later
who disagreed - "When I was watching that guy, I kept thinking,
'he needs to rap, to push them over the hump from bad to horribly
awful.' And he did! I was so psyched," said Aron Meyer, who
left halfway through the show. Personally, I thought his rap was
deep and insightful - I even wrote one line down that I've been
practicing on my neighbors - "You don't like me? Fuck you/You'll
never understand what I've been through." So don't come after
me, Sardonic Army, I thought it was brilliant. I'm sure that Sardonic
Intelligence can figure out where that jerk Meyer lives.
3 Days Old earned high marks for the guitarist and bassist, but
for all his energy, the lead singer was pretty tough to take, from
his lousy voice to his relentlessly idiotic repeating of "How
YOU Doin'?" "Of all the bands that were bad that night,
they were the ones who got under my skin," said Williams. Seriously,
that's sayin' something, as there was plenty of competition. But
I did gave them fifth place for best song on the merits of the line,
"I wanna get along with everyone/But I'm always sitting in
the middle of an asshole sandwich."
I gotta admit here, I kind of took the next set off. The singer
from Nirvana wannabes City Powered Radio gave off a too cool for
school attitude from the get-go, staring at the ceiling and begging
not to be taken seriously. So I granted him his wish, and spent
most of their set getting a good look at the many fine ladies in
attendance, hoping that the power that came with being a judge was
enough to override the stagebound stars in their eyes. Turns out
the band got some votes from the other judges, and they wound up
in fifth place overall, but really, if they were anything special
I'd have never lost my attention in the first place.
In Total Protonic Reversal, we finally got something we could latch
onto. While it wasn't really much outside of the jam band formula,
they were mostly exceptional musicians who pushed and fed off of
each other, and actually took some chances. In addition to the grand
prize, they also took best singer, original song, and sound and
visual performance, the last on the merits of one member wearing
a sportcoat covered and lit with Christmas lights. I know folks,
but that's about all it took to win us over at that point. In an
ironic twist, one of the only lopsided votes from the panel was
in favor of TPR's Brad Robbins as Best Bassist, but somehow the
award was given to the bassist from City Powered Radio, who received
maybe one fourth or fifth place vote. We told the Emergenza rep
of the mistake, but she really didn't care, and we all just shrugged
our shoulders at the outright hosing, having already accepted that
the whole thing was a joke anyway.
Funk-rockers 716's lead singer has a commanding voice that can dominate
a show, and she got my vote for best vocalist. But it's awfully
tame for funk, as Boratin pointed out. "They seem so soulless,
so funkless, for a funk-soul band. They're a week away from playing
at the Holiday Inn." They took second place, and we took a
sigh of relief that we hadn't voted them to Boston. Again, they're
a fun band to watch, but to send out what's essentially a party
band as the best band in Buffalo would've been shameful on our part.
Sanity showed us all how to make bland, radio-friendly rock, with
strong vocals, mind-numbing lyrics, and quick, flashy solos. Despite
the singer's attempt to ruin such solos by annoyingly "Doo-dooing"
the melody (in more ways than one), they still took home best lead
guitarist. The drummer was solid, too, pushing into third place
in my book when he used his head to bang cymbals. Their anti-war
song was well-intentioned, but it could've been written by a third
grader. Said Boratin, "they're God awful, but they're good
at what they do."
The perfect follow-up to Sanity was the insanity of Summer Reign
Revolution, who gave a genuinely entertaining show. It was good
funky rock 'n roll, and the deranged drunken lead singer was perfectly
willing to make a spectacle of himself by frantically parading around
the stage. They brought up a dude who looked like Steve Christie,
mullet and all, to play trumpet for one song. For all that fun,
these guys scored points in many categories, but in presenting themselves
as somewhat of a train wreck novelty act, we weren't about to send
them out in our name.
And that was it. What's that, there's one more band? Not according
to the Emergenza brass, who deemed punk sleazers Trailer Park Mafia
an afterthought. We were pulled back to vote on the awards well
before the midpoint of their set, and when we asked if they had
a chance with the audience vote, it was shrugged off. They simply
didn't sell enough tickets, so their fate was decided for them.
Who knows how things'll be decided in Boston, but I wouldn't expect
a fair shake for our hometown heroes. It's all good, though - the
band should be happy just to be going, because if it were a true
best band in Buffalo competition, they wouldn't have gotten any
votes from us. My vote goes hands down to the Jony James Blues Band;
Tanner gives hers to Odiorne; Boratin, a true music junkie, whipped
off a dozen of his own in seconds; and Williams sides with Dollar
Canon. "The band that played the best set did win, but their
songs weren't anything great," Williams added. "In the
end, you could've gone almost anywhere after and seen a better show."
"You can see why Simon Cowell is as ornery a bastard as he
is," joked Boratin.
But Emergenza, warts and all, will return next year, as Mohawk owner
Pete Perrone has already signed on for the opening rounds again,
and who can blame him? "What a boost it gave us, selling 120
tickets on a Wednesday in January and February," he said. "They
were the best two winter months I've ever had."
No arguments there. But hell, give the judges a wild card or something,
or at least some free stuff of their own to ease the pain of some
of those sets. Ah, what do I care - after this, they're not gonna
ask me back anyway.