Tuesday, July 05, 2016

COLUMN: Electric Shock

As a weekend DJ, I'm used to getting song requests. But as a writer, I'm NOT used to getting column requests. But as odd as it may be, I've been swamped with e-mails, Facebook messages, and even one person walking up to me at the grocery store, all asking the same question:

"Are you planning to write about the Heart concert?!"

Err, no, not especially. For one, I didn't go. For two, I'm not a huge Heart fan by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, "Barracuda" and "Magic Man" are classics, but I just can't forgive them for their 80's reinvention as shlocky balladeers responsible for the ruination of many a harmless karaoke night. (Give ANY wannabe singer enough alcohol and they'll inevitably think they're as gifted as Ann Wilson. They never are.)

But perhaps I DO need to write about last week's Heart show at the iWireless Center, because a lot of people I care about are up in arms over it. As I type this, massive firestorms have been raging on social media within the local music scene, and you know it's bad when SOME PEOPLE HAVE TAKEN TO TYPING IN ALL CAPS. Strangely, though, none of it has anything to do with Heart.

There were two opening acts at the show last Tuesday. One was The Lynch Mob, featuring the guy from Dokken (not to be confused with Da Lench Mob, which featured Ice Cube and would have been way more rad.) But before Heart or The Lynch Mob took the stage, there was another opener: the winner of the 97X-Posure Battle of the Bands. Over at Rascals Live, a slew of area bands slugged it out and were whittled down to four finalists. In the end, the winner that got the amazing opportunity to take to the iWireless stage was Electric Shock, a local AC/DC tribute band.

For any area band, playing to a crowd the size of the iWi has to be a dream come true -- and to be offered that chance when you're a tribute band is extraordinary. When those guys were sitting in a basement figuring out Angus Young's guitar licks, they never thought in a million years they'd one day be rocking AC/DC covers on a major stage to thousands of classic rock fans. Well done, boys.

But that's where the controversy swirls. You see, Electric Shock was the only band in the finals that didn't write and perform their own material. I definitely get why some outspoken music geeks in town are a little honked off. Imagine if you were a struggling songwriter trying desperately to gain a following, and you manage to get to the finals of what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity only to lose to a tribute band. That had to be incredibly disheartening. As a result, many fans are asking some tough questions: Why were cover bands and original artists both allowed in the battle? What was the judging criteria? How could judges vote for a tribute band over artists performing original songs?

Please, please, please don't get me wrong, this is not ANY kind of slam on Electric Shock. Those guys rock. I'd rather hear their version of AC/DC over the bastardized Axl Rose howling mess that calls itself the real AC/DC these days. The folks I know who went to the Heart show LOVED Electric Shock, and I'm happy they got an awesome moment in the spotlight.

But I also understand why some musicians are raising a stink. Traditionally, tribute and cover bands are proud warriors of the bar scene. You don't often see them ascend to huge stages like the iWi. If there's a chance that this slot could be a band's big break, it's potentially wasted on a cover band. As good as Electric Shock are, Warner Bros. will never be waiting in the wings to sign an AC/DC tribute band. So I get the indignation. You might even think I agree with it. In this case, though, I don't. I think the judges made the right decision.

My mind flashes back to 1997, when Eric Clapton played here. Touring on the back of a blues record, Clapton eschewed most of his greatest hits that night in favor of a set of blues standards and deep catalog cuts from a legend. And many fans were LIVID. I remember seeing comment after comment on QConline.com from folks who were OUTRAGED that he didn't play "White Room" or "Tears in Heaven." I distinctly recall one guy demanding his money back. While it seems ludicrous to me to insist that a musical genius only play the same tired songs you know and love, that's the mentality of crowds who attend a nostalgia show. And this, folks, was a nostalgia show.

The band that came in 2nd place at the battle was Condor and Jaybird. At risk of sounding like a broken record, those guys rock. They're young, gifted, and seething with potential. If there's a local band that perfectly represents the new Daytrotter-fueled era of QC music, it's them. Their unique blend of raw folky psychedelia is the future. But it's not right for a Heart show. As much as I love them, if Condor and Jaybird had taken the iWi stage, I fear they would have been met with a sigh of indifference from classic rock fans waiting impatiently for "Barracuda." Condor and Jaybird deserve better.

I actually saw someone on Facebook theorize that maybe Heart would have heard Condor and Jaybird and gotten them a record deal. I suppose weirder things have happened, so anything's possible. But the cynic in me firmly believes Heart were probably in their dressing room busily being Heart. And nothing against Heart, but I'm not even sure THEY have a record label in this day and age. Sad as it may be, I don't know if Warner Bros. would take Ann Wilson's call without Beyonce and Taylor Swift being on a party line.

At the end of the day? It was a nostalgia show, it was a nostalgia crowd, and in THIS perfect storm, I guarantee the audience appreciated a handful of AC/DC singalongs more than they would have a left-of-center rock band they've never heard before. My hope here, though, is that maybe this brouhaha will make everyone have second thoughts about Battles of the Bands in the future. Music should be art. Music should be fun. Music shouldn't be a popularity contest or judged by a table of experts.

Unless, of course, that expert is me.

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