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

The Next Great American Band: "10 Cut To 8 & Top 8 Perform"

Illustration for article titled The Next Great American Band: "10 Cut To 8 & Top 8 Perform"
Illustration for article titled The Next Great American Band: "10 Cut To 8 & Top 8 Perform"

This is the last official TV Club blog post for The Next Great American Band, but I'm not quite done with the show. I'm going to keep watching, and when it comes time for the finale, either just before or just after, I'll write a little something for the main A.V. Club blog about the future prospects of the finalists, and why I think they made it as far as they did. But for tonight, I'm going to stick with the performances: No original songs this week, just one Billy Joel cover each. So let's rock, '70s AM pop-style.

Franklin Bridge: "Don't come trippin' to me," the Franklin Bridge frontman sings on his way into the chorus of Joel's "Big Shot," and either because he's distracted by having to clean up the word "bitchin'" or because he's thinking about the "trippin'" solo he's getting ready to perform, he seems completely adrift in the song: forgetting lyrics, losing the tempo, etc. The rest of the band actually does well, and that guitar solo, while too brief, is suitably exciting. But the way they treat the song seems a little flip, and even disrespectful. Or maybe I'm still thinking about last week's arrogant dismissal of the judges' comments.

JUDGES' REACTION: Johnny thinks they "nailed it," Sheila E. refers back to last week's "cockiness" with a warning, and Dicko calls the cockiness "confidence," and says he digs it.

Cliff Wagner & The Old #7: Stepping out of the bluegrass arena a little, Wagner and the boys do "You May Be Right" as a midtempo two-stepper, and instill it with some of their own personality. Wagner's voice is a little quavery, but the performance is entertaining, if a little safe.

JUDGES' REACTION: Johnny loves it, Sheila E. thinks they were fantastic, and Dicko calls it "soporific."

Denver & The Mile High Orchestra: Even though I haven't been a fan of The Mile High Orchestra up to now, the energy of their "Tell Her About It" horn arrangement is pretty impressive. As for Denver, I'm still not seeing it. Or more accurately: hearing it. He has almost no tone to his voice, and he over-enunciates like Pat Boone doing Little Richard. That being said, this is the band's best overall performance on the show so far, and I fully expect them to make at least as far as the final four. This kind of act just has a broad appeal–they're peppy, they've got musicianship to spare, and they're completely inoffensive. That's what TV is all about.

JUDGES' REACTION: Johnny thinks they're "timeless," Sheila E. calls the arrangements "joyful," and Dicko thinks they're more on the "corporate gig" level than the arena level. Excellent point, Dicko.

Dot Dot Dot: Well well well. I only had two bands on my "in trouble" list last week, and these guys were one. Wishful thinking, I guess. So this week the annoying lead singer declares this "the coolest day of our lives" because they get to perform Billy Joel's "Pressure," then proceeds to do a semi-Joel impression, cut with a little Simon Le Bon. The arrangement's okay and the band is tight for once–maybe because they're not leaping about like idiots–but that singer, dear Zod, that singer. So affected. So very affected. Still, give it up to DDD for taking the judges' notes and toning their act down. That either makes them savvy or sell-out whores.

JUDGES' REACTION: Johnny calls it "solid," Sheila E. appreciates that they're paying attention, and Dicko notes that the performance worked because of the singer's newfound focus. Good point again, Dicko.

Sixwire: I was sure Sixwire was going to cheat and just do Garth Brooks' version of Billy Joel's "Shameless," so I was glad they took a chance–a small chance, granted–and did a fairly dynamic version of "She's Always A Woman," a ballad with that in its original form has a few edges. Sixwire doesn't ignore those edges either–they hit the "carelessly cut you" line with the requisite spite–but for the most part this performance is all about the arrangement, which starts in a hush and ends in a hum, and builds carefully in between. I know I keep coming back to how much I admire Sixwire's professionalism, but what can I say? When you sit in a well-built chair, you can't help but appreciate the comfort.

JUDGES' REACTION: Johnny starts out with "solid" again but shifts to "awesome," Sheila E. proposes marriage, and Dicko asks the lead singer to defend the song's misogyny (which the singer does, without missing a beat).

Très Bien!: When Dot Dot Dot snuck in, I began to worry about Très Bien!'s prospects, so I was relieved that they made the cut, and surprised that they chose such an off-beat Joel song in "Movin' Out." I can't say that they nail it–the performance lacks a certain conviction–but I've always liked "Movin' Out," and this version certainly doesn't suck. But it's not exactly memorable either. Now they're in trouble.

JUDGES' REACTION: Johnny calls it "interesting" and wishes it had been more aggressive (I agree), Sheila E. calls it "fun," and Dicko calls it "sloppy" and says that he'd say more but "my writers are on strike."

The Clark Brothers: These guys are at a disadvantage when they don't get to do an original, because they're arguably the best overall songwriters in this competition. When they try to do someone else's thing–like this week's mewling version of the usually lovely "She's Got A Way"–their limitations as performers get exposed. But the instrumental coda is terrific, and puts the Brothers on much more solid footing.

JUDGES' REACTION: Johnny thinks it was the most confident performance of the night, Sheila E. fawns, and Dicko calls it "just fantastic." I agree with Dicko's contention that The Clark Brothers invest the songs with real emotion, but I think he's overrating their skills (and their spirituality).

Light Of Doom: Not sure which band I wanted or expected to fill the final slot, but I confess I was interested to see what Billy Joel song the Metal Babies would cover. In a way, "The Stranger" makes perfect sense, and though the band kind of obliterates the instrumental passages, their arrangement is inventive and…you know…kind of good. Damn. I liked Light Of Doom this week.

JUDGES' REACTION: Johnny thinks it's their best performance, Sheila E. praises their determination, and Dicko hails the committed performance.

CUT! The Muggs, as expected, and Rocket, which is kind of a surprise. This week, the host doesn't let the evictees talk, though The Muggs dude still manages to sneak in a quick "boo."

Who's in trouble: Très Bien! and The Old #7 were fine, but I have a feeling they're on the edge. I also want to say Dot Dot Dot, but man who knows anymore?

Best of the week: Believe it or not, Light Of Doom, with Sixwire close behind.

Grade: B

Stray observations:

-Back around 1984, I doubled my record collection overnight when I signed up for the Columbia Record & Tape Club, and among those first 12 albums was Billy Joel's The Stranger. In the years since, I've become more and more aggravated by Joel's "piano man" syndrome (shared by the likes of Ben Folds and Joe Jackson): a kind of insecurity that makes piano-playing songwriters more snide than necessary. But Joel can damn well write a melody, and I'd put his best 20 songs up there among the best commercial pop music of the '70s and '80s. I wish the acts this week had gotten beneath Joel's songs more, and had done more than just sing the tunes, but those tunes are sturdy enough to hold up to the different interpretations, which makes me respect Joel all the more. Pardon me while I go put on "Summer, Highland Falls."

-Thanks for reading, everybody. Check back on the main blog in a couple of weeks for some final thoughts.