Dark Horse 2016: Augment Your Reality
Winners: Mom Jeans Jeanie (Nicole Sevcik), Air Jesus, Flying Finn (Andrew Finn), Erik Ittar Jr (Erich Hacker), SixStringSal (Thomas Saladin)
Second-rounders: Whammy Hagar (Tim Granlund), Slashsqautch (Taylor Fullbright), Operation Rock-a-Pussy (Michael Lovely), CindAIRella (Beth Melin), Iron Dragon (Justin Fox)
Noteworthy performances: Every. Fucking. One.
AUSTIN, TX -- Every year around this time the second best of the best, the almost good enough, the wannabes and “damn-nears,” are invited to play an underground, unpublished show for one last shot to compete in the National Finals. Similar to – and better than – the Nobel Prize, recipients of Dark Horse invitations are hand-selected by the Office of the Co-commissionership staffers, who are limited to only one vote per hand. The information is then transmitted via Telegram from Corporate HQ to each recipient’s local post office or Western Union, where it is then scanned and delivered via limited edition jpeg.
For many professional air guitarists and air guitar bloggers, it is the most fun show of the year.
As such, last night brought competitors, friends and sedatives from across the country, including celebrity appearances by ROCKNESS MONSTER (Fatima Hoang), BJÖRN TÜROQUE (Dan Crane) and IVANNA ROQUE (Dan Crane). Countless more tuned in to the livestream, which is available exclusively here.
The performances were top tier and each of the competitors could arguably take a top spot on the National or even International stage, as illustrated by World Champion Bronze medalist OPERATION ROCK-A-PUSSY (Michael Lovely), who failed to advance to the nationals by a mere three-tenths of a point.
Round one was dominated by longtime competitor ERIK ITTAR JR. (Erich Hacker), who early on slipped off the stage “flat onto his fucking face,” according to one cross-dressing judge who was present, after Ittar wandered the stage phone-in-hand searching for a poké ball. His music then began with a harmless Pokémon theme song, before exploding into a very harmful metal cover of the same. He received an average 5.92 score, as close to perfect as the chintzy judges would deliver all night.
IRON DRAGON (Justin Fox) – six-inch spiked chain mail, Hellraiser head, and blood dripping from his mouth – delivered a career best and fucked with my reality every bit as much as Erik Ittar and his pikachoos. Dragon inverted the classic trope of “start with Britney, end with Gwar,” choosing instead to being with a Pantera track offensive to most humans before switching to an expertly edited and widely adored “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang. This is an absurd and bold move, because the Britney/Gwar trope has proven universally effective for so many (Seth Leibowitz, Shred, William Ocean, etc.) wherein the audience drops its guard with Britney, then gets blown the fuck away by the Gwar for which they otherwise would have been prepared had they not been so disarmed by Britney. Furthermore, rather than switching immediately to cutsie-wootsie mode with Celebration, his facial expression registered panic then rage, then ran the Kübler-Ross gamut, finally ending with a group acceptance that our faces had been melted off our fucking skulls.
Indeed, the list of oh-so-close folks was long and distinguished: TIGER CLAW (Dan Lafever) received his first post-season 6.0, CindAIRella (Beth Melin) increased her high-kick angle to 180° (or “six o’clock,” whichever is more mathematically impossible), CorpAIRation (Brian Reeves) brilliantly returned to his classic persona, ROCKSTACHE (Charles Williamson) and DICK DIESEL (Jerrod Dewey) showed us why DC is making a new name for itself, EL AIRIACHI (Randy Garza) perfected the air guitar physique, and Texas’ native son SLASHSQUATCH (Taylor Fullbright) probably got screwed by the judges almost as bad as Iron Dragon.
CAPT. AIRHAB (Matt Lebel) – the guy who drinks beer through his corn pipe, who handed out weed while crowdsurfing earlier in the season, who slew the whale only to be slain himself – had a charming exchange with celebrity hosts LT. FACEMELTER (Jason Farnan) and DOUG THE THUNDERSTROOCK (Doug Stroock) after his performance. Something in Airhab’s otherwise good-but-not-quite-great routine surprised Facemelter, and although I didn’t exactly catch what it was that Facemelter was praising, I was able to hear Airhab’s response: “that was an accident, I’m not really that good.”
Newcomer SixStringSal (Thomas Saladin) lived up to the hype created by Kansas City legend VAN DAMMAGE (Luke Sevcik) who earlier in the season called him “this year’s big thing,” as did fellow Kansan AIR JESUS (JoJo Longbottom). For his part, Air Jesus once again forsook the cross and other 8-foot-tall woodshop props he’s used in the past and instead trusted his audience to interpret the more subtle references to his God-like, err, God shreds and immortal airness. For instance: when he crosses himself on stage? He’s crossing Himself. Similar I-don’t-know-what-this-means-but-I-like-it moments occurred throughout his performance, like when he blew a kiss toward heaven (at Himself, Who was in fact standing there on His own stage). His round one ended sublimely, with silence in his track and the audience belting out one final refrain in unison, “and she's buy-i-ing the stairway to heaven.”
MOM JEANS JEANIE (Nicole Sevcik) and FLYING FINN (Andrew Finn), advanced to the National Finals on air guitar alone, free of schtick, except for a small bottle of Purell that Mom Jeans squirted all over the judges who had already squirting themselves. For Finn, it’s a return to the National stage after some number of years that we’re not quite sure about because the website intern didn’t update our Champs page before returning to Oxford.