San Diego Semifinal: Ho-Ho-Holy Shitballs!
This post has been approved for publication by the Air Guitar World Championships.
WINNER: JOLLY GREEN SHREDDING MACHINE (Nathan Briles)
2ND & 3RD: LUMB-AIR-JACK (Will Herndon) & TYRANICUS LORD OF THE END TIMES (Brandon Baker)
SECOND ROUNDERS: BLAZE BADAXXE (Barry Rawlins), CH-AIR-LIE CHAPLAIN (Bunker King), SWEETNESS (Kyle Privette)
SAN DIEGO, CA -- Seems like just yesterday . . .
June’s first Semifinal double-header wrapped up in a sold-out show in the wee hours of a Sunday morning here in San Diego, where the greater California-Arizona-Pacific-Island-region’s finest professional air guitarists went head-to-head and decided who would advance to the U.S. Finals in Austin, TX.
Each performer advanced from their own local Qualifying competitions or by fulfilling USAG’s maze of points and prerequisites, or by slipping some unmarked bills to our A&R team over at eventbrite.com. They funneled-in from as far north as Santa Cruz, as far east as Tucson, and with the ATC We Fly Harder award going to OPTIMUS SHRED (Richard McCalmont), on leave from his Naval post in Apra Harbor, Guam.
Behind the scenes the friendly, family-like nature of Saturday’s show produced two competitors volunteering to open the show; thus suffering low-ball scores from a judging panel who, like the a.m. crowd here at Wet Blanket Gentlemen’s Club, aren’t expecting anyone’s A-game. Longtime competitor SHRED BOY R.D. (Greg Pittelli), OCTANE FRETTY (Paul Harris), and Optimus all performed admirably (in the Naval sense) yet fell short of a second round berth.
And that’s where the friendly, family-like nature of Saturday’s show ended. STEVIE LYXX (Jessica Gonyea) has been unseen since she punted the oversized head of a replica Air Bear – our hapless, drunk and disorderly mascot – clear onto the Chicago Metro’s mezzanine level in 2007. In San Diego last week, she rocked a red-white-and-blue Budweiser onesie (halvsie, really), patriotic bandana, and birthed an American Eagle onstage. Lyxx was superb but rusty, using too many early reveals which demanded unthinkably tight chops later in the performance. Instead, if Lyxx considers keeping the eagle-birthing at the top of the performance, but then backloads the patriotic onesie/bandana combo toward the end with cleaner fret control, we may soon have a new regional champ on our hands.
BERNIE SANDAIRS (Derek Simmons-hyphen-Tobias), capturing the Zeitgeist of the moment, rocked his own balloon drop and a combover but didn’t rock hard enough for our 5-member panel of jurists and, like Stevie Lyxx, BLOOD SAUSAGE (John Mcfadden) and WHAMMY HAGAR (Tim Granlund), failed to advance to the second round.
Newcomer BRUTAL MENDOZA crushed his round 1 performance, but it fell on deaf ears. Veteran SHRED BOY RD (Tony Pitelli) asked to go first for Sunday’s show, so we told him he had to go second just to fuck with him. In response, Shred scared the shit out of the entire house with a Hollywood-grade horror mask and new style of play that can only be described as “Slashstabbery.” When the evening’s MC came out onstage to score Shred, the first thing he said was, “oh fuck, is it over?”
And so it was, with former U.S. Champion and San Diego’s Master of Airemonies, LT. FACEMELTER (Jason Farnan), masterful at the mic, setting the pace of the show early-on with some country music ditty and providing comedic gold throughout. Perhaps Facemelter’s most impressive behind-the-scenes moment was hiring the best damn local crackheads, err, “sign spinners,” to entertain the crowd during halftime. Not only did the show sell out, but little gems like these sign spinners and infinite free shirts at the merch table courtesy of New York’s freshly transplanted MATH ROMANCER (Paul Martino) enabled an unheard-of 100% audience retention between rounds.
My biggest regret of the evening (aside from smoking crack) was missing SWEETNESS’ (Kyle Privette) first round performance. I know he entered round 2 with a lofty deficit; but from my own experience of watching him work, I’d bet there was something in his San Diego performance that was missed, or else slightly misplayed .
And then there was Sacramento wildman BLAZE BADAXXE (Barry Rawlins), with the least amount of schtick of the evening, delivering a powerful performance to Ted Nugent’s 1977 classic “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang.” Some would argue that his round 1 was as tight as anything seen at the San Diego Semi-final, but he was an out-of-towner in a local-friendly show. The “Sixth Judge” of the evening was the audience and, like BRUTAL MENDOZA, Blaze’s hard licks and no-schtick approach was a mismatch for the evening’s crowd. The 54 year-old’s gymnast-caliber splits and high-kicks rivaled anything we had seen all weekend, and although his road to Austin may be long and dusty, we hope he can find his way to Texas come August.
WHAMMY HAGER (Tim Granlin), a new persona for a longtime Los Angeles finalist, still had some kinks to work out early Saturday night. Yet his third round performance was perhaps the evening’s finest. Problem is, we don’t have a third round; about an hour after the show, with the house music spinning Nugent’s “Stranglehold” (extended version), and with the inflatable PBR sign unmanned, Whammy clearly came into his own.
However, despite all other performances and the top-notch coordination of Lt. Facemelter and his unruly band of drug addicts, second rounders and lovely judge’s panel, the night clearly belonged to JOLLY GREEN SHREDDING MACHINE (Nathan Briles).
And so it goes with each new season of air guitar we see a new crop of competitors using, abusing, and if we’re lucky, improving, the styles of Champions past. Jolly Green is clearly of the Facemelterean and Hot Lixxean school of air guitar: he enters the stage flinging freebies into the crowd, playing the role of gentle, harmless giant. But when the music starts, this harmless behemoth unleashes his veggie fury: power chords from his massive limbs, noodles from those long fingers, and when he speaks it’s not from his lips, but rather his powerful handlebar mustache eerily in sync with “Ho-ho-ho (green giant!)."
Jolly Green entered the compulsory round at least to-tenths of a point ahead of Lumb-air-jack, Tyranicus, and the rest of the best, but he extended that lead to an entire half-point by night’s end. The evening’s compulsory track, Ram Jam’s “Black Betty,” seems handmade for an older, shorter generation of performers; but Jolly Green fucking crushed it, playing every note perfectly while simultaneously playing the apeshit audience with equal aplomb.
With the internet ablaze claiming a Southwest supremacy in all things air, it’s up to Boston to answer back at the Eastern Semifinal this Saturday night. Get your tickets now or you could end up waiting outside the club all night like these poor bastards . . .