Friday night I returned to the 9:30 Club for the US Air Guitar Semi-Finals, Washington DC for the pageantry, the glory, and for generally getting my face melted off by 17 contestants from all up and down the eastern sea board. I had my favorites going in of course – Doug “The Thunder” Stroock, Tommy Fretless and Babe-reham Lincoln were fond memories from last year – but I really enjoyed some of the new faces too.
I actually got there on time-ish (shocking, right?) and first, let me say thanks to 9:30 Club for being generally awesome and for hosting this event every year, but $4 for a cup of ginger ale?? Fuuuck you. Really. Anyway, having gotten there on time-ish I got to see some of the opening performance before the actual competition started and saw why Hot Lixx Houlihan was stuff of legend. He, the also-legend returning emcee Bjorn Turoque (who’s charming as hell and has dimples for days), 2012 US Air Guitar champ Airistotle (please witness why I fell in love with Airistotle last year as he jams with Windhammer) and World champ Nordic Thunder rocked the stage and got the crowd thoroughly warmed up. Then Turoque informed the audience of the structure and rules of the show (two rounds, contestants judged on technical merit, stage presence, and “airness,” 4.0-6.0 judging scale, judges’ scores are final but feel free to voice your dissatisfaction) and introduced the judges.
This year all three judges were familiar to me: Hot Lixx Houlihan (mentioned above – 2008 US and World Air Guitar champ), Paul “Fender Splendor” Alexander (Philly US Air Guitar Champ – and future favorite mistake if anyone can get me his number…) and recurring DC Air Guitar favorite The Shred, who could not perform this year due to injury. The judges, having all performed at a high level in air guitar, were particularly meticulous in their judging this year, resulting in a three-way tie after the second round and a compulsory “air-off” (which should totally have been “shred-off”). More on that later.
Okay. It’s about to get little technical in here for a sec. Put on your math rock brains and just hang tight for a few bars, you’ll get it.
First round had 17 contestants all bringing a one-minute routine to music of their choosing; some were great and some were just terrible. I’m not naming names on the latter. Pretty sure the US Air Guitar Twitter feed covered that. But my biggest surprise favorites were newcomer Marquis (dressed like Mozart), Van Damage and Cleopatra. Now, Cleopatra was 5 months pregnant (baby daddied by Van Damage) and dressed as a girl scout but somehow still managed to win me over. She was accurate, had great stage presence and command of the audience and, in my mind, nailed the shit out of her routine. However, with the escalating level of recklessness, the prospect of having to fly to LA to compete in the US Finals and possibly to Finland for the World competition, she was never going to be a viable candidate for champion. But still, I felt it necessary to state that, despite her absence from those advancing to the second round, this lady rocked it.
Coming into the second round the leader board looked like this: Babe-reham Lincoln in 3rd, ThunderStroock, Marquis and Tommy Fretless tied in 2nd, and Van Damage in 1st.
EVERYONE in the lead put in a killer first round, but Van Damage played an eclectic set that swung from classical guitar to metal and back again, produced a rose out of thin air during the Spanish classical part of his routine only to have it turn into blood spatter during the metal phase (like a magician, this guy!), and gained the first (and second) 6.0 of the night. This competition was his to lose.
In the second round people play to a compulsory track chosen by the Air Guitar powers-that-be. This year it was Kickstart My Heart by Motley Crue. The contestants stand together and listen to the track once, then each perform separately. The contestant who goes first has heard the song only once before performing while s/he who goes last will have heard it, in this case, five times before s/he has to perform. Babe-reham went first, as she was in 3rd place. She nailed it. I had no doubt she would. Starting out with a performance this strong would only serve to escalate the level of crazy people had to resort to in order to win.
Van Damage, ThunderStroock, Fretless and Marquis battled it out, altering their outfits and taking their performances up a notch. ThunderStroock continued his excellent performances in his usual garb, which looks something like a rocker and a professional wrestler mixed together. Marquis took off his Mozart wig and brought it hard. Classically. Fretless demonstrated why he was the winner of the DC Semi-finals last year by climbing on top of a speaker, then up the metal scaffolding holding the second-floor railings in place and wailing on air guitar with his elbow hooked behind a support railing. Turoque had informed us during round one that Fretless was favoring a foot/leg injury so there was a split-second of hesitation just before Fretless executed his dismount (don’t think he thought that far ahead). He jumped back down onto the speaker and rolled onto the stage, never dropping his invisible guitar. While I winced for his injury his enthusiasm never wavered.
Van Damage faltered this round, dropping to 2nd place behind the three-way deadlocked ThunderStroock, Fretless and Marquis. This deadlock is an unsusal situation. Usually there are only two rounds but Washington DC was treated to a third – an “air-off.”
The Air-Off round was similar to round two and our deadlocked first-place competitors performed a compulsory song: Ace of Spades by Motorhead. During this round I could understand why they call Air Guitar a sport. Getting through this competition takes focus, stamina and willingness to take an injury to win. There were somersaults, stage-dives, can smashing and a lot of naked man-torsos in this year’s competition. But injury be damned, Tommy Fretless reigned victorious once again. A man willing to risk his physical well-being for an imaginary sport is a man I’d like in my corner when taking on the World (I know it’s not imaginary – just liked the sentence). He’ll be off to LA to compete in the US Championships. The winner in LA will go to Finland to compete for title of World Champion.
To close the ceremony Turoque invited everyone onto the 9:30 Club stage to Air it out to Freebird. Heard that song? You have. You may not know you have. It’s literally the whitest song on the planet but seems fitting for a closing ceremony like this. As the opening riffs of the song faded in and the crowd swirled around him, funneling onto the stage, Turoque left us with a memorable quote: “Remember, if you’re holding an air guitar you can’t be holding a gun.” Wise words from a man in a skipper’s cap.
I’ll be getting pictures of the event up on here as soon as I can. Stay tuned. And for those who don’t know, Air Guitar is SO what’s up!
7/23/2013 – Corrections and Addendums:
First, for those asking, YES! That’s my hand in the photo at the top of the post.
Babe-reham Lincoln is apparently spelled Baberham Lincoln. Sorry Baberham!