Let me be clear in stating that, despite what I might say in this article, I think the Live 88.5 Big Money Shot contest is a good thing. (Good despite the fact that the competition is cut from the same cloth that rewards the generic over musical originality like American Idol, Rock Star INXS/Supernova and countless other ‘making-the-band’ reality shows that encourage people to pursue music for the wrong reasons). Live 88.5 gives the grand prize winner of the Big Money Shot $250,000. $40,000 goes to the winner of each round, and even the one-night preliminary winners get $5,000. Try getting any of those payments from a record label these days! Whether or not you like what they play, Live 88.5 has done more to develop homegrown rock music in Ottawa in their three years of existence than Chez 106 or The Bear has done in thirty.
Due to circumstances beyond my control, I’ve been regularly attending concerts related to Live 88.5’s ‘Big Money Shot’ contest. These circumstances being: 1) I have some musician friends competing in it this year, and 2) my tendency to gravitate towards places where there’s live music and beer to be had.
For those who don’t know, the Big Money Shot is kind of like your high school battle of the bands contest, but on steroids with even more drinking. It culls acts from the Ottawa area, giving them opportunities for cash, talent development and precious radio airplay. Sojourn won the grand prize in 2007 and they have invested their prize money in equipment and an upcoming full-length album. Tim’s Myth won in 2006, but they have since split up. 2007 round winners A Plot Against Me are recording with David Botterill, who has worked with Tool and Peter Gabriel. Also recording are 2006 round winners Donkeypunch, who hopefully will be convinced to change their name.
THIS WEEK’S ‘FIGHT OF THE CENTURY’
After some grueling preliminaries, the Round One finalists for 2008 are: Amanda Rheaume, Distant Society, Tara Holloway, Captain Firebutton, and Down in Ashes.
One of the nights I was there, I saw Tara Holloway easily cream a field of pimply-faced, prom bands that made me think I could win the contest. Another night featured a hotly-contested affair amongst slick, hungry bands that knew how to entertain. I have no idea how Amanda Rheaume won, as I was kicked out of the bar right before her set.
That same night, I managed to catch Captain Firebutton’s set. They didn’t so much act like they owned the stage, but like they owned the world. They had more musicians on stage than The Eagles on their ‘Hell Freezes Over’ tour, and seemed to take their music even more seriously. The crowd was moshing and dancing, with everybody singing along and waving their hands in unison to their slow numbers. It was as if I was seeing Guns ‘n Roses performing “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” in concert circa-1992 (assuming they showed up).
The band had me believing they were the world’s best-kept secret - or they did the best job mobilizing their drunken friends down to the Live Lounge that night.
THE REAL CONTEST
What I realized after seeing Captain Firebutton is that success in the Big Money Shot probably has more to do with drinking than music, (for one thing, I couldn’t imagine any of this happening in an unlicensed venue). The Live Lounge people clearly know this: The beers come in seemingly harmless glasses that aren’t quite pint-sized. But don’t be fooled. Have two of them and the bouncer will tell you to stop breaking glasses and hanging off the railings (even though you don’t remember doing any of this and have only been in the bar for 45 minutes).
These conditions proved favorable to Captain Firebutton, as their posing and preening stage act appeared to be tailor-made for this alcohol-fuelled event.
I WANNA ROCK
It’s funny that not too long ago bands were terrified to be classified as ‘rock stars,’ the mere suspicion alone could murder their credibility. The 90s punk/alternative ethos demanded authentic music, devoid of posing and grand gestures. So, bands got up on stage and shoegazed, even if the music clearly called for windmill guitars and scissor kicks.
That’s what’s weird about today: the societal hard-on for the ‘rock star’ lifestyle, evident throughout the zeitgeist from video games to energy drinks, comes at a time when rock music itself has never been less relevant nor commercially successful.
It’s almost to the point where being a ‘rock star’ and making great rock music are mutually exclusive things. Just ask Ryan Adams… You can say what you want about Axl Rose and his behavior, but if you sold 27 million copies of your debut album, it’s justifiable that you might act a little more fucked-up too.
This is why Captain Firebutton would be an ideal Big Money Shot champion. They look like they’ve spent more time cutting their chops in front of a mirror than a fretboard, and in turn they define today’s ‘rock star’ - which is to act as obnoxiously as possible in front of your drunken, screaming friends. They played with the assuredness of Led Zeppelin, despite the fact their music was at times a convoluted mess. The lead singer pranced around stage, pointing the micstand into the crowd, and barked like a dog. These far-fetched histrionics were impossible to ignore, try as I might.
WE DON’T NEED ANOTHER HERO
A friend once told me his primary concern with Guitar Hero was that it would confuse people into thinking they could actually do it in real life. I argued that these gamers would be exposed as frauds as soon as they struck one chord. After watching the Live 88.5 Big Money Shot, I’m not so sure anymore.
Guitar Hero, as it has been noted in this magazine, provides a portal between the fantasy of the ‘rock star lifestyle’ and reality. Contests like the Big Money Shot take these delusions, cast them in the flesh, and supplement them with greenbacks.
At least with Guitar Hero, you are not in a bar with real instruments in front of real people. You can get your rocks off playing the game in the privacy of your own home, and it doesn’t make a lick of difference if you can’t write a song. Your obnoxious caterwauling doesn’t require you to herd your drunken friends in a bar to find out “You Rock.”
POST SCRIPT: Congratulations go out to Amanda Rheaume, who was victorious in round one, taking home the $40,000 first prize. The deadline for round two submissions is June 20, while round three entries need to be in for Sept. 12. So put away your X-Boxes and get your shit together, people!
I actually heard Captain Firebutton’s song on the radio the other day, and it was pretty good. They’re surprisingly enjoyable when I don’t have to look at them.
© 2008 Kris Millet; licensee (Cult)ure Magazine.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.