Of course, as the name of the showcase suggests, the gatekeepers of Rocking Idol had definite criteria in mind. MTV2 was looking to find a local thrasher band for its upcoming metal show, Hardcore Class. So while a lot of bands of the alt, indie, ska, and punk variety didn't know it, they were pretty much out of the running before they even took the stage. Despite the fact that a lot of the bands sold tickets to their parents and friends at $15 a pop, the bands themselves didn't get a dime for all of their sales efforts. It's all part of the dues you have to pay to find success, I guess.
Some folks, like Matt McGlynn of the West Palm Beach-based band Preface, who played at the event, disagreed. "I don't think I'd ever play this event again," McGlynn said after playing a full-throttle, lay-it-on-the-line set that concluded with him stripping down to his boxers and singing the final two songs in his skivvies. "Gas is too high, man. We had friends that drove all the way down from Stuart, which took an hour, just to watch us play a 25-minute set. Meanwhile, we're stuck paying $2 for tap water at the bar. It's not worth it."
Still, the event was good exposure for a lot of the kids, as they got to hone their skills and go from playing in their parents' basement to rocking a real gig, with real people in front of them either cheering in amazement or yawning out of boredom.
Upon walking into the place, I couldn't help but notice that most of the bands seemed as if they'd spent more time in front of the mirror primping their hairdos than they did working on their material. Bands either couldn't project or didn't have a drop of stage presence, and as far penning songs that actually meant something, forget it. A few groups managed to stand out, one of them adolescent indie-rock outfit Blank Tape out of Pembroke Pines. The band has been together since 2004, which is saying a lot, since the youngest member of the group is still in the eighth-friggin'-grade. Composed of drummer Alan Penton, 14, lead singer/guitarist Lennon Livesay, 15, guitarist Fonzie Sandler, 15, and bassist Efrain Lopez, 16, Blank Tape has actually had a taste of success over the past 12 months. It won the Pembroke Pines Battle of the Bands in 2006, played on the same stage as Johnny Depp at the Sheila Witkin memorial concert at Club Cinema this past February, and ripped up a separate tricounty battle of the bands at the David Posnack Jewish Community Center last month. With that much momentum behind them, I had to go see what all the fuss was about.
There were plenty of hipsters in training moshing around as Blank Tape's show began, and they all seemed to dig the music. I was surprised that Livesay, the group's vocalist, had a booming voice and breath control strong enough to sustain the group's stanzas, and all of the band members handled themselves on stage like professionals. Interestingly, their fan base stretched across color lines, as kids of all backgrounds were out there stomping away black, white, East Indian, Latin, etc. As the band broke into its signature song, "Don't Let This Consume You," the 40 to 50 kids gathered at the front of the stage knew all the words, and Livesay was able to turn the microphone toward the crowd and let the audience belt out the refrain without anyone missing a beat. It all seemed to impress Dan Dobson, the MTV rep on hand, who, despite having no interest in the group for his TV show, still approached Blank Tape to offer kudos. In a separate conversation, he let his fondness for the group be known.
"These kids are pretty fucking good, man, considering their age," Dobson says. "They've got a decent crowd at their shows and know how to project, and they're better than the majority of the bands I've seen today."
I asked some of the band members how they felt about the gig, and, of course, they were stoked about the MTV nod of appreciation, but then Livesay shrugged it off with a dose of show-biz reality.
"Whatever, dude," he said. "I don't think we're really gonna be on MTV anytime soon, but we've got a show coming up in a month that we're getting ready for, and that's what really matters." Then he excused himself to go sell CDs like a professional.
Judging from the looks on the faces of everyone else in the band, regardless of whether they got paid, these guys plan to make a business out of rock 'n' roll. And they're not taking no for an answer.