Live: The Failed Rock Star Supernova Experiment

Rockstar_Lukas.jpgLukas Rossi: Three cuts in ya eyebrows, tryna wild out

Rock Star Supernova + Panic Channel Radio City Music Hall January 31, 2007

About halfway through the televised run of Rock Star: Supernova, there was a moment when Jason Newsted, Gilby Clarke, and Tommy Lee invited all the hopefuls competing to sing for their new band into their studio so that the contestants could hear their original music. I can't remember the quote exactly, but I'm pretty sure Gilby Clarke told the assembled kids that Supernova wanted their new music to be accessible, not super-heavy and intimidating the way all their older bands had been. I couldn't ask for a better encapsulation of the wrongness behind the Rock Star: Supernova experiment. i guess Newsted and Clarke and Lee all decided that Metallica and Guns N Roses and Motley Crue had all done OK but that they would've been much more successful if they hewed closer to the rulebook, if they'd only whittled away as many of their hard-rock idiosyncrasies as possible and made music specifically for the radio. That's ridiculous, of course: Metallica and Guns N Roses and Motley Crue are three of the most successful rock bands of all time, and people loved them for their idiosyncrasies, not despite them. When a couple of those bands finally did try to strip all their weirdness away and go for straight-up AOR rock (Metallica on Load and Reload, Motley Crue on their self-titled 1994 album), those bands hit their commercial and creative low points, so you'd think these guys would know better. But no: they chose the pint-sized Torontonian barker Lukas Rossi as the singer, a guy whose post-grunge yowl is only slightly edgier than those of Chad Kroeger or Chris Daughtry, and they made an album that managed to debut at #101 on the Billboard charts even though they'd had an entire season of prime-time network TV to promote it. Seeing the finished product at Radio City last night was depressing in a sort of inevitable way, a weird spectacle of a band working its hardest to give the people what they wanted even though they had no idea what those people might actually want.

It's sort of disorienting to stand up for three hours to see a band that you watched form on TV. Even as the flesh-and-blood people stood onstage in front of me, I still felt like I was watching them in my living room, like I should have a microwave burrito in my hands and my dog sitting on my foot. Rock Star Supernova's uber-processed crunch-rock is specifically built to play on TV, and seeing them without close-ups and camera crane-swoops and Brooke Burke playing MC was weirdly anticlimactic no matter how high their light budget was (and it was really, really high). Throughout the TV show's run, the veteran musicians advised the contestants on how to best look like rock stars: how to run out in the crowd, how to jump off kickdrums, how to connect with audiences. And so Rossi dutifully did all that stuff at Radio City, but his big, sweeping rock gestures had already been exposed as empty cliches, as the sort of things you learn in rock-star school. To make things weirder, I don't think Rossi ever made eye-contact with anyone else in the band or publicly acknowledged them between songs; he spent months on TV doing everything he could so they'd choose him as their singer only to treat them as his backing band once he finally made it. Whenever Rossi talked to the crowd between songs, he either spouted party-up bullshit (he must've done his halfassed version of the Lil Jon yeaaayuh scream fifteen times) or weirdly expressionless and mechanical platitudes about how dreams do come true after all. Still weirder: Newsted, a third of the original supergroup, wasn't onstage last night. Supposedly, he injured his shoulder trying to catch a falling bass amp a couple of months ago and needed surgery for it. Newsted's temporary replacement is the lanky and generally anonymous Johnny Colt, who I guess used to be in the Black Crowes. But Newsted was the one guy on the show who was consistently hard on Rossi, always telling him to open his voice up and sing rather than growl, and Colt's picture was on the merch-table T-shirts. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to learn that the shoulder injury was totally fake, that Newsted had decided to cut his losses and get as far away from this whole travesty as he possibly could.

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I wouldn't blame Newsted. Rossi, for his part, absolutely cannot sing. On the TV show, he was at least able to turn his gurgle into a keening falsetto when he had to, hitting the high notes on "Creep" or whatever. But onstage last night, he was all yips and snarls and sputters, more like a dying car engine than an actual rock star. Maybe he doesn't see any point in putting his voice to work when he's not going to be on TV, or maybe he's done so much blow since the show wrapped that he doesn't have any voice left. Whatever the case, his turgid bleats weren't anywhere near enough to grant the band's thud any personality. The band must be trying desperately to sell a few copies of that album, since almost all of their set list came from it. On the TV show, the singers mostly tried to prove themselves singing covers, but Rossi only sang three last night. A string section came out to play on a crunchified version of "Bittersweet Symphony," and confetti-cannons went off during the mangled encore of "Let's Spend the Night Together." The band's version of "Boys of Summer" was basically a cover of the Ataris' cover, so maybe that one counts as two covers. The night's best moment came when Rossi was offstage completely: Tommy Lee and Johnny Colt played drums and bass over a mind-bendlingly random little assortment of records: Pharoahe Monch's "Simon Says," Billy Squier's "Big Beat," Methods of Mayhem's "Get Naked." It sucked, of course; none of those songs benefits much from drum-solo theatrics. But at least it sucked in weird and interesting ways.

There's an Idols Live component to the Supernova tour: we got to see a few of the show's losers as well as the winner. I got to the venue too late to catch runners-up Dilana and Magni, but I did arrive in time to watch the hulking Australian spaz Toby Rand butcher "White Wedding"; he wasn't great, but he was better than Rossi. But I feel pretty confident saying that Dilana should've won the contest, since her cameo on Panic Channel's cover of "Highway to Hell" was the only half-decent moment in the Panic Channel set and maybe the entire show. Show co-host Dave Navarro ostensibly leads Panic Channel, but he mostly just solos constantly over that band's god-awful bass-popping funk-metal churn. There was a great little moment where Navarro ran out in the crowd to grind with some random groupie chick while some other woman, standing a couple of feet away, talked on her cell phone with her back to Navarro the entire time, apparently oblivious to the whole spectacle. Navarro was in Jane's Addiction, so I'm not entirely certain it's possible for his new band to qualify as a tenth-rate Jane's Addiction rip-off, but that's pretty much what they were. When the singer wasn't attempting Perry Farrel's helium scream, he was doing the sort of stage-patter so easy to make fun of that I feel wrong doing it. (But what the hell: "This is a song about what's going on over there in Iraq. It's hard to talk about sometimes, and it's just a little bit easier to sing about," before doing a song with this chorus: "I fight this war for yooouuu! Whoo!") Bridget, my fiancee, pointed out that the singer looked just like Crispin Glover in River's Edge, and she also rightly observed that the band sounded almost exactly like Saigon Kick. Maybe I should've just let her write this entry.

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