Tuesday Night Music Club

Racket takes his judging skills to Paesanos Lounge

For nightclub owners, Tuesday nights are a dead zone. Even the most dedicated night owls have to take a little time off every week, and Tuesday tends to be the night. It's neither Blue Monday, Hump Day, Thirsty Thursday, Payday nor the proud owner of any other cute nickname. As Newman once said on Seinfeld, "Tuesday has no feel."

How best for a club owner to entice customers on such an uninspiring nocturne? At Paesanos Lounge, the answer is a good old-fashioned battle of the bands. Local rock impresario Jason Price has been hosting this 18-and-up event at the newly remodeled bar near Market Square for a couple of months now, but the contest will be on hold for the holidays until January 15.

Racket recently hauled his monumental ego down to 213 Milam to sit in judgment of the musical hopefuls. Also on the panel were Fondue Monks bass maestro Rozzano Zamorano and blues-rock guitarist Phillip Vallejo.

But what if they had a battle of the bands and nobody came? Such was almost the case. Entrants the Googe and Decybel both pulled out, leaving only Strangelight and D'Element to compete for the title. This battle was quite literally the Band II Band contest of its billing. Oh, well, it makes the judging easier.

Judges were asked to rate the bands on stage presence, audience participation and musical content. As for the last of these criteria, Strangelight and D'Element couldn't have been more different. This guerre de groups was a classic example of brains versus brawn. D'Element was all nu-metal power; Strangelight put on drama of the indie variety.

D'Element set up its equipment with all the purpose of a man tinkering with the engine of the long-dormant '76 Coupe DeVille stashed in the garage. Though only a guitar/bass/drums trio with a vocalist, it took the young band almost an hour to set up. Hint: Professionalism is not about making people wait, no matter what your take on the rock-star trip.

Once plugged in, the band roared through an hour of postgrunge thrash metal. The lyrics could not be heard except for a few song titles such as "Infected" ("'Cause we like to think we're infected," said the band's baggy-pantsed and wallet-chained front man), "Slave Dog" and "Won't Fall Down." D'Element's music is all about anger, energy and power, and there were some thrilling moments in the first half of the set. The longhaired lead guitarist had a Jimmy Page fixation, while the scarlet-haired bass man brought out an instrument with no fewer than eight strings, of which he used maybe three. (The many-stringed bass is the double-necked guitar of the new millennium.) In the end, D'Element's one-tempo, one-gear barrage wore out even their girlfriends, whose dancing in front of the stage grew ever more listless. They're pretty good at what they do now, they just need to learn to do a little more -- maybe mix in a couple of slower tunes.

Strangelight, a band that apparently takes its name from a Fugazi song, had roughly the same guitar/bass/drum/vox lineup as D'Element, but there the similarities end. The Strangelight guys, who all appear to be in their mid- to late twenties, form a Rudyard's/KTRU/Montrose kind of band, while the younger D'Element is Buzz Nation and Engine Room all the way. D'Element's vocalist was a whirling dervish of nu-metal frenzy; Strangelight's was all Iggy Pop weirdness, with splayed arms, snotty androgyny and a page-boy haircut.

He was also disaster-prone, which was odd since he was sipping water the whole time (unlike D'Element's front man, who brandished more than a few shots). Perhaps the Strangelight guy had a few before he took the stage. At one point he shrieked and flung his mike to the ground. That mike was rendered out of commission, so he grabbed his bass player's, which gave rise to a wall of wailing feedback. A soundman hustled to fix the busted vocal mike and temporarily restored order. Soon after, though, the impassioned though unfortunate singer spun out of control and wiped out when a monitor got in his way.

"That oughta cost him a few points," said a D'Element fan. (Why? This was a battle of the bands, not a boxing match with a three-knockdown rule.)

And so on to the scoring. Audience participation, at least on my card, went to D'Element. They had plenty of dancers, though they ran out of steam. Strangelight's sole dancer was a fiftysomething African-American man clad in a shabby suit and a patchwork flat cap who wandered in off the street. And he seemed to be heckling them. Also, I docked Strangelight's audience participation for having among their fans a Cory from Flickerstick look-alike, complete with unshaved mug, wet black hair and oversize gray turtleneck. Maybe it was Cory from Flickerstick. If so, I should have docked them five points.

Stage presence was a close call. I gave Strangelight the edge for genuine drama. Was their mike ever going to work again? Was their singer going to get up from that nasty spill? If so, was there gonna be blood? By contrast, D'Element offered only predictable stage moves and 'tudes.

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