Photos by Wild Don Lewis

2005 U.S. Air Guitar Championships

at the Key Club, July 14

On one of those magic, even-traffic’s-not-that-bad summer nights, the Key Club became a sweaty Justice League of America for a motley crew of Super Friends, each with their own shtick, and each with a so-wrong-it’s-right love of the air guitar. This was the 2005 U.S. Air Guitar Championships, and L.A. was represented proudly by Silver Laker Fatima “Rockness Monster” Hoang, who competed against 15 locals and six regional champs.

It was a tight race. Judges — including Veruca Salt’s Nina Gordon, actor John Cho (Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle), Matchbox 20 drummer Paul Doucette and musician Ben Moody — doled out points based on technical merit, stage presence and “airness,” the latter defined as “the extent to which a performance transcends the imitation of a real guitar and becomes an art form in and of itself.”

As in ice skating and gymnastics, competitive air guitar is judged on a series
of mandatory and freestyle performances. Hoang, New York champ Dan “Bjorn Turoque”
Crane, and Andrew “William Ocean” Litz of Chicago were neck and neck, all three
turning in terrific renditions of the mandatory “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” But
when Hoang ripped into his final freestyle selection, Jane’s Addiction’s “Stop!” (Here we go!), bedlam erupted in the capacity crowd.
It was clear no one would be spared from his blistering, invisible ax.

Bjorn Turoque

The airness of Hoang’s improvised routine earned record-setting unanimous 6.0s,
edging out Crane by two-tenths of a point.

The night was not free of controversy. 2003 L.A. champ Gordon “Krye Tuff” Hintz
criticized the scoring that he felt helped the night’s only female performer,
Elaina “Cherry Lain” Vaccaro, defeat more technically savvy players. Vaccaro’s
performance of the Rippingtons’ “Star-Spangled Banner” was marked mostly by
her impressive legs and a good deal of jiggling. Said Hintz, an assembly candidate
in Oshkosh, Wisconsin: “The integrity of air guitar in year three is seriously
under attack. Air guitar has turned into a joke . . . The more skin you show,
the better your score gets.”

Still, even Hintz acknowledged that the night’s winner deserved the laurels
and that the contest helped strengthen the community. Watching Hintz and the
other warriors gather on stage for a final, en masse rendition of Neil Young’s
“Rockin’ in the Free World,” you’d have to agree. As Jeremy “Yngwie Hendrix”
Levy put it, “I believe in peace through air guitar.”

—Ben Sullivan

Bossacucanova, Röyksopp, Basement Jaxx

at the Hollywood Bowl, July 17

It’s wise to be leery of “world music” these days, as the much-bandied term
is applied more often to a bossa nova swing poured over a Starbucks-ready house
beat than Senegalese xalam music. So what did the lineup of KCRW’s latest
World Festival have to do with this gentrified genre? Well, the three acts did
come from different parts of the world — Brazil, Norway and the UK. And opener
Bossacucanova did exemplify its current definition, with their highly energetic
but barely engaging blend of samba and jungle. Fortunately, the night improved
exponentially from there, causing the crowd, heavily weighted toward KCRW’s
target audience of 30-something urban consumers of downbeat and lattes, to get
up, shake their asses and even wave around a glow stick or two.

Norway’s Röyksopp (“progtronica,” according to host Jason Bentley), recalling
Siegfried & Roy in their white turtlenecks and Miami Vice sports
jackets, took the stage as the dark crawled into the Bowl. As a fierce light
show blazed behind them, the duo’s electro beats blasted ecstatically forth;
washing over the smiling faces of the crowd, their blend of Euro-trance, hipped-up-hop
and techno attempted to release acid lodged in corners of one’s brain from raves
eight years ago. If that didn’t work, the ridiculoid circus party that was the
Basement Jaxx live show had to get the job done. These “rude boys of house,”
according to one of their many singers, performed with an amazingly controlled
chaos, culminating in a Carnivale gathering on stage replete with guys in ape
suits jumping around. From “Where’s Your Head At?” to “Oh My Gosh,” their perfect
tech-pop gems, colored slick and grimy, brought the Bowl to a frenzy. If this
is the new world music for our New World Order, consider me a convert.

—Jonah Flicker

Sufjan Stevens

at the El Rey, July 16

Illinois, the second installment in Sufjan Stevens’ project to write
an album for each state, has the quality of a research report laboriously compiled
by a precocious, very bright 11-year-old. Such musty figures as poet Carl Sandburg
are earnestly, if a little woodenly, memorialized, and his lilting piano lines
hit with the plum satisfaction of vocabulary words used correctly. Stevens writes
lovely, jeweled songs, but all the sparkling perfection makes me want to play
the class badass who gives Stevens his first cigarette. Does he ever loosen
up? Make mistakes? Take risks?

Maybe, but not in his live show. Never one to go halfway on a concept, Stevens
and his band take the stage in full-on Fighting Illini regalia: orange athletic
pants or skirts, navy blue T-shirts emblazoned with a fuzzy orange “I” and pompoms
for the three ladies. Trapped in the El Rey’s muggy heat, the crowd is silent,
drinking in the “The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders,” with its Mr. Rogers–style
piano and twirling woodwind chorus. Afterward, they clap politely and enthusiastically
— opera applause. Every now and again, Stevens and his band perform oddly fractured
cheers, holding up a crudely rendered Illinois flag. Stevens shortens one cheer,
and laughs in his comfortingly adenoidal Midwestern accent, “It’s called an
eee-kah-no-mee of words.”

If Stevens takes two years to write each album, as is the gap between Illinois
and his first, Michigan, the 30-year-old will be well older than
100 by the time he finishes. Even if he quits after 10, his lofty concept and
accomplished talents will only continue to attract more fans, as quietly rabid
as many at the El Rey. Will he always match their inspired devotion? Will he
ever disappoint them?

—Margaret Wappler

LA Weekly