Southern Girls Rock 'n' Roll Camp Benefit
June 4 at Rocketown
Thursday night at Rocketown, the Southern Girls Rock 'N' Roll Camp benefit was a bizarre mix of tween and teen punksters, proud camcorder-wielding parents, and a middle-aged honkytonk band. In hopes of a cool all-ages vibe, we found some rckn (no vowels) teenagers oozing musical potential and a worthy venue, albeit one with house rules and creepy religious pop art that left us grateful it all ended at the 11 p.m. curfew.
The pre-teen skateboarders outside let us know what to expect: we were about to feel old. Our first impression of Rocketown was that of a corporate youth group center. With leather sofas, brick interior walls, pool tables, a Pac-Man video game, and dim yellowy lighting, the upstairs coffee bar was so cool it was suspicious. A quick glance at the posted house rules was telling: a syrupy wholesome atmosphere that promised good, orderly fun. The rules banned any rowdy behavior from "hooligans," like cussing, but also encouraged teens to freely express their artistic individuality through clothing with respect to themselves and others.
While pre-teens scurried around giggling, we felt out of place. Once downstairs, in a flash it was the first day of high school all over again-the penetrating stares from teenage Rocketown regulars reduced us to feeling self-conscious. Despite the unnerving vibe, our inner teenage selves flared with jealousy when we thought back to many Friday nights spent hanging out at the local Barnes & Noble coffee shop or Cinema 8. If only our boring hometowns had contained a place that made hanging out with your friends, parents, or little brother cool, maybe those awkward years might have been more tolerable.
First to take the stage was Be Your Own Pet, a group of baby-faced high schoolers with three guys and a girl in Mod Squad style. On lead vocals, camp alum Jamina Abegg fearlessly screamed into the mic, "We are Be Your Own Pet and we want to make out with you!" With her bleached blonde hair, star performer quality and disdain for the rules (she said the F-word!) Abegg was a Skipper Barbie Doll version of Courtney Love. She brought energy to the room urging the crowd of 70 or so people to get closer to the stage and dance. Sporadically the tweens, teens and parents followed her command, jumping around and dancing enthusiastically. The band raced through their short pop-punk set which combined fast surfer beats, loud guitar noise and scream-singing with an urgency to move on to something cooler. Keep an eye out for this group: in a few years, after they've experienced the latter years of high school, they might really have something to sing about.
One-man band Casio Casanova (a.k.a. one Seth Graves, armed with a bubble machine, an iPod, a guitar, and a microphone) combined electro-pop with solid beats, sounding like a mix of the Postal Service and The Cars. His deep raspy vocals. slurred out of the side of his mouth, were startling at first but grew into a beautiful-ugly sound. Still, the show lacked entertainment, especially when CC took to jamming on his guitar with his back to the audience. What were we supposed to look at then? A bubble machine doesn't compensate for lack of stage activity.
Worse, he proved that technical difficulties have no minimum requirement for wreaking havoc. His MP3 player stumbled over songs, holding up his performance and driving the bored audience to idle chatter. Next time, Mr. Bubble, how about some jokes, prepared acoustic songs, or just an old-fashioned CD as a backup plan? Casanova's pretentious, unapologetic attitude did little to clear the dead air, as teens and tweens alike seemed unimpressed by his cool facade. As a live act Casio Casanova doesn't get much love, but his so-grumbly-it's-good music is worth a download.
Just when the night couldn't get any more boring, Big Happy took the stage. Assuming Big Happy was another teen pop outfit, we were surprised instead to see middle-aged honky-tonkers in cowboy boots and painted-on jeans cranking up their electric guitars. Ubiquitous local musician Billy Block was on drums with his wife Jill on guitar, and the crowd quickly dwindled to a few teenagers and parents. Big Happy were the only ones happy, having fun on stage but seemingly oblivious to their sore-thumb quality on the bill. Though the band was kickin' it with typical Western Beat musicianship, the kiddie-punk vibe that enveloped the room died a slow painful death when the Blocks rocked their way through a cover of Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love."
At least the headliner, Slack, brought the evening back to life. Even with only a handful of people left to entertain, Chris, Ben, and Nick Slack never faltered in snappy quips and rock-star coordination. Their willingness to support the camp and their onstage energy should've been deployed earlier. Better still, they could have opened and set the tone for the night, pumping up the kids and creating a more festive evening.
Even so, it was two campers, Molly and Kelsey, timidly introducing themselves as a newly formed band, who reminded everyone what the night was for. Using Slack's instruments, Kelsey pounded the cymbal with unabashed force, while Molly plunked her guitar with unknowing cuteness and belted abrasive, indecipherable lyrics at the top of her lungs. Their bond with the audience was cemented when Chris Slack interrupted Molly's fearless tirade just long enough to show her where to turn up the volume on her guitar. Together, Molly and Kelsey embodied the spirit and purpose of the Southern Girls Rock 'n Roll camp, and of rock in general: leave inhibitions at the door, learn a few chords, and have fun.