Music News

The Beatdown

On Tuesday, February 10, Mootown's honorary mayor held court at Herman's Hideaway. "My name's Todd," said Todd Park Mohr. "I play in a band called Big Head Todd and the Monsters. This is them." Yeah, as if he had to tell this crowd that. Everybody in Mootown knows the Cabeza Grande y los Monstruos. Everybody except me.

As I stood amid Mohr's throng of constituents -- who used me like a turnstile every time they had to hit the head or get another beer -- I realized I really didn't know squat about the brokenhearted savior. At least, I didn't know nearly as much about him as those revved-up zealots did.

Fact is, I'd never thought Todd was anything more than mediocre. That's sacrilege in these parts, I know. I might as well walk up to the gates of Graceland and torch a velvet Elvis or head down to Texas and piss on Stevie Ray Vaughan's grave. I thought Sister Sweetly was decent, but nothing to write home about. And while it was pretty freaking cool that Mohr and company used a shot of the band standing in front of Rosa Linda's Mexican Restaurant on the back of Strategem, that didn't change my opinion about the music. Truthfully, if given the opportunity, I would have rewritten the annals of local music history to strike every mention of BHTM and replace all of them with the Fluid.

Then I saw that motherfucker play. Great googly moogly. Todd has undeniable chops; as Chuck says, he was playing guitar like he was ringing a bell. And while I wouldn't put him in the same league as SRV, I'd say he's just a notch below Chris Duarte. The solo on "Dinner With Ivan" was astounding. Even though Todd and his hombres broke nearly every one of my unspoken rock conventions -- some of the songs veered dangerously close to the edge of jamland; a drinking game could be created with the number of times Mohr changed guitars; and fer chrissakes, rock and roll is not about shiny shirts, m'kay? -- Mohr and the Monsters were on fire. The soulfully mechanical interplay of the rhythm section, drummer Brian Nevin and bassist Rob Squires, sounded like the result of years on the road. And with the addition of renowned local keyboardist and producer Jeremy Lawton (Psychodelic Zombiez), the overall set was riveting. Even for a fair-weather fan.

Still, I couldn't help but notice that the tracks that resonated with almost everybody were off of Sister Sweetly. Of course, some diehards knew every word to every song. "This is the best way to see them," enthused one such charismaniac with Michelob breath. "This is probably my 25th time seeing them. That was back in the day, when they were playing Stevie Ray Vaughan and Led Zeppelin covers." When Mohr broke out the pre- and post-Sweetly tunes, most of those in the crowd either turned and talked to their friends or spaced out. But as soon as Mohr played the opening chords to "Bittersweet," "Circle," "It's Alright" and "Broken-Hearted Savior," folks absolutely lost their shit.

So I guess I'm not the only one who could use a Big Head Todd for Dummies manual. After that show, I felt the need to get in touch with my inner Todd and spent the next couple of days ruminating over the catalogue. I'm still not thrilled by the songs. They're decent, and some are better than others, but ultimately, Mohr's six-string ability and his incendiary live performance don't translate on record. I've yet to hear Crimes of Passion, though, which contains the outfit's "best material to date," according to bassist Squires. And that's saying a lot. Because outside of convincing Sharon Rawles to chug a Cadillac Defroster on stage -- according to Chris Rawles, Sharon's husband and co-owner of the Cricket on the Hill, it's been BHTM's drink of choice for years -- the fellas didn't say much. They opted to let the music do the talking.

Walk softly and carry a big six.

Storey time: "You're nobody until somebody hates you." Rogue frontman Bill Terrell offers those sage words in this week's "Bill to Last." Amen, brother Bill, and I'm sure those in the Nina Storey camp would agree. While some people thought I was a little tough on the local chanteuse in my December 4 Beatdown, that was tame compared with the beating she took on Star Search a few weeks ago.

I didn't catch the episode when it aired on Saturday, January 31, and I had a hell of a time getting a copy. And what a show it was. After hearing Storey's rendition of the George Gershwin standard "Summertime," the judges -- Naomi Judd, MC Lyte and Matti Lashem -- vivisected her.

Lyte went first: "She could have really given Halle Berry a run for her money with this catwoman; it was like she was howling. I think you need to record yourself and then listen, because it sounded like you were in a fight with yourself. I'm sorry -- I just got to bring it to you real."

Damn, girlfriend.

Next up was Judd, whose criticism was a little less caustic. "I think it was over the top, honey," she told Storey. "I'm not sure who is down in there. I feel like it was performance art. Uh, I felt like I was watching a video and you're just about ten feet from me. I didn't feel like you were right here with me."

Finally, Leshem, the poor man's Simon Cowell, offered this: "As Franz Kafka said, 'Hopefulness is infinite, but not for you.' Truly, truly a very bad idea for you to even attempt to sing this song. It's caterwauling at its worst."

If the trio's comments got to Storey, she didn't show it. She should've been pissed, maybe launched a few F-bombs. Watching Storey take the panel's criticism was cringe-worthy, like watching someone slam her hand in a car door -- on purpose. God knows, I would have given those CBS censors a workout to rival the one they had on Super Bowl Sunday. But Storey didn't. The cherubic smile never left her face.

Arsenio Hall, the show's host, tried to do some damage control. "I've had enough of this," he said awkwardly, looking as though he were clad in a steak-lined suit in a cage full of rabid pit bulls. "Let's see what those words from our judges add up to in stars." Even after Hall advised Storey of her score -- four stars out of a possible fifteen -- her countenance hardly registered a blip on the aw-shucks meter. Hall was struck by her stoic demeanor. "And she's polite, too," he said. "That makes my stomach hurt even worse."

When I wrote about Storey, I said she wouldn't "give a rat's ass what I think." But apparently she did: Music scenesters say she wrote a song about yours truly that included the refrain "Why do you have to be so mean?" When I showed up at her CD-release party the following week, though, she hugged me. Unbelievable. It reminded me of that picture of the pope shaking hands with the guy who'd tried to do him in.

So Storey's reaction -- or lack thereof -- to the Star Search squad wasn't surprising. But her performance that night absolutely sucker-punched me. Forget slack-jawed; I'm now suffering from a severe case of TMJ. While the judges' assessments of her delivery were as overwrought as Storey's take on the song, their reactions were on point. Storey had about as much business singing that cut as she had being on that show in the first place. When Lyte said it sounded like Storey was in a fight with herself, she was right. Storey's phrasing sounded like Alana Davis channeling Joan Osborne channeling Nina Simone. It was unintelligible, and it only got worse with each excessive accentuation.

And that's too bad, because if Storey had picked a different tune or given "Summertime" a more straightforward presentation, she would have blown away her competition. Blown away those tribunal hacks, too. Storey's an accomplished songwriter and vocalist with impressive range and control -- but those talents weren't on display in this show.

Fortunately, Star Search is a joke. Storey is not. And in due time, the industry will find her -- just as her fans have.

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Dave Herrera
Contact: Dave Herrera