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News » TV & Games

Rock Survivor

Liver damage, groupies, drama and merch: VH1’s Bands on the Run nears the end!



Man, do I feel like an ass for making fun of all those morons who get sucked into reality-TV shows—OK, not really, but it is kind of ironic that I myself am now a reality-TV addict.

Forget Survivor: Big Brother, The Real World, Road Rules, Becoming, Temptation Island, Spy TV, Fear Factor—they all suck, and you’re still morons for watching them. The one-and-only reality-TV show that isn’t utter crapola is Bands on the Run. I’m hopelessly addicted to it, and it’s all over on Sunday, July 8 (VH1, 11:30 p.m.). It could be the gallon of H2O Zip, but I think the withdrawal shakes are already setting in.

In case you ain’t hip—and I refuse to believe my dozens of readers are anything less than hip, or at least hep—the premise of the show is this: Four unsigned bands travel across the country in customized vans provided by VH1, stay in posh hotels paid for by VH1, and live on $20 (per band member) of VH1’s money a day. In these aspects, the actual “reality” of indie-touring is suspended, because who’s going to watch dumb-as-rocks musicians driving beater Econolines, sleeping on the floor of some road-skank’s meth lab and donating blood to scratch together enough coin to buy a Hustler and a Whopper for the evening? Certainly not me—it’s too close to the daily reality of working at a newspaper.

In different cities every week, the bands play in competing clubs, and they promote themselves during the day to ensure some kind of turnout—if they can manage to get out of bed, anyway. After the shows, the bands’ totals for door cover and merchandise sales (hereafter called “merch,” because we’re hip) are tallied and a winner is crowned. At the end of the 11-city tour, the band with the highest earnings wins $50,000 cash, $100,000 in music gear, a video in rotation on VH1 and a showcase gig for record company A&R weasels. Then they’ll be signed to a major label and—if said label doesn’t get shuttered in a merger with Taco Bell—their subsequent video will likely enjoy less VH1 airtime than the TV show. Screwy, ain’t it?

Of the four groups that started with the tour—the Josh Dodes Band (a cross between Ben Folds Five, Dave Matthews and a granola smoothie; eliminated first in Columbus and quickly forgotten), Harlow (female goth-rockers with a penchant for disposable boys and snooze buttons; eliminated two weeks ago in Tampa and the show’s already duller for it), Flickerstick (they sound like old Radiohead and drink like they interpreted Leaving Las Vegas as a motivational film) and Soulcracker (annoying frat-rock as played by promotional whores who fail to realize their product stinks)—only two remain: Flickerstick and, blech, Soulcracker.

Yes, I called Harlow as the ultimate winner early on [April 12, City Weekly], but only because I was sure that by now someone would have just snuffed Asscracker mob-style by the roadside and Flickerdrunk would be in a collective alcoholic coma. Who knew?

Even though Bands on the Run was taped last year, everyone involved has signed ironclad Survivor-like confidentiality contracts to keep the victor a secret until this Sunday’s finale. Not that who wins really matters at this point: With the possible exception of … uh … what was their name? Oh yeah, Josh Dodes … all of these bands are now semi-famous rock stars who’ve become part of the pop-culture lexicon through the magic of reality TV. A year ago, Liverstick couldn’t sell out a club in their home state of Texas; now, well, they probably could, but the club manager sure as hell wouldn’t give them a complimentary bar tab. Soulcrapper even has a couple of dates on the Vans Warped Tour this summer, and that show’s not known for booking bands with more merch than talent, right? OK, let’s not even go there.

As much as I hate-hate-hate Suckcracker (especially Beastie, no, Bob, no A.P.—I can’t choose one!) and their grating self-promotional ways, I’m actually going to miss ’em after they lose big time to Flickersoused this Sunday. Yes, I’m throwing that prediction out there right now: The Fort Worth wastoids will win, no question. Whenever there’s a Bonus Challenge in the game, Soulpooter wins—always, that’s part of the reason we hate-hate-hate them. But whenever there’s a Battle of the Bands (as there will be in the final episode), Pickledstick always wins by an audience-voted landslide. Sold merch can’t match good music, and that’s kind of heartening. Smashing up pawnshop guitars helps, too.

As with Survivor, the next round of Bands bands will never measure up to the drama-queen heights of the original, thanks to Brandin (artsy singer guy), Corey (time-bomb asshole guitarist), Dominic (groupie-nailing drummer), Rex (semi-sober alter-ego of hysterical El Dangeroso) and Fletcher (guilt-ridden bassist) of Flickerstick. Thanks for the memories, cloudy as they are.