When I didn’t have the scratch to enter last year’s Reefer Poker tournament, my friend Sarah (owner of Bambú rolling papers) came to the rescue and fronted me the $100 buy-in. Well, she called in her marker this February, when she enlisted me as a judge for the Bambú Band of the Year Final Battle showdown. The contest—co-sponsored by Roc-Elle Records—was Bambú’s first such foray into the indie music scene. Every few weeks throughout the summer, bands competed at Manhattan’s historic Bowery Poetry Club and were voted on by the audience. Now, the competition had been narrowed down to four bands: Vicio, Captain Coconut, the Chosen and the Communication Corporation. Whoever won tonight would receive a prize package valued at over $5,000—including cash, banner ads on bambu.com, a record deal with Roc-Elle, plus a photo shoot modeling Bambú’s hip new clothing line for an upcoming ad campaign. And, of course, a shitload of rolling papers.
When I arrived at Santo’s Party House that evening, Sarah welcomed me with a fistful of drink tickets, then led me to the elevated area toward the back, where she introduced me to my fellow judges: Relix senior editor Mike Greenhaus; stylish electro-rocker Jen Urban and her bandmate, Alan D; and Jen Nuccio, an associate vice president with the Susan Blond PR firm. I’d actually met Nuccio a few years back, when she introduced me to rock queen Joan Jett the last time she played New York. I ordered the first of many beers, got acquainted and reported for duty. As I’ve learned over the years, serious judging requires serious drinking.
The first band up was Captain Coconut. They were a funk/jazz/jamband fusion with a horn section and groovy sound that got everybody’s booty moving. They looked pretty young and were a bit lacking in stage presence—just standing around shoe-gazing most of the time—but there was some genuine talent there.
“You guys sound like you could be Steely Dan’s little brother—like, Steely Doug,” I commented, finishing my second beer. “I’m known mostly as a rock/metal guy, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m all about the funk, and you guys bring it. All you need are some matching rhinestone jumpsuits and you’re all set.”
Next up were female-fronted pop rockers Vicio from Brazil (by way of Long Island). From singer Samira’s zebra-print top to the bassist’s Tufnel-esque hair and tight white jeans, their image was an eclectic mixture of ’80s glam and British mod with a dash of punk. The vocals were a bit reminiscent of Benatar, and the fuzzily ’froed guitarist Rickardo ripped out some killer solos. Overall, they put on a high-energy show with lots of action and style.
“Well, it’s nice to see someone’s bringing back the mullet,” I joked, popping open my fifth beer.
Then came the Chosen. Normally I’m not much for hip-hop, but these guys blended phat rhymes and irie rhythms with soul and finesse. And more importantly, they were the first band to publicly hail the leaf onstage, when dreadlocked bassist Young Nattie gave a shout-out to all the pot smokers in the crowd. Obviously, that earned them big points in my book.
The last band of the night was the Communication Corporation. These guys were a gimmick band—one wacky businessman character dressed in a suit and glasses, another dude with a hat made of playing cards. They had bullhorns, monkey masks, hard hats, jumpsuits, flashlights—you name it. By this time, I’d used up my last drink ticket and was starting to get rowdy.
“What’s this supposed to be, some kind of Devo hoedown?” I chided. “I’m into Mr. Bungle and all kinds of weird shit, but if you’re gonna be weird, you gotta be good.” I went Simon Cowell on their asses big time, soliciting boos and howls from the crowd—but that only fanned the flames of my derision. “You guys are all shtick and no substance!” I railed. “No balls!” They probably didn’t deserve the fury I unleashed on them, but I was shit-faced and having fun, so I let ’em have it anyway.
Ain’t I a stinker?
Afterwards, the judges all headed backstage to confer with our corporate counterparts and cast our votes. After a passionate debate, we ended in a split decision—a tie between retro rockers Vicio and reggae rhymesters the Chosen. Sarah brought us all out onstage and announced the winners. Afterwards, I grabbed one of the many packs of papers lying around and rolled a few celebratory joints backstage, treating the winners to some Bubblegum Skunk.