The Big Beat-Off




One thing we've learned from the National Association of Music Merchants confab every January is that the people who turn out for NAMM are just barely cooler than your average Star Trek or Dungeons N Dragons geek. There are even levels of sub-geekdom—you got your guitar geeks, your keyboard geeks, your bass geeks, your DJ geeks, your producing/recording tech geeks, all grouped together and intermingling in the freshly scrubbed colon of the Anaheim Convention Center. When night falls, these geeks turn serious, indulging their geekosity at a myriad of local clubs. F'r instance, last Saturday was Deke Dickerson's Guitar Geek Festival in Anaheim (see? They looove being geeks!). And two nights earlier it was the drum geeks' turn at Chain Reaction.

Or, er, something. What we thought was supposed to be a four-hour beat-off turned into a paltry 45 minutes of “street drumming”—basically a poor punk's version of a flashier percussion stage spectacle like Stomp or Blast, featuring no-name skin pounders from nothing bands such as STUN, Finch and theSTART, plus No Doubt's Adrian Young (the big draw, judging from all the ND stickers on cars in the lot).

It seemed to be well-choreographed, as one drum geek emerged from the stage side and started banging on spray-painted metal trash cans (hence, “street”), and then others would pop out to beat on paint buckets, cow bells and tire rims, growing to a point where there were about nine dudes (but no chicks—drummers are even more sexist than guitar players) taking out their testosterone on assorted pieces of junk to a well-paced rhythm—for a while there, it looked like an all-Caucasian Ozomatli.

Then some spiky-haired guy got up and started clapping his hands and spanking his flesh—yeah, we could do that, too, but then we stopped being 11 years old—and we realized that, no, this really wasn't very impressive. It's the kind of thing that goes on every weekend at Venice or Laguna Beach for free, a loosely organized drum circle in which half the people lay down the rhythm while the other half provide the fills. The official badge-wearing NAMM show attendees—instantly recognizable in their shoulder-padded suit jackets—didn't care for it either, probably because you can't buy trash-can lids at Guitar Center.

Soon, things got ridiculous, with fog-machine bursts and an ending jam session in which laser beams were attached to everyone's sticks—wow, dude, it's like a Rush concert! As for Young, he looked really bored, like he was there only because his sponsor told him he had to be—he could have e-mailed his blink-and-you-miss-'em fills in. When it was over, one of the drum guys revealed the true reason why they were there to begin with: “We got merch for saaallle in baaaccckkk! Shirts! CDs!” Whatta geek.

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