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Guitar Superstar Competition @ Great American Music Hall, 9/13/08

September 14, 2008

Last year’s Guitar Hero Championship was lots of fun, so I was looking forward to this year’s. It’s an interesting event to compare to the recent US Air Guitar Championship that I recently went to.

Andy Summers, guitarist for The Police, hosted. I knew the second he said his first line that this event wasn’t going to be as fun-loving as last years’. It was a serious, “There’s a lot of bad stuff going on in the world right now”…Great, now I can’t even get away from the gloom and doom at my shows. He’s a very little man with oddly proportioned clothes, and being completely not a fan of The Police, I wondered how good a guitar player he is based on his “Wow, I need to go home and practice” comments after each contestant.

The judges, some familiar faces from last year, saved the show, whether they were annoying or hilarious. First was Joe Satriani, who is known for his instrumental work, was a returning judge from last year. He always had good, clear feedback…but what on Earth is that thing that he wears on his head? It most certainly isn’t a hat. Next was Steve Vai, who, honestly, kinda creeped me out with his Siegfried and Roy-ish appearance. His feedback tended to focus on perfecting tone. Elliot Easton from The Cars also was a returning judge from last year. His feedback was always the most honest. Brendon Small, my favorite judge and the co-creator of Metalocalypse (which according to several people in the crowd, is now called Megalocalypse), was last year’s host and always added much needed levity to the panel. George Lynch, from Dokken, was my least favorite judge. He often gave unspecific criticism, made a sexist remark, and often just didn’t make sense.

The event was much slicker than last years, and in my opinion lost some of it’s charm. It was heavily sponsored, as was last year’s, but this time it was more obnoxious. For instance, the special TBA performance was not by a local band or one of the host or judges bands, but rather by Carlos Alomar playing a new $6000 Moog guitar. It did sound really cool, and really expensive, but I could do without having to hear that guy sing again, ever.

Another thing that pissed me off about this event was that there was little crowd etiquette. Apparently I was standing in the Avenue of the Giants, as every 6’3”+ person came and stood in front of me at one time or another. And since there are no vocals going on, I kinda wanted to be able to see the fingerwork on the guitars rather than the backs of people’s shoulders. I find it funny that there is often more etiquette at the metal shows I go to than these ‘older crowd’ events.

On to the contestants. First up was Makana, from Hawaii, who did a lovely acoustic number that included some interesting tuning changes. The judges all liked it, with Brendon commenting, “so that’s what and acoustic guitar looks like!”

Eric Brewer, from Pennsylvania, started off one of the prevailing themes of the night- country music. Coming after that clean, clear acoustic sound made for a difficult act to follow, and the judges weren’t as impressed.

Next was Mark Christian, a true cowboy looking fellow who donned a paisley print guitar. His fast and challenging song wasn’t entirely polished and had some equipment issues, and the judges pointed it out.

The Guy was next, and yes, that is what he goes by. And his playing was as pretentious and vague as his name. Some of the judges appreciated it, but I agreed with Elliot when he said, “I thought you were still tuning your guitar”.

Finally some rock occurred with Daddo Oreskovich, originally form Bosnia, hit the stage. Devil horns aplenty, his style was metal jazz, but he did it well, and the judges commended him.

After the product placement intermission, the only female competitor- Vicki Genfan– wowed everyone with her acoustic slapping melody. Lynch’s “I didn’t know girls could play the guitar” comment aside, his “Who needs Palin, let’s nominate Vicki” comment was pretty funny.

Eric Barnett, from Sonoma, CA, had a room full of fans. His nice melodic rock sounds- while a crowd pleaser- didn’t stand out as challenging enough for the judges.

Dan Peters, from Illinois, played some nice rockabilly, but then switched to hard rock at the end. The switch was jarring to me, and the judges commented on it as well.

Ben Robinson, from Florida, performed a more straightforward rock piece very well. He’s quite young and had this interesting reserved energy about him. The judges seemed to like it.

Last, but definitely not least, was Michael Orlando, from Staten Island. He had a very showy, pure metal performance full of “guitar faces” as Brendon would later say. The crowd was very into it, as were the judges, who pointed out how they could see him as a successful member of a rock band. But, Lynch had to go and point out that because of the nature of the competition, he needed to focus more on playing the song, citing this story about Bill Graham and Hendrix that he poorly recited but you can read about here.

As any consistent reader of HRC knows, I’ll take the theatrics.

Which brings up an interesting point. I found it hard to separate out the contestants that I enjoyed watching play and was entertained by, from the ones that sounded like they were playing something with a high level of difficulty in a genre that I don’t care about. I came to the conclusion that it needed to be some combination of the two, but the host should clarify how these contestants are being scored. They even do that in Air Guitar.

After a break to tally up the winners, the announcements for the second and first runners up and the winner were all coupled with ridiculous speeches on the sponsors again.

The second runner up was Makana, followed by Daddo, and then the surprise, Vicki Genfan, the only female, was crowned the winner. I think the crowd was a little shocked, too. I honestly had a hard time deciding who should be the winners, and I’m afraid that means that no one really blew me away. Last year’s competitors seemed to be better.

Regardless, it’s cool that a woman is the new Guitar Superstar.

Makana: 8.5/10
Eric Brewer: 6/10
Mark Christian: 7/10
the guy: 4/10
Daddo Oreskovich: 8/10
Vicki Genfan: 8/10
Eric Barnett: 7.5/10
Dan Peters: 7/10
Ben Robinson: 8.75/10
Michael Orlando: 9/10
venue (Great American Music Hall): 9/10
crowd/scene: 4/10
value ($15/ticket): 9/10
memorable: 8/10


  1. Thanks so much for taking the time to review the show!

    Guitar Player Magazine is sponsoring a tour featuring the performers at GPGS’08…the first show is Nov. 22, 2008 at Broadway Studios in SF. You can read more about it here…http://www.guitarplayer.com/article/guitar-player-presents/nov-08/89349…we’d be honored if you could attend! Please contact me if you have any questions!

    Eric Barnett (Guitar Superstar 2008 finalist)
    Points North

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