Boston Air Guitar Blog

Recap: 2015 US Air Guitar Central Conference Finals

Posted by Camille Barichello on Fri, Jul 17, 2015 @ 11:44 PM }

The Chicago semifinals, aka the US Air Guitar Central Conference Finals, took place Friday night at the Double Door (is it even possible not to call it the "Dumbledore"? I think not). They were streamed live, and they were rife with excitement. There was talent! There were costumed games of mistaken identity! There was even SCANDAL. I'll get to all of that in good time, but let me just say that if this is how the "postseason" is going to go, it's not going to be dull.

First things first. Bjorn Turoque hosts all of these shows. He is the dedicated Master of Airemonies of all competitions above the qualifier level as well as the Air Guitar World Championships. He is many things, but he is not a beardy man. And yet... here he was, onstage, introducing the show, running through the audience participation air band and the "virgin" joke, but with a lush chin-forest sprouting upon his face. What could be going on? Well, JAPES AHOY, because he soon whipped off his signature captain's hat to reveal that he was none other than 2012 World Champion and ongoing ambassador of air guitar, Nordic Thunder. Bjorn couldn't be there - I'll spare you the running gag about him trying to get to the airport via paratransit - so Nordic perfectly lip-synched against a recording of Bjorn and it was actually medium-convincing. Well, outside of looking nothing like him, of course.

His impersonation over, Nordic retired from the stage and left hosting duties to Hot Lixx Hulahan, meaning that Hot Lixx was not judging this time. This wasn't a problem per se - the judging panel comprised 2010 US Champ Romeo Dance Cheetah, longtime Chicago judge Ben Bowman, and first-time judge Sunny Megatron. Two veterans on the panel are plenty; it doesn't need to be an all-air-guitar judging roster - but I still feel like there were a lot of low scores that evening. It may even have played into the ESCANDALO of the end of the night (in that if people had gotten the scores they deserved, there might not have been ties and the evening may have ended in the standard way). But more on that later.

The (admittedly arcane) points system, based upon whether one is a wildcard, past wins, and level of past competition, determines when you perform, both in terms of which spots are available to you, and whether you can choose your preferred place in the order or have to choose from a hat. Because of this setup, Harvey Wahlbanger was guaranteed to go first. His T. Swift-anchored routine was a great opener and got the audience in the right mood for the combination of talent and total nonsense that air guitar is about. He got pretty acceptable scores (under the circumstances of going first and this being the big leagues) of 5.4s across the board.

Veteran performer Old Glory got the crowd chanting "USA! USA!" and did some sex moves to the point that he ripped his leather pants. That's pretty strong in terms of sex moves, if you think about it. A pair of 5.3s and a 5.5, which meant that Hot Lixx got to say "double nickels!" which is one of the cutest things about air guitar.

Lost Heartbreaker hit the stage and this man is just so solid and bullshitless, and that is evidently what Chicago likes - more about this shortly - and his gimmick-free routine bagged him a pair of 5.6s and a 5.4. Side note, it was becoming increasingly noticeable that RDC and Sunny Megatron were on some kind of a wavelength about scores since theirs were always the same.

Mom Jeans JeanieThe artist formerly known as Cleoplectra then hopped onstage with a new name and a new persona. Oh, holy mother of... mothers, this was one of the best things I've ever laid eyes on. Mom Jeans Jeanie, everybody. Heralded by the "Mom Jeans!" jingle from SNL, she dispensed snacks and kind motherly love in her unflattering pants (actually, they looked better than those pants have any right to look... what sorcery is this?) and sensible haircut. She also proceeded to dispense PERFECT ROCK AWESOMENESS to Electric Six's "She's White," which was accurate. She just nailed every move and showed the room how a pro does it. So good, you guys, so good. Also so good? The moves that she nailed were not just your standard rocker moves. There was a strong current of "your mom tipsy at your cousin's wedding" type moves. That is some detail and it ought to be recognized. The judges did, giving her a 5.7, 5.8, and 5.6. I definitely think these would have been higher had she gone later in the night, but still, strong scores.

El Airiachi is another veteran of the scene who always goes high-difficulty with his intricate selections. The judges took that into account, they said, but still gave him a couple of 5.5s and a 5.4. This was primarily a plus because it meant Hot Lixx got to say "double nickels" again.

Then, 2012 Chicago champ The White Flame took the stage, after having been on hiatus recently. She is a dancer and you can tell it from her moves; it's all grace and choreographic precision. But she also hits the notes; her timing, obviously, is spot on. The only thing I found a bit jarring about her routine was that it comprised two songs and the transition between them was just a gap, which some audience members misinterpreted as the end. I would have preferred a closer transition. The judges more or less loved it, although Romeo Dance Cheetah didn't give any explanation of his score (sensibly, since they are a couple). She got 5.6s from RDC and Sunny, the Score Twins, and a 5.7 from Bowman.

So, when I was watching along live with the livestream, I was not... a stranger to beer. I would have made a couple trips to the bar if I had been in the "Dumbledore," so I made a couple trips to the fridge, instead. And I started getting a little shouty when the judges would give a score or a rationale that I disagreed with. One of those instances was when CindAIRella played, and Ben Bowman patronized her about how a guitar works. Well, I've just re-watched it stone cold sober, and I still got all annoyed at him for his "hey, the high notes are down here and the low notes are up here, make sure you remember that if you make the second round" line. She's played at Nationals. This isn't her first rodeo. So maybe it wasn't the beer after all. 

Next up, Black Widow. She was from the Minneapolis qualifier, which had adventures in date-changing and wound up being just a couple days before the Chicago semi, and I guess she also didn't really know anything about this whole thing until approximately the day before that. So she hit the stage at semis on like her third day as an air guitarist. With that in mind, she was amazing. Her scores were just about where they should have been considering the degree of difficulty of being brand new and up against total studs: 5.5, 5.6, and 5.3.

Chicago qualifier champ and geriatric superhero Howlin' Hank Hawkins hit the stage next. He is brand new to the sport and knocked everyone's socks off at the qualifier. His socks, by contrast, are probably pulled all the way up and worn even with shorts. His surf Maiden thing is great, but the judges felt like they needed another level up from his qualifier performance. I don't know! Sure it was all more or less the same type of thing throughout the routine, but that's not at all unusual. I felt that the 5.4, 5.5, and 5.3 he got were a mite on the low side. One might say "lowballs"... since we are talking about a zillion-year-old man here. Jokes.

I was looking forward to Flying Finn's performance; he always brings it, and this is his 10th year competing! That is so many years! So you know that he is, like the farmer in the joke, outstanding in his field. He has had his song on repeat for about the last year straight, I'm pretty sure, because he just nailed it. Every move was exactly where it should be, the invisible guitar was made visible for at least one of the judges, and he even did a beer solo (when you take advantage of a break in playing to chug a beer). You know how sometimes in sports, including this sport, you can tell when someone finishes their thing and they know they've done an amazing job? It is super endearing to watch and it was clearly the case here as well. The judges were on board. Going with their low-scoring theme of the evening, he got two 5.7s and a 5.8, and those were the best of the night so far.

This year there is some stiff competition for the Bettie B. Goode Award. Noche broke her foot just days before the competition, but was unwilling to give up, and hopped onstage in a cast and with a chair. She proceeded to turn the concept of "chair guitar" on its head, not just sitting in the chair to air guitar but clambering all over the thing, propping up her bad foot on it, and generally redefining "stage presence" to include staying within the same small footprint of the stage. The judges didn't give her pity scores, either: two 5.7s and a 5.5, which seemed like swinging the pendulum too far in the other direction. RDC also reused his line to her from the Chicago qualifier, where he also judged, which essentially accused her of having an air-period. It was a weird compliment.


El Mago brought his overalls-and-chest-hair combo punch from Texas, leaping joyfully around the stage with many crotch gyrations. But, being a first-time winner, he may need some polishing before he can get the really big scores. For instance, he switched which of the two guitars in the song he was playing partway through, it seemed like - that's a detail that it pays to pay attention to! He got a 5.3 and two 5.4s.

Rocky Rhoads decided to show him how to cover the stage and not leave the performance behind. She was, as always, a blur, zipping around the stage, one windmill after the next, but in case you thought this might all blend together after awhile, she pulled off some manner of roundoff (look it up) to a knee-drop right in the middle and if that didn't get you screaming, you may not be alive. A judge a couple years ago told her that they appreciated her use of kneepads, since unlike some people wearing them, she always put them to use. She would have been pretty wrecked after this performance if she hadn't had them on, for sure. So what did she get? She got a SHOCKING LOWBALL from Romeo Dance Cheetah - a 5.6 - and more appropriate 5.8 and 5.9 from the other two judges. But this wasn't the scandal. Not yet. Keep reading.

Iron Dragon brought the purple funk fury to Chicago and impressed them; it's great to see people play songs that aren't typical air guitar thrashers. Broadens audience expectations. He bagged a couple of 5.6s and a 5.4.

Up next was the latest reinvention from the master thereof, Van Dammage (aka Slam Cabbage). This year, oh man, he was VAN DMG. Nailed. It. His outfit was on point, he had a boom box the size of my first apartment, and he did Run DMC's version of "Walk This Way." A fair point is "what else could he have done," and it's true that this character's options are limited, but that's why it's so important that he crushed this one. Which I thought he did. He even made sure to stop and hit notes in the middle of breakdancing! But the judges were a million miles off and gave him... is "sextuple nickels" a thing? Because it was 5.5s across the board. I don't get it, America. Recognize awesome.

Midnight ManiaxeBut no time to be glum! Midnight Maniaxe was taking the stage - even before he was called - and he just brought such straightforward rock perfection that no one could argue with it. Partly his timing was perfect - following two very different performers - and partly he is, as I've just realized, Chicago's Windhammer. His performance is way less of a big showy act, and focuses more on technical prowess while making that level of technical ability big enough to be its own weather system of stage presence. His skills were rewarded with the highest scores of the night so far: 5.8, 5.9, and 5.7.

Air Jesus. There is no audience whose mind he won't blow with his dangling-from-the-cross routine this year. It doesn't matter if they've seen it before, it is just so unique and attention-grabbing that no one can keep from being captivated. He got two 5.7s and a 5.9.

Following Air Jesus was Airleigh Legal in her angel-of-doom costume, which was appropriate. She is always superheavy and has great hair whips, which I really haven't seen much of from other participants this year. She ended her routine with a crucifixion pose that was just a perfect callback to the routine before. The judges then did one of the things that annoys me the most about judging. They praised her left and right and then gave her significantly lower scores than other recent competitors. How are you going to tell someone how much they blew your mind and then give them a 5.5? But that's what they did - two 5.5s and a 5.6.

And closing out the first round, LattAIR Day Saint. The first-timer who won Kansas City rode his invisible bike up to Chicago and continued the religious theme. He seemed rushed on some of his moves, but on the whole he held his own remarkably well among all of these veteran performers. The judges handed down a 5.5, 5.6, and 5.7.

Halftime was a delight - Romeo Dance Cheetah and Nordic Thunder showed us how true air guitar love is - and then it was back into the fray for the second round. A tough song and a tough bunch onstage. Tough to beat, I mean. Not like, tough in a bar fight, although maybe that too. Your second-rounders, in ascending order, Mom Jeans Jeanie, Flying Finn, Air Jesus and Rocky Rhoads in a tie for second, and Midnight Maniaxe coming in at the head of the class. 

Flying FinnIt's always tough to go first in the second round, but by the second half of the song, Mom Jeans Jeanie had hit her stride and was playing behind her back and sending the crowd into paroxysms of cheering. Finn grabbed those cheers from the second he stepped to the stage, since he was wearing supersized arm fringes - which were, not making this up, part of some sexy-lady Halloween costume. The rest of his costume was his own, in case you're wondering. I was expecting Air Jesus to do something special for the line in the song that referred to "the grace of god," but no; it's not like he was just sitting around, though. He was the mayor of windmill town. But I wanted something extra-awesome for the appropriate line. Rocky was next, and she nailed the ending move (which not everyone did). And then Maniaxe went and nailed everything.

Scores were close. Scores were very close going in, and the scores for this round were close as well. The live chat had Mama Cletus doing the math, and she was announcing her results... but then the official results were announced, and they didn't match up. But then Hot Lixx announced that everyone from the second round would advance anyway, because it's Chicago and everyone is super deserving. What? I mean, yes, that's true, but this was not how anyone expected it to work. SCANDAL!

A couple of days later, an official announcement was posted on the US Air Guitar website. It explained that there had been mathematical screwups - Mama Cletus was right all along! - and there were 2 ties, meaning that I guess it's not all that weird that everyone advanced since that comes to two first-placers, two second-placers, and one third, if you want to look at it that way. That might not be the right way to look at it. Here's the order, ascending: Flying Finn, then Rocky and Mom Jeans Jeanie tied, then Air Jesus and Midnight Maniaxe tied for first.

The real scandal was that this marked a rule change, in mid-season, owing to the results of one competition. Since the Chicago (and for that matter, tonight's San Francisco) semifinals drew from a way larger set of qualifiers, it does make sense for them to send more people. So that's "why" everyone got to go, and there weren't any air-offs. But it's something that should have been decided ahead of time (and should probably have resulted in more people making the second round so as to have some drama about people's scores). Announcing a new rule to match what looked like an ad hoc choice in response to confusing circumstances makes it look like a retcon, and that makes everyone feel like they've been had. I can't imagine how the winners feel.

I can't wait to see all of these badasses at Nationals, and every one deserves it and the bounces could have gone differently score-wise, so no one can hold that against them. Watch for yourself over at Air Guitar TV and decide how you think the scores should have landed. We'll see how the rest of semifinal season goes...

photos by Airleigh Legal (Leigh Melendez)

Tags: chicago, semi-finals, recaps, 2015 season