Boston Air Guitar Blog

Recap: 2015 US Air Guitar Western Conference Finals

Posted by Camille Barichello on Tue, Jul 28, 2015 @ 09:36 AM }

I know the Atlantic and Eastern Conference Finals just happened, but we need to talk about the Western Conference Finals in San Francisco first. Because, just like the Central Conference Finals, they were marred by scandal. This season, you guys. Well, no - the regular season went more or less smoothly. This post-season is the thing that's having dramatics. Maybe semifinals need to be put together by regular air guitarists as well, like qualifiers are, since everyone has proven that they can do it pretty well.

On into the story. So, this season, the whole Nordic-as-Bjorn thing is the running gag, even though Bjorn was out of town only for the Chicago semi. For the rest, Nordic impersonates him in the intro, and then does the big reveal and hands over hosting duties to Bjorn. Just so you know and can assume that part and we can get on with it, because there were 29 competitors and we mustn't dilly-dally.

Well, hold on, we're going to dilly-dally for a second. This is the actual issue. The competition had a hot million people in it, and the venue had a very strict time limit. So they were going to start right on time (hahaha), restrict judging commentary to one judge per competitor (the other two would just give their scores and not elaborate), and have no unnecessary frippery. For starters, the show started 40 minutes late. Then, they pissed off Tiger Claw, who was expecting to do an intro routine, not for judging, just to kick it off, by surprise cutting down his edit to a minute, from the 2 minute plus track he gave them and prepared for. And then they gave him a score.

The expectation was that since there were so many competitors, and to avoid the surprise "everybody wins!" of Chicago's semifinal, they would take 8 into the second round, and 5 of those would advance. Just to have that in your mind while considering the outcome.

Also, the livestream didn't kick in until partway through the first round, and then they had to take the sound off since Youtube is fussy about using copyrighted music (because it has to be - even if we're not making money off it, Youtube is, by virtue of having ads on the page and video). Air Guitar TV does have individual videos of every performance, but they don't have scores. So I can't give you that info, and I'm just going to give you highlights (or what I thought were the highlights), because 29 people is a lot and I don't know if I have them in order.

  • Cold Steel Renegade is a glorious 70s fever dream. He had the audience participating, he had a streamer explosion from his hand, and he has the moves. The man has his own Appreciation Cult for a reason.
  • The competitor from Burning Man, now named Airgasm, looked like "Captain Airhab goes to Provincetown."
  • Blood Banshee - with whom I'm not familiar, but after watching several judges say it in error to other competitors, I'm reluctant to say that she's new to the sport - was pretty awesome. She came in being carried over someone's shoulder, then got really heavy, had some great hair whips and high kicks, and hit her moves pretty nicely too. I haven't seen her before, but I want to see more.
  • Kara Picante was terrifying in her blank-face mask. She committed guitar-seppuku, then took off the mask and proceeded to remove the crowd's faces via melting them clean off.
  • Something I always enjoy is the reference to the rest of the (invisible) band; Seth Leibowitz did this to great success, along with some really great "solid guitar" style movements. By that, I don't mean that everyone else doesn't make you believe in their invisible guitar, but that his, and those of the other people who play in this style, is rigid and has weight and its parts stay strictly in the right place in relation to each other. Some people's air guitars are more bendy, which is its own distinct style.
  • SlashSquatch is real. And so is his air guitar, which started out playing a little Alanis Morrissette for the people. Isn't it ironic? Don't you think? That a famous fictional woodland creature could actually be an air guitar aficionado? No... that isn't ironic at all.
  • Tarra Dactyl came in from the new qualifier in Sacramento and, while maybe not every move was spot on, she's clearly got a bright future in air guitar because of her "Shitshow Courtney Love" act she put on while playing a Hole song.
  • One thing I really love in air guitar is when someone is clearly loving it. Sure, there are plenty of slug faces, and some people who slam their eyes shut (possibly out of nervousness, like me) while playing, but Tony Tapatio was just grinning the whole time. He did a beer spit before even making it all the way onto the stage, had a mid-song slow-jam interlude, and generally nailed it. There was more flat-out shredding than his usual festival of sex moves, which is a good thing - not because the sex moves are bad in and of themselves, but showing versatility is important. He can captivate the crowd by seducing them, AND by ripping the hell out of some power chords.
  • Tyranicus did not get the respect he deserved from the crowd. People were talking over him while he was harbinging the end times! You can't do that! Anyway, as always, he was wonderfully technical; as always, hair flips ahoy; and as always, we are all cowards and worms.

Kara Picante Western Semis 2015Kara Picante. Terrifying. Photo by Rob Coons on Instagram.

Things the Western Semi likes: spin jumps to knees (I also like these), shirtless men in vests. I saw at least 3 of each while watching these performances.

Things I like so much I don't even know what to do with myself: the return to active competition of Hot Lixx Hulahan - now as Shreddest Air (say it out loud...). He faked out everyone to the moment of stepping onstage - even having another guy go onstage for him and leave just in time for the music to start. His joie de air guitar is so huge it could fill a stadium. I hope, hope, hope it isn't a one-off thing and that he's back for real forever. I want an "I <3 HOT LIXX" t-shirt.

So, the second round. Remember when I said they told people they would take 8 competitors into the second round and advance 5 of them? Ha ha! Just kidding! They took 5 into the second round. And, due to ties, some of the people who were cut out of that group were in the top 5, scores-wise. There was a fair amount of righteous, and rightful, rage. USAG was roundly admonished about that, and has since then been stricter about adhering to whatever rules were set out for competitors at subsequent competitions (although that didn't really come to a head until the Eastern Semis, to which I will get in due time).

The five in question were, in no particular order since I only know first and second, Blaze BaadAxxe, Cold Steel Renegade, Seth Leibowitz, Tyranicus in second place, and Tony Tapatio in first. The song was (possibly McNallica's edit of) Turbonegro's "Good Head," which is the first time I've heard a second round song and thought "I could possibly not screw that up!" It wasn't up to me, however; it was up to these hardy competitors and they did not disappoint.

Blaze took advantage of the song's subject matter to highlight his crotch; Seth Leibowitz took a shoulder ride through the crowd and made his backpack light up; and Tyranicus did hair whips at exactly the right spots - but Cold Steel gets a special mention for being on ROLLERBLADES, on which he did pretty well at hitting the notes, considering you sometimes need to do non-guitary arm movements in order not to fall over and die, and those moments show no regard for the rhythm of a song. I don't have anyone's scores, but I hear that he got super, super hosed by the judges for this performance. Head shake, judges. Slow head shake. And then Tapatio came up on stage, poured two beers over himself, and proceeds to nail every note (with plenty of guitar-licking, which is appropriate in context).

The result of all this Good Head? A three-way... tie, for first, between Tyranicus, Tapatio, and Seth Leibowitz. Time for an air-off! To "Hocus Pocus" by Focus. Seth Leibowitz was doing some cool stuff with it - it suited his style - but he went into the crowd and while that's always a crowd-pleaser, it is hard or impossible to see, so I'm sure that had an impact on his score. Tyranicus makes every song heavier just by virtue of being the one playing it, so it was hair whips and detailed finger movements galore, and then he took off his gauntlets (would that mean he threw them down? Oho) during the yodeling portion of the song. And then Tapatio wrapped it all up being really on top of the song, accessorized with his traditional going-down-on-the-guitar move. Right after "Good Head"? Why not during? But anyway, like for Leibowitz, the song suits his style; unlike Leibowitz, the judges could see 100% of his moves. This was an important distinction, and while I don't know their actual scores or justifications, I do know who won: Tony Tapatio is your Western Conference Champion! He'll be moving on to the National Finals in Portland on August 8th.

Tony Tapatio with Tiger ClawTony Tapatio celebrates his victory with Tiger Claw. Photo: US Air Guitar Instagram

Tags: san francisco, semi-finals, recaps, 2015 season