If video did indeed kill the radio star, then made-for-reality TV bands have their weapons drawn for the gussied-up video stars who fill what’s left of musicvideo in music television. VH1 updates “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” for a trio of scruffy rock bands, adds an element of the entrepreneur contest at the heart of “Risky Business” and then gets it all on tape for “Bands on the Run.” It’s “Survivor Rock ‘n’ Roll” for these bands of dubious distinction competing for fans’ dollars and VH1 fame. Fortunately for everyone involved it gets better as it goes along.
Debut, first half of which is bona fide ho-hum, pits three bands against each other in a competition to see who can sell the most merchandise and concert tickets in a given night. The bands meet in a Venice parking lot, are given vans, phone cards, 20 bucks a day per member and the promise of hotel rooms in San Francisco, where they will perform at different venues on the same night. The winner is the one that sells the most tickets and merchandise.
The three groups — Gotham-based Josh Dodes Band expands the competish to four in episode two — head to San Francisco with standard-issue rock ‘n’ roll dreams: play a gig, get drunk, find someone to have sex with. They taunt each other on the road, they talk about winning, they plot strategies and hang flyers, go to clubs and get drunk. It makes for a good “you had to be there” story that doesn’t completely translate onscreen.
But come episode two– just like “Survivor” — personalities start to show, and now that they’re pounding the pavement in Chicago for four days, the audience gains a rooting interest, which is based more on personality than music.
The bands were chosen from “thousands” of CDs that were submitted for inclusion. Flickerstick is the Dallas hard-rock band of horny guys who feel one member is too much of an offensive drunkard. SoulCracker is the serious pop-rock quintet of horny guys who have an eye for promotion. Harlow is four horny women with a devil-may-care attitude toward the whole thing, even though they do win an appearance on “Jenny Jones.” The Josh Dodes Band is a group of musicians. They don’t socialize together; they’re there for the art.
It’s interesting to see them plot strategies, deal with conflicts and the rat race that all bands must feel they are in when they’re competing for an audience night after night. It should be a good experience for these acts, one of which will walk away after 13 weeks with $50,000, a video with promised airplay on VH1, new equipment and a showcase gig with major A&R execs.
Technically the show is a notch below standard reality fare and borders on public access quality. The acts themselves hardly seem the type to attract major label enthusiasm; their sounds are dated and rudimentary, except for the Josh Dodes Band, which is too eclectic (think an expanded Ben Folds Five) for most labels to handle. Maybe they’ll be the ones to play “Eye of the Tiger.”