The lore goes that air guitar was created in Finland to alleviate any violent situation: you can't hold a gun while you're air wailing. But at last week's US Air Guitar regionals in San Francisco, I was more concerned about the sheer lunacy of spandex being worn and the huge balls poking out of them than the history of this illustrious art. In truth, you kinda don't know what to think when you're invited to something like watching people perform "War Pigs" in public when they really should be contained in the privacy of their own home - especially you're then asking questions like "Is he wearing underwear?" or "Did he just pull spaghetti out of his diaper?"
Twenty hopefuls rallied at the Independent Wednesday night for the chance at stardom via fast fingers and ridiculous outfits. The competition is no laughing matter: the contenders are actually graded vigorously through specific categories, and the crowd flips off and swears at judges if their scores aren't favorable. And with the winner advancing to the national competition in hopes of repping the U.S. of A in the world championships (no, fucking, kidding), you bet your air chest hair that this is serious business. The air fiesta at the Indy only got more rowdy as the backings from Cuervo Black and TouchTunes started to take effect.
With names like Ricky Stinkfingers, Shred Nugent, and Dr. Wankenstein, the large group shrunk to a top five after each performing a song of choice. It's not to say some didn't go down without a fight or a show: Dan The Man resembled a real-life version of Beaker in a glitter jacket while spastically performing Queen, while Gobo looked like a Dungeons & Dragons burn-out who flipped around on stage and did a bunch of somersaults while the Dead Kennedys blasted. "That guy was just playing his chest hair, though," said one of the three judges, all music-oriented writers in SF, as he defended his low scoring against the boos echoing throughout the venue.
A guitar stand made out of balloons, lacy underwear, capes, fake chest hair, real chest hair, neon leg warmers, ironic mustaches, non-ironic mustaches, a black fan, suspenders, latex gloves, and various articles from Hot Topic also made appearances during the night, each competitor trying to outdo the last. And while my favorite was the one Shred Nugent (if not that he hails from my hometown, but that he seemed the most legit and serious about the thing), Daddy's Smashing Little Pumpkin took the cake. I have no freaking idea what song he did as I was distracted by this guy dressed like a reject tartan girl, complete with a Marilyn Monroe wig, donning white thigh highs with bows and a Depends strapped in his groin; he periodically reached in said diaper to do some adjusting to the ball department while on stage and then later to throw boiled spaghetti into the crowd. It was the first time ever in my musical life I was oh so, so grateful to be shielded in the safety of the press box.
In the end, a dude dubbed Shred Begley Jr., who was adorned in a black shirt that proclaimed "AWESOME" and sported a real fro, was voted to represent San Francisco in the nationals. After a round of thunderous applause from all, the audience climbed on stage at the end of the show to try their own airness with "Freebird." I can only guess what the nationals on August 8 will bring, which is going to be held for the first time in my own city at the Grand. And though I afraid of dying from asphyxiation of Aquanet and spandex groin sweat then, I know it's gonna be a grand time. For out-of-towners, if you'd like to see the finals for yourself, check this out.
Photos by Misha Vladimirskiy