A majority of the acts employed fog machines over human drummers Wednesday night at First Avenue’s Best New Bands marathon, including BNLX, BadNRad and Phantom Tails, but that was hardly the oddest thing about the annual showcase. Surprise No. 1 came when gas-mask-wearing garage-rocker Hastings 3000 (guitarist Joe Hastings) tried to perform live via Skype from Hawaii. No surprise to anyone who has used even a cell phone in Hawaii, the connection lasted all of 20 seconds, and the backup plan — a hologram recording of Hastings reflected onto a wall of fog — also fell flat. “Modern technology is apparently not ready for forward-thinking” rockers, host David Campbell charitably cracked. A much better and even weirder experiment came in the “surprise guest” slot: a one-off all-star band called the “Jah-hawks,” offering Jamaican dub versions of “Blue” and two other Louris/Olson tunes, with Zach Coulter (Solid Gold), Jacob Hanson (Halloween, Alaska) and rhythm kings James Buckley and JT Bates. It actually sort of worked, prompting co-host Jason Nagel to suggest they return as Soul Jahsylum or Brother Jahli. Even with all the strange fun, though, the best of the Best New Bands were Pink Mink and the Goondas, playing decidedly straight-up, snarly punk-rock — you know, with actual drummers, no costumes and no Skype log-in.
Here's a set-by-set recap, save for one of the acts (BadNRaD; a guy has to eat dinner, and I knew they weren't my thing). Since this is a new-talent showcase, I thought I'd also throw in a little constructive feedback.
Grant Cutler & the Gorgeous Lords -- The former Lookbook guitarist/sonic-guru played to only about half of the eventually half-full crowd, but he had one of the most fully realized, immaculate sounds of the night. Second guitarist Scott Johnson adds nicely to the minimalist and mostly miserable vibe on Cutler's debut EP, and with ace drummer Matt Scharenbroich (Plastic Constellations) they're developing some powerful crescendoing abilities. Best song: "Hold on to Me," the opener, which built like a slow, dark wave a la Joy Division's "Atmosphere." Best career advice: Smile a little more, Grant. Or at least try it once in a set.
Phantom Tails -- David Campbell praised their fog machines and singer Orion Treon's hair in his intro of the band, but the quartet's best trait is its melding of classic '60s-'70s haze-rock with modern electronic flavor. Best song: "The Oven Romance," which came off live like a mash-up of "Ziggy Stardust" and "Pretty Hate Machine." Best career advice: The talented keyboardist's Faith-No-More-meets-mad-hatter look really needs to go.
BNLX -- Husband/wife duo Ed and Ashley Ackerson (of Polara and Mood Swings, respectively) made up for their use of pre-recorded beats with a full wall of fuzzy guitar noise and steaming tempos, like Jesus & Mary Chain but with family members who get along. Best song: Their poppy "Blue and Gold" had the crowd humming, but you gotta love their audicity of tearing through "When Doves Cry" on that stage. Best career advice: Separate checking accounts. Oh wait, that's my marital advice.
Hastings 3000 -- "A" for effort and creative thinking, but it clearly would've been much more noble for Mr. Hastings to let another aspiring band take his slot and be content with hanging in Hawaii instead. Best song: Campbell wasn't kidding that the 20 seconds of ukulele playing we heard was really quite good, as ukulele playing goes. Best career advice: Don't be so cute. The music (when we can hear it) stands on its own.
The Jah-hawks -- Hastily put together two weeks ago at First Ave staff's urging -- Zach Coulter confided to me that "Blue" was the only Jayhawks song he really knew before that -- the all-star unit succeeded from an all-for-fun standpoint, but it did prove a couple things: That those Louris/Olson tunes are classic enough to transcend genres; and that if you have JT Bates playing drums in your band, you really can pull off just about anything. Best song: "Waiting for the Sun," if only because you gotta have some kind of reference to the sun when you're playing Jamaican music. Best career advice: I'd love to actually see these guys open for their inspirators this weekend at the club, in part because I'm pretty sure the band's most puristic, diehard fans would hate them.
Pink Mink -- I think a lot of the immediate attention paid to these vets after their formation last spring had more to do with the known-name quality of leaders Christy Hunt and Arzu Gokcen and the fun they appeared to be having blasting through cheeky pop-punk songs like "Seeking Scott Seekins." Last night's set proved that, even in under a year, they are turning into quite a seriously powerful quartet. Best song: "Ghost Bike," a stormy new one about a real-life tragedy that had traces of Husker Du. Best career advice: Get that damn debut record out already, will you?
The Goondas -- Lanky singer Brenden Green wore his normal torn attire and ripped up the stage per his usual antics, and as usual the rest of the band kept up a solid punk boogie and the crowd ate it all up. Best song: "Raunchy 216," in which Green had to crouch down to sing into a guitar-amp microphone after unplugging the two on the mic stands. Best career advice: Get to know a good lawyer.