Guitar Center's long running Drum-Off competition was held on January 14 at Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles. Lines of fans and would-be rock stars waited patiently for the doors to open for the annual event once again hosted by Jane's Addiction percussionist Stephen Perkins. Guest players included Dennis Chambers, Brooks Wackerman, Terry Bozzio, Peter Criss, Mike Portnoy, Ilan Rubin and Aaron Spears [accompanied by James Brown's sideman, Jabo Starks].
The lights came down and Perkins took the stage and announced, "Are you ready for the greatest drum night of all time?" He described the competition, which included local and regional drum-offs that whittled down the field of the final five contestants. Before the competitors did their five-minute stand-alone set, the assembled star players did their thing.
Ilan Rubin, drummer for Angels & Airwaves after replacing Atom Willard and his own solo project, the New Regime, kicked the evening off by programming a slamming groove on a drum machine and then playing along to it. His brother Danny came out and sat down on a second drum set while Chris Lewis took the stage to play bass. Ilan strapped on a Les Paul and moved up to the mic to play some music from his solo band.
Aaron Spears, Usher's drummer, came out next and was accompanied by Jabo Starks. They ran through some funky R&B riffs and Spears commented, "The chops and licks is really fun to play. It's so much fun. But the groove is so important so I have a band coming out." He then introduced his won group with Jim Stewart on guitar, Aaron Ingram on bass, a keyboardist and four-piece horn section including a trombone, saxophone and two trumpets.
This funk-fest was followed by Mike Portnoy and his guest band including Derek Sherinian on synths, Billy Sheehan on bass and Tony MacAlpine on guitar. They tacked Billy Cobham's "Spectrum" with Portnoy racing around his kit to cop Cobham's masterful riffs. At one point Mike jokingly chided, "Derek and I used to be in a band together." MacAlpine scurried over the neck of his 7-string while the group launched into "Nightmare Cinema," a track from the keyboard player's Black Utopia album. The group marched through an extended jam of dazzling drum triplets and fiery guitar riffs.
The coterie of judges was most impressive and included Cora Coleman-Dunham, Thomas Lang, Tommy Clufetos, Ray Luzier, Tony Royster Jr., Trevor Lawrence Jr.; Adrian Young, Peter Criss and Jose Basilas. They judged the performances of the five finalistsBilly Freeman from Dallas, Texas; Devon Taylor from Atlanta, Georgia; J.P. Bouvet; Fred Boswell Jr.; and Jesus Garciaas each contestant was allotted five minutes of time to groove and rock as deeply as they knew how.
Most of the players included funk grooves Taylor laid down the famous Purdie Shuffle but Bouvet approached his segment a bit differently by incorporating drum pads and triggers. Looking like a young version of Travis Barker with hair sticking straight up, he approached his section a bit more musically and ultimately won the competition.
His prizes included:
After the winner was announced, Terry Bozzio came out and dazzled with his monster kit while Brooks Wackerman jammed with two bass players and Peter Criss was awarded a Lifetime prize.
Photo credits: Mick Rosen
Report by Stene Rosen