Buffet of Champions

You came, you saw, you voted: the winners of the 2005 Riverfront Times Music Awards

Femme Fatality's critics could say the whole dance-punk thing is so over, could make fun of their Hives-like matching outfits or their perfectly styled hair. But to do so would miss the point. It's fun to dance, and Femme Fatality can instantly turn a crowd of shoe-gazing hipsters into an enthusiastic club crowd. It's hard to intellectualize why you might not like a band when you're moving your feet. -- Travis Petersen

Best New Band

The Vultures

G. Ohlenbostel/Action Press
From top: Soulard Blues Band, Steve-O, The Trip Daddys
Jennifer Silverberg
From top: Soulard Blues Band, Steve-O, The Trip Daddys

Call the Vultures "garage" or "primitive." Just don't call them late for the B-movie film festival or the beach-blanket barbecue headlined by the B-52s, whose jerky rhythms, geeked-out call-and-response and cornball psycho-spoof tunes they echo more than rockabilly or surf (though they've got those 45s in their teenage record collections too. Playing together for a year, and shaving only a few years longer, the trio makes silly, dorky, bouncy rock & roll, somewhere between the Yardbirds and the Shags -- but closer to the latter. It's the sound you wanted to make when you discovered rock & roll (real rock & roll, you know, with a back beat, one stinging guitar and a singer who sounded like a murderer), but you didn't because you didn't have the guts or the talent.

The Vultures have a lot of guts and something like talent, though it's more like channeled inspiration. They've been championed by notorious early rock & roll freaks such as Bob Reuter, who knows potential when he hears it. The rhythm section won't make anyone forget the Funk Brothers, but their stiff, martial bang-bop-bang takes a skewed stand against Ryan Koenig's remarkably fresh, almost Robbie Robertson-like bursts of angular melodies and makes lyrics like "Here's a new wave baby, rollin' into town/Comin' outta the sewers from deep underground" or "Now those dead gonna come alive/And I want you for my zombie bride" sound as charming as they are shamelessly campy. When that rhythm section finally masters a groove as nasty and fun as their concept, they'll be a threat to the Cramps' throne. -- Roy Kasten

Best Noise/Experimental

The Pat Sajak Assassins

Everybody likes the "cool part" of a song. You know, the cool part -- the part where three people listening to a record in a room turn to each other and begin nodding their heads in unison. It's usually an instrumental break or bridge about two-thirds of the way through -- and if you can't recognize a cool part when you hear one, the guy sitting in the room who's stoned will be more than happy to point it out for you.

The Pat Sajak Assassins, this year's victors in the Noise/Experimental category, definitely like the cool part of a song -- their "experiment," as it were, seems to be to craft lengthy instrumental pop songs entirely out of "cool parts." Mixing rock & roll's phallic forward thrust to free-jazz skronk, the Assassins' music is endearingly schizophrenic and perfectly crafted for today's short attention span. Whenever something in a song seems like it's getting old, why not try something new? That part that sounds a bit like a sax-only rendition of Frank Zappa's "Peaches in Regalia" maneuvers easily into straight-ahead cock rock and ends up in found-sound sampled noise. Cool parts abound.

All of this would probably be more annoying than cool if the band didn't have the chops to back it up. So here's a PSA regarding the PSAs: You don't have to be the stoned guy to know that with the Assassins, you are always hearing the cool part of the song. -- Travis Petersen

Best Punk

The Sex Robots

Mario Viele and Maysam Attaran of the Sex Robots must have been looking over their shoulders at Mario Viele and Maysam Attaran of the Pubes. The competition between themselves dominated the battle for best punk rock band in St. Louis this year.

By the narrowest of margins, Viele and Attaran's Sex Robots defeated their Pubes. The winners undoubtedly consoled the losers by pointing out that two of them are the same guys, anyway. And besides, there's no shame in running neck-and-neck for first place. St. Louisans agree they like their punk rock provided by Viele and Attaran, thank you.

What makes these guys so special? Viele is a guitarist who knows how to play just about anything yet chooses to grind out the punk-rock chords at a high rate of speed. There he is, standing onstage, leaning his neck into the microphone, his right arm flailing at the strings and his voice croon-shouting its way through catchy, downright poppy melodies. Viele is the lead singer of the Sex Robots, though he takes the background role of simply being the guitarist in the Pubes.

Then there's Attaran, a human dynamo of rhythmic energy and precision behind the drum kit. Smiling between songs, he counts off with his sticks at a tremendously fast clip, then starts hitting things as hard as he can. The determination on his face is obvious, and he drives his body forward and backward as he pushes his bands on to punk-rock perfection.

To be fair, there is one member of the Sex Robots who is not in the Pubes (while there are two Pubes not in the Sex Robots). That is bassist Tracey John Morrissey, who seems to improve on his instrument with every performance. Together these three form a unit of uncommon cohesion, melodic sweetness and undeniable, unstoppable madcap energy. -- Steve Pick

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