Shirley Halperin
November 01, 2007 AT 10:29 PM EDT

After interviewing one of the executive producers of Fox’s The Next Great American Band this past summer, I’ll admit, I came around to the idea of Idol for bands. But with the show’s shaky start (an auditions special, in the Idol tradition), it didn’t take long before I was having second thoughts again. Still, I had a hunch it could be awfully entertaining, even in that so-bad-it’s-good kind of way, so I went to the taping of the first performance show last week to see (and hear) these groups for myself.

It all seemed strangely familiar: the CBS Television City stage was the same one Idol uses, and there was Nigel Lythgoe racing back and forth. Sheila E. was guarded by Paula Abdul’s security escort, while host Dominic Bowden had that Ryan Seacrest air about him, only with a New Zealand accent. But the differences — constructive comments and actual critiques; the lack of pointless Paula drivel; a rowdier, more rock & roll crowd — were all too welcome. As for this evening’s theme, the songs of Bob Dylan? That wasn’t so easy to swallow, sort of like Idol in the Twilight Zone. Some bands butchered the arrangements more than others but, all in all, most were (surprisingly) pretty good. (They must have been, to keep me in that seat for more than three hours!). Who’s worth your valuable DVR time? Here’s my assessment:

Light of Doom (pictured)
Five head-banging 12-year-olds who easily could have played young Van Halen in the “Hot for Teacher” video, these kids from outside San Diego take their rock seriously. Proof: the Iron Maiden T-shirt; leopard-print skintight pants; hell, they even went shirtless for their TV debut (thoroughly creeping out the judges in the process). I ran into them outside the studio where they were already greeting new insta-fans, yours truly included.

addCredit(“The Next Great American Band: Frank Micelotta”)

The Clark Brothers
This Nashville-based country-bluegrasssibling trio definitely stood out in my mind. That’s because I’d seenthem before, about six years ago, when Curb Records paraded around afamily group called the Clark Family Experience. The label’s big pitch:that Tim McGraw had worked on their debut album. Brothers Adam, Ashleyand Austin (if memory serves, all the siblings’ names started with A)were part of that sextet (there are five more Clark kids in the clan),but obviously broke away to do their own thing. In the last coupleyears, two of the brothers have played in Carrie Underwood’s band (Idistinctly recall Ashley, who’s a dead ringer for a young GramParsons). Unfair advantage? Probably not, but I’ll bet these guys have some sort of a following already. Here’s hoping they go far.

The Muggs
Proud to bear the title of ugliest band in the world (even their website,which hasn’t been updated since August, says so on the home page),watching this Detroit trio, you have to wonder: who’s covering theirday job shifts while they’re off in Hollywood? But seriously, thesedudes shred (guitar, not lettuce) with a sound that’s part scrappygarage rock, part weekend warrior, all kick-ass. Kudos tosinger-guitarist (and Trey Anastasio look-alike) Danny Methric forripping through that TV mix. Ricky Minor never got guitar tones thatgood.

Tres Bien!
Fully embracing the “That Thing You Do” vibe,this foursome from Clearwater, Florida bop their heads Beatles-stylewhile churning out 60s-inspired power-pop. Think: the perfect openersfor The Hives. Judge Sheila E. gave them hell for their supposedscrappy guitar leads, but she’s missing the point and comes off like aprudish schoolmaster trying to quash their youthful energy. These guysrock!

Cliff Wagner and the Old #7
With an almost punk rock takeon traditional American acoustic music, Cliff Wagner is a bruiser of avocalist with a campy hee-haw sensibility, while his band, the Old #7(easily — and, perhaps, intentionally? — confused with veteranalt-country act The Old 97s) are serious pros and super tight. Thecombination keeps the whole thing on track, but let’s see how thatbanjo plays out in weeks to come.

Denver and the Mile High Orchestra
Overachiever singerDenver Bierman emotes like an anxious puppy dog desperate for love,posed in front of players that look like extras from the Dick Tracymovie. The rat pack love may give out before their time is truly up,but if this big band takes down the Sinatra shtick a bit, it could havesome legs.

This LA girl group, formed in the parking lot ofSilverlake hipster headquarters Spaceland, has already done a stint onthe Warped Tour and opened for the likes of Butch Walker. They’ve gotsass, charisma, and something to prove (which sounds like a shamble attimes, but in a totally endearing aspiring Go-Gos kind of way).

Tune in on Friday night to find out who lost this week’s battle ofthe bands, but in the meantime, who are you feeling, PopWatchers?

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