How the pros pick a prince of percussion

Special to The Times

The scene: Guitar Center partied loud for the last round of its nationwide Drum-Off contest at Hollywood’s Music Box @ Fonda on Saturday night. Notable thwackers including Joey Castillo (Queens of the Stone Age) and Ray Luzier (Korn) judged the four semipro finalists’ solos. Angels & Airwaves, Go Get a Late Pass!!! (featuring the Roots’ ?uestlove) and Street Drum Corps rocked full-length performances. A head-scarfed and hyped-up Stephen Perkins, skinsman for Jane’s Addiction, emceed.

The celebs: Kirsten Dunst, Matt Dallas, Josh Groban.

The saints: Alan White of the groundbreaking prog-rock band Yes bestowed Drum Legend awards upon Tower of Power’s Dave Garibaldi and Journey’s Steve Smith, who was so revered that his bio video was shown twice.

The sets: The floodgates opened big with the dozen or so members of Street Drum Corps, including guests from No Doubt, Bad Religion, 30 Seconds to Mars, Pennywise and the theatrical production “Stomp.” In costumes, makeup and hats, the drummers climbed a lattice to clobber junkyard rejects and mixed drinks with a chain-saw motor. They did everything but hit golf balls into the balcony ... wait, they did that too.


The Late Pass gang required just three musicians to generate equally impressive noise. Tuba Gooding Jr.'s sousaphone hugeness amplified ?uestlove’s spare but rhythmically sophisticated pounding and heavyweight vocals, while Capt. Kirk Douglas, who sang like a nightingale, rode a distinctively trebly guitar tone across genres from James Brown funk to Hendrix improvisational spew. The trio’s politically charged campaign centered on an emotional mutation of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” set in part to the music of “The Star-Spangled Banner”; the high soul quotient was multiplied when guest Nikka Costa plugged her flexible wail into the equation.

Angels & Airwaves, the project of former Blink-182 guitarist-singer Tom DeLonge, closed with a succession of melodic, repetitive self-help rock, lent blood by the battle-hungry drums of Atom Willard. As DeLonge sang the wistfully optimistic “Distraction” and “Everything’s Magic,” the sold-out house was divided equally between younger fans waving their hands in rapture and musician types.

The contest: As for the drum finalists, who vied in five-minute solos before Airwaves, what qualities do their ilk share? “All the drummers have chops,” observed Sabian cymbals rep Bob Rupp, a rhythm slave who’s witnessed a lot of Drum-Offs. “But when they finally realize a crowd’s watching, it changes everything.”

Paul Stoot, 17, of Everett, Wash., lost the groove in his hip-hop-inflected Afro-Latin thrash. (“I didn’t time it right and had to freestyle,” he said with a smile later offstage.) Sherman Arnold, 42, of Aurora, Colo., pressed an undulating, polyrhythmically accented attack. Young Donald Marple of Keyser, W.Va., rolled out a rhythmic narrative of space and contrast, while Oglethorpe, Ga.'s Ivan Garcia staged a rap-versus-Cuba wrestling match. Many a stick was twirled.


And the winner was: Marple, thumper for the Christian rock band High Pressure. He did, in fact, thank God for winning the $40,000 in prizes, including a Toyota FJ Cruiser.