Daredevils, Icons, and Elvis

There was lots to see and more to hear at this year's Cleveland Music Awards.

The Dukes of Hazzard
Disengage frontman Jason Byers, lunging at the - crowd at this year's Cleveland Music Awards. - Walter  Novak
Disengage frontman Jason Byers, lunging at the crowd at this year's Cleveland Music Awards.
It was the most important song since "Dust in the Wind." At least, according to Whiskey Daredevils frontman Greg Miller, who said as much while his band launched into the hipster sendup "Ironic Trucker Hat."

The song, about a "tragic fashion mistake," mocked posing and posturing, and set the mood at this year's Cleveland Music Awards, held last Thursday at a crowded House of Blues.

Though lots of rockers, rappers, and dudes in fishnet were honored, this night wasn't about putting on airs. It was about knocking back cocktails with some of the city's best bands -- not to mention a few belly dancers, a psychic, and an Elvis impersonator who looked like he had a dead muskrat on his head.

The night began with the Whiskey Daredevils, whose nicotine swing was made for hoisting adult beverages. They wore work shirts and leather pants, an appropriate combination of grit and flash mirrored in their tunes. With touches of slide guitar set against an unceasingly swift backbeat, the Daredevils sang odes to martinis and doing blow off strippers' derrieres. The result was souped-up honky-tonk that sounded like an unhealthy combination of Hank Williams and amyl nitrate.

Speaking of unhealthy, try standing within arm's reach of Disengage when it's onstage. Bassist Sean Bilovecky swings his instrument like a sickle, knifing the air as if spearing some invisible foe. Frontman Jason Byers throws his mic and his elbows around impulsively, and if the crowd steps back, he lunges forward. The band barrels right at you and dares you to stand your ground.

Named this year's Cleveland Icon Award winners shortly before their set, the Disengage bandmates demonstrated how they earned the distinction with one of their best-sounding shows. The moody group relies mostly on precision: Jacob Cox's concise riffs, Jonathan Morgan's straightforward, smash-mouth drumming, and Bilovecky's lead-dense bass lines.

Despite the bullying nature of their tunes, Disengage seemed to be in a playful mood, with Byers smiling a little more than usual. This was probably because so many of the band's peers were standing right up front, shouting along with the lyrics. The group ended with "Pharmacyland," a tribute to West Side derelicts. Byers tossed the mic to members of Interfuse, Amps II Eleven, and A Dozen Dead Roses, among others, as they sang the song's refrain: "We're all scum, we should get along." And for an evening, everyone seemed happy to follow the band's advice.

Following Disengage's set, this year's music awards were handed out by 92.3 Xtreme Radio DJ Rachel Steele and House of Blues booker Anthony Nicolaidis (see winners below).

The evening concluded with a set by L.A. karaoke casualties the Dan Band, made famous by their cameo as the wedding band in Old School. Dan garnered loud applause as he rapped his way through Salt 'n Pepa's "Shoop" and broke out some leg kicks for the Flashdance theme song, making John Belushi look light on his feet. But by the time he finished with Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know," Dan shoulda known the joke had worn thin.

Winners of the 2005 Cleveland Music Awards

Best New Artist: Whiskey Daredevils
Best Live Act: Lords of the Highway
Best Rock/Pop: Machine Go Boom
Best Hard Rock: Amps II Eleven
Best Punk/Hardcore: Jacknife Powerbombs
Best Metal: Dead Even
Best Hip-Hop/R&B: Blitz
Best Alternative/Electronica: State of Being
Best DJ: Rob Black
Best Singer-Songwriter: Anne E. DeChant
Best Reggae/World: Carlos Jones and the PLUS Band
Best Goth/Industrial: Disown
Best Country/Americana: Hillbilly Idol
Best Jazz: Howie Smith
Best Blues: Roger Hoover and the Whiskeyhounds

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