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Boston Music Awards miss a chance to shine

Moments of brilliance collided with sheer amateurism at last night's Boston Music Awards. The musical performances saved the night, as did the often hilarious commentary of host Dickey Barrett of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

But in terms of organization, the show was often a nightmare, as botched cues and suddenly absent winners (Ben Taylor and Walter Beasley both called in sick) led to a parade of no-shows at the podium. It got so bad at one point that Barrett said of the next act due to show up, "Well, I hope they're here."

This was not the big splash that the new ownership of the Boston Music Awards had envisioned. The awards were returning to the grandeur of the Wang Theatre after several years at the Orpheum, but they drew fewer than 2,000 people, out of a capacity of 3,700. And the vibe was much more sterile, and less fun, than at the Orpheum. It also had much less of a rock 'n' roll feel. The stage might have been bigger, but so was the emptiness.

When the final toll was tallied, John Mayer, the current Grammy darling who attended Berklee College of Music, won the act of the year prize. But he didn't show up, and instead sent a videotaped message showing him picking up a fax machine in an office and pretending it was his award. Fortunately, he's a lot better as a singer than as an improv comedian.

Howie Day was a multiple winner (and, yes, he did show up), taking home awards for outstanding male vocalist and debut album of the year for "Australia." He was likably humble at the podium and also performed, using tape loops to multitrack his voice and guitar. His style is not for everyone, but it stirred up some shrieking young fans in the balcony.

The platinum rockers Godsmack, who have been very committed to the awards in recent years, won outstanding rock/pop band, but did not perform. But they did make the effort to be there, and that was commendable.

Most of the awards went by in a blur, and apparently that was true for some winners as well. Josh Ritter, who won outstanding male singer-songwriter, was reportedly in the building, but never made it to the stage. Nor did Scissorfight, which won for best hard-rock band. "We didn't know when our award was going to be announced, and we were just walking through the front door when we heard about it," said Scissorfight drummer Kevin Shurtleff. Surely, one of the organizers should have prepared them better. It would have saved embarrassment.

Thankfully, Barrett kept the night moving at a fast clip. And he was helped by the live performances that definitely salvaged the event.

The Dresden Dolls were excellent, with their cabaret punk highlighted by singer Amanda Palmer's chameleon theatrics. James Montgomery and Johnny A rocked out on two blues tunes. Rapper EDO.G lent some bona fide street charisma, while rubyhorse did a moody but incandescent number (minus keyboardist Owen Fegan, who just left the band for a solo career). And Kate Taylor and brother Livingston added a loving family reunion that was genuinely touching.

Other highlights: Video tributes to the deceased Mikey Dee, Howard Armstrong, and Billboard editor Timothy White, whose widow, Judy Garlan, gave a short but emotional speech.

One came away uplifted by the Boston music scene, but there's a lot of work to be done to make these awards as professional as they could be.

BOSTON MUSIC AWARDS
Tracy Bonham with the Blue Man Group performing at the 2003 Boston Music Awards Tracy Bonham and the Blue Man Group opened the 16th annual Boston Music Awards.
A few of the winners of 16th annual Boston Music Awards
  • Act of the year: John Mayer
  • Album of the year: "October Road," James Taylor
  • Song of the year: "Your Body is a Wonderland," John Mayer
  • Outstanding female vocalist: Aimee Mann
  • Outstanding male vocalist: Howie Day
  • Outstanding hard rock band: Scissorfight
  • Outstanding rap/hip-hop: Mr. Lif
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    NEMO at night is all about the live music showcases. Almost 250 bands at all levels of development jam 20 of Boston's best clubs in two nights. From rock to hip-hop, folk to r&b, blues to country, and everything in between, NEMO’s got it covered.
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