Who really brings the rawk on 'Rock Star'?

Chicago Tribune, July 16 2006

It'll take weeks before the winner of CBS' "Rock Star: Supernova" is revealed, but one thing is for sure right now: The house band rocks.

As part of the Television Critics Association press tour here, writers were taken to a "Rock Star" taping on Sunday at CBS' studio complex in Los Angeles. There, the remaining "Rock Star" singers strutted and preened before Tommy Lee (Motley Crue), Jason Newsted (Metallica) and Gilby Clarke (Guns N’ Roses), hoping to become lead singer of the grizzled rockers' new made-for-TV band, Supernova.

More impressive than the antics of Lukas Rossi or Dilana Robichaux (two of "Rock Star's" leading contenders) was the precision and power of the house band's playing. Their taut, mesmerizing version of Stone Temple Pilot's "Plush" was, to these ears, better than the original.

Finding musicians who could play with both passion and professionalism was the goal of the show's producers, according to "Rock Star's" music producer Clyde Lieberman, who helped pick the members of the band for the first season, which is still intact.

"They had to be able to play anything any time under any circumstances," Lieberman said after the taping. "We had to be able to wake them up at three in the morning and say, 'Play 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' in the key of F' and they had to be able to do it."

Still, "the last thing we wanted" was studio musicians or professionals who lacked conviction, Lieberman said.

"I went to music school myself. You meet a lot of people in music school who can play anything but they have no conviction in how they play," Lieberman said.

The fact is, though, when the future members of Supernova say, "Dude, that rocked" (and that happened a lot on Sunday), they're praising the contestants, but their compliments are also a credit to the band. The even the best singers' performances would seem weaker in many cases if the band wasn't so undeniably talented.

In other words, the house band makes moderately talented singers sound great and makes good singers, well, rawk. And that's the goal, Lieberman said.

"You have to walk out of here and think that was a real music show, that wasn't a TV show," Lieberman said.

The band members themselves are an eclectic crew; Paul Mirkovich, the keyboard player and musical director, was the music director of road bands for everyone from Cher to Janet Jackson to Anastasia. Mirkovich is in charge of not only helping the "Rock Star" contestants arrange songs to their liking, but also he cuts down the tunes the band plays from their usual length to about 98 seconds per song.

Powerhouse drummer Nate Morton has played with everyone from Chaka Khan to Vanessa Carlton, while rhythm guitarist Jim McGorman, formerly of the New Radicals, played in Michelle Branch's band. The band has an international flavor as well: Bassist Sasha Krivstov, who's worked with James Blunt, Vanessa Carlton and Billy Idol, was in one of Russia's most popular hard-rock bands, while guitarist Rafael Moreira, who's played with Pink, left Brazil to attend music school in the U.S.

The band does enjoy jamming on its own; before a recent taping, Lieberman said, the audience "went nuts" when the guys played Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" with Mirkovich on vocals (you won't hear that song on the show itself due to licensing issues).

"Of course they would love to be recognized for being a group, on the other hand let's face it, what would they be if they were their own band?" Lieberman said. "What is a great band - great songs, a great front person and wonderful music expressed in a really powerful way. In this environment, they can do all those things, but it's a search for a lead singer. If you took the lead singer out of that band…"

Still, Lieberman and the band do have an fond if unlikely pipe dream, given all the band members' busy schedules and grown-up lives (most band members are around 30 or older, he noted).

"We’d like to think that the perfect scenario is, the winner goes with Supernova and the runner-up becomes part of this band and we go out and support [Supernova]," Lieberman said. "That's the dream scenario, but so many things would have to fall into place for that to happen."

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