2008 Cuervo Black US Air Guitar Championships

Craft, sass, and brash fearlessness

PREVIEW For those about to air (guitar), we salute you. All it takes is viewing the big-hearted 2006 doc Air Guitar Nation or a few minutes in a sweaty club with the contestants to sample the craft, sass, and brash fearlessness needed to risk making a royal air-guitar-noodling ass of yourself in front of hundreds of sodden, mouthy armchair air-ax-slingers who believe — nay, know — they can kick as much as air-ass as you.

So kudos to San Francisco winner Awesome, a.k.a. Shred Begley Jr., a.k.a. comedian Alex Koll, for making the transition from the bedroom to the national 2008 Cuervo Black US Air Guitar Championships Aug. 8 at the Grand Ballroom. So what's with the multiple monikers? Mob rules: it was chosen for him at the sold-out June 25 regional finals at the Independent by the all-too-ready-with-the-boos crowd.

"I was in a sleeveless tank top that said, 'AWESOME!', which is my name and my way of life," Koll says by phone. "The audience responded the only way they could. It chanted, 'Awesome, awesome,' until it became my official stage name." Attempts to "melt faces" culminated in a second-round performance that, well, continued the hype. "I rode my friend's face into the crowd, which was very popular," Koll says. In return, the crowd "paid the ultimate price to get me back onstage — I had to use a couple as human shields. Then I had to do more ceremonial headbanging, and the stage started to crack in half, but I was able to pull it together — with my feet."

Sure, and we all know Koll can't be held responsible for the recent Los Angeles quake, though he admits he was practicing at the time. Meanwhile he's refining the awesomeness for the national bout — the winner goes to the world air-off in Finland — since the event includes Brooklyn winner Bettie B. Goode, who severed her toe in competition. "She still won," Koll moans. "These are the kind of people I'm up against. In light of that, I'm stepping up my game: I bought six new tassels."

2008 CUERVO BLACK US AIR GUITAR CHAMPIONSHIPS Fri/8, 8:30 p.m., $20. Grand Ballroom, 1290 Sutter, SF. www.apeconcerts.com

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