The tradition of battling bands extends to the early days of jazz, when large ensembles competed to see who could inspire the most fervent dancing.
Judging by the outcome of Saturday’s First Annual Battle of the Bands, the rules haven’t changed much. The victor, chosen by audience ballot, gets an awesome gig: a night at Rochester’s storied 600-seat German House.
Thanks to commendable work from the events staff, Douglass Dining Center was transformed into a dual-stage arena with a killer sound system, tasty snacks, and (be still my heart) a bar. An eager crowd filled the floor at the 11 p.m. kickoff. Much of this crowd would disappear long before the festivities were over.
Hard-working band Walri opened with killer showmanship, playing an excellent set of originals influenced by 60s pop and psychadelia. Their dapper suits were visually unifying and, more importantly, their feel-good sound inspired the night’s most widespread hip-shaking.
Striking back from the other stage was seven-member No Jackets Required, a jam band with a rock rhythm section and two saxes. Their performance started well but became problematic as aimless improvisation and an improperly-handled vocal microphone weakened some of their tunes.
In The Fire, a group that just recently formed, brought covers from the pop punk/emo pop realm. Relaxed and affable on stage, they really lit up on their final number, Sum 41’s “Makes No Difference.” Once again, mic technique was an issue, making the vocals intermittently audible.
One Up and the Continues presented a likeable gimmick, playing the themes to vintage video games with a nine-piece band including flute and trombone. They were awfully sloppy, but their enthusiasm was hard to resist as they covered Mario and Sonic hits via funk and Dixieland arrangements.
Comanche Club, a five-piece group punching out funky grooves, also struggled with microphone issues, making the lyrics near-indecipherable. Solid drumming and good stage presence carried them through the set. It was unclear whether they play originals or covers.
Eastman’s NeoCollage stood apart stylistically from the rest. Employing violin, viola, electric harp and electronic percussion, they performed an assured set of originals in their self-described “classical pop fusion” style, winning the audience’s rapt attention. Rocking, distorted harp lines and big electronic beats were highlights.
At this point, it was past 1 a.m. and the crowd had thinned. Too bad for those who missed the fantastic set by Strange Montgomery, the established all-alum band that satisfied my craving for some straight-ahead punk rock. A little older than the rest of the crowd, their maturity shows in their tight playing, forceful songs and strong lead vocals.
The evening ended with a foray into full-blooded emo as Scenic played to an audience of diehard fans. Their well-constructed songs sounded solid and clean and drew some visual flare from their singer’s impressive mic-throwing tricks. Well-placed guitar solos and three-singer unisons were well-received by the crowd.
The evening’s victor was Walri, thanks to their inimitable dance ability. The announcement was greeted with mild boos from the contingent of Scenic fans, but the cheers probably would have drowned them out if the whole crowd had still been around.
Battle of the Bands is certainly an event worth repeating, although moving to a nine-to-midnight time frame might remedy the audience hemorrhage that hurt the late-slotted bands. Also, the loud and pointless banter from MCs in between bands wasn’t necessary.
To further streamline the experience, it might be worthwhile to hold a preliminary round so that only the strongest bands compete in the final show.
Kloss is a member of the class of 2008.