Summer Battle at Velour: Episode V: The Empire Something Whatever

by M. Lewis Barker

Too tired to come up with a clever name. Here’s a hint for you future rockers out there: if your band plays fast, loud, rock for 30 minutes straight, either go running every day to build up stamina or drink a whole lot of caffeine before the show. I did neither last night, barely survived the set, and am now dead tired, still in bed as I write this. Nonetheless, a review I promised and a review you shall have.

Blueberries For Ben at Velour 6/17/2011

Blueberries For Ben got added to the bill last minute when I’m Designer had to drop out due to a bandmate injury. BFB plays some very simple acoustic indie. There are three of them: one on acoustic guitar and vocals, a lead guitarist on electric, and a female singer who usually sings backup but occasional takes the lead. They started the set with a song about slowing things down, and it’s very appropriate because they were slooooow. I would normally be hesitant to see a band like this, but a whole lot can be forgiven when the songs are well-written. And BFB has some really good songs. They were soulful with great melodies and well performed. The group could be a little sloppy, but generally they were right on. For a last minute addition, they didn’t manage to bring too many fans but my sister’s friend voted for them. They’ll make a nice little name for themselves soon.

Wild Apples at Velour 6/17/2011

All week people have been asking me if I was going to review myself, but I’ll just share my experiences with the show. Wild Apples played its best show yet, thanks in part to actually practicing but we also had my man Jack of The Lunatic on guitar, adding his unique sounds to our music. Luckily, Archie (bass), Matt (drums), and I have been playing together for so long that we were tight enough to add in an additional member with only one real practice. We played a variety of music, as my philosophy is “don’t compartmentalize yourself into one genre”, but I think(/hope) that our sound was consistent throughout the set. I was very glad to see so many people up front and center for our band, actually looking at us instead of sitting around 20 feet from the stage. One day people might actually dance to us! Like I said at the beginning of the article, I didn’t have the energy to last throughout the set, combine that with some serious dehydration and my vocals basically stopped working by the end of the show. (If any pretty girls want to come sing in a rock band, and I mean really rock out with some balls, let me know.) That was the only downside as far as I’m concerned and was a lesson to me that we should include at least one, if not two, of our slower songs in each set. Nonetheless, I think we played a wonderful show, and I enjoy our music very much. If you were there, you can say what you think in the comments (and don’t be afraid to be “honestly brutal”.)

Soft Science at Velour 6/17/2011

When Soft Science started their set, I basically said to myself “This band is going to win tonight”. I had been looking forward to seeing them for quite some time, and they were better than I imagined. The band plays the same kind of ambient indie as Wolves, though to be honest Soft Science does it a lot better. They are very tight as a band with well orchestrated music and a diversity of cool sounds. The guitar work is superb, with lots of effects utilized beautifully. The drums come out of a computer, but it works for the group’s music. I would have a very hard time playing to a computer as there’s much less flexibility as a drummer but Soft Science is a band that pulls it off. They’ve put in the time and practice to get that sound down and it paid off. The band’s main weakness is that the lack of diversity in the set. The songs all sound very similar, each one as slow as the last, and I was pretty bored by the end of the set (though that may have been the exhaustion speaking). Still, they’re one of the few bands I’ve seen who have pulled off this kind of music well. If you listen to Sigur Rós or M83, you’re likely to enjoy Soft Science.

Travis Van Hoff at Velour 6/17/2011

The last performer in the preliminary rounds of the Velour Wars was Travis Van Hoff. I am going to have a very hard time judging Mr. Van Hoff’s music because I just can’t take that sort of acoustic bro rock seriously. You know when you’re at a party and some dude picks up an acoustic guitar and starts playing? If it doesn’t sound like Jack Johnson, it sounds like Travis Van Hoff. He’s like John Mayer’s early radio singles. That said, it’s not like it’s any easier to write his brand of music than it is to play what I play, so I should judge him on his merits. The songwriting is good, with catchy little hooks and nice pacing. The bass and violin were well performed, though the drumwork was a bit lacking. At this point in my life, I can’t tell if I dislike this kind of music because it’s genuinely lame or if society has just told me to scoff at it, but I genuinely just can’t get behind local artists who play commercialized radio pop as their art form. It feels wrong. Van Hoff is a great musician, singer, and songwriter though and he worked harder than anyone to promote himself this week, coming down to Velour every night and handing out flyers. That will pay off. (Note: Please read Kaneischa’s comment below.)

But hey, at least the ladies like him:

“OMG Travis is soooo dreamy.”

Night Five Winner: Soft Science.

Barker’s Pick: Wild Apples. What? If we weren’t my favorite band of the night then I’d be doing a pretty bad job of playing the kind of music that I like. Though I said that if anyone but Soft Science won last night, they would’ve been my pick.
Runner Up: Soft Science. They are wonderful and a better band than everyone else last night, but I still like them less than myself. Is it a huge ego or self-confidence? (Answer: Both.)

I can say with all honesty, the band that deserved to win won each night. Lady & Gent, Bottleship, Searching For Celia, Pat B. & the T-Birds, and Soft Science were objectively the best band each night, regardless of the music you personally like. I wouldn’t say that they were the best 5 bands of the week, but they definitely were the best each night. Velour’s mixture of audience and judges is a much fairer system than Muse’s “bring the most people” contest. As far as I know, L&G and SS were the only groups that won who also brought the most on their nights.

Tonight are the finals. I will be there, though reviews will be limited as I already saw each band. Leave some comments about your thoughts on the week: your favorite night, your favorite bands, or complaints about my lack of qualifications to critique local bands.


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