By Alessandro Improta
Night three of Velour’s Battle of The Bands and I’m starting to expect anything from these bands. Last night was probably the strongest outing from start to finish. Anyone who was there last night can attest that we saw four solid acts.
Starting things off last night was The Cold Year. The Cold Year is a difficult band to describe in words. They are one of those bands that you need to see in order to understand the experience. They’re a bluesy rock trio that, according to their introduction, came all the way from the depths of hell to perform for us last night. It took a bit for them to settle into their set – the first two songs at times felt like three fantastic musicians playing over each other – but by the third song they were much more impressive, though still lacking. It’s kind of a frustrating thing because they are so good individually, but just didn’t have it tightened up enough rhythmically last night. Lead singer/guitarist Matt Skaggs at one point ripped into a phenomenal solo equal to or greater than anything the Velour stage has given us before by way of guitar solo. But at other points in their set, I couldn’t help but be distracted by misplaced notes from the bass, an untimely fill from the drummer, or the occasional sloppy chord change. The performance just seemed a little too cavalier, especially when considering their ability. It was probably just an off night for them, but even so I would love to see them again because their show’s potential is just so high, and I’m definitely looking forward to their new album, coming later this year.
Motion Coaster started off with what felt like a Reel Big Fish cover minus the guitar on the upbeat. They are so happy. This is the kind of music I would imagine the Kool-Aid man would make if he started a band. The lead vocalist’s voice was pretty fantastic as he showed off some of his higher range, and he just had this soulfulness throughout the performance that was infectious.
I did feel, however, like they were lacking a solid harmonic bed. This could be because they didn’t seem to take sound check very seriously and probably didn’t get the best mix they could have as a result of that, but it could also be because it feels like everyone is playing lead riffs all the time – at the same time. With a band this big and this loud, you need more than just one guitarist laying down chords. I think they would do well with adding an organist/keyboardist, or some other instrument that can give their music a tonal reference point. This issue could also be avoided by using the horn section to accomplish this, having them play chords underneath instead of just riffs over the top. When they did do that last night, the songs sounded much fuller and more complete. Truthfully, I really enjoyed their set. They put on a very fun, tight show. They are another band that I hope doesn’t get complacent and continues to push their boundaries because they have the talent to really make something great out of it. It was loads of fun to watch, and the crowd really enjoyed them.
There have been a lot of trios in the competition so far, and Star Crossed Loners continued the pattern. Right away, two things stood out when they started playing. Firstly, Devin Powell’s voice is awesome. Whispered and raspy, it perfectly fits their vibe. Secondly, this band was locked in. They quickly established their groove and were together from the get go. Rhythmically, they were the tightest group of the night.
Though their music is fairly accessible, I would have a hard time calling it pop rock. It’s just isn’t flashy enough to be pop, and I am perfectly okay with that. It’s got a 90’s garage rock feel, but that description alone doesn’t sit right either. Just like anything else we don’t know how to classify, we’ll just call it indie. Indie/rock. The thing with this trio that is impressive is that they each pack a punch. Trios can often feel empty because band members don’t realize that they need to fill the gaps other bands fill with one or two more members. Each of these guys were doing extra work that really filled out their sound. I am going to give a lot of this credit to the bassist, Sean Peterson. He is playing interesting bass lines that, though they are moving and melodic, are still subtle and fit into the song rather than stealing the spotlight. Out of all of the bands, it’s Star Crossed Loners’ music that I would be most likely to listen to on my own time. Admittedly, it’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m one of those people that take their tea with cream and no sugar.
Grove is part 80’s synth pop, part modern orchestra, part 90’s pop rock, and another portion of something none of us have ever experienced that is uniquely Grove’s. Their writing is incredibly impressive and intricate. No simple pop chord progressions are were found here. In a way their writing kind of reminds me of Queen, especially in the way that each section of the song can sound entirely different from the last, and yet not feel out of place. Their arrangements and part writing are second to none. Their use of synth and strings (violin and cello) are absolutely brilliant. They do a magnificent job of building tension over time that doesn’t ever quite get resolved until they decide they are good and ready to resolve it. It makes you sit on the edge of your seat, waiting for Grove to reach the tonic again. I was absolutely and thoroughly impressed by Grove, and feel that they deserved to win last night. I may not always be in the mood to listen to something like Grove, because it isn’t easy music that I could passively listen to. However, live they put on a remarkable show that captures the full attention of the audience, and the complex nature of their music speaks volumes to the minds writing it. Figure out when they play next, buy a ticket, and go experience Grove. Fantastic.
Last night was a solid night. Enjoyable from start to finish. Before results were read, it was announced that because judging was so close, crowd votes would end up settling the score. Maybe it’s just me, but the results last night were a little controversial because of this. Motion Coaster won it, and although they are a good band that put on a very fun show last night, I don’t think that their live performance was up to par with Star Crossed Loners’, and their writing definitely didn’t hold a candle to Grove’s. They did have a very feel-good vibe, and that clearly appealed to a large audience, though. Which makes me wonder, what is it that wins you the battle of the bands? Should genre or popularity be enough of a factor to determine a band’s worth? If it is, are we marginalizing local musicians who don’t want to write pop music?
In sports, it’s almost entirely objective – minus a few controversial referee calls here and there. You either score more points than the other team or you don’t. That’s it. Cut and dry. But art – music included – is subjective. That’s why music competitions such as this are so difficult sometimes. I would hate for bands like Grove, Star Crossed Loners, The Cold Year, or other truly stellar musicians who have competed at events like this and “lost,” to feel like they don’t have a home in Provo because they don’t play the genre of music that the valley is used to. Just food for thought.
Long story short, last night was probably the toughest night so far this week as far as judgement was concerned. Any one of those bands could have taken it. It’ll be interesting to see the performances tonight. Will it be an easy, cut and dry decision based on skill level and the polish of a performance? Or will it be so difficult to judge that it merely comes down to crowd preference? Only time will tell.
Come join us tonight as Eminent Sol, The Solarists, MMend, and The Cardboard Club fight for one of the spots on Saturday’s final bill. $7 admission, doors open at 8PM. Listen to “Star Crossed Loners” by Star Crossed Loners below.