By Alessandro Improta
After a week of covering Velour’s 2016 Summer Battle of the Bands, I have a few thoughts. First of all, I want to thank Velour for what they do for Provo’s music scene. They really create a home for most of the music in Provo, and give bands something to strive for as playing at Velour is always such an honor.
My other thought is that Provo is chock-full of talent. The fact that we had bands as good as The Solarists and Grove not even make it to the finals is evidence of how much great music is being made here. I am consistently blown away by Provo music. That’s why we at Reach Provo do what we do. We want to do everything we can to help improve the scene, promote talented artists, and build a community around great music. I guess above all, we are just grateful to be a part of it.
To any bands we have mentioned and critiqued so far this week, we want you to know that we appreciate you. It’s a standing rule at Reach Provo, since our writers are musicians and performers as well, that we are only allowed to give criticism that we ourselves would not only be able to take in stride, but that we’d be grateful for. We also hold in solemn remembrance the rule that if we don’t have anything nice to say to not say it at all. If we are discussing you in our publication, it’s because we see greatness in you. We see potential.
So often in a local music scene when you’re just getting started as a band, your primary audience is your family and friends. We know from experience that typically when you ask a friend or a parent to tell you what to improve on musically, they tend to be very forgiving of your flaws and unwilling to criticize weaknesses because of their relationship to you. They value a friendship with you more than the success of your music, which is 100% okay and as it should be. But let’s be real. You wouldn’t be out gigging if you were content to play songs to yourself in your bedroom. You want to be heard by as many people as possible. To have success with strangers, you have to have the perfect blend of technical skill, emotional investment, confident-but-controlled energy, and dang good songwriting. All we want to do is to help you get there. Keep in mind that we are just some guys with a website and an opinion. We are not a definitive voice. Rather, we are one voice of many, and as such are subject to our own personal biases. We hope Reach Provo can be a tool in your musical arsenal, not a stumbling block for you. We’re here for you, and want to support you in any way we can. We feel that honest feedback is one of the best ways we can do that.
All that being said, choosing a winner from five incredibly talented bands was extremely difficult. It forced the judges to be nitpicky in the extreme.
Pändo got things started on Saturday. The band had a ridiculously huge draw. What Pändo does they do very well. They write simple, catchy folk-pop songs that are sung beautifully and performed very well. Their sets flow well, they carry themselves professionally, their banter is at once poignant and endearing, and they know how to throw in some cool things (like their drummer standing up to play his kit at the high point of a song) to make their performance visually engaging. Jonny Vance and Michael Barrow’s vocals are to be particularly commended. Hands down, they were the best of the night. There really wasn’t anything to be critical about when it came to Pändo’s performance. There were only two things separating them from the winning performance. 1) True crowd response. You could definitely tell who was a Pändo fan and who was simply enjoying their performance. The number of spontaneous woo’s from the collective audience and chill-inducing moments during their set was just quantitatively lower than the winner. Yes, I kept a tally. 2) Pändo’s songwriting just wasn’t nearly as complex or difficult to execute. While complexity can sometimes be detrimental, as it is much more difficult to execute, when it is executed well it is dang impressive. And unfortunately for Pändo, a band playing more difficult arrangements also nailed their performance. I’m not saying that Pändo should start incorporating 5/4 time bridges into their songs or 15 part harmony. Pändo needs to just keep being Pändo. People love it. I love it.
Kitfox took the stage second. Emilee from Kitfox is such a fantastic performer. Some performers get the crowd involved by being energetic, funny, ostentatious , etc. Emilee draws you in with her soft – but powerful – voice, and then keeps your attention because she makes you feel human as she proceeds to pour out her soul for you. It is very rare to see a musical act that is so honest in their art. I am so happy to have that kind of act in the area. Conor Flynn also deserves mention for his harmonica solo. It was rad. Overall their performance was very tight. In some places it was even tighter than Friday night. There was one rough transition as they tried to record and implement a live sample of the audience before playing a song. It was sad to see, since that whole bit went off without a hitch the night before and worked really, really well. More so than any of the other bands, it was hard for me to see Kitfox lose. Easily one of the most professional acts of the entire week. You can tell they work hard, that they’re intelligent songwriters, and that they’re more than capable of winning over listeners and turning them into avid fans. I’m proof of this. Kitfox, for the love of everything good, keep making music! If for nobody else, do it for me.
Motion Coaster made it to the finals because of their energy and entertainment factor. Unfortunately, their performance Saturday night was a little sloppier than it was earlier this week. The tuning wasn’t quite there in the horn section at times, and lead singer Dee Kei Waddell pushed his vocals a little too hard. Waddell is such a talented performer. His natural range is insane, and he’s got boundless energy that can really get a crowd going. That was definitely evident. However, we’re going to share with him the words of Paul Janeway, the lead singer of St. Paul and the Broken Bones. We feel like it is a fitting quote given the fact that Janeway’s band also features a horn section and puts on a VERY energetic live show, often centered around Janeway’s vocal delivery. He said this to AL.com following the band’s first tour and the release of their first record:
“With the last record, it was like doing things with your hair on fire – going in, recording it live. There’s a sense of urgency to having a record like that. We were only a band for about five months at that point. I didn’t know my voice – I’ d never done this professionally. I was just learning more nuance, and about carrying a melody. You don’t have to go for it 100% all the time. You can draw people in by giving and taking.”
If Waddell can figure out a way to not be at 100% energy every second of the performance – throw in a little more emotional nuance and rein it in just a tad when he is energetic – the band will be a force to be reckoned with. They already are. But the added emotional impact through variation will send them over the edge. These guys show a lot of promise, and I am excited to see what they do moving forward.
Moody Pulp came out with a purpose on Saturday night. A few things had changed. First off, their tone was significantly better. The guitar and bass sounds all complimented each other quite nicely. I mean, it was a day and night difference. Second, they took their performance more seriously, which is exactly what I wanted to see. They pulled back the energy just enough to leave that danger zone of being over the top and silly, but still had a ton of energy and honestly put on a dang good show! It’s a very fine line between being a ham and a magnetic, charismatic performer, and their lead singer walked it perfectly on Saturday. I really hope he can remember how he felt on stage that night and replicate it. If I can speak frankly, going into the finals I didn’t expect them to really be in the running. But they meant business and were really fighting for a winning spot. Their passion, drive, and well executed performance made the decision so much harder for the judges. I am incredibly impressed at how much better their set was just a few days later. Also, we found out Saturday night that they are all still in high school! That makes what they accomplished so much more impressive, as a whole and as individuals. I can’t even imagine what they will be doing at 23. It’s going to be fun to see these guys grow as musicians. I hope they make a habit of playing in Provo. They are more than welcome here, and will definitely find an audience.
MMEND came on last to wrap things up. And boy, what a performance. They were absolutely incredible. It was the kind of performance that made us all forget that we were at a battle of the bands. For the 25 or so minutes they were on stage, we were all just fans at a MMEND show, and it felt like they were on a huge stage with thousands of people hanging on to every word. Whatever issues I had with their set a few nights before were absolutely gone. They made a few crucial set changes, and consequently their energy flowed much better from one song to the next. I also feel like their tone was better, as well as their mix. The backup vocals really came through strong and blew everyone away. I cannot say enough about MMEND’s performance Saturday night. It’s tough because all of the bands were so good in their own way, but MMEND just did what we loved about all the other bands and more. It was literally chill inducing. As one of the judges said on Saturday, “I haven’t felt this way about a Provo band’s performance since I saw Imagine Dragons here 5 years ago – right before they went big.” I think they made the decision pretty easy for the judges. Their win was well deserved.
This has been an awesome week. Seriously. If you are a first time Reach Provo reader, we urge you to support these extremely talented local musicians. Watch their videos, stream their music, buy their merch, see them live. Good art deserves to be appreciated and celebrated, and the five artists discussed in this article represent the future of the Provo music scene, which only appears to grow brighter day by day. To discover more local artists, read our recaps from the previous nights. You can hear Kitfox’s “Misery” below.