By Zach Collier
Today was the first real snowfall of the season. Normally this is a magical experience for me. I love the feeling of walking in a still, serene snowscape, taking in the quiet beauty of it all. But tonight I saw a big patch of ice as I was walking through the back lot behind Velour and thought, I gotta be careful or I’ll slip. So I stepped slowly and deliberately out onto the ice.
Only it wasn’t ice. It was a very still, very reflective puddle. So I submerged my best shoes in parking lot water up to my ankles and spent the entire night with wet feet. And in a weird kind of way, this works as a metaphor for the whole evening.
Going into this, I want full transparency: I’ve got a degree in Commercial Music so I’m not totally unqualified to provide criticism. However, I’m mostly just some balding dad who’s a sideman in a local group that’s never even won a battle of the bands, and my solo project is resoundingly a thing that exists and nobody listens to. So keep that in mind.
The TLDR is that the stars aligned and 4 incredibly talented bands all had an off night at the exact same time.
Sunfish started off so impressively I thought they were going to win the night. Great builds, cool drops, haunting harmonies. Their third song was an absolute masterpiece that started with a lilting, spooky synth arpeggio and morphed into a sprawling prog rock epic with the band jumping in unison on drops, an extended drum solo, and some of the tastiest licks I’ve ever heard. It wasn’t a song. It was a COMPOSITION. It’s called “Doors” and you need to stream it right now. Then the band’s energy got a little out of control on the next song and they inexplicably fell apart the rest of the set. Weird. I later found out that this iteration of the band had only been together for a week, which made sense. I’m confident that if they had another week of prep, the second half of the set would have landed just as well as the first.
Nicole McMahan took the stage next. Unfortunately, setup didn’t go as smoothly as it should have, and it forced her team to end their set early. I think the stress of time constraints plus some audible, painful feedback on stage caused McMahan’s vocals to suffer. Despite this, you could tell that every song was well written and expertly arranged. Everything was planned out right down to choreography and crowd involvement. They had a full horn section. They had key bass. They had tasteful backing tracks. They knew how to perfectly and professionally recreate the vibe of early 90’s Paula Abdul. I’ve heard them do it before to great effect. Every single musician on stage could run circles around me in their sleep, especially Nicole. But tonight they just… didn’t.
Kin Lodge came on, and I turned to the judge sitting next to me and said, “Buckle up. This is gonna be good.” I’m 10000% a Kin Lodge fan. Frontman Jordan Jacobson isn’t just a lyricist. He’s a poet. A true artist. He did more tonight with one guitar and some whole notes than most musicians in this competition have done all week, no matter how many guitar solos or vocal runs they’ve thrown in. And his backing band was every bit his equal. Kin Lodge is Provo’s Bon Iver. Their song “Teamlife” kills me in the best way. That being said, the last Kin Lodge performance I saw was simply better than tonight’s. Despite this, Kin Lodge was the clear frontrunner.
Then Basement Waves took the stage. Their first song was kind of a mess, and I was ready to give up on the entire night. But then the greatest surprise happened. They played their next song flawlessly and transformed into a professional band before my very eyes. One song was such a refreshing piece of pop songwriting that I immediately went to Spotify and saved it to come back to later. And then the hits just kept coming. The whole band synced up rhythmically. Their energy skyrocketed. Their guitar solos were glorious. Their drummer stepped out to the mic and rapped at one point – and it didn’t make me cringe. And then they triggered a homemade contraption and balloons fell from the ceiling and everyone danced and partied, and they became the clear winner and I couldn’t wait to see them again on Saturday. Given how much I didn’t enjoy the first song, the back half of their set was wildly surreal. It was like stepping into that parking lot puddle with terrible shoes on and coming out with a new pair of Nikes. Basement Waves won the night. It just made sense at that point. They’ve got some polishing to do before Saturday, but I’m confident they’ll do well.
I’m feeling really connected to this article. It’s kind of an emotional one for me. Maybe because it’s 2 AM and I’m 3 Red Bulls into my evening. But I’ve been playing music for a long time, and I’ve always wondered why some shows just don’t go well, no matter how hard you try. For example, my band got paid a thousand dollars one day this summer to play a show in the afternoon and we killed it. Wild applause, Instagram follows for dayz, merch sales. Then we showed up to the South Jordan Battle of the Bands later that night and flubbed some very important chords we had played perfectly literally hours before. We got second place for the millionth battle of the bands in a row. I asked my band, “Does this happen to anyone else? Or just us?” Turns out it happens to everyone. Even remarkable bands. And sometimes it happens to everyone all on the same night.
Everyone has rough nights. This was one of them. But every single one of these acts is worth a follow. Go see Sunfish. Go see Nicole McMahan. Go see Basement Waves. And for the love of God, experience Kin Lodge before you die.
Velour’s Winter 2021 Battle of the Bands returns again tonight! Cardinal Bloom, Bly Wallentine, Welcome Home Sundance, and MJ Wood will perform. Doors open at 7:30 PM. You can see the full schedule for the week here. While you’re waiting for the show to start, check out “Touch Me” by Nicole McMahan below.