By Zach Collier
To say I loved tonight’s performances would be an understatement. While Night 2’s show was probably the best overall show of the week (and the closest call in Velour’s history), tonight holds a very special place in my heart. You had one band who is clearly primed for possible mainstream success, an established group of music scene veterans who fundamentally questioned what it means to create Provo music, and two newcomers with so much potential it made me giddy. And they appeared in that order.
Cardinal Bloom was the clear winner tonight. They played great as a single unit, embodying the Italian concept of sprezzatura: Cardinal Bloom has practiced so much individually and collectively that everything that happened on stage appeared effortless and spontaneous. Their music was rhythmically and technically challenging but played like it wasn’t. They used varied guitar tones to paint vivid soundscapes. The vocals were passionately delivered. Everything they did worked together to absolutely nail that dusty Deseret sound – one that sits in between pop, rock, and folk that would pair well on stage with the likes of Joshua James, Kin Lodge, or The Backseat Lovers. Watching them, I literally forgot I was at a battle of the bands and felt like I was simply enjoying a Cardinal Bloom concert. It blew me away.
Bly Wallentine took the stage next. Some of the best pieces I’ve ever written have been about Bly, and for good reason. One of the most intriguing producers and composers in the area, Wallentine has created a close circle of like-minded musicians who push the boundaries of music and culture. They have much more in common with the academics and composers of the 20th century than, say, The National Parks. Over the years Wallentine has used experimentation to create some interesting work – from using aleatoric practices to generate music by chance to writing a classical music cassette tape in 24 hours about the formation, development and eventual fall of a garden adjacent to the Garden of Eden. Deconstructionist art rock at its most palatable, last night’s performance went over well mostly because of Wallentine’s charismatic stage presence and a solid backing band.
Whereas Cardinal Bloom looked effortless in a polished, talented, consumable way, Bly Wallentine appeared to be effortless in a totally chaotic, untalented way. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. It takes a lot of talent and musical knowledge to do what they do. An excellent mix of swirling e-piano, great synth tones from Loren Brunken, a solid bass and drum section in Nate Hardyman and Brian Casey Lee respectively, and an understated but great guitar performance from Jillian Rogers, the band navigated wild tempo shifts with ease. They’d descend into absolute, intentional chaos and then drop back into a unified groove without warning. The crowd initially didn’t know how to take it, but over time people softened.
Wallentine has a way of presenting challenging material with a wink and a nod. Backstage, I asked about this. With a shrug, Bly said, “We came here to lose. I understand I’m feeding you garbage. I have to be grateful and tell the audience, ‘Thank you for letting me do this.'” A younger me would have seen their talent as musicians and wished they’d, I dunno, do some pop music instead of screaming spoken word poetry over drum fills and then dropping into a clarinet solo. But I’ve come to realize that there are lots of people making pop music and only one Bly Wallentine. And while I couldn’t send them onto the finals without causing a total uproar, I’m really grateful that Corey Fox gave these guys a space to expose the uninitiated to something so unique. I really enjoyed it.
Welcome Home Sundance was on third. The first song wasn’t the best opener – it was probably the least interesting song in their set and the guitar and synth tones were too clean to be engaging. But after the first song I really, really enjoyed their performance. Each band member has such a likable, charismatic stage presence. Their drummer was solid, they had fun synth tones, and they were great at involving the audience with memorable lyrics and easily singable melodies. These guys reminded me of my first days in the scene. I remember spending late nights writing songs with my band DateNight in a laundromat and feeling this desire to throw caution to the wind and take on the world. Let it be known: these guys are so much better than DateNight. We were not good. This band has much more in common with early Cinders. But Welcome Home Sundance captured that nostalgic, youthful energy I felt while performing with DateNight. I walked away a huge fan, and I’m really excited to see where they go over the next few years. I think they could be something special.
MJ Wood was the last act of the evening. They won the award for most oranges and orange juice on stage in the history of ever. It was a fun gimmick that came out during their song “Orange Juice,” and it was a fun touch that should stay a long-term tradition with the band. MJ Wood knows how to write catchy pop music. Their song “Metro” is cool af. Their frontman has an excellent voice and a great stage presence. That being said, the performance was super rough in places. There was one song in particular where the band got out of sync with their backing track and never recovered. The issues had less to do with talent and more to do with inexperience. With their songwriting, I feel like they could have some significant Spotify success in the near future. They just have a lot of work to do on their live show. But if they work hard and perform live consistently, I can see these guys having some real longevity.
Cardinal Bloom deserved to win. They had the experience, the songwriting craft, and the accessible sound needed to win. That being said, each performer tonight helped paint a perfect picture of the 3 sides of Provo that I love: the mainstream Provo that’s bound for greatness, the academic/cerebral Provo that questions and innovates, and the wholesome chase-your-dreams Provo that got me into the music scene in the first place. Tonight gave me the feels, and I loved every minute of it.
Velour’s Winter 2021 Battle of the Bands Finals are tonight! With Andrea, Poolhouse, Beeson, Basement Waves, and Cardinal Bloom will return and a final winner will be announced. Doors open at 7:30 PM. While you’re waiting for the show to start, check out “Anxiety” by Cardinal Bloom below.