The Battle of the Bands, hosted on Feb. 7 by Mac’s Place, filled the College Union Ballroom to its ceiling with the sound of guitars, singing and the familiar flair of rock music. Seven bands participated in Friday’s event, each granted a 15-minute set in competition for an audience majority vote to win a prize of $500. Each audience member turned in a ballot at the end of the show, and local funk band Red Kettle was selected as the winning group.
The night began with Red Inc., a four-piece progressive rock group with a demeanor that hinted at an indifference toward the audience’s satisfaction; it was all music, no showboating. This cost the band approachability, but its music was a purely sonic experience. It shifted through tidal waves of melody – low to high to low – masterfully, giving sound with the force of a sledgehammer and the precision of tweezers. The band’s music demanded the entirety of the members’ focus, and the result was utter sophistication.
I had wondered if Overly Sexual American Girls would deviate from the evocations of their namesake, but found that they were unlike Barenaked Ladies in that regard. Two acoustic guitarists constituted the group’s vocals and at least the last quarter of their title. Both seemed positioned in self-aware awkwardness behind their assertive namesake, which was entertaining if somewhat motley.
The Subconscious, a traditional rock three-piece led by a guitar-playing singer, also performed, playing in traditional hard and alternative rock styles and covering Nirvana, as per rock tradition. If you like the classics, you were dancing up front with a dozen others who agreed. If you didn’t, you were bored – even when the group broke out with a Smash Mouth song.
OK Artichoke, a three-piece play on grassroots protest music, criticized the Vietnam War and South African apartheid with an acoustic guitar and tambourine. The members’ confidence and their hauntingly beautiful voices on a cover of Sufjan Stevens’ “Casimir Pulaski Day” allowed the music to blend with hijinks.
The American Accent was OK Artichoke’s exact opposite: not a performative joke, but a joke of a performance. An audience member exclaimed that they were 13 again after the band’s cover of Blink-182’s “All the Small Things.” Being 13 was awful enough the first time, but at least the second time would only last 15 minutes. To give credit where it is due, seemingly half the audience was dancing.
With the jazz outfit Red Kettle on the roster, the audience was in for a treat from the beginning. The baritone saxophone, blended within a seasoned and tidy hollow-body guitar, bass and percussion trio, was fated to stir us into a groove. For 15 minutes the music was perfect, and every seat was empty.
I may have set my bar too high by the time pop-punk outfit Thundercloud Kid began. Consider, though, that pop punk was joined at the hip with alternative culture a decade ago. Alternative culture later moved on from pop punk with all the swiftness of the mainstream culture it opposes. Now, pop punk is nostalgic at most.