Operation: Battle of the Bands [5/19/10]

Posted on: May 24th, 2010 at 6:22 am by

A big thank you to everyone who participated in the Operation: Battle of the Bands at National Underground.  Overall, the fundraiser event was a success, with high turnout and good tunes.  The following review and accompanying photographs were submitted by two of our newest contributors, Joshua Adcock and Jenny Penny.

When I think of Battle of the Bands the first images that come to mind are of acne-faced teenagers playing mediocre covers in brightly-lit auditoriums with horrible acoustics.  In northwestern NJ, where I spent some of my youth, there was a propensity to play bad metal covers.  Somewhere through the grueling guitar solos and tedious shrieking vocals lay the semblance of some great power jam from the likes of Metallica or Slayer, if a band was feeling really confident.

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I must say I walked into last week’s Battle of the Bands at the National Underground expecting something similar.  What I got was completely different and somewhat refreshing.  Having spent hours in various venues around the city, I’ve noticed a certain malaise amongst both the crowd and bands.  The reality is no one has fun when a band plays a room of five people.  While it’s nice to pretend it’s the night of your life, it’s often more about how much time it takes setting up and breaking down and can you get your van parked in front of the venue so you don’t have to lug gear down the street.

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So what’s missing?  The excitement.  The idea that out there lies a band that can get you on your feet with a new sound you’re tired ears have never heard.  This to me was the feeling of last nights show.  It presented an opportunity for a variety of local musicians to be heard and enjoyed by a varied crowd.

I think it’s also important to note that the evening, aside from showcasing emerging talent, was a benefit for a group called G.I. Go.  These wonderful people provide assistance to GI’s returning from tours of duty overseas.  I’m sure the concept is hard for many New Yorkers to really grasp as we’re apt to dismiss the war and those who are involved in it.  However, having spent part of my teen years in military school, I’ve had the chance to know many men who’ve had to go overseas.  The stress endured by these people and their families is incredible.  The truth is no one really wants to fight, some just have the job to do it.  This group is out there to help those people get back to their lives.

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Battle of the Bands held an impressive group of judges.  From Joey Degraw (part owner  of the National Underground and brother of Gavin) to Q104.3 DJ Jonathan Clarke, who also acted as MC for the evening, to S.E. Cupp who recently wrote a book, but I don’t like the title, so you’ll have to look it up on your own.  The evening was also hosted by Joe Pace, a former Marine Sargeant who served overseas and knows first hand the struggle of our armed forces members with families.

Now let’s get to the bands.  In order:

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[Bizz-E Blaze]

Bizz-E Blaze – The nights lone hip hop act. Best described as Black Star meets Jay Z.  Mellow back beat with an inspirational message.  Spoke often of the struggles of seeking success and spoke against senseless violence.  Along with side kick Jay Kidd, put together an impressive set.  I give him credit for doing it in a place that screamed rock n roll.  I wasn’t surprised afterwards to learn among his influences Mos Def and Q tip were at the top.

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Latchi – Name taken from the singers middle name.  Jenny felt the sound was like a “waltzy Alanis Morisette.” I was impressed by the range of the vocalist, as she entertained us with a bit of Scatting.   Also notable was the fact we all felt the bassist was rocking a Kirk Hammett vibe, circa 1987.  In no way is that a bad thing either.  It only added to the rock n roll experience.  The band is releasing an album in July.

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[La Res]

La Res – or “La Resistance.” This trio of local guys was one of my favorites for the evening.  It was a nice blend of classic guitar rock with a contemporary vibe.  I know that’s a generic as shit description, but it’s true, they rocked.  What else can I say?  I did overhear a guy next to us mention “that guitar sound reminds me of Black Sabbath.” We debated this at our table for a bit, but in the end conceded there was truth to the idea that there was a raw power sound coming from these guys.  In their own words, they described themselves as “Gut Rock” or music from the gut.  Also notable the singer, Lorrel Manning, recently put together a movie called “Happy New Year” which deals with a GI returning home from duty.  The film features music from the band and you can learn more about it on the official website. Also check out the band at their Myspace.

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[Bern and the Brights]

Bern and the Brights – Led by singer Bernadette Malavarca, these guys were great.  We def had some different opinions on what they sounded like.  According to Jenny, they were a “cuter Bloc Party with a country twang” that reminded her of Lillith Fair.  The band on the other hand, felt they were channeling a bit of Jeff Buckley, Broken Social Scene and The Frames.  I just thought they were really good.  The combination of acoustic guitars and a solo drummer playing bongo drums, was our first step into a more melodic folk inspired music.  I felt like I was being taken on an emotional journey.   Hailing from Montclair, these guys are worth seeing anytime you can.

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[YV and Brother K]

YV and Brother K – There was some discrepancy when I spoke with the guys after as to what their band name is.  I think it’s still a work in progress.  The guys made several mention to their love of the Beatles.  I got it.  The music had some Bob Dylan poetic lyricism meets the story telling of said Beatles.  I felt the songs evoked images both personal and aspirational.  Like Barn and the Brights, I felt these guys were about creating an acoustic sound that represents the spirit of raw music making.  If you’d like to know more, check them out here.

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[Hey Battlefield]

Hey Battlefield – I’m no stranger to these guys as I’ve seen them out before and am a fan.  They’re a great local group that is getting more and more attention both locally and nationally.  They’re being featured in a V Magazine piece coming out shortly and also have a new album in the works.  To describe their music it’s easiest to look at their influences of Elvis Costello, Nick Cave and classic Jazz.  What does that mean?  Check them out for yourself at their Myspace page.  What I will say is these guys have a great future ahead of them and if you haven’t heard them, go out and see them.

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[Jean Marie Henry and Guy]

Jean Marie Henry and Guy– I later found out Guy has a name and it’s Paul.  Hailing from Sayreville, yes the home of Bon Jovi, these guys put together a tight acoustical set.  Jean Marie draws her influence from the likes of NIN, Garbage and No Doubt.  I wondered afterwards if I felt that in the music, but I get it the sense the stories were both anecdotal and biographical.  In other words, I’ll take your word for it Jean Marie.  It was great set and she was definitely the eye candy of the evening.  In terms of the music,  Jenny put it best when she said, she could see her songs working as the break up music in a One Tree Hill episode.  Find that funny?  Don’t.  Those songs make people money.  So I say, Jean Marie, keep on going – past One Tree Hill and down to Dawson’s Creek and sing your songs (and wear that skirt).

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[The Folkadelics]

The Folkadelics – Our last band that I didn’t really get to talk to.  These guys were impressive.  Among the many talents exhibited – we saw the guitarist play the harmonica while beat boxing, we also saw the guitarist and mandolin player (that’s right, mandolin) switch to clarinet and trumpet.  Truthfully, I’d had a few at this point and don’t even know who was playing what, but it was good.  These guys apparently play at The National Underground all the time.  I highly recommend them as they were serious entertainers.

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[The Folkadelics]

So…who won?  Drumroll….The Folkadelics.  I admit, I wasn’t surprised.  There was an energy that came from the multi-talented group that was electric.  Maybe it was their familiarity with the surroundings, or maybe it was the beat box/harmonica/drum arrangement.  I don’t know, but it made sense.

Afterwards, I had a chance to speak with Jonathan Clarke from Q104.3 and asked him a few questions about why he got involved with the event.  After telling me of his other endeavors including Out of the Box which features up and coming bands, he broke it down plain and simple, it’s really great to give bands the audience they’ve always wanted and also support charity at the same time.  Some of the bands we saw will keep going and keep building, others, this may be the gig to remember.  To play for a crowd that really wants to hear your music is special.

Anyway, you look at it, Battle of the Bands was fun.  It wasn’t the pretentious LES hipster fest I thought it would be.  Rather, it was a great group of musicians coming together for a good cause.   I guess that’s refreshing.

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