Like most of the audience that filled the Illinois Room Wednesday night, this was my first ‘Band Battle.’ On behalf of UIC Radio, I had the honor of judging the performers’ music quality and stage presence. Personally, my growing-up culture had taught me that organizing a band was something you did in high school that lasted, if you were lucky, for six months. So I walked into the event with low expectations. And I’m ashamed to admit it.
The bands that performed blew my skeptical head right off my shoulders. I absolutely adored every act and had to work to keep my jaw from hitting the floor, while faced with more experienced Band Battle attendees who had apparently come to expect this quality. I’m sorry to say that if you saw the flyer for Battle of the Bands and assumed all the performers would sound like over-hyped 16-year-olds, and decided not to come, you truly missed out.
One last generalization before we name some names: When you take the quality of your creation personally, it really shows. These musicians clearly practiced and worked seriously hard. They were dedicated to their instruments, their group, and the artwork they’d leave us with. Every song played was original, but you would have guessed it was written by a band that already had a record deal. I’m gonna break out the cliche: It was an honor to witness it.
The night began with the Jades. When these two ladies came on stage, each toting an acoustic guitar, I wrongly expected to see a tribute to Kelly Clarkson and a lot of time spent staring at the floor. These women started and ended strong with bold, R&B quality vocals that harmonized brilliantly, and separately written guitar pieces. They matched beautifully, never fell out of sync, and were perfectly consistent in their performance. Between songs, they joked with the audience and laughed with each other, and earned their high rank on stage presence, even though they were seated the entire time. Their original pieces had sweet, clever lyrics.
Goin’Dark came out next and set the evening on fire with the first full band. These guys (and lady) got the audience hopping with their brilliant music, which featured incredibly talented performers. The singer had a beautifully dark voice and an impressive range, of which she took full advantage. When the lead guitarist started in on solos, cameras and phones crowded around the stage to record his playing. As a great lover of Brian May and Pete Townsend, I was floored. You know when a guitarist is absolutely killing his solo and his hands are practically touching on the neck? Goin’Dark in a nutshell. Absolute quality from a surprisingly young band.
It’s hard to describe the power brought out by the P.E.A.S, but I’ll do my best. This energetic band featured four college guys, two in sweatshirts, one in a muscle shirt, and one in a sweater vest, and they completely stunned the audience. Their rock/punk/energetic songs were tight and well rehearsed (an understatement to say the least–I would label them the hardest working band in the show), but their stage presence was genuine and exciting. They were a thrill to watch, and even more impressive, they kept up their energy throughout their entire set. The crowd followed and jumped and danced, but we had no chance to keep up with the boys on stage.
The most stunning of all, and the unanimous first-place choice from the judges’ table, was SPLOR…As in, s’plorin’…As in, exploring. They called their genre “adventure music.” I think it has a real chance to catch on; their songs were easily the most unique of the night. Their style was new and consistent, but it never got repetitive. I can’t liken them to any other band, and that earned them considerable respect from my fellow judges and myself. The performers were obviously having the time of their lives and the audience got caught up in their genuine happiness. Each song was dynamic and interesting. The bassist played solos as if he were holding a guitar; I’ve never heard such complex pieces written to highlight an instrument usually kept in the background. Each musician got a chance to stand out for a bit, and they all took full advantage. The singer’s voice blended perfectly with the amp’d up electric instruments around it–nothing stuck out, nothing was lost in the noise. Their last song brought in an electric ukulele to complement the piece. This adventure music sounds like a nimble style of punk rock. They will certainly be on my radar in the future.
The competitors made my job as a judge very difficult; the competition was formidable. I’m amazed at the talent I saw, and my agenda for this article is to get you out to support some local music. One last cliche: the best performers are the ones who love it the most. They’ll make you love it, too.
Your homework over spring break: Find a local band without a record deal, either at a bar or on YouTube, and share some love. I’ll see you again on March 31st!