Jeers, Cheers, and Music
The eighth annual Battle of the Bands featured a wide range of talent, but K-Ride’s performance trumped the competition. Alexa Strudler /// The Spectrum
On Wednesday evening, junior pre-pharmacy major Raphew Fahm and senior film studies and media studies major Wyatt Maker playfully hosted a lively SU theatre audience. The hosts' quips were deceptive, as there was some serious talent to be heard.
The SA held its eighth annual Battle of the Bands competition that night. Eight bands performed in the competition in hopes of winning the $500 grand prize. The three-hour event saw solid performances, an opinionated crowd, and some awkward debacles. The judges crowned pop rock group K-Ride, the contest's opening act, the winner.
The contest covered a wide-range of music and the audience was receptive to each genre. Octazooka, a duo composing of bassist/producer Ian Bick and guitarist Chris Kosz, specialized in dubstep-infused rock. Breakdown of the Century, a quartet headed by lead singer Mike Townsend, was a hardcore metal band.
The competition was diverse in experience as well. Alternative bands CrashFuse and Lords of Antarctica were only a few months old, while the Eric Van Houten band – the third place winner – had years of performing experience. The band's drummer, Tom Espo, had more than 30 years under his belt.
Eric Van Houten, the guitarist and singer for his band, felt that each band had an equal chance of winning regardless of their genre or experience.
"We're fans of the local music scene," Van Houten said. "We appreciate any [band's] music whether they've been together for four days or four years."
The judges scored the contest based on originality, overall performance, talent, and stage presence. K-Ride had no problem satisfying any of the criteria.
The band's three-song set started off with its original "Read All About It," exciting the crowd. The quintet then segued into "Love Like You," an original song that had a riff reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac's classic "Go Your Own Way."
Tim Britt, a solo musician and one of the judges, was an admitted Fleetwood Mac fan. However, he noted that the sound was still original.
"Nowadays you can't write something that hasn't been written before you," Britt said. "You're just sort of rewriting it. There are only so many chord progressions and power chords [you can use]…You just have to do it your own way. If it sounds similar it's never really a rip-off."
Their final song choice, a cover of Katy Perry's "Fireworks," was met with jeers at the start of the performance. However, senior audiology major Katie Bryant's singing eventually won the crowd over.
K-Ride was originally an acoustic duo named J-Ride, but Justin Rizzo – the band's backing vocalist and guitarist – thought the "K" was necessary because of Bryant's charisma.
"Last year we brought Katie in the mix and she's such a dominating force in the group," Rizzo said. "The "J" had to become a "K" in honor of Katie."
Bryant's singing combined with her band mates' solid instrumental backing made it easier for the judges to declare K-Ride the winner.
"They're just very talented and well put together," Britt said. "The music was tight, well rehearsed. No hiccups, no off-rhythms. They knew what they were doing when they came in and they were well-prepared."
The win comes despite the fact that Wednesday was K-Ride's first performance as a group. Nicastro believed that the first place prize could've gone to anybody.
Nicastro said that K-Ride's preparation, rather than their raw talent, was the key to victory.
"We carefully calculated our performance," Nicastro said. "To be structured for 15 minutes we needed all kill, no fill. We had to cater to the audience and we had to figure out how to best represent this group in a 15-minute period."
K-Ride beat The Steakouts, the Battle of the Bands' defending champions. The ska band featured a horn section to complement the energetic performance of lead singer/guitarist Mike Jacobs, drummer Tyler Rzemek, and bassist George Hart. The band's distinctive shtick wasn't as big a factor this year because of the diversity of the competitors.
"I was surprised," Jacobs said. "Not because we didn't win, but because we placed."
The audience praised the band's performance. The Steakouts instantly grabbed the crowd's attention by opening their set with a cover of The Blues Brothers theme song. A few songs later, they invited the audience to skank in front of the stage with the horn section. The band ended their six-song set on a high note with their cover of The Jackson Five's "I Want you Back."
Lords of Antarctica and The Beginning. The End were also considered standouts. The former's guitarist, Cody Kedron, amazed the audience with his skill while donning a gas mask and a winter hat – a fashion choice the hosts were quick to quip about.
The Beginning. The End had no vocalist, but guitarist Tyler Gagliardi's use of effects made up for the lack of personnel. Gagliardi made the extremely difficult technique of string tapping seem natural, which contradicted his robotic head movement while playing.
Breakdown of the Century also attracted attention, albeit negative. Just before coming on stage the band realized its guitar pedal, a needed component of the band's performance, was missing. The band attempted to perform without it, but the lack of distortion and sound from the lead guitar ruined the performance. The animated crowd taunted the quartet as it struggled.
During the band's second song, Mike Townsend, the lead singer, rushed off stage to find the missing pedal. Fortunately, he returned with it just in time for the third and final song. Breakdown performed their closer at full force, but the audience was unsupportive of their comeback attempt.
Townsend bitterly responded to the crowd's comments at the end of the competition.
"For you to insult us, we must first value your opinion," Townsend said.
Judge Gagan Singh, a senior computer science major, took the Breakdown of the Century's technical problems into consideration when judging, and he praised the band for recovering in the third song.
Nicholas Appenheimer, 22, of Buffalo, was less sympathetic.
"If you're going to break down, get off the stage or rock out," Appenheimer said. "They didn't rock out enough, that's my personal opinion."
The Steakouts experienced some difficulty in their set as well. Rzemek recalled that the misplaced cymbals on his drum kit and the volume problems with Hart's bass slightly threw off their performance in the beginning.
Nicastro was thrilled to compete at the Battle of the Bands. However, he thought the main prize was being able to represent UB as its premier band rather than the money.
The Steakouts, on the other hand, greatly needed their $250 second place prize to be able to finish recording their upcoming EP.
"To play at a really cool, big stage with a whole bunch of different bands was really cool," Rzemek said. "But thank God we got the money, because I don't know how we were going to pay for a recording."
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