Last night, the Bad Publicity blog put on a five-act show of local music at Abba Java coffee house. It lasted for about three hours and included acoustic, hip-hop, and electronic dance music (EDM for the comme il faut among you, but that’s another story).
First to take the stage was the band The Had Knots, a four-piece group who had two guitars, a drummer, and a singer. The first couple of songs sounded like decent acoustic rock tunes that Jack Johnson might put out, despite the singer sounding an awful lot like Luke Pritchard from The Kooks.
Then they kicked it up and launched into “She’s Enough”, and you could see the band’s energy getting more intense from here on through. “Up to My Neck” showed the other side of their catalogue, set in a minor key and with more explosive vocals. Overall, the first half was solid, but the second half’s songs showed more variety with their tone and volume.
Chris-Topher was supposed to perform next, but Topher (@TopherNOW) ended up going Chris-less since his bandmate couldn’t make it. An acoustic performer as well, Topher is the guy you think of with his guitar, sitting under a tree on the quad, serenading the coeds with his suave licks. But you can’t really fault him for the stereotype because he’s really pretty good at what he does. His voice is something bluesy like Dave Matthews but also somewhat higher and more nasal, which gives it a distinguishing quality. Topher was more mellow than The Had Knots, as each song seemed to roll right into the next.
Then came the hip-hop emcee part of the evening. I’ll just come right out with it: this was a swing and a miss. But it wasn’t any of the musicians’ fault; it was just completely the wrong venue for them. Abba Java is a coffee house in the basement of a church, and with the setup of chairs and couches, it wasn’t at all conducive to music that called for everyone to “get hype.”
The U (@U_goBoy), the first act, probably spent more time enforcing his “no-sitting rule” and telling the crowd to put their hands up and teaching them their call-and-response roles (he snuck a “We are…Penn State” cadence into every song) than actually performing his songs. It was almost more of a demonstration than a performance. That said, his fundamentals were solid and his actual music was good, but the speakers weren’t loud enough to bring out its power, and the crowd was just not getting into it no matter the effort, especially just coming off of two acoustic acts. It was pretty awkward.
Malik LRB (@MalikLRB), who followed, had many of the same problems, but his stage presence was less assuming and that seemed to have the crowd in better form, as they were less conscious of how stark the difference was between the environment and the performer.
He opened with “Penn State Rap,” which featured gratuitous Penn State references in an ode to our alma mater, with the best by far being “Who should I pick: Bolden or McGloin?” Clearly the song was written last year. His main problem was that with remixes and samplings of other pop songs, he couldn’t match the lyrics; it was like listening to drunk kids sing at a party. But he looked like he was having a lot of fun up there, which actually made up for a lot of the awkwardness of his set.
So with that in the books, I wasn’t expecting Tawa & Atomisk to really be much better, as an EDM act in — as I said before — the basement of a church. But surprisingly, it actually worked really well. You had people sitting or standing up and dancing (members of the EDM club showed up for this segment). You could be listening to this music at a huge rave or just sitting with your droogs in the Korova Milk Bar. Keegan Tawa even busted out his saxophone for a piece in the middle of the set. Maybe it wouldn’t have worked following the acoustic part, but there was just something that fused the hype and the chill, and kept everyone around until the end.
In the end, it was a good night and I’m glad I went out to the show. There was nothing that was unforgivably bad about any of the music, but it definitely could have been unlocked better under certain other conditions. Regardless, it was the fall showcase and @BadPublicityBLG did showcase some of State College’s local musical acts. So next time this rolls around, fill up the house and maybe it’ll be a better party.