Movin’ On Battle of the Bands Felt Stale
Editor’s Note: Keegan Tawa informed us of some information that was misreported in this article. The changes have been made and we are sincerely sorry for any confusion.
If you were present or paying attention to social media this weekend, you know by now that ska band Wondershop Showdown and DJ Keegan Tawa won Battle of the Bands and will be opening for the Avett Brothers and Ludacris at Movin’ On. These two acts are each talented in their own right, but were clearly not the right decision when measured up with all the other performers Saturday night. If you missed it, allow me to recap the evening and explain.
The first band to take the stage was Dave Joyce. Even though they aren’t the most talented rock band, they had a cool style and knew their way around a stage. After warming up, they launched into “Where You Going” which was a fun song to set the tone of the evening and get the audience ready. But their second song was lackluster and the vocal harmonies of their final song weren’t quite right. They were a good warmup band but definitely not Movin’ On material.
Up next was Atlas Soundtrack. MC Drew “Dubb” Jackson predictably began pumping up the crowd before the set, asking everyone to get to their feet and crowd around in the dance space between the chairs and the stage. After a quick “We Are” chant and an appearance by the Lion, Atlas grooved into their usual thing. So far the show had been fairly high energy, but mostly same old-same old. These bands weren’t trying anything new or exciting.
Then One Shot Nicky took the stage. I had picked the band as a favorite going in, knowing their propensity to go crazy on stage and the songwriting that flat out beat any other band there. The first two acts could make their sets seem exciting, but One Shot’s music proved they actually know what they’re doing. And they surprised me with a few extra tricks up their sleeves, like jamming into crazy solo breaks in the midst of otherwise innocuous songs and adding a female vocalist to the lineup who was just phenomenal. She seemed a little nervous at first, but when she opened up on “Blowin’ South” and belted her lines, it was fantastic. They elicited the first real cheers of the night at the end of their set. And yet, the audience still seemed fairly impassive. I could only assume that many of them weren’t familiar with this band and were shocked. Or just stupid.
And that’s when I got mad. Crooked Oaks sounded like something from south of the Mason Dixon, and while I don’t usually go for country, this country/folk stuff didn’t immediately repulse me. There was even a surprising, if ill-fitting, rock and roll solo in the midst of their second song. The band got strong, consistent “woos” from the audience throughout the set. The audience reaction was so overblown, though, that it led me to believe the band must have brought a large support group with them. Sure, it sounded nice and fine (except for a few mic feedback squeaks), but they didn’t actually do anything all that impressive. They just acted like they were playing very difficult, complicated stuff. Although bands who have had the best networking ability to draw crowds of their friends to Battle have typically won, I was sure with a School of Music professor and an a capella director in this year’s panel, the judges couldn’t possibly be as easily fooled as the audience. The B94.5 Morning Zoo might be that dumb, but not the musically trained half of the panel.
Then came more of the indie folk acts. Free Rollercoaster was awkward as hell. Ex-Onward State staffer and current Collegian Arts Chief Marcus Correll was sitting next to me when they started. Upon first hearing them, he turned to me and said they sounded like “a more anti-social Rivers Cuomo covering a Mumford & Sons set for a high school talent show.” I couldn’t think of a better description myself. No one could understand their frontman’s mutterings between songs, either, though he played a mean ukulele. Bretheren, another band with (you guessed it) folk influences took the stage. Three in a row. This was becoming difficult to sit through. I was beginning to be unable to tell one from the other, as they all sounded similar: twangy strings with country-boy vocals.
Sitting through Element of Surprise’s play-it-safe, nothing exciting set did nothing to ease my mind. When your singer says “Thanks for not walking out on us” at the end of the set, it’s time to try something new.
When Flashback Forward took the stage, I thought to myself, “Oh thank God, a rock band that gets to the heart of the genre — rocking out and having fun on stage.” The audience seemed to appreciate it as well (though it hadn’t taken much to impress them during the last few acts). Their first song, “The One,” provided a very strong opening that made you want to move, with their lead singer dancing about the stage and headbanging with the drummer. The second song was a slower one and not quite as strong or as big a hit with the crowd, but they closed with another straight, driving rock beat. Even Marcus, who had been making cynical remarks most of the night before this, was pleasantly surprised.
The excitement level remained high, but the quality began to drop then. Wondershop Showdown was a fun band, but it was typical ska and the songwriting wasn’t exactly Grade A material. Despite this, the audience still acted like they were at an actual rock or ska concert, with one laughably stereotypical ska kid in a black and white striped hoodie skanking hard back and forth in front of the audience. Michael and the Mooncussers came after, and I was running out of things to say about all these indie bands that sounded the same to me. These guys introduced a sax player, at least, though he was unimpressive when he could be heard.
By the time Keegan Tawa came up, I was in no mood to rave to EDM. He was a good DJ, but I couldn’t picture him on stage at Movin’ On. When he pulled a sax out and started playing that over his beats and then mixing that riff in, I became more interested. That was real cool. But his songs did make me wonder what exactly constitutes a “cover” since, like much EDM, his music contains some remixed material weaved in and out of his original beats.
Hustle the Nobles were no-shows, which is unfortunate because I had actually been looking forward to hearing their intriguing mix of sounds. I heard a rumor their drummer couldn’t make it and so they dropped out, but no one would confirm that for me.
In the end, the judges could definitely have made much, much worse picks. We could’ve been stuck listening to Element of Surprise’s boring music or Free Rollercoaster’s awkward singer, or one of the other bands that sounded none-too-distinct from them at Movin’ On. But still, I think the judges must’ve said to themselves, “What do college kids listen to? Oh, ska and EDM.” Yeah, in the 90s. While EDM is making a comeback and ska still has its place as the startup college band of choice Freshman year, we have more diverse tastes than that. I mean, there weren’t even any rap acts invited to this thing. Poor Luda is going to feel real out of place up there with this lineup. I even heard one kid walk past me at the end saying “That was… anticlimactic.”
Or maybe the judges just picked them because those two acts were the freshest in their minds (other than the Mooncussers, but that clearly wasn’t happening). I don’t know. But I do know that a few of those acts clearly stood out above the rest. Look at it this way: you get to hear some dub and house mixes outside in the middle of the day. Because those conditions are conducive to a rave. Congratulations. And don’t tell me you’re excited for ska after 90% of the student body bitched about Less Than Jake headlining two years ago.
“But you only liked Flashback and One Shot because you picked them to win,” you might be saying. No. I liked them because they didn’t suck. Or maybe I’m just deluding myself. Either way, I don’t care. Those two acts won Battle of the Bands. Even if no one else realized it.
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About the Author
Jason Nolf, Bo Nickal, and Anthony Cassar all finished the NCAA Championships atop the podium for Penn State wrestling.
“Whatever I can do to help Penn State and give back, that’s the mission.”
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