Wednesday night at Bowker Auditorium, UPC’s annual Battle of the Bands was fought. Seven groups were tossed into the fray – some as big as seven members, others as small as one.
Each band was first given the opportunity to play one song in the first round. As the night progressed, the competitors were narrowed down by a panel of five judges from seven groups to four, four to two, and finally down to one. The starting lineup included three rock groups, two rap groups, and two solo rappers, who were both accompanied by the house DJ.
Performing first was East Over Kent, with a standard rock setup – electric guitar and bass, drum kit and an acoustic guitar for the singer. The group played its song extremely tight, but it lacked a particularly memorable melody to accompany its strong harmonic progression; the song sounded like a band arrangement of a solo acoustic song. East Over Kent was eliminated in the first round.
Next up, solo rapper Paul Markham displayed some lyrical chops with his ode to college, poking fun at his own goofy demeanor with lines like “people mock me like har-dee-har-har, but everybody knows we are the party starters.” He will, however, not be starting the party at Spring Concert; he was also eliminated in the first round.
Following Markham, The Lank Monsta consisted of one rapper and one electric guitarist, who also sang the chorus. Its “Summertime Anthem” used a catchy, laid back beat built around a sample of a bluesy organ vamp, but the guitarist seemed to play his sporadic riffs in a different key than the sample, rather deflating any musicality the song might have had. At one point, the guitarist took a lengthy but lackluster solo as his band-mate encouraged a clap-a-long, with limited success. They, too, were eliminated in the first round.
Skasome Society brought the tempo back up with “TMS.” Their name-brand brassy punk-pop was full of raw musical energy, but the on-stage energy didn’t quite match, despite the bassist’s best efforts to cheer up his stoic band mates. Still, the group members much more effectively held the attention of the crowd than any band prior, and had much more success getting the audience involved. Apparently, the judges felt the same way, advancing them easily to the next round.
Solo rapper Sound Execution shifted the mood once more, dropping a backing beat straight out of Dre’s golden age of G-funk, which eventually combined with a soulful horn sample. He complemented the throwback beat with some good old fashioned mic control, getting a call and response going with the crowd: “I’m just tryna get mine – whatchu playin’ for?” He got his; Sound Execution moved on to the second round.
Red Summer Sun lurched the event forward a few years, emulating the 90s pop-rock sound to a tee. Full of hummable hooks and refrains like “I’m a little bit in love with you,” they seemed poised to rock an inebriated college crowd. It’s no wonder they claimed to “play a lot of frat parties.” Who wouldn’t want to bottoms-up along to Lit in their prime? The group advanced unscathed to round two.
C-Banga and the Bang Boys finished out the first round with towering arena funk, powered by two keyboardists and a virtuoso electric guitarist. C-Banga himself, backed up by a solid supporting rapper, moved around the stage in practiced synchronization with the music. His lyrics were unfortunately somewhat drowned out by the overwhelming band, but that didn’t seem to bother the audience or the judges, who advanced the Boys to the next round.
Round Two saw the elimination of Sound Execution and Red Summer Sun, leaving only Skasome Society and C-Banga, who advanced easily with the help of an impressive soulful vocal performance by Brian “B-Stokes” Stokes, who subbed in for C-Banga’s supporting rapper.
In the final round, Skasome and C-Banga each played hard, accentuating their strengths (for the latter, namely “B-Stokes,” who closed with the same song as round two). But in the end, there could only be one winner. The crowd, by applause, chose C-Banga and the Bang Boys by a pretty healthy margin. The hip-hop/R&B band earned through their victory an opening slot at Spring Concert.
Before the show, Samuel Ascioti of Skasome Society told us that he would be happy to “just do better than last year,” where they did not make it past the opening round. Well, congratulations are in order – they performed admirably, and the crowd loved it.
Most of all, congratulations to C-Banga and the Bang Boys. Asked how it feels to be opening for, among others, Ludacris, C-Banga replied, “humbling.”
Garth Brody can be reached at [email protected]