INTRODUCTION by T MaxWith the demise of WBCN 104.1 fm it looked like the 2009 Rumble (the 31st of this annual Boston event) would be the last of the classic battle of the bands competition. 2010 saw no Rumble and Boston musicians quietly paid their respects. But Anngelle Wood (Boston Emissions on WZLX), the last organizer of the Rumble, hadn’t given up on the competition. Though a year was skipped, she pumped life back into it and placed the event at T.T. the Bear’s for the first time in Rumble history. 2010 will be known as the year of rest, just as Wednesday night has been the day of rest in the six days of preliminary bouts between the 24 bands. The Noise assembled its Rumble coverage team and the following is the new beginning of Boston’s music history. Here are the live reviews of each of the 24 bands that competed in the 32nd annual Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble.
Sunday, April 3
THE BLIZZARD OF ’78, JENNY DEE & THE DEELINQUENTS, OLD JACK, McALISTER DRIVE
by Ryan Bray
Straight away, the Blizzard of ’78 brings some serious bluster with their fat, anthemic rock ’n’ roll sound. There are touches of J. Giles, E Street Band, and “Being There”-era Wilco, touched off with the kind of whimsical bravado that reminds me of the Hold Steady. The horns are a particularly nice touch, punching up the band’s swaggering sound in just the right places. Sadly, as good as the Blizzard is I’m not certain their set is going to leave enough of a lasting impression come the end of the night. Not their fault, but I feel like they may fall victim to their early time slot.Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents have long been stowed away in my “heard of” file, but tonight is my first close encounter with the much-buzzed girl group. I like how right off the bat you know what you’re getting, namely a lot of sass and cheeky attitude. Equal parts Martha & the Vandellas and the Go-Gos, the band really capitalizes on the idea of rock ’n’ roll as a show, complete with choreographed dance moves and gestures. In the end they’re a lot of fun, which history has shown can take you a long way in the Rumble. Old Jack takes things in a decidedly different direction, moving away from the Deelinquents’ campy vibe into full-on rock mode. Front man Dan Nicklin has a real natural feel for the stage, working the crowd like a devilish cross between Scott Weiland and Mick Jagger. Meanwhile the band’s healthy mash- up of folk, alt country, soul, and rock ’n’ roll is making for the most energized set of the night thus far. There’s still one band left to take the stage, but this one is shaping up to be Jack’s for the taking. It’s now on McAlister Drive to step up and play the role of the spoiler, but it’s clear from the start they aren’t up to the challenge. It kind of pisses me off because they’ve got the best slot of the night and they just aren’t bringing it. I’m not saying they’re not talented (drummer Jovol Bell is a monster behind the kit for sure), but rather just a poor fit. Their folksy, songwriter-driven sound is a little too light and airy to make enough noise in the Rumble setting. If you can’t rowdy the place up with a cover of “Shipping Up to Boston,” you’re in trouble. The judges choose Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents as tonight’s winners.
Monday, April 4
FULL BODY ANCHOR, TIJUANA SWEETHEART, A WISH FOR FIRE, WALTER SICKERT & THE ARMY OF BROKEN TOYS by Kevin Finn
Full Body Anchor is my favorite live act in town right now, and they do nothing to dispel that notion despite ace guitarist Amy Griffin lounging somewhere in Mexico. Fortunately, singer Eric Edmonston can do just about anything, and the set goes off without a hitch. FBA would have fit in perfectly during the ’90s indie guitar rock heyday. The power of the songs attacks the audience like a hammer to the brain, while the melodies give us a gentle backrub. FBA reminds me of Sunny Day Real Estate with balls, and they will be a tough act to follow.Speaking of bands with balls, Tijuana Sweetheart strikes me as punkish cock rock, except with brains and vaginas. The band has a lot of supporters in the audience, and it’s easy to see why. The songs are easy to pump your fist to and instantly and almost insanely catchy. I love that they are clearly having a blast. They are the most smiley band I’ve ever seen, and the crowd clearly responds to their joy. The set gains momentum as it goes, reaching a peak with the back-to-back blast of the Heathcliff theme and “Fuck the Kells.” This is a tough act to follow. As A Wish for Fire begins its set, the club starts to smell like weed, which seems to fit appropriately alongside the band’s psychedelic hard rock. Following a band like Tijuana Sweetheart that has such an immediate impact is always tough, but especially so for one with longer, more layered songs that require more from the audience. In fact, I wish I had spent some time listening to their records in advance, as despite the shifting dynamics and tempos, a bit of monotony does set in toward the end. These guys are by no means bad, but I’m not sure this is the best showcase for them. Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys ends the night, and it’s kind of hard to place a line of distinction between the band and the audience. In fact, the club kind of looks like an Amanda Palmer concert exploded. Everyone is clearly having a blast, with much of the crowd shouting along to Sickert’s hard-to-categorize circus folk. There is a football team’s worth of musicians on stage, in costumes ranging from drag to panda masks, playing everything from the mandolin to the melodica. The whole effect is kind of distracting. It’s more of a show than a concert, and I remember little of the music afterward. My hypothetical vote is split down the middle between Full Body Anchor and Tijuana Sweetheart. The judges’ real one goes to Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys.
Tuesday, April 5
THE AUTUMN HOLLOW BAND, CULT 45, JOHN POWHIDA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, SPIRIT KID
by Justin Korn
The house lights never go off, but at approximately nine o’clock, Autumn Hollow takes the stage. The bassist looks like a giddy little schoolgirl as he strums his upright stringed bass; he’s ecstatic just to be in this April Madness competition. Lead singer, Brendan Murphy, shows an utter lack of cold feet pre-show jitters as he struts around on stage barefoot. If Southern Comfort was also a genre of music, Autumn Hollow is its high-proof distilled whiskey. Bluegrass folk resonates throughout the room, and the crowd digs their occasional three-part harmonies coupled with subtle a cappella inspired crowd sing-a-longs.Next to take the stage is Cult 45, led by a half-pint of a female vocalist, Tai Heatley, whose presumed innocence belies her ability to melt faces with her rock vocals. From the moment she belts out, some of the elder statesmen in the crowd [aka, proud parents] clench hands around their ears to salvage any irreparable damage on their eardrums. Cult 45 drives the remainder of their show with guitar solos that please the Zakk Wylde look-a-like in the crowd and Tai Heatley showcases a vocal range that rivals some opera singers. The crowd is exhausted and John Powhida International Airport provides the boost to keep the Rumble from flatlining. The troop finishes their pints of ale and move onto pleading their case to the judges with their unique mouthful of funk-infused early ’90s pop. Lead vocalist Powhida has the crowd in stitches as he explains one song came about because of a young woman who filed for a restraining order against him. This band is fit to either play retirement-home bingo nights or Cinco de Mayo parties, but Powhida and company make for a surprising twist in the competition. Spirit Kid closes out the night with some comfort tunes that brings back fond memories of high school prom. The boy band pop-punk group fronted by the bearded Emeen Zarookian is green-lit to play a selection from their catalog, which is very upbeat and provides a hint of lyrical sappiness. The crowd casually listens out of one ear and remarks that the band’s lead tambourinist keeps a killer tempo, although he could benefit from resurrecting the cowbell as Blue Oyster Cult once did. Zarookian’s effeminate vocals are greeted with rattling hips on the dance floor. Tonight’s winners: John Powhida International Airport.
Thursday, April 7
TRIPLE THICK, STATIC OF THE GODS, MELLOW BRAVO, THE ACRO-BRATS
by Joel Simches
As Triple Thick hits the stage, their energy seems to creep as the room slowly begins to fill, but never strays too far from mid-tempo. The band plows steadily from song to song, rarely acknowledging or engaging the audience. The most energetic aspect of their set was Henry the percussionist, who looks like a middle-aged plumber doing his best Davy Jones impersonation wailing away on tambourine and maracas. The music is straight ahead with no frills or flashy solos. While their set is lacking the “sparkle” of a typical Rumble set, they still rock like Jonathan Richman on crack.Static of the Gods plaintively slink onto the stage and elevate the room to a higher plane with swirling, echoey guitars and Jen Johnson’s soaring vocal gymnastics. Anngelle steps onto the stage to save the day when the vocal mic cuts out. While some of the bass is programmed, Ben Voskeritchian switches to bass and baritone for a few numbers, with Jen rocking the MicroKorg over Mike Latulippe’s pounding tribal toms. This is the most powerhouse performance of the night, with Jen channeling Anneli Drecker. It’s shoegaze at its ballsiest. The band leaves the stage in a rumble of reverberated feedback. As they light a glowing orb held by a naked statue, Mellow Bravo recalls the over-the-top bombast of the first Van Halen, except “Diamond Dave” has a full head of hair, more testosterone than Valerie Bertinelli’s wettest dream, and more soul than a James Brown facefuck. The band clearly owns the stage and the crowd. The guy next to me exclaims, “I’m so hard right now!” The set ends with singer Keith Pierce running out of the club with his guitar and finishing the song on the hood of a car parked by the front door. The Acro-brats are showered in beer as Chris Brat defiantly spits out his lyrics. There is no slow burn in this set. The band hits the ground with no pretense and no bullshit, except for the occasional choreographed stage move. The band is relentless, unforgiving and visceral. Their set slowly becomes a pure punk love fest of beer and sweat as they pound away from one song to the next. This is easily the tightest set I have seen them do. Half the room is invited onstage to join the band for their closing number. No one wants to leave the stage! Winner: Mellow Bravo
Friday, April 8
TIRE OLD BONES, STEREO TELESCOPE, DO NOT FORSAKE ME OH MY DARLING, KEEP ME CONSCIOUS by Max Bowen
The crowd is packed early when I get to T.T.’s, securing their spots around the stage for the show. Tired Old Bones brings a flawless percussion backing some very groovy rock tunes, giving the audience an array of beats they can all move to, and frequently do. At least, for those not jammed to the walls. Did I mention how packed the place was? Lead singer Bridget Nault has a deep and powerful voice, which matches perfectly to a style of music that ebbs and flows seamlessly. She’s got a great delivery, melding her vocals with the blues and punk-tinged music, reinforcing the melodic piledriver that is this band.As the set ends, the crowd disperses to grab some drinks, merch, and a chance to breathe. But no sooner does the Stereo Telescopes begin setting up, and the floor is once more crammed with the devoted fans, and rightfully so. The synth-pop duo of Kurt Schneider and Nikki Dessingue comb flowing keyboard work with precise guitar playing over a pulsing beat. Amidst the set Nikki breaks out a tambourine and moves about the stage, and the crowd shows their love while grooving to the music. The blue lighting adds to the unique atmosphere these two create on stage. If Tired Old Bones is a piledriver, then the rock duo of Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling is a full-on musical cage match, weapons included. Sophia Cacciolo is the veritable bull in a china shop on the drums, slamming a precise beat that’s impossible to ignore. She’s got the voice to match, commanding the attention of all in the club with each note. Guitarist Michael Epstein adds to the intensity of the set. Between the two of them, they outshine most full bands I can name. Keep Me Conscious ends the show proudly, refueling the audience at T.T.’s with an intense alt-rock set that never once loses its steam. The vocals of Bob Bowser speak to a love for his music, and more importantly, to the crowd assembled that night, washing over the audience and keeping everyone firmly rooted where they stand. The instrumentation of Daniel Maleck, Rob Wu, John Wiley, and Maty Vamp matches him note for note, bringing a passion to the set that infects the crowd, which they give right back with thunderous applause. Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling will move on to the semi-final round.
Saturday, April 9
CRADLE TO THE GRAVE, THE YEAR MILLION, BLACK THAI, SIDEWALK DRIVER by Kevin Finn
Few bands make heartache sound as appealing as Cradle to the Grave, offering tales of despair and betrayal alongside sing-along choruses and fist-pumping power chords. Tonight is the sharpest that I’ve seen them, and a lot of that has to do with Mark Lind filling in on bass, as his gravelly background vocals mesh nicely with Drew Indingaro’s smoother ones. The songs are melodic, but they hit hard. Paul Christian is an absolute marvel on guitar, a bottomless well of both hot licks and guitar-god faces. The only negative is that Joe Wyatt’s violin often gets lost in the mix. A nice start to the evening.The Year Million are up next, emitting a sound about 1,000 times bigger than T.T.’s. This is a band with definite commercial appeal. I could easily picture their Depeche Mode-meets-U2 sound fitting in nicely on WFNX between Muse and the Killers. Some of the songs go down a little too easy for my liking, and at times the synth overwhelms the rest of the band. For most of the set, though, I find the music infectious and powerful. I almost want to dance, and I hate dancing. This is definitely a band to watch. I know I’m in for an experience, when Black Thai nearly deafens me while doing soundcheck. Everything about these guys (drums, amps, heavy metal sound) is big. They play with such force that my balls literally shake throughout their set, and they render my earplugs pretty much useless. It hurts, but in a good way. The musicianship is top notch, and the band has a Rajon Rondo-like agility, able to seamlessly change tempo at the blink of an eye. The low end roar does get a little muddied up at times, but the closing song is so epic that the crowd erupts in a chant of “Holy shit!” My favorite thing about the Rumble is getting to see a testosterone blast like Black Thai followed by the decidedly non-macho glam of Sidewalk Driver. The band clearly has the audience’s support for the evening, as the viewing area is mobbed. In particular, there seem to be a lot of drunken chicks with no sense of space. Singer Tad McKitterick is quite a sight, with a hat seemingly glued to his bald head and a face full of glitter. He is a force of nature in both personality and in elastic voice. The band supports him ably, but it’s a bit too much of a performance for me. Cradle to the Grave have my vote, but Sidewalk Driver has the vote of those who matter.
AFTER THE PRELIMS by T MaxSpirit Kid and Black Thai are chosen as the wild card bands for the semi-finals. For the first time in Rumble history a band that advanced to the semi-finals chooses to withdraw due to a conflict with a previous engagement. Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents drop out, allowing Old Jack a place in the semis. The winner of April 14 semi-final is Spirit Kid. John Powhida International Airport wins the semi on April 15. Without ever winning a night, Old Jack joins those two bands in the finals as the wild card. The Shods (an all-time favorite Boston-area band) are the guest band on the Rumble’s final night. The Noise congratulates all 24 participating bands and offers each of them a half price ad during the year 2011. Contact T Max for your reward. And the winner of the 2011 Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble is... JOHN POWHIDA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT!