I've never participated in a Battle of the Bands, but I've gotta question the wisdom of using a mid-tempo melancholy head-nodder for one of your three allotted songs, particularly when you're auditioning to play at a loud, debaucherous street fair like this weekend's Freakfest.
But that's exactly the trap that befell three of the six bands appearing Wednesday night at the Majetic Theatre, allowing the up-tempo hip-hop act Ra Fury to emerge victorious with its arsenal of pithy rhymes. As its prize, the trio claims the midnight slot on the Isthmus Stage at Peace Park Saturday night, performing for anyone they can distract from the participatory parade of revelers.
In addition to Ra Fury, veterans of the Memorial Union Terrace's open mic, Wednesday's show featured a band representing just about every niche of collegiate pop culture. The Brutal D's mugged and scowled their way through the opening set, doing their best Johnny Rotten impressions, complete with studded leather jackets and skinny ties. And as much as I love three-chord punk, that's a tough format for a three-song set. Just as the D's were beginning to warm up, they were packing up their gear.
Next up was Submarine Race, a quintet listing The Shins, Weezer and the Beatles as influences and guilty of playing a down-tempo second song. Their lead singer failed to rouse the crowd by revealing that he would take the stage in a Col. Sanders suit should his band take the title. They're a good band, but perhaps more suited for a basement party than a street fest.
Fedora, a band Journey Music promoter Tom Klein called "four Christian guys from the 'burbs,'" then proceeded to honor the Allman Brothers with some muscular blues rock. The emcee, a perky co-ed, seemed to echo the observations of some women in the audience when she said, "There's nothing like a boy with a lot of hair who can play the guitar."
20-something, a band that appeared to be made up of teens, followed with some earnest, yet subtle mainstream stuff. The lead singer (with braces!) lacked the confidence necessary to pull off the range dynamics he was attempting. Again, this is a band contest! You'd better bring it from note one, and throwing in a little rock 'n roll showmanship wouldn't hurt. Maybe after spending a year playing parties on campus, these youngsters will figure out how to balance artistry with chutzpa.
Pearl Snap Saturday -- the band favored by contest organizer and ASM Campus Relations chair Christie Penn because of their similarity to O.A.R. -- took the stage next, motivating a handful of dancing college girls. Their act was perhaps the most polished of the group and the lead singer was adept at appealing to the audience while strumming his acoustic. This is a tight band that fits right in on the Langdon circuit and would be the ideal act for State St. bars looking to add some live music to their offerings.
A quick aside: If you travel to other college towns in the Big Ten (I'm thinking of Iowa City and State College), you'll often encounter small cover charges at bars used to pay college bands that look and sound a lot like Pearl Snap Saturday. Why not Madison? Why couldn't The Pub put up a stage and book bands? The Plaza's back room would be the perfect venue for college kids to see their friends play.
You might find that the kids will be momentarily distracted from chugging booze and limit their intake to a healthier amount. All of the bands playing at the Majestic deserve wider audiences and lower State St. bars could add a lot to the scene if they started presenting music.
Anyway, Ra Fury ended the night, with a marijuana leaf flag draped over their DJ table and an MC wearing a werewolf mask. Like many college hip-hop acts, their lyrics are sprinkled with references to illicit consumption, but I was surprised to hear them deftly name check Jerome Bettis and Chronic Wasting Disease in the same song. Better, they brought an energy to the stage and a willingness to embrace the holiday with costumes and rhymes special to the occasion.
The final votes weren't available, but the judges wasted no time in awarding Ra Fury the victors.