By Elijah Sullivan
At every Battle of the Bands there’s always the one fan hoping for a dog-pile of sonic mayhem with guitars wielded like clubs and egocentric vocalists dueling with mic stands.
Think medieval warfare at a KISS concert.
For the initiated, a Battle of the Bands means an evening of unparalleled excitement for both rabid music lovers and musicians prepared to tear up a stage in order to establish their reputation.
Those who attended the Battle of the Bands Wednesday, May 27, at the Marjorie Holzgang Memorial Concert Bowl in Grants Pass enjoyed an afternoon of music somewhat more dignified although certainly no less colorful. The 13 acts covered every musical genre from from Emo to Screamo, and not surprisingly, the audience had a hard time choosing which act to honor.
Every good Battle of the Bands ends with a duel, and this concert appropriately boiled down to a struggle between two very different groups.
The first act in-competition was Outlier, a soft, shoegazer rock act whose band members certainly represented the youngest of the day.
Project Zero had a solid garage band sound and the classic rock roots were refreshing in a show overflowing with hardcore music. You have to love a band that begins a set by proclaiming, “We are Project Zero!”
Where’s Tom? had all the pomp of the Sex Pistols only with less explicable Cockney accents; their saving grace was tight musicianship.
There was also the Skaa band Zephyr, who successfully combined reggae and Hendrix-influenced guitar work into a pleasant ten-minute set before departing for another gig.
Gary M. was the afternoon’s only solo act. Sensitive, rambling ballads delivered with a velvet voice and quiet charisma made for a welcome addition to the lineup after the noise the preceded him.
These were just a few of the many bands who performed that day. However, as the afternoon drew to a close, it became increasingly obvious that the crowd favored raw power and stage presence.
The middle-act sensation of the day was HOLDFAST, a crackling fusion of socially conscious hip-hop and Screamo power.
At the group’s core were dueling vocals featuring hip-hop artist Roshaun Duncan with the able support of the multitalented Damion Lyles.
From the first moments, Lyles’ range plus Duncan’s attitude added up to something elevating and magnetic.
They opened their act with an edgy narrative, “My Crazy Life”, based on the experiences of frontman Roshaun Duncan.
“That was all my crazy life,” Duncan said. “A non-stop rollercoaster from the beginning.”
A series of tragic events led to Duncan pursuing a more conscientious direction in his songwriting, culminating in 2006 with the formation of HOLDFAST – and yes, the caps are necessary.
Their debut album, “Life’s Critical Message,” will be released in the coming weeks on an independent label.
Medford-based band Prelude, fresh off an appearance at Shenanigans, got pulses pounding again with the afternoon’s loudest Screamcore assault. Vocalist and loose cannon Jim Roberts repeatedly hurdled over the barricade to perform among the audience in an act that simply could not be contained.
The crowd was primed for the appearance of the final group, Brahmatron, which blended retro electronic beats with strong vocals from frontman Josh Brahmer.
The band formed recently after several bandmembers outgrew their metal roots.
“We’re mostly from hardcore bands,” Brahmer said. “Now we’re older. We’re more mellow.”
Brahmer and the percussionist Kyle now pen the tunes and inspired the group’s name — a combination of “Brahmer” and one of Kyle’s more colorful nicknames.
“He’s an incredible writer and musician,” Brahmer said.
After Brahmatron concluded – an impressive set as catchy as it was polished – the bands were lined up on the stage for the crowd to vote.
While all the bands received generous attention from the crowd, the final three were immediately obvious: it was a three-way battle between HOLDFAST, Prelude and Brahmatron.
A few more rounds of applause determined Prelude’s position in third place, an honorable position for a band that has been performing regularly in the local circuit for a long time.
Deciding between HOLDFAST and Brahmatron proved more difficult. For a moment it seemed that the final result would only be known by a rematch – before the engineer’s sound meter declared a barely-measurable lead.
Brahmatron had taken first place.
As winners they were entitled to recording time in a professional studio. “That will definitely come in handy,” Brahmer said, as the group is currently preparing to record their debut album.
They could have at least made them armwrestle for it.
Battle of the Bands was hosted by the Associated Student Government of Rogue Community College, and sponsored by the Guitar Center, Sacred Mountain Records, The Laughing Clam, Havoc, and Shoes Right Here, who generously contributed door prizes and raffled off a new guitar to support the event.