Now that the preliminary rounds of the BAND6k battle of the bands have finished, only eight acts remain. The Sioux City rock band Calling Grace and hip-hop/R&B artist C-Note would be the first to kick off the quarterfinals. By this point in the competition, bands should have at least a slight grasp on what is needed to win this competition. In addition to a quality performance and an engaging stage presence, groups should look to take some sort of risk and bring something different to the competition.
For C-Note, it was an elongated closer featuring a full band and backup singers. For Calling Grace, it was glow sticks and sunglasses and a new cover song.
Calling Grace began its set with an attention grabbing opener. Harsh lights set up near the drum kit pulsated and flashed periodically. This arena rock-like effect worked wonders for the band’s dramatic entrance. I was standing near the back of Anthem near the bar and could barely make out how the group made its way onstage. All of a sudden everyone was in place ready to go.
Like the band’s previous BAND6k performance, Calling Grace band members were dressed in their signature attire of green and black. What I like about the band’s approach to “uniforms” is the variation. Guitarists Logan Lansink and Alex Newman donned suits and ties while singer Shawn Fertig sports a military jacket adorned with Calling Grace’s insignia. Although my favorite has to be bassist Billy Pelchat, who just casually grooves about the stage wearing a bright green sleeveless and camo shorts – he somehow manages to not stick out like a sore thumb.
Calling Grace had a helluva crowd supporting the band that night. Many of the group’s fans were wearing green glow stick necklaces that were handed out earlier, adding a slight festival vibe to the band’s performance. But it would take a good three or four songs before Calling Grace really took off. Despite the band’s accentuated guitar play and vocally driven songs, there was a distinct lack of energy as soon as the band started off its set.
Worst off, the band’s sound ultimately suffered. Fertig’s vocals often muddled in between guitar riffs or echoed into obscurity. And for some time, it seemed like all Fertig could do was headbang to songs. Luckily, he managed to take it easy on those Captain Morgan poses he so loved to do the last time Calling Grace competed (it’s OK to do that every once in a while, just not the whole show).
However, there was a definite turning point for Calling Grace. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but the group somehow managed to regain some energy as the show went on. Fertig’s rigidity wore off and he began channeling raw emotion into his performance. His fellow bandmates followed suit and seemed to find their second wind, performing even harder and with more grit. Drummer Jake Rains remained consistent in both his play and his demeanor, giving anyone in the audience who was watching him a show. Did anyone catch him looking like a deranged karate chop action figure? Or was it just me?
Now to touch on those sunglasses I mentioned earlier. Apart from the choice of ’80s cover song and the handing out of props to fans, what we saw was the same Calling Grace from the first round of battles. The judges pointed out to the band that it played a little on the safe side, and I completely agree. I appreciate Calling Grace having fun with fans and passing out party favors, but this would have been a good time to showcase their strengths or improve heavily upon a previous weak point. The band’s saving grace was its energy toward the end of its set. Performances were amplified and band members were more than comfortable onstage by then. It’s just a shame that we had to wait so long to see Calling Grace at its full potential.
Closing the night was C-Note, a hip-hop artist who wowed the judges with a full-on R&B backing band finale during his preliminary bout. Many of those same judges wished he had brought out the band earlier and said they would like to see more of that in the next battle. C-Note took the constructive criticism and gave the judges what they wanted: more band time and more R&B vocals.
When he finally made the switch to a full band near the end of his set, C-Note opened with an extra funky cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious,” a song that just exudes energy and is impossible not to move to. An excellent choice by C-Note. Although C-Note performed the song admirably, the real star of that particular performance was guitarist Jacob Henry. This guy was feeling those grooves and he was smoothly transitioning that energy into his play. This was probably the best I’ve seen him play. He was so comfortable on that stage, and he looked like he was channeling his inner Jimi Hendrix. Later on, C-Note brought up three backup singers – one male, two females – adding even more impact to his finale. C-Note, sticking true to his name, even made it rain dolla dolla bills y’all!
And just when it was getting fun, it all stopped. C-Note’s backup stuck around for more than just a song this time around, but was it enough to please the judges? Well, in addition to the band and extra singers, C-Note improved upon the pacing of his show. There weren’t any weird moments or awkward pauses like before. He even changed up his opener; two men walked onstage and held the American Flag toward the crowd while C-Note sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” before transitioning to his song “A’murica.” While I didn’t mind the inclusion of the National Anthem, following it up with this slow, politically charged song seemed way out of place. I get why he chose that song, but I think a more engaging opening track would have been a better choice.
C-Note’s sultry R&B voice lent itself well to the artist’s more seductive tracks, and he performed them with confident swagger. But he was alone onstage. With no DJ and no backing band until the end of the show, C-Note would have to carry the show through stage presence alone. And that’s where he faltered. I commend C-Note’s alterations to his show and adding in new elements, but when he was alone onstage is when he was at his weakest. C-Note has charisma as a soloist, but he desperately needed a DJ or somebody for him to play off of. Some might say he should have his band for the entirety of his set. I don’t necessarily agree with that. Ending with the band is just fine, but having a DJ present to help lift C-Note’s rap/hip-hop qualities would be much more than dynamic.
That is what I think ultimately decided the judges’ decision to go with Calling Grace for this round. Both artists had a delay in energy. For Calling Grace, it was a slow start into what would eventually become a safe, rock performance. For C-Note, it was the anticipation of something greater; and when it finally happened, it was gone too soon.
Calling Grace will move on to the semi-finals and will compete against either Port Nocturnal or Edenforge May 3 at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City.